posted by Jeremy LaCroix on Thu 7th Apr 2005 17:28 UTC
IconLinspire has always intrigued me, it's a professional class operating system aimed at the mainstream market, and one of the few Linux distributions available in boxed sets. I've never really been a big fan of Linspire though, because I am a power user. Still, I was intrigued enough to inquire about reviewing Linspire, and they were nice enough to provide me with a digital download copy with a trial Click N Run (CNR) subscription. I wasn't too keen about blowing away my Fedora installation (I only have one computer with enough resources to run anything above DOS) but eventually curiousity took over, and I went for it.

Test System:
Custom AMD Athlon 900mhz System
768MB Ram
Western Digital 80GB Hard Disk
ATI TV Wonder Tuner Card
NVIDIA Geforce FX 5200 (128MB)
Creative Soundblaster 5.1 Surround Card

Installation:
Linspire installed in about 10 minutes for me, which was really good, but it doesn't really offer many advanced options. It allows you to select which partition to install it on, however I didn't see a partition manager which leads me to believe that you may need to create the partition prior to installing. If that is true, that is a real shame, even Windows has a partition manager. What's even worse, the installer ran at a resolution of 1600x1200 @ 60hz refresh rate, which made me feel like my eyes were going to pop out of my head! (My monitor doesn't handle anything above 1024x768 well). A happy medium of 1024x768 would've been a better idea.

Using Linspire

The first thing I noticed about Linspire 5.0 was its presentation. Hands down, this is the best presentation I've ever seen in a Linux distribution. Actually, this is probably the best presentation I've seen in any OS altogether. The entire theme looks to be custom to Linspire, and it doesn't look half bad. The icon theme, which I believe to be a creation by Everaldo, is also pretty good; however some of the icons seem lifeless in comparison to the Crystal theme of KDE with other distributions.

Next, I noticed that Linspire automatically enabled a GLX driver for my Nvidia card, which was outstanding, as this can be a major headache, and in some cases a rite of passage, with many other Linux versions out there. It was a relief that this was done for me.

A major gripe was that when I first started playing with Lsongs, I noticed I had no sound. Further investigation into this issue made me realize that even though my onboard sound was disabled in the bios, Linspire wanted to use it anyway and set it as the default sound card. Very frustrating, but after about an hour of searching Google, I found out about a small text file in the middle of nowhere that was to blame. At any rate, the fact that Linspire asked me which sound card to use as default was a good idea, but would have been better if it did what I told it to.

When it comes to the applications that Linspire comes bundled with, I couldn't help but notice that Linspire has tried as hard as possible to remove the actual program names from the software, and in some cases, credits to the original developer. For a moment, when I fired up the web browser, which has a pop up screen showing "Linspire Internet Suite" made me think it was an original Linspire program, until I realized it was just Konqueror with a Linspire load screen. Same thing with Gaim and most of the other applications.

Multimedia

After fixing my sound card problem, I was finally able to check out the multimedia aspects of Linspire. Lsongs is fantastic. While it's close to being my favorite multimedia player (it eats system resources like a hog) this program is actually very good. In addition, one of the selling points of this OS is that all multimedia file types are supposed to work right out of the box, and in actuality, that's very true. Every media type I've been able to throw at Linspire seems to work fine. This reminds me of how hard it was to achieve this with Fedora.

A Note About The (Lack of) Speed:

When it comes to any operating system, speed to me is one of the most important things. I was severely let down in this area, Linspire 5.0 has to be one of the slowest Linux distro's I've ever seen. Booting alone takes at least two or three minutes (It feels much longer when you are staring at your screen, when it looks like nothing is really happening) and programs seem to take quite a bit to load into memory as well. With Fedora Core 3, with which I had at least 3GB of software installed, the speed was great, but not with Linspire. This was one of the major things I was hoping would get fixed, since Linspire 4.5 was slow as well, but apparently speed is not one of the "1200 improvements" contained in this operating system. I don't really understand this, either. I had 3GB worth of Fedora Core 3 installed prior, and Linspire is only one cd rom, so what's the deal? Nothing other than shoddy memory management seems to be the blame. Since Linspire is aimed as being an alternative for Windows, Windows users switching to Linspire aren't going to appreciate that Linspire is slower than Windows, I'm sure.

Software Installation (Click N Run)

CNR is one of, if not the most debated subjects when it comes to Linspire. For those not up to date, CNR is a program that lets you search, preview, and install software with one click and Linspire pretty much does the rest. When I first visited CNR, I was there for a good half hour downloading everything I could remotely find useful, so it is fun, and it contains some real goodies.

Although CNR is easy and fun, it still brings up the subject of paying a monthly fee for access to software that is free on pretty much every other distribution. Of course, Linspire has exclusives, and most of them are pretty good. My stance is two fold, though. I don't believe that just because an OS is open source it means I should have everything for free. I do understand that people are employed at Linspire and need a pay check and I definitely don't mind paying for something I find is good. But I do have a major problem with paying a monthly fee for programs that are free everywhere else. The developers of these programs probably aren't seeing a dime, and I'm not even sure they authorized their programs to be paid for in this way. However, most of the programs are open source, and Linspire easilly took advantage of that for their own personal profit. Paying for these programs would have made much more sense, if it weren't for the fact that you can enable the Debian APT software included with Linspire and get most of those programs for free!

Stability

Linux, in general, I find to be more stable than Windows. Linspire is definitely more stable than Windows, but less stable than the other leading distributions. My Linspire OS has crashed three times since I've installed it, and individual programs have frozen up countless other times. Other bugs include not being able to load a program from Konsole after switching (su -) to root, the fact that TVTime cannot be ran as anyone other than root, and loading Kwrite in Konsole causes the terminal window to fill up with mutex errors followed by the sound system crashing. Another annoyance is that CNR will randomly crash saying to "click here to connect to the internet" when I have an always-on connection. (That bug in particular has interrupted several CNR downloads to the point a reboot was necessary). Don't get me wrong, Linspire is surely a step above Windows in this category, but a step below other distributions such as Fedora and Ubuntu.

Misc. Notes

Interestingly enough, my wife, whom is a Windows user by nature, agreed to try Linspire on her computer. I've always been told Linspire is great for those wishing to switch to Linux, and she's used Knoppix, Fedora, Mandrake and Ubuntu, but ironically Linspire drove her back to Windows! I presume it was more than likely the fact that Linspire is slower than molasses, (much slower than the Windows installation she deleted to install this OS) but that is definitely a point against Linspire. Personally, I like Linspire 5.0, it's beautifully done, has a great theme and a very nice directory structure, but I will probably go back to Fedora. Some of the things I rely on (such as speed and stability) makes me miss having a power users distro. Having to switch to root to run TVTime is another thing that I cannot tolerate. Finally, games are running pretty slow too, and as a Zsnes fanatic, Linspire isn't going to work out for me.


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