With version Five-0, Linspire has crafted a Linux operating system that just about anyone can use - but these days, such a thing really isn't all that unique. Unfortunately, Linspire Five-0 distinguishes itself only with its custom applications and its penchant for repeatedly clawing at your wallet. Better Linux alternatives are out there.
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Linspire Five-0 is the latest edition of the Linux distribution once known as LindowsOS and it continues to target Windows refugees.
I tested a beta version of the OS and soon realised why I'm glad competition exists in the Linux realm: if Linspire was my only option, I'd probably stick with Windows.
Things started off well: the installation took less than a dozen clicks and only 20 minutes. However, unlike most installers, Linspire's cannot shrink existing Windows partitions to make room on the drive for Linux, so I had to turn to a third-party partitioning tool to do the job. The installer asked me no questions about my hardware - a nice change of pace from most Linux installers.
When you log in, Linspire presents an attractive desktop with icons, a start menu, a system tray, and a taskbar, all in the places a Windows user would expect to find them.
Linspire includes the OpenOffice productivity suite, plus Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail. The much-lauded Gaim provides instant messaging on all the popular IM networks, but this customised version nags you to sign up for a free Voice over IP (VoIP) account at SIPphone.com, another company started by Linspire founder Michael Robertson. The nag note appears repeatedly until you finally relent and open an account with the service.
Linspire throws in a few other applications as well. Lphoto is a picture manager similar to Apple iPhoto. Lsongs is a music library program that plays MP3s and streams Internet radio stations - the app integrates with the MP3tunes.com music store (another Robertson creation).
If you want to install more programs and you're not a Linux geek familiar with compiling from source code, you'll likely turn to CNR, Linspire's system for downloading and installing software. CNR stands for "Click-N-Run" but could just as easily stand for "Collect New Revenue." A subscription to CNR costs $US50 per year for the privilege of downloading mostly free software (Linspire is the only Linux distribution that charges for this sort of thing). New Linspire buyers get a no-cost trial with CNR, but that lasts only 15 days.
And the selling doesn't stop there. An icon in the system tray activates a sales pitch for VirusSafe, a $40 add-on that purports to keep a Linspire system free of viruses. But closer examination reveals that the application only scans for Windows viruses that cannot infect the Linspire OS in the first place. A Linspire representative pointed out that VirusSafe could prevent you from forwarding viruses to your unwitting Windows-using friends. If you think that's worth the price of admission, feel free to pay up.
Linux as it should be
Xandros is the king of user-friendly Linuxes, and version 3 proves this solid package is only getting better with age. More than any other Linux distribution I've tried, Xandros just works. It talks to the Windows network in your home or office. It cooperates with USB devices such as portable music players, digital cameras and keychain drives. It will play back your MP3 files and DVD movies without requiring any hacking on your part (unlike Ubuntu or Fedora Core Linux - the latter discussed further on page 116).
The $90 Deluxe Edition of Xandros includes CrossOver Office (which lets you install and run Microsoft Office) and comes with a great 350-page manual. Plus, the Xandros Networks application provides access to the entire world of free software the way it was meant to be: without any fees. For my in-depth look at Xandros Desktop OS Deluxe Edition 3, see May 2005's Linux Here's How column.
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