The Linux community has been buzzing about LindowsOS since its original announcement over a year ago. With Michael Robertson, founder of mp3.com, at the helm, it was heralded as a Linux that could seamlessly run all of your Windows applications. As details became available, the skepticism of the community grew and with the LindowsOS general release only months away, no one is quite sure what to make of Lindows.com and their product, LindowsOS. We tested Lindows 2.0 and we today present the most in-depth review ever written for this much-talked OS, accompanied by a number of shots.
Understanding LindowsOS has been a challenge for many and the reason is simple: most of us are Linux people viewing LindowsOS as a Linux distribution. It’s much easier to appreciate the product when you approach it from a different viewpoint. LindowsOS is not made for Linux people, although they may like it, it’s made for Windows converts. Remember, as you read, that you are probably *not* the demographic that Lindows.com is after, but also remember that you might like what you see. Also, the community seems to have ignored, similarly to the OpenOffice.org debacle, that there is no “Lindows.” Lindows.com is the name of the company and LindowsOS is their flagship product.
LindowsOS installed in about 8 minutes on my Pentium III 700. It took so little time and asked so few questions I was positive the install had failed. However, I’m just about positive that anyone who might want to use a computer could complete it painlessly. There was no user setup, no application choice – just a computer name, a time zone, a “system password,” and a few other simple points and five minutes later I had a booting LindowsOS.
Having replaced Red Hat’s (null) beta, I found I could not partition very well with the Lindows installer. You have three choices at install. Take over Entire Hard Disk will, of course, dedicate your entire hard drive to LindowsOS. There’s an option for side-by-side install with Windows which was grayed out for me. Thirdly, you have the Advanced Install. Don’t be fooled, advanced installation is still simpler than I imagined. It simply displayed existing partitions and let me choose which I wanted to use. I was unable to delete and combine my current Linux partitions, so I had to boot to my good ol Win98 start disk and fdisk the /, /usr, /var, /home, /tmp, and swap partitions. It could have been accomplished the same using Windows 2000/XP’s “Disk Management” took in the MMC. Only after the space was consistent could I choose to install LindowsOS on the partition I wanted. These tasks were simple, and I’d imagine anyone who already has a second OS installed would have no trouble repeating the same actions. Most Windows users will never have to repeat that.
It was interesting, though not surprising, to see that LindowsOS suppresses ALL kernel messages from the user while booting. It uses general terms like “detecting hardware…” and “loading LindowsOS…,” although I did see “Booting kernel…” amongst the information.
The LindowsOS bootloader had no trouble entering my Windows .net Server RC1 into the boot menu. It’s an attractive white screen with simple, clear text that allows you to boot LindowsOS in regular or safe mode as well as some other options. I noted that it simply took over control of the MBR without asking. This wasn’t a problem for me, and I’d imagine wouldn’t be for most, since the Windows boot.ini is much less friendly anyway. That said, it worked without a problem. I was, however, displeased that it labelled the Windows partition “hda1.” Only those familiar with Linux would understand this being a partition on an IDE hard drive – I’d have preferred a message with a prompt, maybe “LindowsOS has detected another Operating System on your computer – what would you like to call it?” Overall, installation is the simplest of anything I’ve ever installed. If anything, my only complaint is that it might be too simple.
The LindowsOS desktop is not radical. It’s KDE, plain and simple. It’s got a kicker with custom icons, a desktop with useful icons, and a super logical menu. The first thing I’ll say about LindowsOS that will elicit a reaction is that it’s the best menu structure I’ve seen in any OS. It’s idiot proof – not too complex but not dumbed down. It’s logical and clearcut, as you can see in the image below. I had some trouble detecting my network shares, however, I was able to browse them without a problem, as I’ll discuss later.
LindowsOS uses the Keramik theme by default, which is gorgeous. I find the KDE defaults to be generally unattractive and tough to use. LindowsOS makes some simple changes that a Windows user would appreciate. Single click has been disabled in favor of the double-click, which, productive or not, is the nature of most PC users. The icons on the kicker don’t grow on hover a la stock KDE3 or Mac OS X.
