Linspire, according to the blurb, is supposed to be an ‘easy-to-use operating system designed to give you years of trouble-free computing’. Whilst the few weeks we’ve spent in its company don’t qualify us to ringingly endorse that statement, there’s little doubt that, once up and running, it’s a friendly and easy-to-use version of Linux.
And yet it’s not without its frustrations. Many Linux purists fail to warm to Linspire, simply because it rides a little too close to the Windows way of working. You may have heard of the product before under its previous moniker, Lindows, and that tells you pretty much what you need to know. Here is a version of Linux that’s designed for the Windows-devotee looking to migrate.
So with that, you’d expect things to be made as straightforward as can be. And you’d be right, but only to a point. The one factor that really took us aback was the installation. Compared to, for example, SuSE Linux 9.1, it was far less friendly than it could have been.
SuSE will happily help you partition a hard drive and talk you through having Linux and Windows existing on either the same drive or the same PC. Linspire has none of that friendliness, instead featuring contrasting warnings about how it will delete everything within a drive or partition. A good Linux installation should be helping you rather than warning you, and we felt that Linspire let itself down here.
Still, once it’s found its partition or hard drive of choice, it’s straight off to work. Our first attempt to install it failed, when we selected an unsuitable partition. Yet after warning us of the failure, the installation then told us all was complete and that we simply needed to remove the CD from the drive. After a little bit of fiddling though, Linspire was up and running, and from there we were generally pleased with what we saw.
As with the majority of commercially sold Linux distributions, there’s so much packed within Linspire that it’s hard to feel short-changed. From the off you’ve got a Windows-style GUI, replete with a familiar take on the start menu.
You also have the full OpenOffice suite installed and ready to go, along with a media player, disc burning facilities, an e-mail client and a Web browser.
And that’s barely scratching the surface. From the desktop screen you also have one-click access to the online CNR service, which houses 1,900 software titles ready to download to your computer. And you can also call up some comprehensive and useful multimedia tutorials, which offer genuine help and support in getting to grips with the OS.
In all, it’s an impressive piece of work, and a good package. Yet there are some grumbles. Some localisation work wouldn’t have hurt, for instance, and the dependence on a Windows look and feel does defy the point of Linux for many people. Linspire is sometimes more of an imitator than an alternative, and it perhaps lacks the polish and innovation of SuSE or Mandrake. In spite of its justified ten minute set-up claims, it’s not the friendliest guise of Linux either.
Yet Linux distributions really are horses for courses, and if you’re after a low cost, non-Windows operating system, then this certainly fits the bill. It’s productive, secure and a lot of effort has been made to keep things straightforward. At worst, it’s likely to whet your appetite for a more advanced Linux package.
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