I've had the chance to use each version of Linspire (which, until recently, was known as LindowsOS) since version 2. My reviews of each version have been published here on osnews.com, and with each one, I pointed out the strengths and weaknesses I saw. Before I go into detail, I like to point out that the version we were provided for review was Beta IV, and therefore may contain some bugs that will be ironed out before general release.
Linspire Five-0 boots to a simple prompt that asks if you want to install to the hard drive or run "Linspire Live!" from CD. The installation is extremely straightforward, and I'm happy to say that this time around, Linspire offers advanced disk configuration options. Like in Linspire 4.0, you have to prep a partition ahead of time or take over the entire disk at install. I experienced a problem here - the Linspire installer didn't see the undefined space in the extended partition on my primary hard drive, and consequently, I ended up nuking one of my valid Windows partitions. While this was clearly my oversight and my fault, I do want to point out that after selecting the partition in the install, the installer never once confirmed which partition I had selected. Since this is not the place one should be messing around, I'd recommend the Linspire developers make the confirmations a little more verbose.
Let's dig right into it, shall we? These days, many people have "distribution fever," constantly upgrading and trying new distros every month or week. In time, the experiences begin to bleed together - they all have similar look and feel, and other than a signature application or a custom wallpaper, too many are identified by their window manager, theme, and package manager. Linspire Five-0 throws a fork into that notion.
Linspire Five-0 comes with a new custom theme, Linspire Clear, designed with the assistance of Everaldo Coehlo of Crystal fame. Upon first use, you're greeted with a Flash tutorial that helps guide you through general Linspire use. Unfortunately, at least in this beta version, most of the Flash tutorials refer to the OS as LindowsOS and show the LindowsOS 4 desktop. Linspire's desktop is based on KDE 3.3.2 on Xorg 6.8.1, several GTK+ apps, and Mozilla. The desktop, while fairly cluttered, is very nice looking and immediately, you'll see that the "L" button has been replaced with an attractive, clickable Launch button.
I was upset to see that not only did sound not work on either of my test systems, my home system's Nvidia Quaddro 4 was not properly detected, and therefore, I was stuck at 1024x768 on my 17" flat panel. All other hardware appeared to work. The two systems I tested Linspire Five-0 on were: PIII 600, 256MB SD RAM, Riva TNT2 16MB video, Soundblaster Live Value; and Dell Precision, Dual PIII 1.8Ghz Xeons, 1GB DDR SDRAM, Nvidia Quaddro 4 video, Soundblaster Live! sound.
One notices, after just a minute or two of clicking around, that not only are menus semi-transparent, but they all cast dropshadows for a very cool effect. One strange behavior I found with menu transparency is that sometimes, in some applications, moving from menu to menu leaves a residual effect from the previous menu as illustrated. I hope this behavior is ultimately remedied, understanding that pulling off this effect is likely the work of several programs between Linspire, KDE, Xorg, and more. Dropshadowing in Linux is still pretty rare, and is not always very effective. Here, the shadows under windows temporarily disappear as the window is dragged and are instantly replaced when the windows is dropped or docked for a fairly convincing effort. I was impressed, as this is the first distro I've used to pull off dropshadowing believably.
Aside from the custom theme, Linspire is packed with new applications, chief among them, Lphoto, Lsongs, Nvu, and Ltorrent. Lsongs, put bluntly, is an iTunes-like music manager for Linux. While some apps already exist to pull this function off, Ltunes is a fairly familiar-seeming interface. After importing my music into my "Media Library," I was able to skim through my music with great ease. There are still some tripping points. For example, in true Linux fashion, it thought that "Alice in Chains" was a different band than "Alice In Chains" (note the capital I.) Overall, Lsongs is a very cool application that, with the rise of the iPod, is necessary for a true Linux desktop, however, clearly has a few kinks to work out.
Lphoto is a great application too. Lphoto feels almost exactly like Google's recently released Picasa 2. Importing photos is dead simple, there are touch-up tools including a red eye remover. There's a slideshow preview, an HTML generator, and an album organizer, all of which can be exported to a CD, but as far as I saw, not to DVD through Lphoto yet (note that K3b, which is included, can write DVDs.) Lphoto is really a nice looking application withh nearly all of the features I'd want from a photo management application.
Now, burning a DVD was fairly easy using K3b. While burning a DVD, however, the system was fairly slow. I'm told that there is a lot of extra debugger scripts running in the beta versions, and so much of the hit is in system speed. I'm hoping the slowness was the result of this.
On the subject of DVDs, I could not find a way to play any DVDs on my Linspire system. I later discovered that in order to download the Linspire DVD Player, one must cough up another 4.95. This price goes up to 9.95 on previous versions of Linspire, and $39.95 for a standalone download (yes, apt-get works when configured and therefore, plenty of questionable codecs are available, but for the sake of review, there is no other way to play DVDs.) Now, loading your DVD into the drive, manually opening Konqueror, drilling into the VIDEO_TS folder, and double-clicking a .vob file (or dragging it into Kplayer), you'll find it will play provided it's not encrypted (most discs are). Of course, we can all agree that this is a ridiculous way for a DVD to work, and of course, it will only play the .vob file you click on. How can this be that a commercial OS doesn't include DVD playback?
Nvu is the so-called rival of Microsoft's Front Page and Macromedia's Dreamweaver. While it may certainly be a groundbreaking application for Linux, its benefit is truly for those that are comfortable with Front Page. I am much more comfortable in Bluefish, which is geared towards more technical coders. While Bluefish, as well as the popular Quanta+, is understandably absent from Linspire, they are both available via Click-N-Run, as well as many other web authoring applications. Nvu is a huge step, however, towards user friendly applications that don't presume that the user is technically proficient. While this is sure to offend some, I believe it to be a good thing for desktop Linux in general.
- "Linspire Five-0, Part I"
- "Linspire Five-0, Part II"