Asus Eee PC Secret: Xandros Mimicking Windows XP

Asus Eee in Advanced Mode
The Asus Eee's "Start" button
At last Wednesday's DC OLPC Meetup, I got to put my grubby hands on both a few OLPC XOs and an Asus Eee side by side. The Eee was lighter, but not as well built as the XOs for dusty, humid environments. By the end of the night, its battery was getting towards the low side, while the XOs were still going strong.

We've reported before on the more OS-neutral approach of the Asus Eee, compatible with Windows XP (and possibly even a light Vista), but coming pre-loaded with Linux. Imagine my surprise when I saw a nice shaded "Start" button staring back at me.

The funny thing about the Eee is that it's not actually running Windows -- but you'd never guess. The software designers have used a version of Xandros (a debian Linux variant) and made it look surprisingly Windows-like, renaming Linux programs into their Windows equivalents.

Exploring the menus a bit further, you see your Windows favorites; "Run", Log out, Programs ... and then xterm? xkill? The illusion is not complete. Wander too long and you'll fall down the rabbit hole into the "Advanced Mode;" which looks more like your standard kde install:

Asus Eee Start Button
Eee in Advanced Mode

There's also terminal goodness. A bit of playing around will reveal that there's some oddities in permissions and locations of some standard command line tools. So who's this a win for?

It may be Linux, but your average user will think it's a version of Windows. Microsoft will get rightly upset about the ripoff of their XP look-and-feel. Xandros, one of the distributions paying IP royalties to Microsoft, has some cash in their pocket but no branding.

Finally, Asus gets this weird OS which is not the flopping fish of Windows, but is neither fully the flightless waterfowl of Linux (to stretch both a saying and a pun past their design specs). has some further information about Asus and their choice of Xandros.

...Of course, you can also load OSX 10.5 / Leopard on the Eee and make the Windows/Linux/Linux looking like Windows argument moot.

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"Imagine my surprise when I saw a nice shaded "Start" button staring back at me."

I hope you weren't reading the screen pictured ;)

I'm not sure why or whether Microsoft would be upset with the Windows-looking desktop -- at least some of their reaction is probably pleased that no one is getting taught (by the default view at least) that they could just as easily be used to different interfaces (Gnome / Fluxbox / Enlightenment / etc). That's an illusion that Microsoft benefits from :)

(This is not to say that the current Windows look is bad. It's not my thing, really, but the truth is that the currently conventional desktop choices have a whole lot in common.)

Now that I see how much EEEs run on Amazon, I'm glad I got in an XO order ;) Maybe this time next year I'll have one of each, though -- I suspect I'll be a lot happier with the EEE keyboard.



I love how you undermined the entire post with the last line.


Oops, the images/captions got shuffled; I've updated the post to make that a bit more clear. Thanks!

Reading all the possibilities for a different OS on the eee let me think of other options on the OLPC. Is there the possibility to run a different Desktop Manager other than Sugar, say Fluxbox, Enlightenment or Xfce using the original kernel and libraries in order to keep all the hardware running?
Sugar always reminds me of playing with GEOS on the C64 when I was 9 years old. All grey and 8-bit, but at least it had a hierachical file structure. And I started learning english that way.

Jon, great article. I should point out that the Start button in the first photo of your post is not visible in the factory default installation. I had to activate that by running a hack in the terminal. More here:

And I didn't know that people have installed Mac OS X. That's amazing!


The Boston Globe's opinion on Xandros OS on the Eee PC:

"But the Eee's best feature is its painless version of the free Linux operating system. Popular with engineers and hobbyists, Linux has never caught on with the masses, because most people find it confusing and hard to use.

But Linux can be a delight when stripped to its essentials. Asus engineers have done exactly that, and topped it off with perhaps the best user interface ever created for a Linux computer. The Eee PC screen features large tabs with self-explanatory labels - Internet, Work, Learn, and Play, for instance. Under each tab are the icons you'd expect.

Find the word processor and spreadsheet programs under Work, the Web browser and e-mail software under Internet. Even Linux novices will feel instantly at home."

Mike --

I'm not sure what's more bizarre; the fact that you have to do a configuration file change to show the start menu, or that the default formatting for it is Windows-style once you un-hide it.

I have absolutely no clue what the point of this article is supposed to be...

