Ximian Beefs Up Linux Desktop

Version 2 taps GNOME 2.2 strengths but scales back platform support.

Ximian Desktop 2, Professional Edition

Ximian Desktop 2 from Ximian is a slick-looking, well-integrated corporate desktop environment for Linux thats ready to roll for office productivity, Web and e-mail tasks and features a very nice software installation and update tool in Red Carpet 2.0. The $99 Professional Edition comes with a year of access to Ximians high-speed software update service and 30 days of installation support. Also available is a free version of the Ximian Desktop, which lacks preinstalled plug-ins from Adobe, Macromedia, RealNetworks and Sun.
















  • PRO: Very good font rendering; component applications well-integrated; key browser plug-ins come preinstalled; excellent software installation tool; support for Microsoft Office documents through OpenOffice.org.
  • CON: Supports only Linux distributions from Red Hat and SuSE.

• Default interfaces that ship with Red Hat and SuSE Linux distributions

Although Linux has begun to grow into a compelling alternative to Windows on the corporate desktop, many Linux companies have tended to train their energies most keenly on the server-room scenarios in which the open-source operating system has seen the most success.

Not so with Ximian Inc.s Ximian Desktop Version 2, which is scheduled to release the week of June 9th. Its Ximian Desktop Version 2 is a solid and complete Linux desktop interface that runs atop Linux distributions from Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG, replacing the default interfaces of those systems.

Built around GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) 2.2, Ximian Desktop 2 is the first release from Ximian to include the gains that began with last summers GNOME 2 overhaul, such as dramatically better font rendering. Ximian has built on these foundational improvements by bundling its desktop with an integrated set of important applications that includes the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, the Mozilla-based Galeon Web browser, and Ximians own Evolution 1.4 groupware application and Red Carpet 2.0 software installation and update utility.

eWEEK Labs was impressed with the near-release build of Ximian Desktop 2 that we tested, but we were disappointed to learn that Ximian has dropped support for several of the platforms that it covered in a previous version.

One of the best things about Ximians earlier desktop releases was that they enabled companies to apply a consistent desktop interface across a wide range of platforms, including Debian GNU/Linux 2.2; Linux Mandrake 8.1 and 8.2; Red Hat Linux 6.2, 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3; SuSE Linux 7.3 and 8.0; Solaris 8 for UltraSPARC; and Yellow Dog Linux 2.2.

With Version 2, Ximian has scaled back support to Red Hat 7.3, 8.0 and 9 and SuSE 8.2. Ximian also plans to support upcoming SuSE Linux Enterprise client offerings, and officials told us that support for other operating systems, including Red Hats Enterprise Linux Workstation and Solaris, could be added based on customer demand.

However, the two most useful parts of Ximian Desktop—Evolution and Red Carpet—can be installed on their own on Mandrake 9.1, in addition to the supported Red Hat and SuSE versions.

Ximian Desktop 2 comes in Professional and free editions. The Professional Edition costs $99 and includes a one-year subscription to Ximians high-speed software update service, Red Carpet Express, as well as 30 days of installation support.

The Professional Edition comes installed with Adobe Systems Inc.s Acrobat, Macromedia Inc.s Flash, RealNetworks Inc.s RealPlayer and Sun Microsystems Inc.s Java 2 Runtime Environment, each of which is freely available on the Internet but can be inconvenient to hunt down and install individually.

Along similar lines, the version of OpenOffice.org that ships with Ximian Desktop comes configured to save documents in Microsoft Corp. Office formats by default—again, one less setup chore for IT departments to worry about when deploying systems.

Whats more, the Ximian version of OpenOffice.org includes a raft of nice new icons that match the look and feel of the rest of the desktop, and the suite is set up with gnome-vfs libraries, enabling users to browse through Samba and NFS (Network File System) shares from the suites component applications.

Rather than replace system configuration utilities with separate, Ximian-specific tools, Ximian Desktop 2 instead directs users to the tools that are native to each distribution. Although this results in less standardization across different distributions running Ximian Desktop, it makes good sense because the quality of system configuration tools tends to be one of the main deciding factors when choosing a distribution.

On the Ximian interfaces desktop is a My Computer icon, reminiscent of the one that Windows bears, from which we could access settings, configure a printer, and browse NFS and Samba shares.

We found that, in general, the Ximian interface puts fewer tool and application options in front of the user than in Red Hats default GNOME interface. This may be a boon for users, many of whom complain that default Linux distribution interfaces suffer from menu clutter. On the system we tested, however, it was relatively easy to add entries for tools and applications we wished to include in our menus.

Ximian Desktop 2 ships with Evolution 1.4, which, along with the rest of the desktop, has been overhauled to take advantage of GNOME 2 improvements. As a result, Evolution is now much sharper-looking than before, with more print options and boosted speed.

Also improved is the optional Ximian Connector 1.4, a $69 add-on that enabled us to use Evolution as a client for Exchange 2000. New in this version of Connector is support for the out-of-office assistant feature of Exchange.

Still missing from the Evolution-Connector combo, however, is offline support for Exchange, something wed dearly like to see added in a future release.

Senior Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at [email protected]