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Second up, Xandros Professional Edition was the only enterprise product in this league, and it showed. The Xandros installer is slick, with a simple tree view. The wizard process covered graphics, partitioning the drive, and offers the choice of what to install. The installer automatically recognized the HP drivers and setup the printer. However, Xandros came to a screeching halt: It found the onboard LAN, but it was unsupported. During hardware detection to get the networking working, the entire system froze and hung up. There was no way to get the installation to complete. Xandros was knocked out of the competition almost before it could even get started.
Third and last of the Debian distros tested, engineers tried out Freespire 2.03 with a CNR beta. The free version of Linspire, Freespire installed even faster than Ubuntu had, with only three user prompts. Like Ubuntu, Freespire had no trouble detecting and configuring the Attansic chipset for network connectivity.
Freespire uses CNR for updates. Freespire recognized the printer and installed it, but it was not listed under printers in OpenOffice. Engineers had to select and activate the printer under the control settings before it showed up in Open Office. The printer setup window resembled the Windows printer dialog, with vendors listed in the left pane and the models in the right.
While sound worked, the volume control was a little quirky, not properly increasing or decreasing the volume. The USB drive was automatically mounted and a link appeared on the desktop.
The user experience was about the same as Ubuntu. Freespire seemed a little bit shinier, but as an overall experience, engineers agreed that Ubuntu by far outscored Freespire in this round. Ubuntu had been such an effortless experience that even the extra step for printing in Freespire seemed unnecessary.
Scoring each of the Debian distros on installation, ease of use, and driver and network support, the Test Center chose Ubuntu as the winner of Round 1. It's clear that Canonical has gone the extra mile to make Ubuntu work right in real-world settings. Deploying it and integrating it into an office environment isn't the dirty job that desktop Linux used to demand.
A few notes on Xandros and Freespire are in order. Xandros has repeatedly scored high marks in previous testing by the Test Center and enterprise support is available -- unlike with most other Linux distributions. It does have a look and feel to make Windows users feel comfortable. But its inability to play well with the Attansic chipset -- while Ubuntu didn't require any special attention with the hardware configuration -- simply worked against it in this test. We'll continue to keep an eye on Xandros and its hardware and driver support.
Freespire was clearly the Cinderella story of Round 1. It surprised us with how easily and fast it installed (as quick as it took to turn away, answer a colleague's question and turn back, Freespire was installed, up and running.) Compared to Ubuntu, it was a little balky in some tasks and performance but it will be a distribution to follow in the coming year.
But, clearly, Ubuntu shined. It has earned the right to play in the championship round of The World Series of Linux. The next round will determine its opponent, as the RPM Round pits SLED 10, Fedora 7 and PCLinuxOS to compete to pick the best out of those distributions.