Business-like, isn't he?



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    A Canadian home for Windows orphans

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business in Vancouver 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 inexpensive alternative.

    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 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.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan