I heard so much about this product (some good, some bad), but I had never really tried it before Lindows.com sent us in the latest version of their OS, LindowsOS version 3.0. I took it a spin for two weeks now, and here is what I think about it (and for the eye-candy seekers, screenshots included).
I received the LindowsOS 3.0 via download, and the ISO file was a 397 MB file. I had an empty 8 GB partition on my dual Celeron 2×533 Mhz machine waiting for it, but booting its CD and not seeing anywhere the option to disallow it to overwrite my MBR and my boot manager, it was a no-go for me to install it there (that machine has 9 OSes in it and I don’t feel like indanger its bootmanager where WinXP relies on (XP can become a pain if you overwrite 7 hex numbers that it needs in my MBR). The only other machine available I have here is my AthlonXP 1600+ with 768 MB of RAM. It already had 3 OSes there, but I don’t use that machine often and putting back its original bootmanager wouldn’t be that hard, so I decided to wipe out my SuSE 8.1 PRO installation in order to make some room and install LindowsOS for this review. I believe that the option to “Do not install Bootmanager on MBR” (in a form of a simple checkbox or something) is greatly needed in the installation process, not only for the majority of their customers who buy LindowsOS as a standalone product (not as part of a PC that is), but also for the various reviewers. The positive side is that in their GUI-based boot manager LindowsOS includes the other bootable partitions found on that PC, so not all is that bad.
LindowsOS’ installation is truly dead easy. There are only 3-4 steps in the process and the only thing you really pick is the fact if you want LindowsOS to utilize the whole hard drive, or to pick a pre-arranged partition and install it there. Overall, I think the whole installation process took about 10 minutes. The only thing that LindowsOS should lose are these in-your-face capital character sentences that they popup to the user when you are about to install the OS. It looks very unprofessional, despite the importance of the message. Perhaps they should bold or indent the characters instead of capitalize them like that.
Booting the OS (in graphical mode – safe mode/expert mode also offered via its boot manager) takes the usual Linux-distro time; it is after all a Linux distribution based on Debian, while they have licensed a few bits from Xandros. You will be greeted with the KDM login screen, able to only login as root, at first. Login in to the only DE available, you will find KDE 3.0.1-CVS running with the Keramik theme. LindowsOS uses XFree 4.2 and is in fact includes and installs by default the nVidia closed source drivers (if you have an Nvidia card that is). Of course, on my machine, these included Nvidia drivers would crash LindowsOS completely, the exact same way as Red Hat 8.0 and SuSE 8.1 did as I described in their respective reviews on OSNews a month ago. All these people who emailed me to give me “tips” on how to make these drivers more stable are really in vain. The conclusion just is that the Nvidia drivers just don’t run on that machine. And you know what the funny part is? That the AthlonXP 1600+ I used for this review is a MicroTel/Wal-Mart PC, which Lindows.com have special contracts with and have approved it. The only thing I have added on that machine is the Asus GeForce2-MX400, which is one of the most stable and quality GeForce cards around. The fault here is, of course, the driver’s bugs in conjuction with the VIA chipset. The bottom line is that LindowsOS (and any other Linux distro with various kernel parametres) would consistently crash every time, until I changed the driver to “nv” on its /etc/X11/XF86Config-4 file. After that point, I did not experience any LindowsOS crashes.
The first thing I tried to do after I first booted to Lindows, was to add a new user (“eugenia”) so I wouldn’t have to be logged in as root all the time. I created the account, setup the password and everything, but the system wouldn’t let me log in as “eugenia”! I was getting an error like “you must change your password; Root re-inforced” or something like that. I went back in as root, I changed eugenia’s password, retried to login, but it would still not let me login! I then pressed ALT+F1 and went to a real console where I tried to login via the command line. And there it would give me the same error, but at least it would offer me the chance of changing eugenia’s password after inserting the password that it didn’t like! After doing so, I was able to login properly.
After I was logged in as “eugenia,” I was at last comfortable to use the system. There were very few applications installed by default, no Kedit, not an easier-to-use text-based editor other than VI (for the times we have screwed up with X – it happens to all, admit it), not even the KDE calculator. Also, there is no Office suite to be found. Instead, you will find 4-5 games, Kwrite and Kate editors, KreateCD, Netscape 7.0 as the main web browser, an email client for the system, and Help files available half in HTML form and half in the KDE-help window and a few other things not so noteworthy. The Netscape 7.0 default theme selected and its huge menu fonts (that you can’t change) do not help with the consistency of the rest of the UI. Personally, I found KDE’s default menu fonts to be very large as well, but these at least are easily fixable through the KDE Font preference panel.
