April 12, 2005

Distribution review: Linare Professional

Author: Preston St. Pierre

Linare Professional is a commercial GNU/Linux distribution based on Fedora Core. It is themed to look and feel like Windows XP and aims to be a full-featured well-integrated desktop OS. Sadly, I've found it offers little more value than Fedora Core, and that value comes at a cost.

A taste of XP

Installing Linare was simple, so I won't waste your time detailing it. Those of you familiar with the Fedora Core install will recognize Linare's, as they are pretty much the same except Anaconda is themed and named differently for Linare. One thing I noticed, though, was that Linare didn't prompt me to add a regular user account once the install was complete -- it left me running as root by default. This may be very handy to some people, but it is also very insecure, so I manually added another user right away.

I found the Linare desktop to look remarkably like Windows XP. The background is similar, the icons are all pretty much the same, and the entries in the Explore menu (the K menu in KDE) have all been changed to the names of their Windows counterparts. KNotes, for example, is called Notepad. Ex-Windows users will appreciate this, as it makes life easier if you're switching to Linare. The bad part is, there is no obvious way to get rid of the XP look if you don't like it. In the end it comes down to preference, but with the XP look you don't get some of the benefits of KDE -- like multiple desktops or multiple menu bars -- unless you manually customize it.

Software and configuration hassles

My system is pretty straightforward for any GNU/Linux distribution to detect. I have an Nvidia MX440 video card, a Sound Blaster Live sound card, and onboard NIC on my Athlon XP 1600+ with 512MB of memory. Most distributions with decent hardware detection have no problems on my machine. Fedora Core 2 properly detects all the hardware I have, and therefore Linare detected it as well.

The default programs in Linare worked, for the most part, as expected. I could watch movies, listen to music, check my email, browse the Web and do all those other things you expect a desktop distribution to do. Linare doesn't mention on their website whether or not they include the ability to play encrypted DVDs, and I don't have a DVD drive to test it, so I can but assume they don't support encrypted DVDs. There were a few problems, though, such as the taskbar and a thin layer of green on the right being visible while GMPlayer was in full screen mode. The GAIM IM client would exit when the X was clicked instead of going into the system tray like it normally does -- probably because what ordinarily passes for a system tray on KDE was disabled. The "Explore" menu would also sometimes stay open even after I clicked on other windows to get rid of it. The only way I was able to close it was by clicking on one of the shortcuts in it. I would have expected that, like Windows XP, the interface would allow me to drag shortcuts around the Explore menu, but it did not.

Click to enlarge

When I tried to listen to music for the first time, nothing came out. I was rather concerned by this, so the first thing I did was ensure that my speakers were turned up -- and they were. I checked the volume in XMMS and it was all the way down. When I turned it up, the music was there, but very quiet. I searched around for a while and finally found another option in the Explore menu to change my sound. I found this one turned all the way down too, and after I turned it up again my sound was still quiet. I never did find another place to fix it, but after my first reboot the volume was up at full -- the startup noise was so loud that it made me jump.

Assuming that they may have fixed some of these problems with updates, I opened up Synaptic and clicked the upgrade all button. I noticed when it updated that it couldn't connect to Linare's servers (packager.linare.com, which I've been checking periodically and was still down last I checked) and that it simply switched to another mirror without telling me. This would be handy, except the other mirror was a Fedora Core 2 mirror from FreshRPMs. It told me I would have to download 400MB worth of files to update -- an almost impossible amount for anyone on a dial-up connection. I waited, though, and when all the files finally downloaded, an error dialogue popped up telling me of about 100 different dependency problems I would have to solve manually. This is not acceptable for a distribution aimed at making a friendly desktop operating system. I never did get all of the dependency problems solved, and my desktop stayed as vanilla as the day I installed it.

This brings me to another point. While they had Synaptic installed, they labeled it as a "Package Updater" and not a package installer. There were no obvious ways to install new packages. I could do it, of course, by using the FC2 mirrors to select packages that I didn't already have installed, but users who don't know that beforehand will be lost. For a distribution aimed at being end-user friendly -- especially a commercial distribution -- these kinds of things are really important. Linare offers some basic tools with its distribution, but they do not by any means cover everything. The included packages were few. How could Linare hope to cover everybody's software needs in one CD of software packages?

Click to enlarge

When I attempted to configure my new Linare install, I found that there was no central place to do this. There were the usual graphical config programs, such as the KDE Control Centre, but nothing to band them together. In other words, configuration is one more area where the user will have to know where to look to find all the things they need. I eventually found shortcuts to everything I needed, but they were not arranged in a very logical fashion -- and sometimes there were multiple shortcuts to the same program under different names. Certainly it was no different than some other distributions, including the one it was based on, but I expected more from a commercial product.

Included Software

Linare Linux is a mere one CD install. It comes with what it deems most important for the desktop user: KDE 3.2.2, OpenOffice.org 1.1.0, Linux kernel 2.6.5, and Mozilla 1.6. These are a little out of date, but it has been a while since Linare's last release. Linare also comes with Evolution, GAIM, GCC, K3b, XMMS, and Samba for connecting to Windows networks. Being a commercial distribution I would expect it to have all the Mozilla plug-ins for video, sound and Flash installed, but I was wrong -- none were included. It did, however, play all my movie files without problems, so the proper codecs were installed.


When I look back over my experience with Linare, I think that it wasn't so bad -- perhaps it could be better, but so could other distributions. But then I am forced to think about it in a different way: Linare is a commercial distribution based on Fedora Core 2. To get the Professional edition you must pay U.S. $40. So what do I get for my money? Linare's servers are down, I can't update from the FC2 servers properly, and all of the programs are pretty much the same. It boils down to paying $40 for a Windows XP-themed GNU/Linux desktop at the cost of security, usability and upgradability -- but hey, they claim you get phone support to help you with your buggy system.

Linare advertises their product as "The user-friendly operating system," but I've found nothing more user-friendly here than is offered by many community distributions, and there is a distinct lack of features on the Linare Professional desktop system. If you want a free version of something just like it then download the latest version of Fedora Core and the XP Desktop Environment which will offer you a better, more secure system.

Purpose Desktop operating system
Manufacturer Linare
Architectures x86
License Commercial/proprietary
Market Desktop users
Price (retail) U.S. $40
Previous version Not available
Product Web site Click here

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University of the Fraser Valley in BC, Canada. You can view his Anti-FUD project, his weblog or contact him.


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