There are a number of icons on the default desktop. Most notably, you’ll find a “C: drive.” Having installed this on a drive that has a Windows partition, a double click yielded Program Files, Windows, and some other directories. What is interesting is that this is NOT a mount of a Windows drive – it is a symlink structure that points to the equivalents in Linux. I find this confusing as a Linux user, and yet, refreshing as a Windows refugee. If I don’t know where to go for very typical things, I can navigate a “C: drive” to find it.
Other icons, Printers, which is a CUPS utility, Floppy, Network File Shares, My Documents, and My Computer are Windows carry-overs that make the Linux transition comfortable. Furthermore, they would make the environment comfortable for a *new* computer user. Someone I know mentioned that the desktop looked cluttered for a distribution that prides itself on its simplicity. I have to disagree overall, with a single exception. I haven’t really figured out the different between Network File Shares and Network Browser. I imagine that one is a browser and one is a sort of “favorites” of network places. Neither works particularly well for me at this point.
LindowsOS is completely configurable. The only issue here is that not everyone knows how to configure everything or even that they can configure everything. In the “L” menu, for lack of a better term, has a “Settings” submenu that includes most of the advanced configuration. This menu is very similar to the “Start Here” preferences options in Gnome or the Control Panel in a typical KDE environment. The Networking configuration is a little tough to decipher – the Lisa, ReLisa, lan and rlan settings are not well explained.
As far as multi-language support goes, it appears that LindowsOS supports the same Localization options that KDE does. It seems that LindowsOS is catching on with bigger companies, and I’m sure this will force Lindows.com to brush up on their support for foreign users. In addition, there are a number of International Support plug-ins found in the Click-N-Run Warehouse under Desktop Enhancements.
I’ve had some problem actually getting the screen resolution to change. It’s set at 1024×768, which it chose itself, but when I try to move it up past 1200, it tells me changes will take effect upon restart. Three restarts later, my display was unchanged. Eventually I found that you need to change the resolution as root, despite the fact that there’s no warning.
Much of the LindowsOS hype has been the non-GPL’ed Click-N-Run, or CNR. CNR has been touted as the end all of Linux installation. Using a combination of HTTP and FTP on the front end with an apt-get/dpkg on the backend, software installation was exactly as it was advertised – so painless I could cry. Within an hour of installation, I had Star Office 6, g-FTP, Limewire, and a number of other apps running without a problem. CNR is the answer I have been looking for – graphical, easy, informational, logically organized, etc.
However, CNR has its down-sides. First off, it costs. $99 a year is the price advertised on on the Lindows.com web site. Secondly, although the speed of general surfing is speedy, the speed of the CNR interface seemed slow. The CNR downloads were extremely fast – but the actual CNR front-end seemed slow to respond. It’s possible that I hit the server at a peak time, but like I said, downloads were pretty quick. I admit, it’s a fear of mine that post general release CNR will be slower. Also, as seen in the above screen shot, CNR has some crisscrossed information. CNR reports the screen capture program being installed under the “Multimedia and Design” menu, when the show clearly shows it in the Utilities menu.
One thing I noticed is that there isn’t much software installed by default. In fact, there is no office suite – no KOffice, no Gnome office, no OpenOffice.org. All that is included are viewers: a Word, Excel and Powerpoint viewer. The funny thing is that when launched, it says “Word 97 viewer.” Word 97? What’s the point? One thing Linux vendors tend to do is compare their cutting edge distro to Windows 98 and Office 97. If a new distro can’t view Office XP documents semi-reliably and Office 2000 documents pretty close to the originals, it’s lacking. If I were Lindows.com, I’d make sure KOffice at a minimum, if not OpenOffice.org, were included in my general release.
On that note, my advice to the developers – include the GIMP, an office suite, an audio player, a CD ripper, and a screen capture tool in your vanilla release out of the box. It’s silly for any Linux not to have these things available right away to the general user. It makes for an OS that doesn’t have much practical use.