LindowsOS comes with kernel 2.4.19 and ReiserFS as its filesystem of choice.
I noticed an annoying UI bug in their Keramik theme (doesn’t happen on my Keramik on SuSE and Gentoo Linux). When you look at the KMenu, there is a particular background color, but if you detach the opening child submenu, or even when simply opening it, the submenu’s window has a different color than its parent and this behavior just doesn’t look professional or well done.
Lindows.com have changed KDE in many places, for example there is no “About KDE” in any of the “Help” menus of any KDE application (just as Red Hat 8 did so). Also, they have simplified Kicker and it does not include virtual desktops (you can easily put them back though). The big icons involved in Kicker are the KMenu, Help, web and email… Konqueror is also based on KDE 3.0.1-CVS, but it has received a number of patches and it is effectively the same as the one found on Xandros’ early betas. It also sees / as a “C:\” and when you do properties to a directory you are getting the same pref panel as in Xandros File Manager to share that dir (Xandros has added more options since last year though – Lindows’ Konqueror patches are not as current as Xandros’ anymore). Unfortunately, Konqueror for me was unstable. I could easily crash it (I think I crashed it about 7-8 times in less than a week) and in some cases I would have to logout and log back in, in order to be able to reload it!
The KMenu includes a new option found only on LindowsOS, which is a program that lets you kill any open window. It is effectively a “front end” to xkill. But I find it really weird to have that option in the main/root KMenu, it is like saying to users: “our applications are unstable; you will need this kill application a lot.” And indeed, I used it a few times, mostly with Konqueror and twice with… Lindows’ jewel, ClickNRun.
One thing that surprised me in the beginning was the absense of Lindows-specific preference panels. The only such panels one will find is the “first time wizard” app which simply loads other pref panels, the (buggy) “change your monitor’s resolution” one and the Networking pref panels (wireless, PPPoE, sharing panels). All the rest of the pref panels can be found everywhere else as they are part of KDE or GNU/Linux. The resolution panel would only show me resolutions up to 1024×768@60Hz, while my (fully compliant) monitor can do up to 1600×1200@75Hz. I had to check a checkbox to force the app and show me all the possible X resolutions before I was able to setup my monitor the way I wanted to! More over, that panel does not include 16:9 resolutions found on some new laptops or Trinitron monitors for 2 years now (exotic maybe, but still a limitation of the system).
The Networking panel was pretty good and it was easy to setup and restart networking on the fly. There is also a tab on that panel for wireless configuration and PPPoE. So, except these three Lindows-specific panels, there are no other preference panels for hardware to be found. Also, there are no other useful tools like an automounter or an integrated firewall. You don’t even have a GUI tool to edit in and out the services (PCMCIA daemon starts automatically btw, and I don’t even run Lindows on a laptop, plus the OS does not launch telnet or SSH daemons, which can be useful when something crashes).
I mentioned earlier, the Lindows’ jewel (and the center of many online debates), Click-N-Run. Click-N-Run is actually a nice service. I was able to install more than 20-25 applications this week, and they all installed fine. However, CnR is not perfect. The UI is weird and limited: it does not let me resume a broken download, even if the backend is actually wget which allows such a feature. And it is dumb: it re-downloads packages all the time, even if the application was downloaded but not successfully installed (it happened three times with StarOffice – and we are talking about 180 MB here). And talking about StarOffice 6 (which is a featured free download on CnR, a value of $75 USD) I had to download it 3 times before CnR was able to download it all or install it without weird problems/errors. Another problem I found was Hancom Office’s Spreadsheet application which is also distributed for free via CnR. After it got installed it gave me a message with a serial number, but I closed that window as I thought “I will deal with this later”. However, “later” I could not find that serial number back. Still haven’t found it and I don’t feel like re-installing its 50 MBs.
However, the main problems of CnR are the applications themselves. The quality, versioning and availability of application is extremely limited. There are applications offered there (a lot of them statically linked making them several MBs that they are usually on other platforms) that are _old_. KOffice is offered in pieces (you download each component like KWord or KSpread individually) and it is still on version 1.1.1. Others haven’t been updated in many months and the developer tools are also dated. On top of all this, they have changed the naming of applications, so you don’t download “Quanta” or “BlueFish” anymore, you download a thing called “HTML Editor” and I end up having two entries on my KMenu/Development with the name “HTML Editor.” As for KWord is renamed to WritePRO or something, Gnumeric became Numeric and other such weird stuff that would only confuse users who already know these popular Linux applications.
