The Xandros Desktop OS is known for their intuitive graphical environment that works right out of the box. Their polished desktop product is based on KDE. Your humble Dot editor had the privilege to talk to Rick Berenstein, Xandros Chairman and CTO and Ming Poon,Vice President for Software Development about Xandros and their products and the relationship between
Xandros and the KDE project. Without further due ... enjoy the interview!
border:1px dotted #000;
border:1px dotted #000;
Please introduce yourself.
Rick Berenstein, Xandros Chairman and CTO and Ming Poon,Vice
President for Software Development
How did Xandros start? What's its history?
Rick Berenstein: Linux Global Partners, a NYC investment group, originally planned to invest in Linux companies
which were developing applications or technologies that we felt would be essential pieces of a viable
alternative to Microsoft Windows. We planned eventually to do a joint venture with one of the existing
Linux distros and, in fact, started just such talks with Corel. But along the way Corel decided to divest
itself of its Linux Business Division and we took it over, along with most of the development staff, and
named the new company Xandros.
The Xandros Desktop OS is based on the Corel LINUX 2 release. This was a Debian
based distribution. Which current version of the Debian release cycle are you
using with Xandros Desktop Version 2?
Ming Poon: We are now based on what is commonly known as Debian Sarge, which will form the basis of the
next official Debian release.
Xandros acquired Corel's Linux OS in 2001.
What part does the Corel heritage play in the creation of the Xandros Desktop? Are there any technologies
you retain by that acquisition? Will there be a comeback of Corel WordPerfect
or CorelDraw for Linux?
Ming Poon: We have pretty well retained all the original key architects and software engineers from the Corel's
Linux teams. All the technologies have been carried over and improved upon. New ones have also been created.
We carried over what we think what are the best parts of the Corel culture and heritage where there is no
politics in our R&D office and we always see things in the customer's viewpoint whether it is software design
or any policies that relate to the customers. We have hired many new staff and applied the same cultural
elements to them. We respect each other and we just have fun everyday in creating the best desktop product
Rick Berenstein: We hope that Corel will make a comeback for WordPerfect Office for
Linux as well as CorelDraw. And if they do you can be sure that Xandros will offer them to our users.
What role does KDE play for Xandros?
Ming Poon: KDE continues to play a big role in Xandros. Just as
Corel LINUX, KDE forms the basis of our desktop environment. We enhance and fixes bugs in KDE and
add in our own KDE/Qt applications to complement KDE to fit our targeted mass desktop market where
all the users are somewhat familiar with Windows only. Some of the standard KDE configurations and apps
just don't fit into that market very well so we have to either to replace them totally or make lots of
changes to them. All of our changes are available from our FTP site in source code form. We also put
relevant bug fixes back into KDE.
What were your reasons for choosing KDE over other available desktops?
Ming Poon: When we first started our Linux desktop effort back in 1997, we actually implemented a
100% pure Java solution called Cabot which was running on the StrongARM processor on a little NC
(Network Computer) called the NetWinder. It had pretty well all the key functionalities of KDE or
any other desktop environment including toys like an Internet news ticker in the task bar. It is
probably something more close to a true Java desktop than what Sun's Java Desktop is today. It was
really 100% Java.
At the time, the JVM in Linux was based on green threads and the performance was not as good as the
JVM in Windows. Combined with running on a relatively slower 200 MHz StrongARM processor with no
math co-processor, it was just not as slick as running our Java desktop under the JVM in Windows or
as any native Linux desktop implementation. We had to make some tough choices in mid 1998 to drop
the Java implementation and switch to something native. KDE was the pretty well the only good choice
at the time since it had most of the desktop environment features we were looking for.
When we started the Corel LINUX project back in March of 1999, GNOME/GTK was there so we actually reviewed
both GNOME and KDE to make sure we used the right desktop environment to start. We had a very short and
aggressive cycle and the simplicity of KDE/Qt won again. Looking back, we never regretted about not
supporting GNOME at all. Most of us came from OS/2 PM or Windows GUI development or freshly from a new
object oriented technology called Java back then. MFC was a big life saver when it came out in Windows in
developing GUI apps. Java was even better where everything was simple and made perfect sense. There was
no way any of us would like to go back in time and program in something (GNOME/GTK) that was even more
awkward than programming in pre-MFC days where we had to deal with the Win32 C API only. KDE/Qt was just
like Java where everything (well most of the time anyway) made sense.
We have also seen a lot of poor arguments made on Qt where it cost money if you want to develop a commercial
closed source application. Usually people argued that the $500 per developer license fee was just as much
as a developer's salary in some third world countries. That may be true but they don't really take into
account the months of headaches and development time they will save by using Qt every year. That alone
is probably worth the $500. KDE/Qt is simple and is designed for the desktop. We like it and we have no
regrets in supporting KDE at all.
