Linspire 4.5, new kid on the block?

Written By : Ulukai
July 2004

There's a new distribution in the Linux operating systems arena called Linspire. It is derived from the words Linux and Inspire. They used to call it Lindows but Microsoft were far from happy with this and set about taking legal action. As a result they decided to change the name to Linspire.
Lindows stems from the words Linux and windows, which is kind of the idea of this distribution.

The man behind this distribution is the same man behind the mp3.com website, Michael Robertson. His vision is simple, to replace Windows as dominant desktop operating system, and it started off with him taking a simple Linux distribution and using emulators to run Windows software.
In earlier version they have gotten very far with such techniques, until Microsoft caught on.

Microsoft sued the Lindows Company, claiming the name Lindows was too similar to the name Windows and would confuse customers who wanted to buy their products.
Recently Microsoft had won the suit in the Benelux which forced Lindows to consider the name change, since the name Lindows was deemed illegal by the courts.

The sole focus of this distribution is the desktop market for business and private consumers. This means that Linspire is very slimmed down in terms of compilers and programming software and such.
Its strength comes from providing an all-in-one solution, offering things such as office, USB support and internet support built-in, to name a few.

Now the newer distributions of Red Hat and Mandrake support most of these features (if not all) too, but what makes this distribution different is the idea behind it.
The Linspire company has thought hard and has taken most of the pros (and cons) of Windows and tried to apply (and fix) them on Linspire. From things like the installation of the operating system to having an Office clone installed on the computer.
They have just taken a working operating system, Linux, and tinkered with it until it is fit to replace Windows. The result… Linspire!

Linspire seems to be a customized Debian distribution with a kernel version 2.4.24. The Windows manager installed is KDE, which is the only Windows manager available. It comes with several software packages installed; packages like OpenOffice, Mozilla internet browser, Konqueror file browser and WINE.
WINE is software that allows Windows programs to run on a Linux operating system without emulating the processor core. It simply uses the Windows dll files and directory structure to recreate a Windows environment.
OpenOffice is a simple office suit that is compatible with document types found in Microsoft Office.
It contains a spreadsheet program, a word processor, drawing tools and even a PDF writing option.

Other software features of Linspire are an instant messenger supporting all messenger protocols, a Winamp clone called xmms, native Ogg and MP3 support and many more features.

This is the feature list shown on the Linspire website:

Feature

Benefits

Linspire

MS Windows XP

SIP Calling

Free worldwide phone calls - with conferencing

New in 4.5

--

Integrated Searching

Fast access to information - saving you time and hassle

New in 4.5

--

Integrated translations

Translate web content from or into six different languages with a single click

New in 4.5

--

Remote Desktop Sharing

Ideal for collaborative works and tech support.

New in 4.5

Yes

Interactive multimedia tutorials

Computer novices can quickly familiarize themselves with everyday computing tasks

New in 4.5

--

Full office suite

Complete your office work without spending hundreds of dollars

New in 4.5

--

CNR

One-click downloads - saves you time & money!

Yes

--

Spam & Popup Blocking

Prevent spam and popups from annoying you, and cluttering your desktop and inbox

Yes

--

Built-in firewall

Protect your data from hackers

Yes

--


The featrures in this table this list is going to change when Microsoft has released their new service pack, service pack 2 for Windows XP.

The service contains a built-in firewall and popup blocker for windows xp so, as you can see, Linspire is trying very hard to stay competitive.


Installing Linspire 4.5

For installing and testing Linspire I have used VMWare workstation 4.5.

This by itself wasnít easy as I discovered. J

I have installed Linspire on a normal system to see how long it takes to install it and if you use the simple way and let Linspire take over your hard disk, itís done in 4-7 minutes. Thatís impressive, compared to Windows XPís 20-30 minutes.

