In-depth

The lost world of the Xandros desktop

The latest release of the Xandros Linux desktop edition was in June 2006, which is several lifetimes in the history of Linux. Is this the end of the line for the Xandros desktop?

Xandros is based, like Ubuntu, on Debian GNU/Linux, the ultimate community distribution of Linux, but lives by a very different ethos.

Xandros has moved at its own pace, offering solutions from desktop to server, with the objective of "selling Linux into a Windows world."

There was a short-lived community edition of Xandros, but for the most part Xandros has given the impression of keeping itself to itself, concentrating on its partnerships and enterprise sales, selling a boxed edition based on ageing but stable versions of Debian, and cranking up EOM deals with the likes of Asus - remaining on the sidelines of the Linux world, all but imperceptible to Linux users, except when it has broken ranks, to appear on the Asus Eee PC or to sign an unfriendly 'patent covenant' with Microsoft.

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The distribution is 'Windows-like', neatly configured, easy to use and popular with its own particular band of devotees, but contains proprietary extensions and an all but moribund release cycle.

The 'patent covenant' with Microsoft has had a detrimental effect on Xandros' ongoing relationships with the Linux user and developer communities. Ostensibly the purpose of the deal with Microsoft was to licence protocols to enable Xandros' BridgeWays and Scalix products to work with Microsoft networks.

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The long term effect is the appearance of credibility it has leaned to Microsoft's often re-iterated, never substantiated, and highly contentious, claims of patent infringements in the Linux kernel.

As an avowedly commercial desktop distribution the primary market for Xandros has been the OEM market for desktop users, a market that has been locked by exclusionary contracts with Microsoft for Windows and the dependence of commercial users on Windows applications.

Xandros tried to imprint a traditional software sales model on GNU/Linux, which hasn't really worked, despite the cost and efficiency advantages of GNU/Linux for commercial users, so the company has looked instead towards the mobile and netbook market, where it has found some success.

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Still the common perception that Xandros stands apart from other Linux distributions has not been helped statements like that of Jordan Smith, product marketing manager for OEM solutions at Xandros, who has said: "We are kind of getting away from being a Linux company, and we are more interested in presenting a user experience. Users don't care about Linux."

Significantly, Xandros now places more emphasis on BridgeWays and Scalix than it does on its Linux solutions, suggesting a long term switch away from the Linux desktop to turnkey OEM and networking solutions, which means putting Linux on smartbooks and other mobile devices.

Corel Island

Xandros has been with us since August 2001, when it sprang from the ashes of Corel Linux, which had its own chequered history.

Between 1996 and 1998. Corel - founded in 1985 and battered by competition in its key markets by Microsoft - had accumulated losses of $265 million.

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