As it is, you really NEED to have CNR access to build a full system. The interesting thing here is that I’ve already come to accept this as not such a terrible thing. After all, Windows is virtually useless without installing MS Office, and in older versions, WinZip, WinAmp, and other miscellaneous programs. That said, the lack of clutter is actually a benefit. They are understanding the audience. Most distributions crowd a user with hundreds of applications and very little explanation outside of man pages or launching and investigating each one.
If you choose not to install your programs from CNR, no problem. I ran two simple command:
apt-get update and
apt-get install synaptic. Seconds later, I was synced up with ftp.us.Debian.org and Debian’s non-us repository. I was able to install through synaptic and using apt-get from the command line. I even installed AbiWord, my word processor of choice, which is based on GTK, typically Gnome libraries. I was also able to install Gnumeric, a spreadsheet application. Beware: once you launch synaptic, there is a permanent lock on the dpkg system and CNR will no longer function until you log out and log back in. I can’t decide if this is bad or not – my gut tells me most people who will experience this will understand how to circumvent it.
It is also interesting to note that there is no compiler included with LindowsOS. You must choose to download one from the CNR repository. I chose GCC 2.95 simply because it was ranked “most downloaded” and I was trying to be typical. Most people won’t need a compiler, and between CNR and apt-get there really is no pressing reason to have one.
Overall, software installation in LindowsOS was excellent and any reliability issues with version 1.0 seem to have been ironed out.
Run as Root
There have been countless debates in the weeks following the first release of LindowsOS regarding the “Run as Root” issue. To be sure – yes, you run as root by default. Let’s, once again, examine context. I understand the *nix construct. And what a great idea! – you run all processes as a normal user, and you only extended your administrative rights on an “as needed” basis. However, this is not necessary what the average user wants.
When I roll away from my desk in my chair just to turn to face someone across my desk, I lock my workstation. But for most people, passwords are a hassle. They don’t protect their machines. They want to simply be an admin on their machine. And face it – for most people, security isn’t that much of an issue. The main reason to have separate profiles is to keep your own data organized and distinct. “Run as Root” is a Windows carry over to make the transition easier.
At first, I had issues with running as root. I was aware that not only was I at risk security-wise, but I was also in danger of doing something MYSELF to hurt the system. After all, nothing would tell me to su myself and make me think twice.
In fairness, that’s not true. Like Windows, LindowsOS will prompt you before deleting items, it will warn you if you are doing something dangerous, and it will hide dot files if you don’t choose to view them by default. It’s not been all bad.
In addition, not many people have mentioned that although the root user is created and used by default, you are certainly capable of creating and modifying users. LindowsOS is Debian underneath it all and it fully supports permissions and profiles. As seen below, adding a user is a simple process and assigning permissions can be done with a right click in the GUI or the chmod command at the prompt. Will most people know how to do this? No. But I’d ask – do most people want to?
High on my LindowsOS wish list is a user management tool, one that might make maintaining users as simple as it is on Red Hat Linux. So, although I’ll have my LindowsOS system set up to run as a standard user, I am coming around on the run as root issue.
One downside I’ve seen though is that even after I created a non-root user, each time I logout, the login menu, which now has an username option (before, it was just a “system password” block), is set to root by default. This is the exact opposite of how most distributions do it. In Linux-Mandrake, for example, root isn’t even a selectable choice, you must manually type it in. This is probably a nasty bug that will be ironed out by general release, and certainly not too inconvenient.
LindowsOS is not without issues. Throughout my LindowsOS experience, I experienced no fewer than 5 “KDE errors” that prompted me to report the problem to KDE.org. Strangely, I never understood what caused these errors, nor did I see any effect on the system. Nonetheless, a new Linux user might believe something serious is going on. I hope by the general release this is remedied.