There are a few Gnome applications offered via CnR like Evolution, Gaim and Gnumeric, but these are not many. Only GTK+ 1.2.10 applications are offered, and they are indeed very limited in number. I am sure that LindowsOS would have more quality applications to offer if they put more people to work in the CnR department. More applications need to be decided and brought in (there are many popular, quality applications missing from CnR), compiled, tested and uploaded to CnR. A very annoying problem I have with Lindows’ approach to GTK+ applications is that Lindows uses by default the CRUX theme and it simply looks incredibly BAD (Gnome apps also load with huge fonts – I wonder if Robertson has a vision problem :-). Crux does not go well with Keramik — it is dark gray and unsuitable to the default KDE theme. Even Red Hat 8 does a great job “merging” the look and feel of Gnome and KDE applications, but Lindows completely fails in that respect, even if Lindows is the “pure” desktop OS in this comparison. I hope Lindows consider use Geramik in the future and offer more Qt and GTK+ applications.
As for the quality of the packages, well, Heroes the snake-game, was badly “ported,” it looks for its sound files on the wrong path and it creates 3 entries in the KMenu, while a single entry would be sufficient. Additionally, the /usr/games/ (where all games get installed) is not in the $PATH. Having a different directory for different kinds of executables is a good idea probably, but I don’t see why they don’t do it for more kind of applications, and moreover, why they don’t add these new paths to the main $PATH. Another problem was that some paths on AbiWord was wrong or something, and Abiword was keep complaining about some fonts. The rest 20-25 applications I installed via CnR, were installed fine and with no issues.
Last problem I have with CnR is that you need to be root to be able to install anything. Of course, this is the Unix way (only the superuser can install OS-wide applications), but CnR should find a way to install packages for the specific user as well as for all users. It should at least ask upon installation. This is how MacOSX and WinXP work, and I believe that this way offers flexibility and power to the plain user without having to rely on a sysadmin or break the whole system.
Let’s clear up some misconceptions now. Most people who are whining against LindowsOS have no clue what Lindows.com and its team try to create, market and sell. They see LindowsOS as an unethical Linux distro. They even see CEO Michael Robertson as a liar of some sort. Too bad, because these people who claim these things, just don’t get it.
LindowsOS is not your traditional Linux distro. It was never meant to be one. LindowsOS (as well as Lycoris) are created to simply power home PC appliances. This is why functionality on Lindows is so limited (always root, very few pref panels, very few options in general). It is meant to be this way. LindowsOS is not for geeks and it was never meant to be a product for them. In fact, you sir, you that you are reading this article right now on OSNews, a site primarily populated by geek readers and developers, you would probably never have a real interest running LindowsOS other than for pure curiosity! I would not suggest buying LindowsOS to any geek/developer. It does not come with developer tools, Lindows.com’s marketing line is to NOT advertise the fact that LindowsOS is based on Linux and at the end of the day, other systems can probably give you much more flexibiliy and power over what you want to do with your OS.
However, for people like my brother, my cousins and the rest of the non-geek customers, LindowsOS can position itself favorably, and I personally welcome this product to that specific market. Both Lycoris and Lindows can fill up a niche: The absolutely cheap OS alternative that comes with dirt cheap PCs in the form of a “home PC appliance.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, LindowsOS can make some money and be successful in this niche market. It can even be more successful financially than other “Linux distributions” that you might favor.
Other readers were unhappy by the fact that Lindows.com said that it would run Windows applications, then they said they will support some of them, and then they dropped that marketing line altogether. This situation has angered some readers. For me, it is only natural: WINE can’t run all Windows applications because of the hidden APIs, and to even support a few of them well, it needs quite some work specific to these apps (as Transgaming and CodeWeavers taught us). I can clearly “see” Robertson, 1 year ago, having lots of ideas and pushing the idea of running Windows apps among his engineers as this would have been essential to his product, and after months of engineering he would find out that it would not be possible to develop and maintain WINE in such a level with less than 35 engineers (and Robertson not being a programmer himself would add up to having misconceptions of what WINE can and can’t do). So, I would assume that the WINE plan was dropped quietly, but people do not forget neither forgive. In this specific issue though, I feel that I understand the incentives and the natural way of things happened overtime behind the scenes so I don’t feel bad about it (in fact, Lindows.com have returned a lot of code to the WINE project from the days they were working on it !)
