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Linspire 5

Saturday 26th November 2005


Linspire. Something which can essentially be summed as Debian made easy, with extra bits added, and costing some money. Naturally, it isn't that simple (what is?), but that's the basic premise. The question: is Linspire worth the money over other free distributions?

To expand a little on that, Linspire is supposed to provide a Linux alternative to Windows, as its previous name more than hints at. It is based on Debian, but is designed to be user friendly, and costs a few bob. As always, the first task to undertake is installation.


Right then, whack the CD in, change the boot order, and we're off! First of all, we get... a long wait. The installation loads from the CD, taking an incredibly long time just to start up. The first real choice you have is keyboard layout. With other distributions, you get far too many choices to list. Linspire gives around dozen, maybe less. Annoyingly, the UK keyboard was absent, meaning I had to try and work out where the Americans have put all their keys instead.

After that, we start partitioning. For the basic user, this is adequate - you simply wipe what you have on your hard drive, and the installation will happily continue. For the more advanced user, you are thankfully given the option of what partition you want to use.

You are then asked for a name, and an administrator password. At this point, I thought this was a positive for Linspire - despite being an easy distribution, it still maintains the arrangement of root and normal users. Unfortunately, it never asked me to create a normal account either. When I reviewed Ubuntu 5.10, I didn't like the user arrangement, with the first user being able to use sudo, but it was ultimately not so bad. Linspire, on the other hand, decides that it is perfectly acceptable to be Administrator all the time. Admittedly, it may help users new to Linux, but the security cost is just too great in this case.

After that, Linspire sends some time copying files from its single CD. Once it has finished, three symbols appear on the screen, the general gist being eject your CD drive, take your CD out, and hit the Return key.

After a reboot, I'm presented with the familiar sight of GRUB. Among the expected options is an entry for Debian. Unfortunately, it didn't work at all, meaning I had to add Debian back to the GRUB menu manually - that is a little surprising considering that Linspire is a derivative of Debian.

Logging In

Once into Linspire for the first time, you are presented with a list of users - at this point, only the administrator. A log on reveals the KDE desktop, along with a setup wizard. This allows you to customise various parts of the system, including the network and users. Note that, while you are presented with the ability to create a normal user, it is far from emphasised - it is simply one of the many options on one of the pages.

Once the final part of setup is complete, the operating system is there for you to use. Naturally enough, the first thing to do is to try the internet. Linspire uses its own personal web browser, based upon the venerable Gecko - the same engine behind Firefox and Seamonkey.

Among the applications that are already installed are K3B, and NVU, Linspire's own webpage designer, which is apparently quite good. However, when I tried it for an admittedly short period of time, it simply seemed like the Composer from Mozilla/Seamonkey. Absent on a normal installation are programs such as an FTP client or half decent graphics program. For this, you need to use Click And Run, abbreviated to CNR.

This program is designed to allow easy installation of programs. The catch? You need to pay them money first. Considering the small range of applications you start out with, you're bound to want something that isn't already installed at some point, but then you'd need to cough up twenty dollars (presumably of the American variety.)

If there is one thing that sticks out with general usage of Linspire, it is the speed. It is slow to boot up and log in, and it is sluggish to respond on the desktop. While the system I used, an older Athlon machine, is hardly cutting edge, is should still be able to run a Linux distribution without any problems - indeed, no other distribution has seemed this slow, even with Gnome or KDE and quite a few applications running. One reason for this may be the graphical effects, such as the transparent KDE menu. As nice as the effects are, I'd much rather not have the performance hit, especially considering the amount of time you have to wait to do... well, anything.


You may have got the general feeling from what I've written that I don't like Linspire very much. If that's so, you'd be absolutely right. Some people, such as those with an American keyboard, might not suffer from the same problems, but I can only comment from my own experience.

To be fair to Linspire, there is a positive point, and perhaps this is the entire point of Linspire. The user is wrapped in cotton wool, with little opportunity to make things go wrong (assuming the user doesn't run amok with the administrator account). Linspire holds your hand throughout the setup, meaning that anybody vaguely aware of how to use a computer should be able to use Linspire. While this may be too restrictive for some users, Linspire isn't really aimed at those sorts of users anyway.

Also, there are the proprietary applications that Linspire includes, such as Realplayer and Flash. On the other hand, they aren't that hard to install on other distributions - other free distributions have them pre-installed, along with a far greater selection of packages. These other distributions are also similarly easy to install and use, without bogging the system down.

In the end, I just never quite got the point of Linspire. It forced me to use an American keyboard, it was slow and sluggish, it had a small range of default applications, and it crashed every time I tried to shut it down. If you want more functionality, you can pay for CNR, yet other distributions are just as user friendly, faster and with a greater range of applications with a price tag of nothing.