My test system is above average, as I said, a PIII 700. It had 128 MB RAM, and when I had CNR, Limewire, a browser, a shell, and Konquerer file manager open, the system got very slow. A Ctrl+Alt+Del brings up KSysGuard, a task monitor of sorts, which explained that Limewire was eating up almost all of my memory. I’m not sure how to explain this, as I’ve used Limewire before and never had a problem. Either way, Limewire was definitely the culprit. The problem is, I don’t see this as being unreasonable. A typical user might use all of these things. Eventually, I had to use the “Terminate Application” app in the K menu (or “L” menu, in this case) and kill, strangely, Click-N-Run, which hung after the confusion. There is no “kill” option when you right-click an item in the taskbar, so this is your only option. I have to guess that MR and crew assumed that “Kill” was too intense for a Windows migrant, but choosing a more friendly, less violent sounding “Terminate Application” was acceptable. This killed the Kicker bar, but it came back in full functionality.
I find the default fonts to be huge. Checking it out, the are all set to 12. I changed them to 10 and they still look big. I had to turn on anti-aliasing somewhere, but I found an anti-aliasing box in a few places. Why can’t Linux fonts be as nice as Windows fonts? These aren’t ugly, but they just don’t look perfect. Boy, nice fonts should be high on the overall GNU/Linux “want” list.
General use is similar to Windows, but it doesn’t present you with an antiquated, Windows 98 looking interface. I found everything to be fairly easy to use, and I even showed one of my non-technical friends who conceded he might be tempted to try LindowsOS despite the fact that my previous Red Hat installations all seemed too complex. I’d say the logical menu layout and application organization is one of the biggest pluses of LindowsOS.
Windows Interaction: SMB/WINE
LindowsOS promised, in its youth, the ability to run Windows applications. In a later incarnation, it merely promised seamless integration into a Windows environment. Lindows doesn’t deliver anything revolutionary here, although my luck with it was far quicker than my luck with other Linuxes. In fact, I got it into my network with no text file configuration at all. This is a first for me – every other Linux I’ve ever used I’ve needed to edit the smb.conf file significantly.
It’s not cake, but it’s certainly not difficult. It’s harder than necessary to change the name of the Workgroup to which you’re joined from “Workgroup,” for one. In addition, once you find a computer, it often doesn’t display any shares. It was by chance that I manually typed \\WORKGROUP\COMPUTERNAME\C$\DOCUMENTS AND SETTINGS\ADMINISTRATOR\DESKTOP and ended up on my Win2k desktop. I certainly didn’t browse to it. That said, most of the tasks I tend to judge in LindowsOS are not necessarily tasks the typical Windows user might attempt. The question becomes, by necessity, is it the “typical” Windows user who will be experimenting with LindowsOS? I haven’t gotten the Samba server piece to work yet, but the samba client is flying all over the network.
Now that I was on the network, it was time to take WINE out for a test drive. I grabbed a quick, self-contained executable from my Windows desktop, right-clicked it and chose to open it with WINE.
Boom. Not so much as a flinch and there it was, running off of my Windows machine. Step 2: an application that isn’t a single exe file.
I copied over the pn folder that holds an application called Programmer’s Notepad from my Windows Program Files directory and gave it a whirl. No problem. The app works. There are problems rendering, as you can see above. Some of the icons are not displayed properly, you can see the desktop through them. And the tabs, usually lined up above the code, are stacked. The app is “usable,” but not perfect. I’m still a little impressed at the lack of effort need to launch it. Step 3: Run IE.
Result: Notsomuch. I never got a result from the launch. In fairness, I didn’t copy the files to my LindowsOS machine, I launched it directly from a remote PC using SMB. Perhaps this was the issue. I tried using the Windows install on the same machine. No go with IE. Not go with Word. No go with MS Notepad. Over and over WINE failed, except with tiny, self-contained executables or apps that run entirely in one folder. Expected? Yeah, a little bit. Let down? Yeah, a little bit.
Either way, the important point to make is that with everything functional, I didn’t really need any Windows applications. I had Evolution, XMMS (by default), Mozilla, g-FTP, Star Office 6…what else do I need?