So with some hack Xandros can be made to look like Windows in some aspects, good or bad? Does anyone even care?

Personally I feel that the Xandros interface on the eee PC is actually quite efficient, obviously not as intuitive as Sugar, but definitely quite easy to use even for novices.

But tomorrow I'm going to have a chance to see how 9-year-old children react to both the OLPC X0 & Sugar versus the Asus eee PC & Xandros in a primary school here in Vienna and then I'll be able to tell you more about that...

Jon don't even think in going down that route of "which is better, mac, linux or windows" it really ruins the whole article.

I don't think this is Eee's "dirty little secret": it's a different approach for attracting users to linux by mimicking the look of Windows XP. A different approach that got them paying royalties for microsoft for sure, but it's their choice.

But this is a terryifing thought: That for many people Easy to use means "looks exactly like whatever I have been using for ages". If computers scare us to the point we do not dare to change any minimal detail of it then it´s only natural that computer use doesn't evolve.

Alexandre: Trust me, I don't want to incite an OS war; I just witnessed one on the DC 501 technologist list and it was bad (Now, emacs/vi, that's a different story; the Eee doesn't have emacs...).

I think there's a difference in looking similar to Windows - anything with a tree menu in the bottom left - and mimicking XP's exact visual stylings. The "advanced mode" has a tree menu; and few users would take long to figure out that pressing "Launch" was the same as XP's "Start." By branding it using the XP style, it's feels deceptive.

Actually, that's generally how Xandros looks. Remember, their claim to fame is a "Linux that feels like Windows".

In fact, it looks to me like Asus made few to no changes at all.

Just in case Colin's comment "I love how you undermined the entire post with the last line." was too subtle for the gentle reader (this is the internet after all, people don't get sarcasm):

Installing OSX on non-Apple computers is ILLEGAL. Anyone who gets upset that Novell and Xandros are undermining FOSS's legal protections and then advocates doing the same to Apple is a hypocrite, in addition to advocating criminal behavior.

Is this website officially associated with the OLPC project? If so, that just compounds the error.

>f course, you can also load OSX 10.5 / Leopard >on the Eee and make the Windows/Linux/Linux

That's presuming that all lemmings want is 'kewl'.

Why would I want to leave one proprietary OS for another?
Useless and impressive visual gimmicks?
Try Compiz, then we you get tired of it and want to do some work you can shut it off.

As for changing the look to feel more at ease, that's the main reason I put family and friends on KDE. Both my folks use KDE and the icons are exactly the same as in their XP partition, in the same place. Not exactly a feat but whatever gets people to switch.
I have installed Gnu/Linux on over 35 PC's and 3/4 were for retired folks, most who had never used a computer. The learning curve was not any different than for XP.

Joe User doesnt usually go past the menu and most dont even know they computer past the icons on their desktop so 'self-explanatory labels' are usually modified so next to OpenOffice you might have -word processor or -write letters next to it. Mozilla Firefox gets changed to Firefox-web browser and Thunderbird is renamed Email.

There. Self-explanatory labels.

Nothing to see original here.
Oh wait, its Xandros,... what was I thinking.


Paul, Terry --

Admittedly, no one gets sarcasm; but no one gets flippant comments either. The OSX-on-Eee is a cute hack worthy of a mention. However, the article describing the hack mentions that wifi is dodgy, the camera doesn't "just work" and so on. If you want the Apple Experience, you'll need to buy Apple hardware (or do a lot of work). The obvious better way to go for a geek on the Eee is to lock it into "advanced" mode or install your favorite Linux distro; you can always revert it using the Eee's restore DVD.

I'd be very surprised if the Eee could handle compiz/beryl; my not-too-old "real" laptop can barely manage it.

I fully understand how easy it is to be flippant about cute hacks when it's somebody else's stuff. It's human nature not to take things seriously until it affects you personally. Personally, I don't buy into FOSS as the be all and end all, as does RMS, but I do admire the consistency of his arguments. One reason I don't buy into it is this attitude of yours, which is very common. i.e. you're just here for the free beer. Free music, free programs to play with, free everything. The 'community' needs to grow up before it can be taken seriously.

