I admit that I’m a geek. I use Linux. I use Solaris. I use FreeBSD. At times, I use Windows. And without a doubt, I download and try almost every Linux distribution when they come out. Over the last few years, I’ve tried all of the RedHat/Fedora releases, 2 different Lindows/Linspire releases, Mandrake, Gentoo, Xandros, Suse, Ubuntu, and the list goes on.
I’ve learned that each is designed in different ways and each shines in different ways. Xandros is by far the best when it comes to integrating into a Windows network. Linspire is the best if you’re the average home user that simply wants a cheap replacement for Windows or otherwise can’t afford Windows. The recent release of Suse 9.2 Professional shines on mobility with the Profile Manager for quickly changing between networks, and with their stellar out-of-the-box power management and wireless support, especially for laptops. And RedHat/Fedora is one of the most stable, though as a result, one of the most bland distibutions. Gentoo is fairly complex, but gives you the power to do whatever you want: cpu optimizations, kernel tweaks, etc. Fedora aims to be completely free. Suse & RedHat seem to believe in charging big bucks (though always just a little less than Windows) for corporate support and “Professional” versions. Linspire seems to think you should get your OS for free, but pay for your applications.
But while each distribution shines in one area or another, they each suffer too. Fedora/Redhat, for all its stability, is bland. Their Bluecurve theme looks like Windows 3.11 colors on a stripped down Mac interface. And their focus on Gnome comes at the expense of their KDE release. Suse is almost a polar opposite. Suse’s KDE is bright and stunning, but their Gnome release looks pitiful. Fedora, for all its *completely freeness* lacks support for a lot of things such as some wireless chipsets and MP3 support. Xandros, for all its awesome Windows network integration, stinks on laptops and gets worse power management than Windows 95. And Linspire, while being great for the average home user or person without an admin around, is too simple for the seasoned user and feels too much like someone is holding your hand.
But one must also consider the markets of each distribution. Fedora, Debian, and Gentoo are aimed at the experienced user that can afford to do a little to a lot of tweaking under the hood. RedHat, Suse, Xandros, and Sun’s JDS are all aiming at corporate America where its assumed there’s an IT department to lock things down and fix things when a user thinks they knew more than they did and rendered their system unusable. And then there’s Linspire who seems to be equally torn between pushing Linux to the average, cost-sensitive home user while trying their best to upset Microsoft.
However, for all the pros and cons of each distribution, after installation is done and things are considered to be stable and usable, its the applications that make the difference. One of the compelling reasons for choosing Linux over Windows is the vast amount of free and included softwares. Install Windows XP and you have an operating system, a web browser (IE), an email client (Outlook Express), and a few games. Now you have to buy an office suite. And you must buy your DVD player software, and your CD burner software, and your anti-virus software, and your anti-spam software, and the list goes on. But install the average Linux distribution and you already have an office suite (OpenOffice), a CD burner, a DVD player (though not normally with encrypted DVD support). Anti-virus software isn’t really needed for Linux, but its available. Spam is os agnostic, but anti-spam software is included with most Linux releases.
Now to the problem. With the rare exception, any software you buy for Windows will work on Windows. This is a value-add offered by Microsoft and encouraged by their anti-competitive, monopolistic practices. The same cannot always be said for Linux. For each application, developers must often release a source package, a .deb, and a .rpm. And for each .rpm, many times you need a separate one for Fedora, Suse, Mandrake, etc. And most often, the same Fedora .rpm that is released for FC1, won’t install cleanly on FC2. This is what the experienced Linux user calls “dependency hell” because the application releases are dependent on certain libraries, etc.
It’s with this in mind that other websites have popped up to offer a large quantity of additional applications, all compiled to work with certain Linux releases. There’s freshrpms which has packages for all RedHat and Fedora releases, as well as Yellow Dog (think Fedora for the PPC). There’s the guys at kde-redhat who’s whole goal in life is to make KDE look like it should on Fedora/RedHat. There’s the “packman” site which offers packages for Suse. Xandros has their own Xandros Network which is a repository of applications for Xandros systems. And Linspire has their Click-N-Run Warehouse which is one of the largest repositories of Linux software anywhere, though sadly, only for Linspire systems.