What do you like most about KDE?
Ming Poon: The thing I like most about KDE has always been its simplicity in design and the really
passionate developers that have been supporting it for years.
Rick Berenstein: I think that the KDE developers are not only dedicated
but continue to work on terrific new features and new capabilites within the framework of a wide KDE
community. We are looking forward to implementing many of these changes in the Xandros suite of
What do you like least about KDE?
Ming Poon: I can not think of anything big really. Perhaps the Control Center could use an overhaul some day.
It is a bit awkward to use from time to time because you have to save the settings before going to the next
panel. It would really be great if the CD Player supported playback by digital ripping as the default. Most
new systems, especially laptops, don't ship with the cable connecting the CD-ROM drive to the sound card any
more so it is an obvious area to address in the desktop market.
Could you tell us somewhat more about the work that Xandros has done to
integrate KDE in their products? Has this been a difficult process?
Ming Poon: We actually do quite a big surgery on KDE in every release. We changed things from how the File
Open dialog looks and work across network environments to replacing the standard KDE file manager
(Konqueror) completely. Most people think that Xandros File Manager (XFM) is a highly tweaked version
of Konqueror. The truth is that it is not Konqueror at all. XFM was started in the KDE 1.x days before
Konqueror even existed. Konqueror is great and is well suited for people coming from a UNIX environment.
For where our product is going, we need a simple, easy to use and yet powerful file manager that is catered
more towards the people coming from a Windows environment. I believe we have achieved this objective
quite well. In the new XFM that ships with Xandros Desktop V2, it even has an integrated CD Writer applet
that is even simpler to use and yet more powerful than the one that comes with XP. Our users just love it.
There are many other things we modify that really touch on every component of KDE from the low level
to the look and feel. We have done this kind of surgery for so many years now that we can do it while
we are almost asleep.
Does Xandros make any effort to get these merged upstream. If not, why not?
Ming Poon: We try our best. The relevant bug fixes always get in unless KDE is in code freeze mode which
it was in our last release cycle. For a lot of other stuff especially the ones that have to do with the
UI, those are really tough calls. Some KDE people don't like our changes and we can't live with the
existing look and feel in our product direction so we just leave the source code out there for people
to use or to merge if they ever decide to. That's what a GPL open source project is all about. You can
make whatever changes to it as long as you make the changes available in source code form.
How does Xandros support the KDE community?
Ming Poon: We do sponsor some of the developers traveling to conferences to talk and promote KDE. We
always promote KDE in every tradeshow we are in and in any business meetings we have had with all
the big software or hardware vendors out there. Some of the existing KDE features also came from
our contributions in the past.
It seems that the KDE project is perhaps more of a meritocracy than other projects. How does
Xandros perceive the KDE project and how does this reflect in accepting patches from Xandros?
Rick Berenstein: We also see the KDE project as more of a meritocracy and we feel that this shows in the
level of programming that comes out of the KDE community.
Rick Berenstein: I think this is really one of the best things that has
happened for the desktop end user.
What kind of users is Xandros targetting?
Rick Berenstein: We originally started by addressing the needs of the most dependent user, the home user.
The reception this got in the press ("It just works." "The King of the Linux Desktop") convinced us
that our philosophy, based as Ming mentioned above on our belief that most of our users would be
coming from a Windows environment,was correct. Our new products, the Business Desktop,the Xandros
Desktop Management Server, and our upcoming server line will address the enterprise customer as
well as the larger scale customer needs in government and education.
In the Xandros Desktop OS there is an application called "Xandros File Manager"[XFM].
This application is regarded by many as a killer feature. Can you tell us a bit more about
it and the technologies it support?
Ming Poon: For a detailed discussion you can view this article
In V2, there is also a built-in CD Writer plugin application where you can just drag and drop files
to burn to CD-R or CD-RW media. Alternatively, you can also create data and music CD projects to back
up your data, create your favorite music CDs or burn your MP3 CDs. It is just a few mouse clicks and
everyone who uses it has been more than impressed by its simplicity and yet its full capabilities.
There is also support for on-the-fly data archiving and de-archiving using the popular zip
or tar.gz formats.
How much the underlying system is hidden to the end-user?
Most of our users have not used Linux before so that tells you how much hidden it is.
How do users that switch from Microsoft Windows to Xandros perceive that switch?
Ming Poon: Based on all the feedback we have had, every one of them is more than happy. They have a more stable
OS, free of all the Windows viruses out there, and can continue to use their favorite Windows application on Xandros
Desktop OS if they choose to. Some users' family members have not even noticed that it is not Windows until they are
told. It is quite a phenomenon..
Rick Berenstein: In one corporate roll-out (150 desktops) at the end of the first shift, two operators asked what had happened to
their Windows wallpaper (we did not migrate it over). Other than that, none of the 150 operators ever knew that they no
longer had Windows on their machines. That for me is the proof of the pudding, former Windows users can just sit down and
go back to work.