Well, you know what? Programming is hard, at least writing good programs is hard. I don't care that OSX is unlikely to run acceptably on this particular computer. That you disrespect their work is unacceptable to me (whether you're a FOSS supporter or not, I don't really know). They didn't write it so you could play with free stuff, and they get to choose the license. Yes, I realize a lot of it is based on BSD licensed stuff, but that again was a freely made choice.

No, I'm not a grouch all the time. And I realize you don't think this is that big of a deal. But that you undermine the FOSS movement every bit as much as Novell and SCO probably hasn't occurred to you. Or if it has, you don't agree, but you might consider the possibility. The more people that think this kind of thing is 'cute', the more laws we're likely to get restricting fair use, and less likely we are to get usable general purpose devices in the future.

This new 'kindle' thing from Amazon is a perfect example. I looked but could find no mention of DRM, which probably means it's loaded with it. Assuming I'm correct: With your attitude, can you blame them?

I suspect we do disagree on some counts here. I like IT type people getting paid; I also am a fan of F/LOSS. I support tinkering, and believe that the tinkers of the world promote innovation by pushing technology to its limits, and getting OSX, which is arguably the best single OS available (combining usability, features, and underlying stability/security) to run on a no-frills mini-laptop is an amazing hack. I'd hope that it spurs at least a little consideration inside Apple of various options for future (cheaper?) product development.

Now, the article I linked to suggests downloading a copy of OSX, which, like you, I'm not cool with (well, if you already had a license to one, fine, save some steps, but don't outright pirate it). The comment thread there lambasted the author for that already, fwiw. While it may be out of the bounds of the agreement with Apple to install OSX on non-Mac hardware, I'll side with the hobbyist on this point; I wouldn't buy a car with the hood welded shut, nor would I buy software that I couldn't mess with at least on some basic level, either.

Have any of you seen the Kindle Digital book from It looks like a cross between a Sony Reader and an Apple iPhone. What do you guys think of it?


Both cost me $400, and have high-contrast, sun-readable b/w screens, and can read files. I'm sure with a bit of work and crontab majestry you could get the XO to auto-download PDFs, RSS feeds and so on whenever you were at a wifi / tmobile hotspot.

The Kindle however is very locked down; You have to pay to put your own content on it from my understanding; and pay for Amazon to translate RSS feeds not already supplied in the Kindle format (which I'm sure is DRM heavy).

Uh.... sorry, not my cup of tea. I'll for for the XO over the Kindle.

That being said, I think the Kindle has some potential to catch fire (pardon the pun) -- add the ability to load your own content for free (let it read text, basic html, rtf, and pdf -- .doc/docx/odf if you're going to really get fancy).

I like that we're finally seeing some epaper/e-ink consumer hardware, and that Amazon is putting some thought into wireless content delivery. I don't like that it's centralized and requires that their business model with kindle and deal with sprint doesn't go bust.

I'm working on a full blown and more researched post on this; these are just my initial thoughts

@ Jon

I think you need to make it explicitly clear that to make the Eee PC display the Start button, you actually have to hack around with the OS - by default, the user will never see an 'XP Style' interface.

As it stands, your article makes it sound as though the Eee PC ships with this XP Start button feature turned on by default - which is patently false. You compound this error by *only* showing pictures of the Eee PC OS with the Launch/Start button, rather than the little green home icon that is there by default (which only brings the desktop back.

All factory-shipped, non-hacked Eee PCs have only this little green home icon - no Start button, no Start menu, no Windows-style Run, etc options. As such, this is the view that most users will see on their Eee PC.


Not that it makes a big difference but who told you that Microsoft inented a taskbar?
Oh and a progress bar? I wonder who did those discoveries.

My favorite Windows-like feature on the Eee is the virus protection application. Because the thing looks like Windows, people would probably freak out if they discovered the Eee doesn't come with virus protection, and would probably be flooding support to see how they could get their hands on Norton or something. Asus probably figured it'd be easier to just put a dummy application in there to calm people's fears, even of anti -virus protection isn't necessary.

Where can i get one of those in the bay area

To make it even more like Windows, I'll install the IE theme for Firefox. This will make the Eee PC more like windows, which will make the switch to Linux/Firefox less confusing for my friends who are used to windows.

few months later, when Eee PC users are used to it, I'll make them switch to "advanced mode" with the full KDE interface.