And I personally think that this is where Linspire truly shines. Their repository is by far one of the largest available. It has more entries than Xandros’. It has most of the entries that are also in the freshrpms and packman repositories. And best of all, its all guaranteed to work on a stock Linspire system. There’s no need for apt-get and synaptic, no need for yum, no need for the RedHat Network. And there’s really no need for any other repositories. All you do is click on what you want, it gets queued up, and before you know it, its installed with menu items and desktop shortcuts. Now, I’ll admit, for a seasoned Linux user, just clicking once to install something felt a bit like my hand was being held. After all, before repositories and package managers, there was “configure, make, make install”.
But then I compared the Linspire Click-N-Run Warehouse to Freshrpm’s repository. With the Freshrpm’s repository and synaptic, I can browse for an application, mark it for installation, then click Apply and the work is done for me. Basically, Linspire simplifies this to one click. Honestly, while I have a bit of an personal hang-up to using a “hand holding” distribution, the fact is that its simple and easy to do which gives me more time to do other things. And, I have the peace of mind of knowing that Linspire will help me troubleshoot *any* application from their CNR that doesn’t work; though in all honesty, I’ve added more than 400 add-ons from CNR and not one has failed to work properly. And all this costs me $4.95 a month.
So its with this precedent that I think Linspire needs to expand. Linspire is *not* a bunch of community developers working for free in their spare time. They are a privately held company with Michael Robertson’s cash reserves at their disposal. I think Linspire needs to expand their CNR warehouse to other distributions. Imagine if everything in the CNR warehouse was available in one place, via one tool, installed with a single click, for Fedora Core 3 or Suse 9.2. Imagine if you could install either of those two distributions, then pay $4.95 a month to Linspire for access to all things like mplayer, mplayer-plugin, xine with encrypted DVD support, etc. Sure you can have all those items now for FC3 and Suse 9.2. But consider being able to get them from a single source, with package dependencies already accounted for, and built buy a paid employee of a legitimate company instead of *some guy over Germany* that might’ve actually put a backdoor into his package. Of course, the question will arise over whether doing so would take away from Linspire’s OS sales. I don’t think so.
Linspire is given away for free on pre-installed systems. Its available for free via BitTorrent. Its only access to the CNR that costs money, and that’s a meager $4.95 a month. A user that would normally install Fedora Core or Suse isn’t very likely to switch to Linspire just because of CNR. However, a user running their favorite Linux distribution might be very likely to use Linspire’s CNR for the simplicity of knowing the packages will work, the dependencies are accounted for, the simple install process, and the peace of mind of knowing who compiled the packages. And honestly, it won’t take much marketing. All it would take is one or two Slashdot readers to blog or post a comment about how easily they got this or that installed via the CNR on their Linux distribution and it would sell itself through word of mouth. I’d encourage Linspire to give this a shot. Setup a portal for non-Linspire users to hand over the $4.95 a month. Then take the top 50 most downloaded applications from the CNR and compile them and sell them for Fedora Core 3 and Suse 9.2 and see if its not making money in less than 60 days.
About the author:
I’m a Sr. Level SysAdmin with 10+ years of experience, on a path to CTO (hint, hint to any readers). I’ve worked in many different sectors, consulted, and watched the dot-com rise and subsequent implosion. I have experience with everything from Novell to Windows to Solaris to Linux to HA Clustering to end-user desktop support and all the networks, routers, firewalls, etc that connect them. I am neither pro-Windows, nor pro-Linux. I believe each OS has its place and purpose, though where either can do the job, I’ll go with Linux. Presently I work for a biotech in the Carlsbad, CA area.
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