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Xandros Linux conquers a hostile Sony laptop

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Xandros's multimedia support is poor, and this is a surprise when you consider how much effort has gone into making Windows users feel comfortable with the distro. The default video player is Xine, which is not half bad, especially with the Kaffeine frontend, but there are basically no codecs installed. Good luck opening anything more exotic than a .wav file. One can install Mplayer, for which a cornucopia of codecs is available. And if you prefer the KMplayer frontend, just install that afterwards (I've found that the Mplayer codecs work with Xine/Kaffeine, although it seems that Mplayer has got to be present. And it also seems that Mplayer and the codecs are best installed after Xine).

One of the best items included with Xandros is Crossover Office. If you've got a substantial number of MS Office documents, you'll appreciate the convenience of running Office on Linux. OpenOffice.org is a fine product, but the conversion filters don't always handle everything, and it's hard to let go of all your macros and templates. Crossover isn't free; it will help boost the price of Xandros Home Edition from $40 to $80 for the Home Edition Premium package containing it, but for some users, it will be worth every penny.

In the Premium package and above, you also get Versora Progression Desktop. This application will compress and package your Windows files and enable you to move them in bulk to your Linux machine, although you can only package files and applications in batches of 2GB. Obviously, you have to be able to see the Windows volume containing your Versora packages, which means that they will be on another partition on the same disk, or on another disk connected to the same machine, or on a network share that you can access. Which means in turn that it would be just as easy to copy the directories containing the files and apps you want to move to your new Linux image using the file manager. Versora Progression is a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. And it's buggy on top of it all.

For example, when I assembled a package, the application informed me that it was over 2GB uncompressed, and might not work because it would have to be under 2GB when compressed; but it gave me the option of going ahead, which I did. And sure enough, it failed. And yet, I was given the option to save the package anyway, which of course I did. I then booted up the Linux image, and tried to open the package. Of course it was useless.

Now, admittedly, I was just pushing it to see what would happen. I didn't really expect it to work. But a well-designed application of this sort should be able to tell me whether or not the package I've selected can be compressed to below 2GB, and allow me to divide it if it can't. And I suppose it will, eventually. But right now the application is rather rough. It's not pleasant to consider that Versora Progression represents at least some of the $40 difference between the home edition and the premium edition.

For another irritant, Xandros insists that you register your OS before giving you any online updates, including security patches. I happen not to be keen on product registrations; I think that paying for a product entitles me to a reasonable amount of after-sale service and support, and who I am doesn't really figure into it. Some companies need to know who and where you are to provide proper service, but software vendors don't. And when you consider the prices of Xandros's products, you get the feeling that their customers have already given them enough.

Overall, there's too much magic in Xandros for my taste. Too much is proprietary; too much is concealed. One of the greatest features of Linux, and open source software in general, is how transparent it is. If you're at all concerned with information security, you know that transparency is a virtue.

Xandros is also one of the most expensive distros available. It does work nicely, and it is well polished. And yes, quality costs money. But there are a lot of useful packages that you will have to find and install on your own. This is not to say that there aren't numerous distros with far too many old packages, many of which don't work properly. In many cases, they're just there; they don't really add value.

Still, the best distros offer good packages, and plenty of choice. Xandros has decided which are the best packages, and it has removed those it deems unpopular, dysfunctional, or competitive with its proprietary ones. You sense some of that Redmond paternalism along with the Windowsey look and feel.

But at the same time, SuSE, which I've used loyally for many years, couldn't triumph over this miserable Sony box of mine. Xandros didn't hesitate for a moment. ®

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