Canadian home for Windows orphans
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
August 29-September 4, 2006; issue 879
High Tech Office column;
With Microsoft’s next generation Windows Vista delayed until
early 2007 (or later) and the company dropping support and security
fixes for the still widely used Windows 98, it may be time to look at
Linux. This open source operating system is used on a growing number of
servers and, behind the scenes, powers devices ranging from smart
phones to WiFi routers. It’s less common on home and business
computer desktops, however, even though it offers a secure and
While there are many versions of Windows, all come from Microsoft and
all sport a similar look and feel. Linux, in contrast, comes in a huge
number of varieties known as distributions, many as free downloads,
others as commercial packages complete with formal support options.
Look and feel can vary widely, with multiple user interfaces, though
two, KDE and Gnome, account for most Linux installations. Linux vendor Xandros
is aiming its distribution at what it calls Windows orphans: users left
behind when Microsoft dropped support of Windows 98, 98SE and ME this
past July 11.
I recently installed and worked with its $90 premium home edition
version 4.0 package.
Installation was painless. Users are given a choice of letting Xandros
take over the entire hard drive or run alongside an existing Windows
installation. If you choose the latter, it will partition the hard
drive for Linux without affecting your existing software or data; at
boot time, you can choose between Xandros or Windows.
Once installed, Xandros loads the popular Linux KDE desktop: a user
interface that will be immediately comfortable to Windows users. A
basic set of applications is already installed, with more available on
an applications CD and still more available online from Xandros. As a
result, many users will not need to buy or install any additional
software. Unlike some other Linux distributions, it’s easy to
work with photos, music and multimedia files without any tweaking or
additional software installations. For instance, iPod and Palm PDA
support is built in.
For users opting to migrate to Xandros, the premium edition includes
several useful tools not available in the free or basic editions. The
Versora Progression utility first runs under Windows to pack up your
documents, photos, music, desktop wallpaper and more. Later, run under
Xandros, it imports everything into your Linux home folder.
Native Linux programs included with Xandros, such as the Firefox
browser and OpenOffice.org office suite, will let many users get right
to work, but in some cases there aren’t good Linux alternatives
for the programs you need. Xandros’ premium edition also includes
CodeWeavers CrossOver Office, a utility that makes it possible, in many
cases, to install and run Windows software without running Windows.
While Linux is more secure out of the box than Windows, Xandros
includes a security suite that includes firewall and antivirus software.
A few quibbles: Xandros gives installed programs patronizing generic
names. Firefox becomes “Web Browser,” for example. And
while the Xandros Applications CD and online Xandros Network include a
basic set of programs, Xandros should make more of the wide range of
Linux programs easily accessible and installable.
Nevertheless, Xandros is a well- thought-out system that would be easy
for many current Windows users to install and use. And developed in
Ottawa, it should get bonus points for Canadian content.