posted by Matt Yates on Thu 29th Jan 2004 20:29 UTC
IconThanks to Lindows.com, I was able to get my hands on a free copy of LindowsOS 4.5 Developer Edition just for being a reader of OSNews. Apparently a lot of other OSNews readers did as well considering the long wait in the queue for downloading. It is great that Lindows gave away their product this way. Update: The article was updated (look at the end of the article).

It is also great to learn that they are supporting kde-look.org, the Gaim instant messanger, and other open source projects. I decided to write a short review of my experience with Lindows. Unfortunately, my experience was negative. I wanted to like Lindows, but I had too many issues for me to keep using it. Before I get into the details, I should caution you that: (1) This is not a thorough professional review, only a summary of my experiences. (2) I used Lindows for only one day and did not try the Click-N-Run warehouse. I'm sure many Lindows fans will say I didn't give it a fair shot, but that doesn't invalidate the problems I have.

LindowsOS

The Test System

I installed on a Dell Inspiron 8000 laptop. It has a display with a native resolution of 1400x1050. An ATI Rage mobility M4 provides graphics. It has a Toshiba DVD rom drive and uses a cheap CompUSA brand (Realtek) pcmcia card for networking.

My Computer Proficiency

I am not a developer or programmer in any sense. My knowledge of Linux is from using it as my desktop operating system both at home and work for the past two years. I prefer Linux over Windows because it is cheaper and more flexible. During the past two years, I have tried a variety of distributions, but settled on Debian both at home and work because of the ease of updating and access to the huge repository of software using apt-get. Even though I am a daily Linux user, I am no Linux guru.

Downloading Lindows

The website was somewhat confusing. It funneled you into creating a user account and giving Lindows a credit card number. In fact I had nearly purchased the Lindows download using my credit card before I figured out how to enter the coupon code for the free download. I went ahead and signed up for a free 15 day trial of Click-N-Run for software installation. I don't like that Lindows changes the names of open source software and then charges people for downloading them. I then read that if I canceled after my 15 day trial, software I downloaded would be disabled. It seems like in addition to changing names, Lindows has hacked software in some way to give you a time trial. Maybe I misunderstood, but I wanted no part of that and canceled my trial CNR membership before I even tried it.

Installation of Lindows

My laptop was dual booting Windows 2000 and Debian unstable prior to installing Lindows. I decided to overwrite my Debian install. When booting the Lindows CD, I could see text flashing by that appeared that the installer was trying several different video modes. It did find a video setting that worked. Redhat's Anaconda installer won't work in graphical mode on this laptop so I was glad to be greeted with a graphical option of (1) taking over the entire disk or (2) "advanced". I chose "advanced" because I wanted to change my disk partitioning and keep dual booting Windows. I assumed that this would be a piece of cake for a consumer-oriented distribution like Lindows. I was wrong. After I selected "advanced" I was given a list of partitions to choose for installation. That's it. I could only choose one partition and let Lindows handle the rest. I had three Linux partitions (two reiserfs formatted, and one swap). Luckily, I had a Knoppix CD, so I shut down, rebooted with the Knoppix CD and deleted my Linux partitions. I figured that I'd just let Lindows install using whatever partitioning scheme it wants in the free space left by deleting my Linux partitions. This should be easy for a desktop oriented distribution right? Wrong. I rebooted the Lindows CD, selected "advanced" install. This time, it only shows my Windows partitions as selectable for installation. It didn't allow me to select the free space. Back to rebooting in Knoppix and re-partitioning my hard drive. I created one ReiserFS partition and one swap partition. I rebooted the Lindows CD and selected the ReiserFS partition for installation. The installer said nothing about partitioning or swap space. Did Lindows create only one partition? Did it use my swap partition or create its own? I don't know because I didn't go back with my Knoppix CD after installing to find out.

LindowsOS

The installer started and all that could be seen was a progress bar and some Lindows advertising. There is no opportunity for package selection using the "advanced" installer. Therefore, I don't know what all was installed. There was also no information on hardware configuration. I don't know what display settings were chosen, if my pcmcia card was detected properly, etc. There was also no opportunity for creating a user account during installation, so you have to log in as root the first time. The installation only took about 20 minutes. Afterwards, I removed the Lindows CD and rebooted. I was pleased to see the boot loader (lilo I believe) automatically set up with a Windows option so that I could keep dual booting. I selected Lindows. During boot up, you are given a splash screen with a progress bar. I could see no place to select a "verbose" boot option to see boot messages. After it finished booting, the X server failed to start and I was dumped to a text prompt. Now what? Luckily, I had saved my XF86Config-4 file from my Debian install. I logged in as root plugged in a USB drive and copied my XF86Config-4 file over to my Lindows installation and typed the command "startx". If I had been a first time Linux user, there is no way that I could have made it this far.

First (and Last) Impressions

With the correct display configuration, KDE started and I was greeted with a polished desktop and a LindowsOS developers edition wallpaper. I manged to click around and get my network started using DHCP, create a user account, and set up apt to install a few things. After using it for a little while, I was more and more turned off by minor annoyances. The programs that I am used to have different names. The KDE control center (I think it is kcontrol) and KDE menu structures are changed from the standard. The AOL icon on the bottom of the screen sickens me. The name "Lindows" also reminds me of other operating systems that I'd like to forget, so I don't want to see "LindowsOS" everywhere. And I mean everywhere, the name is on wallpapers, menus, the panel, programs names, graphical boot up, graphical shutdown, everywhere. I tried changing my wallpaper. After scrolling through the installed wallpapers, I saw that they had a nice picture of Lake Powell only to discover that "LindowsOS" was embossed on the image. The KDE project has great free artwork, why not include it? I finally gave up and used apt to install KDE 3.1.5 from Debian unstable. It took a lot of "force overwrite" to get it installed, so I broke god knows what in the process. I did get a standard KDM login screen and KDE with a standard icon set and style. Then it occurred to me, why am I doing this, to get back to Debian? So, I reinstalled Debian. What is missing from Debian on my laptop is some simple GUI tools for changing display settings and network configuration while I am traveling. A few simple GUI tools was what I had hoped to gain with Lindows. Otherwise, I'd like to stick to using apt-get for updating software and sick to standard open source applications.

I applaud Lindows for their support of open source projects, making inroads with OEM's, and the advertising that they are giving to Linux as a whole. I also truly hope that they are successful in bringing Linux to the masses. The approach that they are taking makes sense for a customer who knows very little about computers or software. For a developer or experienced Linux user, the same approach doesn't work. I think the inflexibility of the install process is a big turn off for experienced users. Renaming the applications may make it easier for someone who has never seen Linux before, but is confusing for someone looking for their favorite application. For many people, I can see that Lindows would be a great fit, but it isn't for me.

UPDATES:
After the article was posted, Kevin Carmony from Lindows pointed out a few errors in my review in a post. I apologize for my mistakes and wanted to correct the misconceptions. First, only commercial software that Lindows pays license fees for are disabled if you cancel your Click-N-Run free trial. Lindows doesn't disable any free software. Kevin said that Lindows is changing language to make that clear. Second, you can create a user account during installation. Somehow I did not see the option of creating a user account. Finally, you can get boot messages by selecting "diagnostics" from the LILO menu. I hope that no other misinformation was given. As I said (and others have pointed out), I didn't do a professional in-depth review, only a summary of my experience.

About the Author
Matt Yates -I am a daily Linux user and enthusiast for the past 2 years. I am an engineer, but have no formal training in Linux. Currently, I live and work in snowy western New York state.

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