Friday, January 14, 2005

Replacing Windows

I have more than the average number of Microsoft battle scars, having used PC's since they were invented, then having to manage them in large corporate environments as a CIO. Until XP Pro, the word stability and Microsoft only occurred in sentences with the word none.

With XP, things calmed down enough to actual use one's PC for work instead of just cajoling and threatening the damn thing to keep it running. And then something pretty predictable happened from a convicted monopolist. While the price of the hardware has come down from an average of US$4000 to US$1000 for a fully loaded PC, the price of the operating system has gone up instead. I paid $49. for my first copy of Windows, and the price now is more like $300.

So, what are the alternatives? And don't tell me Apple because I prefer to have some choice in my vendor and I don't value the apparent benefits of belonging to a cult.

LINUX is constantly being promoted as the great hope. I have been trying various distros since Red Hat first came out. I really wanted to like it, and I kept loading each subsequent version on whatever old PC I had lying around. Each time though, I would get going, only to be stumped by some completely arcane procedure I was supposed to know to do something simple like looking at my files on a network share. Too hard.

And then I read an article about XANDROS. The article claimed that this was Linux for the desktop, ready for Windows users, easy to install, completely compatible, and with the right version, you could even run legacy Windows apps. With high hopes and deep skepticism, I fired up BitTorrent and downloaded the free ISO CD image from their web site - XANDROS Open Circulation Desktop. It took a while to get the whole thing down, then a few minutes to burn the image to a CD.

My test unit this time was an old Dell Dimension with some wrinkles to disturb any installer - an old Adaptec SCSI card driving a Pioneer SCSI CD-ROM, ATI video card, 768Mb RAM, and a couple of ATA hard disks. I popped in the CD and reset to let it boot from the CD. About 15 -20 minutes later I had a fully functioning computer that looked very familiar - sort of windowish.

Everything worked. I could see all my other computers on the LAN, could read my Windows files on the XANDROS machine and on the network shares, could surf the net, everything. Wow.

Just for Christmas, XANDROS has announced their latest release, version 3 which has been getting rave reviews here and here.

Highly recommended.

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