Another issue that people don’t feel happy about is the superuser issue. Well, in that issue, I am 95% on Lindows.com’s side. Apparently, the first thing you see after you boot for the first time to LindowsOS is the “first time wizard” app where it has a big, blunt button to setup new users. So it is indeed up to the user to click that button and add accounts for the rest of the family or for his/herself. Please do not forget that WindowsXP’s default behavior is also the exact same and MacOSX’s behavior on the issue does not differ much either. However, there is a problem here. Except that terrible behavior I experienced and described earlier when I created the “eugenia” account, several applications installed via Click-N-Run were not installed correctly. While in order to launch CnR you have to give your root password (and I did so) after installing Star Office 6, only the root user was setup with the application and it was the only user that could run the app. Any other user would get an error message for missing files and it would load the “repair SO6” application. And if that was not enough, a bunch of applications (like KreateCD if I remember correctly) were hardcoded to write their needed files on the /root/ directory instead of the current ~ home dir!! I find this both hilarious and sad seeing the LindowsOS engineers having “ported” and modified applications to behave this way! Again though, I have this feeling that Lindows.com wanted to only have a single user account in the past (root), and now, as people are shouting about the issue all over the place, they are trying to slowly revert back to a multiuser-on_demand scheme, but applications they have written/ported/modified months ago do not play anymore well with the new scheme! I guess, they now pay for their earlier design decisions…
The last issue I will tackle here, is the price of the OS and Click-N-Run. In this issue, I will have to fully agree with the… usual suspects (I mean, whiners ;). LindowsOS+CnR price is outrageously expensive for a “cheap” alternative to Windows. It is $129 USD for LindowsOS and one year of CnR, while you would normally not pay more than $25-$30 USD for WinXP OEM that comes with your PC. This is not just way more expensive than the Windows/OSX and their freeware/shareware market offerings, but it truly feels like a rip off for essential things like “application enrichement of the OS” (which is what makes the OS at the end of the day – BeOS’ failure to captivate markets proved that years ago already). Whatever Lindows.com tries to tell you about CnR, I proved and mentioned above that it is not perfect, neither it includes the whole range of quality applications found in the Linux development community and market. CnR feels restricted (not many apps, neither newest versions), limited (not enough CnR-application options, UI is weird at times) and buggy (crashed it twice already, StarOffice was a pig to get it installed with fast cable line). And at the end of the day, we should not be forgetting that the kind of people who will buy a PC with LindowsOS on it, have no clue how to use (the included) apt-get. Their only solution to enrich their OS with needed apps, will have to be CnR, as it is unfortunate that the default installation of LindowsOS has very few applications in it (I wish they would include KOffice 1.2 and a Calculator by default at least!). The whole deal sounds like “we don’t put many apps in the OS, so you will buy the CnR services.” It looks like a trap and feels like a rip off to me. For this case, that’s not the way to go, Mr Robertson.
LindowsOS’ bigest competitor in this “home PC appliance” niche market is Lycoris. Between LindowsOS and Lycoris, I might have to pick Lycoris at this point. I don’t feel that LindowsOS has the appropriate “depth” yet. LindowsOS is only “saved” by the fact that their installation procedure is much more simple and that CnR is much more direct and approachable than the (false in my opinion) Lycoris direction of including less than 80 application in their (almost free) CnR-alike web application named IRIS but then selling many different package add-ons for Lycoris with more applications (with no Gnome apps at all to be found in these Packs). If Lycoris was to enrich IRIS with many quality (and Gnome) apps for a price around $50 per year, I see absolutely no reason for a future on Lindows (as it stands today that is). In that specific niche “home appliance PC” market, Lycoris would have won (read our recent review for a few things that Lycoris still need to get right though) but the current situation is not as such, so Lindows still has a shot to become more acceptable and more affordable.
But they will need to enrich their OS with more default applications that make sense to be there and add value to the OS itself. They should also stop pushing CnR so much to the point that it becomes painful to the potential customer, fix bugs, include more recent and more apps in general on CnR and be a bit more serious and professional at places.
Oh, and Lindows needs a system like Lycoris, Windows and OSX already have and it is truly convienient, than having to re-install the whole OS every 2 months when Lindows.com decides to release a new version with a brand new major version number for only some small bugfixes: Update the OS via the web. Automatically. You have the technology already (CnR). Use it! (Update:I was just told that there is such a feature. Well, haven’t seen it, it is not apparent at all as it is part of the CnR app itself apparently, instead of being a standalone app based on CnR technology.)
The current installation procedure does not even offer an “update” feature (at least I did not see one – maybe it is present only if the installer finds a Lindows partition, dunno). And it is truly ironic that an effectively, internet appliance (as LindowsOS really is), does not update itself via the web.
Hardware Support: 8/10
Ease of use: 7/10
Credibility: 7/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 7/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)
Overall: 7.4 / 10