When it comes to building custom PCs, finding an edge is one of the keys to success. Thanks to Linux, system builders have the capacity to make a double threat to the competition.
On the hardware side of the equation, Linux's requirements differ little from those Microsoft Windows, with the exception that the open-source operating system can do more with less. That's good news for system builders, since they won't have to change their selection of components to leverage Linux.
The more complex part of the equation, then, becomes selecting a Linux distribution for customers. Linux's big advantage over Windows is cost. Linux can cost next to nothing, whereas Windows can significantly hike the price of a system.
More than 300 distributions of Linux are available, and each has its idiosyncrasies. The CRN Test Center's favorites are Xandros and Novell SUSE Linux, which are commercial Linux versions, and the free Ubuntu Linux. Each of these distributions is quite different in configuration and options.
Xandros Desktop Version 4, due out this week, offers a host of features that make it an ideal alternative to Windows XP. Xandros has a look and feel similar to those of Windows XP and Apple's Mac OS X, and it comes with an office suite (OpenOffice), music and photo managers, wireless profiles and NTFS file system support.
Xandros Desktop Version 4 is priced at about $90. A business version, which adds support for Active Directory, Windows's PDC access and Star Office, costs roughly $130. Xandros offers partner and VAR channel programs, which should reduce the initial cost of the product and add another layer of support. Those elements, on top of the feature set, make Xandros a good starting point for a white-box Linux PC.
Novell has a different target customer for its SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) 10: users of enterprise desktops looking to upgrade to Windows Vista. SLED 10 is slated to hit the market by mid-July and brings a feature set tuned for the enterprise.
SLED 10 offers authentication to Windows Domains, Active Directory, E-Directory and LDAP, making the product a good fit for a networked PC. Also included is a Novell-customized version of OpenOffice, which promises a higher level of compatibility with Microsoft Office than other office suites.
In addition, SLED 10 includes desktop remote control, file management, image management and network application deployment, along with security tools. A 3D interface provides Vista-like functionality, but the product costs only about $50. Novell's secret weapon comes in the form of support. Novell offers partners 24x7 support through its extensive support network.
Though Xandros and SLED best Windows on price, nothing beats what Ubuntu brings to the table: It's free.
Of course, system builders must pay careful attention to the EULA to stay within copyright guidelines when distributing Ubuntu. That aside, Ubuntu combines some of the best open-source capabilities into a single distribution. The product includes OpenOffice, Firefox, Evolution e-mail, image editing tools and more. A plethora of open-source applications also are available for download from Ubuntu's Web site.
Ubuntu aims for simplicity by disposing with a GUI-based installer. A default installation can be put on a system quickly and with minimum effort.
With these three distributions, white-box builders will have more than enough choices to leap into the Linux desktop market. Simply put, Xandros is the best choice for a desktop user migrating from Windows, SLED 10 is the best choice for the corporate networked desktop and Ubuntu offers the ultimate in price vs. performance.
FRANK OHLHORST is director of the CRN Test Center.