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I obtained this distro free from a UK Linux Magazine cover disk. I was looking forward to trying it. The installation procedure is very simple. I opted for expert installation on my 2nd machine - AMD XP1600, 2 x 80 gig hdds, CDwriter, DVD writer, Geforce graphics, D-link network card, on-board sound. I chose a full installation, and set up my lan card, root password, users etc. I use XOSL so I opted for Lilo in the root partition.
On reboot, while going through the KDE first time wizard, I was most distressed to find my mouse was dead. It is a Logitech optical usb. Every single linux distro I have installed on this very ordinary pc has found it. Nearly all even set up the scroll wheel. Xandros could not find it.
So, some editing of XF86Config-4 later, I decided to try the Xandros Networks application. No network found. I opened a Konqueror window - no network. Every single Linux distro I've installed - many - has set up my network. I checked and found no dhclient, the module for my network card was not running either.
It was at this point that I decided to abandon this distro. All my hardware was listed on their site as compatible, but I ran into 2 serious problems. Yes, I could and did rectify each. That isn't the point. It should just work, especially given the target audience.
Immediately after this debacle, I tried Knoppix 3.3 on the same machine. It worked flawlessly. I then tried the hd install. Again, not one single problem. I am submitting this review from that machine, running Knoppix from the hard drive. I can only say that such ordinary hardware should cause this sort of distro no problems at all. Until Xandros can iron out such problems, many potential Windows-Switchers will just fall at the first hurdle.
Update - I decided to have another go on an older machine - Celeron 600, 384meg PC100, 40gig drive, SB128, Geforce, Nsis Wireless Optical mouse, D-link network card and Samsung CDWriter.
I went through identical steps. Xandros recognised this rather unusual mouse, and set up my lan, just like it couldn't on my other machine. It also set up Lilo so that I could boot into Mandrake 9.2 that was already installed (nice touch - it actually labelled Mandrake correctly).
What is it like - it's OK. Very simplified and some elements are difficult for a Linux user. It isn't immediately obvious how to edit files on the root filesystem, for example. Xandros Networks is an Apt repository just for Xandros, and it works well even if the choices of packages are limited. Also, the Gimp is a whopping 27 meg download, because it needs lots of Gnome-specific stuff.
Conclusion - I'll be keeping Xandros for the time being to see if I get used to its interface. It certainly looks interesting, but my original reservations still apply.
Availability - free download from ibiblio, 2 CD set for $9-95 and an additional $9-95 gets you 30 days of email support. I used the free download version.
Installation - this is where it gets interesting. Booting from the CDrom gives you a Live-CD version a la Knoppix. It runs perfectly well and looks nice, too. There is, however, a desktop icon to install Mepis. Clicking this starts the install, via a window on your KDE 3.1.2 desktop - surreal. The installation itself is very simple, and all hardware is automatically detected (my onboard sound was configured properly, which Mandrake 9.1 cannot do). When it's done, you reboot and reset the root password and that of any users you created. Then you're done - amazingly simple.
The system - you get Linux kernel 2.4.20, XFree 4.2.1, pcmcia 3.2.2, Kudzu 1.1.3, KDE 3.1.2, KOffice 1.2.90, OpenOffice 1.0.3, XCDRoast 0.98a13, KPackage Manager 3.1.2, Dict Reference Bookshelf 1.1, AbiWord 1.9.0, and WINE 0.0.20030508. A look at the Mepis website gives you the whole list - www.mepis.org Pretty up to date.
Performance and stability - very good marks, here. After all, it is effectively Debian once it is installed. My only gripe was networking. I chose to boot the CD with a nodhcp option, because I use static IPs on my home network. I was able to find a netcardconfig shell script in /usr/sbin and ran it. It configured my card, but I found that I still had a dns problem, despite all parameters being correct. Taking the network down and then up solved the problem, but there seems to be an issue here. The other problem is nvidia drivers. Using the latest nvidia install script gives an error that it is not possible to build a kernel module for this kernel. I tried the .deb packages on the second CD, but the kernel module wouldn't initialise, even manually. I'll sort it out eventually.
Package Handling - apt-get, of course. If you like it, you'll be happy. Kpackage is also there if you want a gui to install packages from the CD. Kpackage can also be used to access updates or upgrades via apt. You just adjust the settings to use updated or upgraded packages and hit return.
Conclusion - a really interesting distro. The stability and package-handling abilities of Debian, with a very slick install and up-to-date base packages. Definitely one to watch for the future.
Edit - Update - Kpackage can also be used to update or upgrade the whole system using Apt. You just need to go into Special in the Settings of Kpackage, select APT - then upgrade, update etc. Very slick.
