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You've probably heard of Lindows, one of the most controversial Linux distributions. Through aggressive marketing and the use of open-source and home-made software they were trying to provide an alternative to Microsoft Windows. After being repeatedly sued by the Redmond firm, they came to arrangement and were paid $20m to change their name. They became Linspire.

Linspire has never been popular among Linux users. Their releases are not available for free (the digital download costs $50) and they use a lot of proprietary software. In fact, I never tried Linspire. Not only wasn't I willing to pay for something which didn't look as good as other distributions, but I was quite certain I wouldn't like it.

Recently, a community driven project, sponsored by Linspire, announced their first release: Freespire 1.0. Not only does the project make its releases available for free, it is driven by the community and it even offers an OSS version of the distribution which does not contain proprietary or restricted technology.

I downloaded the default version of Freespire 1.0 from here and decided to have a look at it.

The Live system and the installer

Like many distributions, Freespire fits on a single CD. However, instead of providing a live system which features an installer, Freespire provides a live system and a separate installer on the same CD. At boot time, you simply choose between the live system and the installer.

The installer doesn't feature any partitioner, but an item in the CD boot menu allows the user to launch GParted. Why was the graphical installer not merged with the live system? Why couldn't the installer include the partitioner? I really don't know. This is only a detail though and once the distribution is installed it doesn't really matter anymore.

The installer itself is very pleasant. It looks really good and polished, it's fast (the whole installation took me about 10 to 15 minutes) and it doesn't ask too many questions (it welcomes you, asks for your keyboard layout, the partition you want to install Freespire on, your hostname, root password and default user, and that's it.).

Upon reboot, you're asked a few other things. You have to agree with an "End User License" and set your sound volume. You're then presented a screen which allows you to do some additional settings.

The system then launches KDM and you're ready to log in.

Inside Freespire

Speed

Performance is fine compared to other distributions on the same machine. I didn't think it was as fast or responsive as Debian or even Ubuntu, but I didn't find it slow either. It's reasonably ok. The boot time on my machine was 2 min 40.

Artwork

Freespire is very polished with good attention to details. The look and feel is consistent in the boot menu, the bootsplash screens, the default desktop and the KDM theme. I don't know much about Linspire, but it seems to have inherited its default blue/green theme and colors. The icons are nice two, and the menus were made semi-transparent.

Here's what the default Freespire 1.0 desktop looks like:

Overall, the look and feel is pleasant and gives a nice impression. However it's not as polished nor professional looking as SUSE 10.1 or even Ubuntu 6.06.

The desktop

The desktop is full of nice surprises. Although most ideas were taken from Microsoft Windows operating systems, they are good and handy for the user. For instance, the Freespire desktop features "My Documents" and "My Computer" within the home folder of the user. In "My Computer" the user can access other partitions and devices. When I tested Freespire, I was happy to see that Freespire automatically mounted my ext3 and fat32 partitions in there, and I was able to access their content without any configuration.

The K menu is semi transparent. It shows both recently opened documents and recently used applications by default. To make more space for the help and search features it doesn't put the applications directly at the first level, but within a menu item called "Run Programs". Once I got used to it I though it was a good idea.

The file manager is also very useful and well designed. Access to files and devices is easy and fast.

The terminal is easy to launch. It was placed by default in the panel, next to the file manager, the web browser, the email reader, the messenger and a "show desktop" button which minimizes all windows on the desktop.

Hardware Recognition

If you choose the default version of Freespire, chances are that your hardware will work fine with it. Freespire comes with a lot of drivers for ATI and NVidia cards, but also winmodems and wifi cards (Madwifi and Ralink drivers).

On my Sony T2XP which is a Centrino laptop, the wifi card (ipw2200) was detected automatically. My Intel i855 graphic card was also detected and the i915resolution package was installed by default. However, it didn't support 1280x768 resolutions by default so I had to do some configuration for Freespire to use my widescreen resolution.

Everything else worked out of the box.

Default set of Applications

Freespire 1.0 includes customized versions of Firefox 1.5.0.4, Thunderbird 1.5.0.4 and Gaim 1.5.0. They come pre-installed with spell checking and translators. OpenOffice 2.0.3 is also included. The customizations made to these software applications are quite nice and they make the use of email and web browsing very pleasant.

Freespire also comes with software developed by Linspire, such as NVU, LSongs and LPhoto.