These are the requirements for Linspire as found on their website:

  • PC with 800 MHz or higher processor
  • 128 MB of RAM (256 MB or higher recommended for best performance)
  • Hard disk
  • 1024 x 768 or higher resolution and monitor* (3-D graphics accelerator card for some games, screen savers, etc.)
  • CD-ROM or DVD drive, Keyboard & Mouse
  • Linspire-compatible sound card and speakers or headphones
  • Linspire-compatible 56 Kbps hardware modem, cable modem, or DSL modem
  • Ethernet card for Internet/LAN connectivity

These are some requirements for using Linspire in virtual machine technology:

  • 3 GB Hard disk
  • Operating system set to Linux and version set to other Linux.
  • Knowledge of how to install VMWare tools in the shell environment. (that can be found on the VMWare website)

As you can see I stated a 3 GB hard disk, simply because 2 GB will give you errors and results in a failure to install Linspire.

If you donít set the right operating system you wonít get the right VMtools to install and if you specify the wrong kernel type, Linspire will fail to start. Also Linspire doesnít recognize the video driver right of the bat, so some manual labour is required to install the VMWare tools.

Linspire has a boot sector on the CD-ROM, making it able to boot from CD-ROM.

If you have an elderly computer or for some reason booting from CD-ROM doesnít work for you, Linspire has also got the option to make a bootable floppy.


Starting the installation you get 2 options, install or diagnostics.

Install launches the GUI based installation procedure and diagnostics is as the word says to diagnose why your installation might fail in a semi (DOS) shell like way.

The installation is followed by a set of installation options.
First installation option being if Linspire should set up your hard disk for you or if you would like to do that for Linspire.

I left it up to Linspire, but for those control freaks among us, you can tinker to your heartís content.


Options after that are the computer name and root/administrative password.

After having set all the options, Linspire goes on merrily installing away, followed by a reboot, after which you get the same choices screen as with the install, this time with three options.

 

Here you can choose Linspire, diagnostics again and redetect (hardware).

This again shows you that they have applied the pros of Windows on Linux, having the option to redetect your hardware so you can install it properly (Plug and Play).

Of course choosing Linspire would start it normally.

In this case it wonít because the video card is not recognized and it will start in the (DOS like) shell.
Now itís time to login as root and install the VMWare tools manually.

Using the support section on the VMWare site, I found the instructions to manually install the VMWare tools.

It basically consists of copying the VMWare tools to local hard disk and unpacking it, (You have to mount the CD-ROM drive first before you can copy it.) Then simply run the install command.

It will ask you where to install, I left it all default.

Thereís one snag though, the VMWare tools need a C++ compiler for the last step.

The last step creates a shared folder option between host and guest operating system so itís best to skip that option and it should tell you it is done installing.

Now you can simply start the GUI by typing "startx" or let the virtual machine restart typing reboot.

This should work similarly with other video cards, except then you wonít have to install any VMWare tools.

That rounds off the installation process.

As you can see it looks allot like windows.

Here is a picture of the OpenOffice Writer, the Microsoft Word counterpart.

This picture shows the remote desktop feature.


Conclusion:::...

Pros:

  • Pricing, the price is very cheap for a operating system,
  • Free OpenOffice and PDF writer included, always a plus :D
  • Good support section on their website, www.linspire.com
  • Quick and easy installation.
  • The kernel is upgradeable, which means Linspire can be flexible.
  • The missing compilers and programming software can be added if you so desire.
  • Linspire sometimes give away discount coupons, which, when used, make the operating system available for free.
  • Security is increased.

Cons:

  • Doesnít support the latest and greatest hardware, simply because the drivers arenít added yet.
  • If you have a problem during the installation, it is not easy to fix (for newbies).
  • Compatibility problems with certain software/hardware.
  • If a security gap is found, it can be hard to fix/patch.

Now for the expert users in the Linux community the cons are easily fixed, but for the newbies this is a different story as they might have trouble getting it running when they stumble onto something.

Compatibility problems are bound to occur, not all programs that run on Windows will run on Linspire, but that can also be said vice versa. ;-)

All in all Linspire seems to be a complete desktop operating system for those that donít demand too much from a computer.

For those who want to use the latest in software and games, it doesnít seem very practical yet.

Perhaps when Linux becomes more mainstream, you will see more and more Linspire machines out there.

Final note: This document was written in Microsoft Word 2003 and edited in OpenOffice Writer, with no problems at all.

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