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Sofware in Review → Linux/BSD hacking → Linux optimizations →

Hacking Xandros Desktop Home 4.0

By Jem Matzan

Xandros Desktop Home Premium Edition is the most complete desktop GNU/Linux distribution on the market today, but it still has a few holes in it. If you want to play commercial DVD movies, use an unsupported wireless network card, watch WMV video clips, or install software that isn't in Xandros Networks, the default install will not be sufficient. This guide will show you how to add all of these capabilities to your Xandros Desktop Home Edition 4.0 installation.

Adding Debian sources

There are many thousands of programs available in the Debian package repositories, and most Debian-based GNU/Linux distributions (like Xandros) should be able to access them. With one simple change, you can find, install, and update Debian packages through Xandros Networks:

  1. Open the Xandros Networks utility by double-clicking its icon on your desktop, or by selecting it from your Launch menu.
  2. Go to the Edit menu and select Set Application Sources...
  3. Click the checkbox next to Debian Unsupported Site.
  4. Click the Add button, then type this in (or copy and paste from this article) and click OK: deb stable main
  5. Click OK one last time to finalize the settings.

It will take a few minutes for Xandros Networks to rebuild your package database. Once it's finished, the Debian software repositories will be included in all future package searches you perform. The search results will be listed in a temporary category called expert in the left pane of the Xandros Networks utility.

Debian packages will not show up as their own category, nor will they be added to the standard Xandros software categories in Xandros Networks. The only way to access Debian packages through the Xandros Networks utility is to use the search function.

Adding Debian sources
Adding Debian sources to XN (click to enlarge)

DVD playback

Adding the DVD decoding libraries is easier on Xandros than it is on most other operating systems, but it still requires some command line work. Be warned that installing this software library may be against the law in your country. If so, follow this procedure at your own risk:

  1. Start Konsole by opening the Launch menu, then selecting Applications, then System, then Console.
  2. Switch to root permissions by typing su and pressing Enter. You will be prompted for your root password; type it in and press Enter.
  3. Type in this command (you can copy and paste directly from this article if you want): /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/examples/
  4. That's all -- you can close the Konsole window as soon as the script is done.
Adding DVD playback
Adding DVD playback support (click to enlarge)

Using NDISwrapper

If your wireless network card doesn't have a Linux driver yet, you might still be able to use it by adapting the Windows driver to work with the Linux kernel. The software that does this is called NDISwrapper, and it is included in the default Xandros Desktop installation. Unfortunately, some genius engineer at Xandros decided to make it difficult to find the easy-to-use graphical NDISwrapper utility in Xandros Desktop Home Edition 4.0, so in this example you'll launch it from the command line. It can also be found buried in the Control Center.

Before you begin, make sure your wireless card is supported by NDISwrapper by checking its compatibility list. If it's supported, continue these instructions. If it is not supported, the only option left is to buy a Linux-compatible network card as a replacement. If your card is supported and there is a link to a driver for it on the NDISwrapper compatibility list that you just checked, download it. If the name of the driver INF file you need is shown, write it down.

If there was no driver link on the NDISwrapper page, you will need to get the Windows XP or 2000 driver for your wireless card through another method. The quickest and easiest driver source is the CD that came with the card. If you don't have it or can't use it, you'll need to find another way to access the Internet and download the driver from the card manufacturer's Web site. Often times, manufacturers will pack drivers into zip files or executable self-extracting archives. If that is the case, you will have to extract them by running the EXE file on a Windows machine. Regular zip files can be unzipped in Xandros. Once the files are extracted, look for the INF file from the NDISwrapper compatibility list and copy it to a CD or a USB flash drive. If the list doesn't tell you which INF file you need and there is more than one among the files you extracted from the driver archive, copy them all to a flash drive or CD, and follow these last few steps:

  1. Insert the driver CD or USB flash drive into your Xandros computer.
  2. Start Konsole by opening the Launch menu, then selecting Applications, then System, then Console.
  3. Switch to root permissions by typing su and pressing Enter. You will be prompted for your root password; type it in and press Enter.
  4. Type in this command and press Enter: ndisdrivermanager
  5. After a few moments, a new window will appear. In it, click the Add button.
  6. In the ensuing file dialogue, click the My Linux icon on the left. This will change your file view to show your CD/DVD or flash drive in the right pane.
  7. Double-click the media where your driver is (CD or flash disk) to open it.
  8. Select your INF file and click Open. If you have a variety of INF files to choose from and don't know which one is the right one, try the one at the top of the list and see if it works. If it doesn't, remove that driver and try the others until you find the right file. If it says present in the Hardware field of the ndisdrivermanager window, you have the right driver.
  9. You're done -- click Close. You could run some commands from Konsole to get the network up, but it's easier to just shut down and restart your system. On next boot, you should have wireless network access.
Using ndisdrivermanager
Using NDISwrapper

Playing proprietary video files

If you want to play Quicktime and Windows Media files and watch video clips in your Web browser, you'll need to install the mozilla-mplayer package and its prerequisites. This procedure requires that you first add the Debian sources as shown above, so if you haven't done that, do it now.

  1. Start Xandros Networks, and search for this term: mplayer
  2. Click on Expert, either in the left pane or the right pane -- both links go to the same place.
  3. Scroll down until you see the mozilla-mplayer package. Click the Install button across from it.
  4. You'll be asked for your root password, and then it'll ask if you agree to installing the packages that mozilla-mplayer depends on -- click OK.
  5. If you're asked which sound wrapper you'd like to choose, erase the default setting in the text field, type 1 (the number one), and click the Enter button.
  6. The installation should only take a few moments to complete. When it's done, click Close.

You can now watch almost any video file in your Web browser or offline in a video player. The plugin is not perfect, and occasionally will fail in various ways. Usually if you refresh the page that has the video clip, the problem will clear up. If you're unsatisfied with this, you can uninstall mozilla-mplayer and try one of these alternatives (do not install more than one at a time):

  • mozilla-plugin-vlc
  • kaffeine-mozilla

I had the best results with mozilla-mplayer, but your experience may be different.