Multimedia support

Freespire is available in two versions: a clean OSS version which does not contain proprietary or restricted technologies, and a default version which includes all the ¨dirty¨ codecs and extended multimedia support which makes our life easier: http://wiki.freespire.org/index.php/Summary_of_Proprietary_Components

If you install the default version it will be "file friendly" (as Freespire says) and it will support these formats without any problem: MP3, Windows Media, Real, QuickTime, Java, Flash.

Networking

Freespire comes in it default version with the Madwifi and Ralink drivers for wireless cards. It also comes with HSF and HCF drivers for winmodems. With no landline at home and only an Intel ipw2200bg wifi card and a basic Ethernet card I couldn't test these drivers. I have no doubt they work fine though and they will make things easier for people who are stuck with this kind of hardware.

In Freespire, there is a little applet which is included by default in the system tray. It's called the "network connection manager". It basically monitors your network devices and shows their connection status. You can use that tool to quickly join a wireless network, switch between two network devices or even manage network profiles. Through network profiles you can configure which devices you want to use and how they get configured depending on the profile. For instance, you may want to use both wifi and Ethernet cards through static addressing at home, but only the Ethernet card through DHCP at work. The Network Connection Manager allows you to define these profiles and it can even switch automatically between profiles for you. It's a very handy tool.

Another great tool is the Network Share Manager. It scans the samba/windows shares on the network and allows you to connect to them. If a share becomes unavailable, the tool remembers it but simply changes its status to offline. With this Network Share Manager you can define shares to be connected at startup and they automatically appear in the "Network Shares" within "My Computer".

Bluetooth isn't supported by default in Freespire. I though this is was quite disappointing considering the fact that most PDAs and mobile phones now come with that technology.

Package Management

The default way to install and update software in Freespire is called CNR (Click and Run). It's a great invention by Linspire which allows the user to browse catalogs of software and install them by simply clicking on them. I had a look at CNR and it looked very good and easy to use. However when I tried to install my first program, I realized that CNR was not free. You can get a trial period for it by registering some details and if you like it you can pay an annual fee to have the privilege to use it. Although it looked quite nice it didn't convince me one bit and I decided to go away from it.

Most Linux distributions decided to give everything they could to the community. By becoming popular and by attracting users they could then provide paid support to the companies. This is a business model however in which companies like Mandriva or Linspire didn't truly believe. It is probably their lack of faith and their fear of that model that convinced a lot of people not to use their distribution.

I am a firm believer in the fact that APT is the greatest package manager of all. And since Freespire is based on Debian, it came with APT. Of course, tools such as synaptic, adept or aptitude are not installed by default, by they are easily added through the use of apt-get.

Within the K Menu, a little detail caught my attention. Under each software category (Internet, Multimedia...etc) a little sub-menu called "CNR More" shows you the applications that you could install through CNR in that category. For instance, in the "Web Authoring" menu, NVU (which is installed by default) appears... and next to it a "CNR More" sub-menu shows "Amaya", "Bluefish", "Quanta Plus"... etc. I thought this was a great idea, as it shows the user what tools he could install when he needs them. However, if you decided not to use CNR, the fact that you're constantly reminded that it is there for you to use can be a little bit annoying.

Conclusion

I was very pleased and impressed by the quality of this distribution. It is a pity that Freespire isn't completely "free" though, as you have to pay to use its preferred package manager. I really liked the fact that the distribution released an OSS version which didn't include the proprietary and restricted pieces of software. This should help Freespire in getting a better reputation among Linux users. Freespire is a nice distribution with a lot of handy tools and great ideas. It is comfortable and easy to use. In its non-OSS version it comes pre-installed with Java and flash plugins, multimedia support and even spell checkers within its web and email applications.