Availability - SuSE 8.2 pro is available as an ftp install - free, a boxed set - expensive or via E-bay and other sites in a stripped-down version cheaply (all commercial software is removed from the CDs and DVD). The latter version is the one I am reviewing, although I have also installed via ftp.
Installation - this really is a breeze. The installation is graphical and very polished. The only possible problem is partitioning. Yast2 really seems to have a mind of its own in this area. You always have the option to reject any suggested partitioning and do your own. You may well have to do this unless your whole hard drive is unused. After a basic system install, the machine reboots to allow you to set up a root password, users and finally hardware and X configuration.
The system - SuSE 8.2 uses the 2.4.20 kernel, KDE 3.1, XFree4.3.0, Open Office 1.0.2 etc - pretty up to date packages, only Opera is old - 6.03
Performance and stability - really excellent marks here for SuSE. It is tempting to assume such a smooth and polished distribution that comes with oodles of software must be bloated and a resource hog. Not at all. On an Athlon XP1600+ it runs extremely quickly, KDE is very responsive and about 85% of my 512 meg of ram is free - not bad. Extra marks for SuSE including a gui tool to enable UDMA on any drives on the pc - without having to run hdparm and then put a line into your config files - very polished. In fact, the words polished and smooth are the two I would use to describe the whole SuSE distro. Literally everything works, and works well. The default look is very professional, although I prefer Lush icons in KDE - easily changed.
Package Handling - SuSE is RPM based. I can almost hear cries of "dependency hell ...." already. However, the supplied 5 CDs or 1 DVD contain the most extraordinary amount of high quality packages. Time after time I have seen a package I wanted to try discussed or reviewed online only to find it on my installation media already. The only package I have downloaded is the 0.98 beta 14 of XCDRoast. As there is a SuSE 8.2 specific rpm, that was no problem either. A mention here for the central tool in the whole distribution - Yast2 (yet another set-up tool 2). Yast2 pretty much handles everything in SuSE, network, hardware, software, users etc. Once you get used to using it, it really does an excellent job. Nvidia users should also note that running the Online Update allows them to download their graphics drivers and enable 3-D acceleration without editing their /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 file - very neat.
Conclusion - A really excellent comprehensive distribution that is easy to install, run and update. Convenience does not seem to have been gained at the expense of system performance. The only possible problem from my point of view is that Yast2 is such a centralised tool that it makes manual configuration a little tricky. SuSE also has a habit of using its own names for common files e.g. it has a whole top-level directory called media where you will find all your mounted filesystems. Minor quibbles compared to the sheer quality and feel of this distribution.
Vector 3.2 SOHO - small office/home office - is a single CD distro that is intended as a Desktop Distro for typical home users. It is based on Slackware and is fully compatible with packages from 8.1.
Installation - to date I've installed this distro on 4 PCs and 1 laptop, from 32 to 512 meg of ram, processors running from a 600 mhz Via to an Athlon XP2400+. The install is text-based. The process itself is fairly standard for text-based installs, and before you start, I strongly advise you to have an intimate knowledge of the partitions on your drive. The installation process takes typically 20-25 mins and is interesting because you get no options about which packages to choose. This install will give the same installed system no matter what. This is very useful if you are doing multiple installs.
At the end of the process, auto-hardware detection is performed and you can then add a root password, and other users.
The system - 3.2 SOHO uses the 2.4.20 kernel, Open Office 1.0.2, CDRtools 2.0, KDE 3.1, XCDroast 0.98 alpha 12 and XFree4.2.1. Not quite cutting-edge, but pretty up-to-date. Using Nvidia Geforce 2 graphics cards, Vector sets up the Nvidia drivers with 3-D acceleration enabled, by default (the same for an Ati Rage pro) - a nice touch. Java and Flash plugins are also pre-loaded for Phoenix, a simple Mozilla-based web browser. Opera is also provided, but a relatively old version 6.11.
Performance and stability - Vector is a very speedy distribution. The GUI is very responsive, even using KDE with all bells and whistles turned on. Compare this setup to Mandrake on the same hardware, and Vector is well ahead. Interestingly, GLX gears gave a lower benchmark using Vector than using SuSE 8.2 pro on the same machine. In terms of stability, I have had no freezes or crashes or apps dying on any of my installations. Vector runs a fairly long beta-testing cycle which is relected in the stability of its offerings.
Package Handling - Vector allows you to use Slackware's Autopackage system, a text-based installation system. It works well and is not difficult to use, even for a Mandrake user like myself. Vector is unusual in also offering RPM package handling via Kpackage. This also works well, assuming you can solve any dependency issues.
Conclusion - As a long-standing Mandrake user (7.0 onwards) I find Vector an interesting alternative. It is responsive, fast, comes with lots of useful packages and will run happily on older hardware.