[ Sunday, 3 June 2007, riklaunim ]
This article is a comparison and a review of two Linux distributions that got a lot of attention recently. We will compare a fully commercial Xandros Desktop and more community-friendly PCLinuxOS.
Author: Piotr “Riklaunim” Maliński
PCLinuxOS is a Mandriva-based LiveCD, which we can either use as a demo CD or install on a hard disk. This distribution is gaining a lot of popularity and on Distrowatch it’s currently rated at high third place. For the purpose of this review, PCLinuxOS 2007 has been used. The ISO image can be downloaded (or bought) from the official PCLinuxOS website.
Xandros is a commercial distribution targeted at business. For free we can only download a 30-day trial version. If you want a full version you have to pay (as of today: $39.99 for home, $79.99 for premium and $99.99 for professional edition). There is a chance that one of the previous versions of Xandros is available as a bonus to one of you local IT magazines (like Linux Magazine). We have used Xandros Desktop Professional 4.1 in this review.
PCLinuxOS is a LiveCD so we can use it as a live-demo before installing to see if we like it and whether it support our hardware properly. 2007 release contains KDE 3.5.6 (with most of the KDE applications) and few extra programs like OpenOffice.org or Firefox. We will also find DrakeConf — a powerful configuration utility taken directly from Mandriva. For package management PCLinuxOS uses APT and not urpmi. I haven’t experienced any stability problems with the system and applications. PCLinuxOS doesn’t start to many services on boot by default, so the resources usage is fair. The CD provides a fully featured system with various commonly used applications. It also contains non-free packages like multimedia codecs. More packages can be found in the repositories (for example i18n packages, updates, GNOME and others), and to manage all those packages we can use a GUI frontend for APT called Synaptic. With PCLinuxOS we get a fresh, stable and user friendly system.
Xandros 4.1 in the desktop edition contains KDE 3.4.2, but to see it we have to install it (no Live-CD available). The installer is a simple graphical one similar to Anaconda (Fedora) but way faster and simpler. Beside KDE we also get some external packages like Evolution for e-mail (which implies a lot of GNOME dependencies), Skype for VoIP (with extra coupons to spend!). Xandros doesn’t have any full configuration suite like DrakeConf, but it has few applications for security, network and packages management which I’m going to cover now.
- The first Xandros specific application is Xandros Security Suite which is used to configure firewall and anti-virus software. It looks like a similar application in MS Windows, it even has a shield with a cross icon . Why do I need such “big” security application? Xandros launches a lot of services by default, even a VNC server, so yes, you indeed need a working firewall.
- Next we have Xandros File Manager – a file manager that looks and works nearly as MS Windows Explorer. Xandros applications try to mimic MS Windows, which may or may not be a good solution. I remember Linspire also had LBrowser – a redesigned and rebranded Mozilla, but it had nice original GUI, not a mimicked IE GUI .
- We will also find CrossOver — application based on WINE, which can be used to run multiple MS Windows programs like MS Office, Photoshop, AutoCad and more.
Available applications worked without problems. Well maybe there was one — I couldn’t connect to the Internet. Xandros had problems with DHCP on the ethernet card. No idea why — other systems used to recognize it and configure automatically. I haven’t tried very hard to fix it though, since the Internet access wasn’t crucial. As for the system itself — it is bit slow. A lot of services are started automatically at boot time. After launching KDE the OS used 340 MB of RAM. My Arch and Gentoo installs use 50-60 of RAM (in KDE, just after boot). Quite a big difference.
In general Xandros is designed for MS Windows users which may not be able to do a total shift to new applications (not MS-Like) in short time. The open question is: do we need a Linux that acts like Windows?
PCLinuxOS could be compared to Kubuntu – both provide a LiveCD with a simple graphic installer. In Kubuntu we do not get DrakeConf-like application and non-free packages by default. Kubuntu is a fully non-commercial project, while PCLinuxOS is open-source but with a commercial attitude (you can purchase it on CD and part of it goes for the PCLinuxOS development). PCLinuxOS shows that a Linux distribution can be “done right”. It’s user friendly, easy to configure and easy to extend. What are the main drawbacks then?
- Lack of fine commercial support
- Lack of integrated business-oriented features (PPTP support, ActiveDirectory, Exchange)
- Lack of pre-packaged version with commercial applications
- No printed manual
These drawbacks are not very irritating for the home user but may be a killer for business.
Xandros isn’t an uprising innovative distribution. It introduces some new features, but overall also has few problems:
- There is no full configuration center (like DrakeConf),
- It doesn’t have a lot of packages,
- You have to pay for it, a lot.
Xandros won’t gain users among Linux geeks. It’s not even their target. The main target of the company are Windows users that either have to or want to use MS Windows applications. They are used to a Windows-like OS and do not want any change. It comes with a few commercial programs that make it easier to migrate from MS Windows like Versora Progression Desktop (migrate settings from Windows to Xandros) or CrossOver. Still, you can install CrossOver and Versora in any other distribution. In Xandros it just comes in one package. The extra value you get by purchasing the package is a detailed user manual. Something that PCLinuxOS and most other free distributions do not offer.
I’m an advanced Linux user and for me PCLinuxOS is a winner. Exact conclusions are however hard to tell. Xandros can be a good choice for first-time Linux users (generally hardcore Windows users) and those companies that depend on software for MS Windows. On the other hand it isn’t much more that a well-integrated set of packages containing open-source software plus a few commercial apps that are also available for other distros.