Some Other Points
There’s been much fuss over Lindows.com violating terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). Flat out — as close as I can see, there’s no violation. Once you pay for the software and become an Insider, you have access to the source code of all GPL’ed software. Items like Click-N-Run, developed outside the GPL, are notably absent, but this is NOT a violation of the license. Only software that includes GPL’ed code must be revealed. Lindows.com is entirely within their right to keep some of their original code proprietary. Frankly, as much as my heart belongs to the Red Hat spirit, as a businessman, I think Lindows.com is smart.
Something that I find very satisfying is that the president’s e-mail address has been published on the web page from day 1. I’ve written to him and received personal responses from him. I’m not star-struck, I’m just happy, as a user, that I’m heard. I even flat out told him I had hesitations about “run as root” and Click-N-Run reliability. Was he defensive? No. In fact, he shared that “run as root” has been a big debate around Lindows.com too. So remember, it wasn’t an off-the-cuff decision.
UPDATE: As we speak, I’ve just now for the first time noticed a new Ask Michael section of the Lindows.com web site. With questions like
t seems to me that Lindows.com is constantly changing their plans; one minute saying that LindowsOS is designed to run Microsoft Windows compatible programs, and then the next minute talking about using native Linux programs with Click-N-Run. Which is it?
Why does it cost money to buy LindowsOS or belong to the Click-N-Run Warehouse? Isn’t Linux suppose to be “free?”
How secure is the LindowsOS operating system, and is it true it can only be run as root?
You really should read that for some interesting viewpoints. Also, it appears that Lindows.com, just today, announced some interesting plans that involve AOL. Stay tuned for more on that.
LindowsOS 2.0 includes an AOL IM client, Netscape 7.0, and a link to Earthlink, which clearly shows that have attracted some attention from the big time. One of my concerns with using any distribution is that Linux is so volatile, I am afraid I’ll be caught using one that I soon find unsupported or abandoned. There’s a professional feel to LindowsOS that makes you confident that it’s not going anywhere for awhile.
One question that everyone wants answered: is it worth $99? I’m just not sure. With other desktop Linuxes like Lycoris so close in tow, it’s tough to shell out $99 for an OS that only offers marginal ease of use over its competitors and is, price-wise, the same as Windows, which also buys you support, compatibility, drivers and hardware support, and confidence that the kid down the street could probably help you with your problems. I think it would be better priced between $59.99 and $79.99. I know you get Star Office and CNR access with that price, but it still seems like a lot. It should definitely be less money than the equivalent current version of Windows, period. All that aside, while I look at it again, it sure is nice.
I was skeptical about LindowsOS. The Linux community cries of “dumbed down!” and “Windows knock-off” tainted me, and for that I have to say I’m guilty of having prejudged LindowsOS. I can also say that I gave the OS a thorough testing and therefore I am now as qualified as anyone out there to judge the OS as it stands today.
LindowsOS is one of the most usable distributions I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s not a server OS. It’s not an embedded OS for IAs or handhelds. It’s not a development workstation (although it could be) – it’s a desktop Linux, and it’s very good at what it does.
It has its drawbacks. It has its share of mysterious errors. But its good outweighs its bad…by far.
I’ve written articles for osnews.com before, so many of you already know if your view of Linux is parallel to mine. So here it is in a nutshell: First off, I think LindowsOS is a step in the right direction for all Linux distributions. Secondly, I think LindowsOS is a viable standalone desktop OS. I think if you are a hard-core Linux user or a Window Maker/command line fanatic then accept LindowsOS as an alternative that simply isn’t for you and pass it by. Thirdly, I think if you have ever said or thought bad things about LindowsOS but haven’t used it, you should be receptive to change. Stop thinking like a Linux user and start thinking freely – not necessarily like Windows user, but like someone who might design something from scratch. See how close LindowsOS comes to your thoughts. Lastly, remember that nothing is more anti-Open Source spirit than judging software that you don’t intend to use.
LindowsOS is impressive, concise, and easy. I’m now waiting anxiously for the general release. Until then, it’s staying on my computer.