On the Xandros website
it mentions "Xandros Business Desktop" a premier alternative to Windows desktops
for small and large organizations. Can you tell us some more about this product?
Rick Berenstein: Well, the Xandros Business Desktop is the first in that line of solutions.
It offers enterprises all the features
of Xandros Deluxe and also adds automatic Windows domain authentication and total support for Active Directory servers.
This way it can just be added in to a heterogeneous network environment and start working right away out of the box.
Do you see a market for commercial closed-source desktop applications on
Linux? Do you think the KDE API provides a viable application framework for
Rick Berenstein: I see the potential for both in the future.
The KDE API certainly provides a framework for such software. I think
that over the next few years this will become a major market in the Linux world.
What are the critical applications that enterprises need and does
Xandros provide these applications?
Rick Berenstein: I think the Xandros Desktop (in all of it's versions)
provides the basic applications that people need on a
day-today basis. There is a full office suite (and several other good ones available for free download), a web browser,
and a variety of best-of-breed applets that make working easier. So yes, I believe we provide the critical applications
with out of the box.
What are the typical cost savings when using Xandros in an enterprise environment?
Rick Berenstein: In an enterprise environment the cost savings go from huge to astronomical because many enterprises
who are thinking of upgrading to XP also have to count in the cost of hardware upgrades, the XP license,
the Palladium licensing scheme and so on. And Xandros not only provides a great OS but also the critical
applications so there is no need to add third-party application costs either.
What would motivate enterprises to move to Linux on the desktop?
Rick Berenstein: Many things. Cost of course, but also knowing that they have their vital information on a more
stable and more secure operating system. And a licensing system that does not bind them to forced
future software and hardware upgrades. There are many reasons for enterprises to move to Linux and
as each day passes more and more enterprises are discovering this. At last November's Desktop
Linux Consortium gathering, IBM gave a speech titled "Now Is The Time For Linux On The Desktop"
and they talked about how many pilots are going on and how, after the first Fortune 500 company
announces it is switching to Linux the rest of the enterprise community will follow in a deluge
What do you consider the biggest barrier when a company decides to use Linux on
Rick Berenstein: In the past it might have been concerns about whether they would be able to run the applications they
were accustomed to or whether they would have access to all of their data (Word documents and Excel spreadsheets, but
that is no longer really an issue. Today it is mostly getting over the FUD coming out of Redmond and just giving Linux a whirl.
Some IT managers claim that an enterprise desktop migration from Windows
to Linux would be very difficult. What do you think on that matter?
Rick Berenstein: As I mentioned above, I don't think that this would be the case today. Two years ago,
yes, but not today. And with the Xandros Business Desktop and the Xandros Desktop Management Server for
wide area deployment and remote management, working in an enterprise environment will be easier with
Xandros than it is today with Windows.
Reality today is that more and more mixed computing environments are found in organizations.
How will these organizations benefit from using Xandros in these mixed computing environments?
Rick Berenstein: In a mixed environment, Xandros will provide a level of administrative control and firewall protection
which is not only powerful but a model of simplicity as well. Again, enterprises will save money and time
(which also equals money). At the DLC gathering Nat Friedman said that the cost of viruses in the Windows world
from January 2003, until November 2003 was on the order of 130 billion dollars in terms of lost time and data.
They would have saved a bundle with Xandros on the desktop.
What is your take on the desktop computing market for 2004 and where do
you see Xandros going?
Rick Berenstein: 2004 will definitely be the year of the Linux desktop - at least in terms of its real acceptance and
growth in the mainstream. The CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate)
for Linux on the desktop is 44%, higher than
on the server side (33%) so all the figures suggest that by the end of 2007, on a global basis, Linux will be
on about 45% of the desktops, which, if you think about it, is really amazing. Between now and 2008 more than
600 million computer will be built and the number running Linux will almost equal all the PCs currently in operation.
We believe that Xandros, by offering a complete end-to-end solution for home users, enterprises, and government
and education as well as by innovation products which we will introduce in the future, will remain a major and favored
company in the Linux world.
Where would you like to see the future of KDE go,
and what new features would you like to see in future releases?
Ming Poon: An all-in-one media player will be on the top of our list so that the end users won't be
stumbling upon different media players that have very different looks and feel and may even have overlapping.
I think KDE needs to focus on finishing off some of these apps in a more polished manner and making things more
consistent across all the apps as opposed to inventing more new features (at least for the next release). Having
a consistent way or policy on how each app handles File Open dialog errors would be a very good starting point.
Rick Berenstein: I personally see a very bright future for KDE and the KDE desktop. Of course polishing always needs to be done,
but I believe that the underlying structure as well as the Qt widget set and programming environment allow KDE to
flexibility to add any new features that the future will demand.