Linspire: Linux With Strings Attached

At a Glance
  • Linspire Five-O

The Linspire desktop and CNR Warehouse, where you can quickly download free applications (if you've paid the subscription fee).
The Linspire desktop and CNR Warehouse, where you can quickly download free applications (if you've paid the subscription fee).
Linspire Five-0 is the latest edition of the Linux distribution once known as LindowsOS. Geared toward Windows refugees, it is available preinstalled on inexpensive machines from large retailers (including Wal-Mart) or as a stand-alone $60 package. I tested a beta version of the OS and soon realized why I'm glad competition exists in the Linux realm: If Linspire were my only option, I'd probably stick with Windows.

Things started off well: The installation took less than a dozen clicks and only 20 minutes. However, unlike most installers, Linspire's cannot shrink existing Windows partitions to make room on the drive for Linux, so I had to turn to a third-party partitioning tool to do the job. The installer asked me no questions about my hardware--a nice change of pace from most Linux installers.

Familiar Desktop

When you log in, Linspire presents an attractive desktop with icons, a start menu, a system tray, and a taskbar, all in the places a Windows user would expect to find them.

Linspire includes the productivity suite, plus Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail. The much-lauded Gaim provides instant messaging on all the popular IM networks, but this customized version nags you to sign up for a free Voice-over-IP account at, another company started by Linspire founder Michael Robertson. The nag note appears repeatedly until you finally relent and open an account with the service.

Linspire throws in a few other applications, as well. Lphoto is a picture manager patterned after Apple IPhoto. Lsongs is a music library program that plays your MP3s and Internet radio stations; the app integrates with the music store (another Robertson creation).

If you want to install more programs and you're not a Linux geek familiar with compiling from source code, you'll likely turn to CNR, Linspire's system for downloading and installing software. CNR stands for "Click-N-Run" but could just as easily stand for "Collect New Revenue." A subscription to CNR costs $50 per year for the privilege of downloading software--mostly Free Software. (Linspire is the only Linux distribution that charges for this sort of thing.) New Linspire buyers get a no-cost trial with CNR, but that lasts only 15 days.

And the selling doesn't stop there. An icon in the system tray activates a sales pitch for VirusSafe, a $40 add-on that purports to keep a Linspire system free of viruses. But closer examination reveals that the app only scans for Windows viruses that cannot infect the Linspire OS in the first place. A Linspire rep points out that VirusSafe can prevent you from forwarding viruses to your unwitting Windows-using friends. If you think that's worth the price of admission, feel free to pay up.

With version Five-0, Linspire has crafted a Linux operating system that just about anyone can use--but these days, such a thing really isn't all that unique. Unfortunately, Linspire Five-0 distinguishes itself only with its custom applications and its penchant for repeatedly clawing at your wallet. Better Linux alternatives are out there.

Linspire Five-0

A friendly Linux that keeps reaching for your wallet.
Prices when reviewed: $50 electronic, $60 boxed, $50 per year for downloads and updates
Current prices (if available)
To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • Linspire Five-O

Shop Tech Products at Amazon