By Steve Emms
What's New & Discussion
Xandros Desktop 3.0 has seen just about every area updated. One of the criticisms of the previous version was that users couldn't try out the latest software as it wasn't synchronized with Debian. This meant you couldn't use all the latest software in the Debian unstable repository. This has now been rectified!
In this major release we also see significant improvements in networking and the security field with a VPN wizard allowing secure access to a virtual private network, better support for wireless networking, a personal firewall wizard to help keep intruders out, and encryption of user files. Desktop users need a secure environment if they want to stop their machine being hacked to bits, although we wouldn't describe this as a hardened linux distribution. Drag-and-drop burning is also a useful addition.
To corner the desktop market we see three prime areas which need to be conquered in order that Windows be ousted.
Multimedia is one of the real strengths of Xandros. We found the support for all the different video and audio files to be excellent. Having RealPlayer 10 (gold) bundled in with this distribution is a real advantage over other Linux distributions, as many websites have online radio and video to watch in this format, and it's been nicely integrated with Mozilla. We were a little disappointed that the latest Quicktime movies are not supported, but we rectified this by installing the latest xine to get the newest Quicktime dynamic link libraries. It wasn't surprising that Xandros couldn't play encrypted dvds out of the box, as the required library (libdvdcss) is unfortunately illegal to use in some countries. Hats off to the Recording Industry Association of America.
Although Xandros cannot directly influence this area, they can help to build up a large user base of desktop users. Game makers will see this and more will port their software over to Linux. Our resident gaming guru considers World of Warcraft to be the best game of all time. He describes it as "brand new and hugely popular for Blizzard entertainment". It has been ported over to the Mac, so why not Linux? If Linux can increase its desktop share, we'll hopefully see more game makers reconsider their position and produce native Linux ports. We feel that this distro is a real step in the right direction.
Hardware support has come on in leaps and bounds from the previous version of Xandros, due to the distro having the latest stable version of the Linux kernel. There's good support for most peripherals including cameras, printers, USB hard disks, tv cards etc, and all the hardware we threw at it worked flawlessly. If you never have used a Linux distribution before, it's worth checking out the Linux Compatible website, to check whether your hardware is supported. Xandros can't do any better than having the latest stable kernel, so a big thumbs up here. Linux will have truly succeeded in this area when the majority of hardware manufacturers provide Linux driver support with their product.
CrossOver Office 4.1
This commercial software is worthy of a separate mention. I've reviewed this application before, although this is the first time I've had the chance of testing this release. CodeWeavers sell the download edition separately for $39.95. This is a killer application because it allows you to run Windows applications without needing to reboot the system into Windows, or having to purchase a Windows license if you don't already have one. The list of supported programs is growing all the time, but there's a good mix including Microsoft Office, MS Project, Visio, Lotus Notes, Quicken and iTunes. We tried Word and Excel and both worked really well under CrossOver.
We also installed a few unsupported programs, which were, as expected, more of a hit and miss affair. First up was digiguide, which is a leading UK tv guide. I'm pleased to say that it worked really well under Xandros/CrossOver, which surprised me somewhat, as when I had tried it with an older version it didn't even get past the installation stage. Here's a screenshot of it in operation under Xandros.
As the xine that ships with Xandros is unable to play the latest Quicktime movies, we thought we'd install the latest Quicktime 6.5. The installation proceeded ok, but watching the .mov files only gave jerky video with no audio under CrossOver. We also tried some other applications including BlitzIn (a chess client), SmartFTP and Paint Shop Pro with varying results.