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Comments about this article
freespire bugs
writen by: brokndodge on 2006-10-26 10:44:59
version 1.0.13 has some display bugs that effect appearance but not usability and kuser doesn't appear to be able to write to the passwd file so root access is not available. otherwise freespire is probably everything i always wanted in linux.
RE: freespire bugs written by brokndodge:
Freespire is great
writen by: DarkStarAeon on 2006-10-29 01:06:42
After using Red Hat, Suse, Xandros and others, I stumbled upon Freespire about a month ago. So far, I absolutely love it. Finally I can watch/hear Flash 9, WMV, Quicktime 7 etc. that's embedded in web pages without having to spend days tweaking and tweaking until I pull my hair out. Sure, regular Linux power users don't seem to care about those things, but for those switching from Windows it's a must, and for those who don't always want to lose hours to tweaking their system. You're right, the install is a breeze and quick, the interface is easy to use and customize, and the bundled Lsongs and Lphotos are nice slick easy to use programs. All my hardware was detected automatically, and my internet connection worked right away. Yes, Freespire does have some bugs, I've been dealing with a few...but for a 1.0, this thing is impressive even when compared to distros on version 10+. [b]CNR is now free to use[/b], there are still some pay softwares listed, but they are ones you'd have to pay for anyway. But CNR itself is now free. Recommendations and Observations: 1. The Freespire version of Firefox is junk, install Firefox 2.0 manually (they say it will be in CNR soon too). 2. Audio is hit or miss for a lot of users, I unfortunately went through hoops trying to get mine to work properly, finally got it thanks to help from the Freespire forums members. Great bunch there. The audio issues are going to be fixed in version 2.0+. 3. SeaMonkey (which you can get through CNR) is by far the most stable and best browser to run on Freespire, trust me, I tried them all. All the codecs/plugins work perfectly with SeaMonkey, and it seems to run faster than Firefox for some reason. 4. CNR is great, but during peak useage times it can be hard to get an install or update to work. Seems to be easiest if you use it late at night or early in the morning. Which works fine for me being a nightowl. Also, you are only notified of updates when logged in as root. 5. The boot load time is painfully slow for many users, I'm one of them. But a friend of mine uses Freespire now and his boot time is pretty quick. This issue is being addressed in version 2.0. 6. Many users have an issue with their Midi not being detected, this is being fixed in version 2.0 so that midi works "out of the box". 7. Networking. Ok, Freespire has more networking options than I've ever seen before. But, for me, and many like me, setting up file and printer sharing between a Freespire machine and Windows machines is not easy unless you really know what you are doing...I unfortunately don't, but I know I'm not alone by looking at the Freespire forums. 8. Google Earth works great on Freespire, but it only works as root unless you edit some code to make it work as user too. Then it's fine. 9. Despite Freespire saying it doesn't certain resolutions, I successfully use freespire with 1440x900 and have had no issues. When you install there is a little tab where you can select higher resolutions. 10. Java does usually work great online, but it's not 100%. For anyone curious to what they are working on for the next version of Freespire, check out the RoadMap: http://wiki.freespire.org/index.php/Freespire_Roadmap If Freespire keeps at it, and if they really stick to making the online experience just like it is with Windows as far as media content, as well as continue to make the system easy to use, they every well could be the best distro in my opinion.
RE: Freespire is great written by DarkStarAeon:
bartonmain
writen by: Bart Howard on 2007-01-26 13:40:42
RE: bartonmain written by Bart Howard:
You can be root in Freespire
writen by: Jim Thomas on 2007-02-04 11:29:09
RE: You can be root in Freespire written by Jim Thomas:
You can have a root account in freespire
writen by: vintagedaddyo on 2007-02-16 22:09:56
RE: You can have a root account in freespire written by vintagedaddyo:
hi
writen by: Sterbik on 2007-05-21 08:38:12
RE: hi written by Sterbik:
Great post
writen by: robert on 2007-05-30 08:39:59
Great post, I like CNR too, I think CNR do more better on security, CNR is truly two parts. The plug-in/client that resides on the local machine and the back-end servers. To accomplish what you fear would really take access to the back-end servers (that also run Linux). Since the code is open there's more eyes that can evaluate the code to prevent vulnerabilities prior to someone accessing that vulnerability (the benefits of open source code). ---- [url=http://www.softsea.com/]software reviews[/url]
RE: Great post written by robert:
Great post
writen by: robert on 2007-05-30 08:43:31
BTW, CNR does its work as a privileged user (cnr). It's not root-level, but it's up there. And (I believe), any items in a package that require higher privileges are tuned wherever possible to work with a lower level. ---- [url=software reviews]http://www.softsea.com/[/url]
RE: Great post written by robert:
remote desktop problems and printer issu
writen by: rohitsinha on 2008-05-23 07:19:43
Hi all, We have installed printer on the freespire desktop and what we are trying to do is to give print from the windows 2003 terminal server after sharing that printer from the linux desktop. The printer doesn't show at the windows terminal server when we are trying to do the remote desktop from the linux desktop.
RE: remote desktop problems and printer issu written by rohitsinha:

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