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.
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 OpenOffice.org 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 SIPphone.com, 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 MP3tunes.com 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.
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)