October 25, 2002

LindowsOS PC is the real deal: Rebutting criticism of the Microtel $200 PC

Author: JT Smith

-By Matthew A. McGuigan -
This review will dispel some of the myths you've heard about the $200 Lindows PC available at Walmart.com.

The Microtel
SYSMAR710
:

Software:

My experience with and observations of LindowsOS
2.0
is for the most part excellent. I purchased this system mainly
for use by someone that has almost no experience with a personal
computer. I've tried getting him to use Windows95, Windows98 and Lycoris
over the past year or so. He never touched the system after I first sat
down to show him how to turn the computer on and off and get to the
Internet and his other programs. Since this computer arrived, I have
walked him through the same steps I did with the other computers, plus I
helped him with setting up a Netscape account and now he can easily get
to mail, instant messaging and the stuff that interests him on his My
Netscape homepage.

His only complaint was having to double-click the
icons on the desktop. He didn't know why when he clicked on an icon
nothing would happen, but when I did the program would start. I told
him to double-click, but he just couldn't get it right, so I changed it.
Since then he uses the system every day to read his horoscope, check
his email, learn with Tux Typing and KTouch. (KTouch is not currently
in the Click-N-Run warehouse and should be.) He enjoys playing card
games, KBattleship, Potato Guy and various other games that are
installed on his system. He is getting much better at using the mouse
and has completed his first level of KTouch. He has changed his
background image and screensaver. (LindowsOS did provide some nice
background images.) He is building confidence in his ability to work
with his LindowsOS computer and it shows.

Lindows has obviously done
something right. LindowsOS
2.0
is fast, and Click-N-Run really does make installing or uninstalling applications
something even a new user can do. The desktop layout is simple enough
for the newest of computer users.

What I don't like about LindowsOS 2.0 is its Microsoft operating
system keyboard short cuts and double-clicking everything in site.
LindowsOS 2.0 has adopted parts of Microsoft's desktop feel (good and
bad). It is a fact that much of Microsoft's desktop feel is not
straightforward or productive, but it is what many are used to. My advice
to Lindows is to act like a Microsoft operating system when it makes
sense to and make improvements where it makes sense. Double-clicking on
the desktop does not make sense, single clicking does, especially when
you are dealing with a new user who can barely hold the mouse still for
a single click to execute. Control-Alt-Delete does not make sense for
the system guard shortcut, Control-Escape does. I don't know why
Microsoft is obsessed with the various Control-Alt-Delete functions in
every version it sells. It does not work well for any of them.
LindowsOS should steer clear of this bad design.

On the other hand, if
LindowsOS is targeting the corporate desktop market, the Lindows people got this
right. Please don't get me wrong here, not all MCSEs are drones and not all managers are the pointy-headed type. Changing system keyboard shortcuts and mouse clicking to match Microsoft operating systems does help those MCSE drones find things they
are used to. They won't complain too much about hating change, when
it's not that different, and those settings help the pointy headed types
too. When the drones who the pointy-headed boss listens to are not complaining, it
helps pointy realize the system is not that hard to support.

End users can easily change these settings, which I did. Here is
how:

  • To change the shortcuts: K Menu(L) > Settings > Look &
    Feel > Shortcuts
    Select your new scheme.
  • To change mouse click behavior: K Menu(L) > Settings >
    Peripherals > Mouse
    Select single-click to open files and folders.

I want this system secure because it is on my network, and because there
is more than one person that uses this computer, we want our own desktop
preferences; therefore, I attempted to set up user accounts. This is not
done during installation of Lindows, as some have stated, and there is no GUI to do
this, either. After setting up a new user account and logging in, I was
prompted with a root login for Click-N-Run. Click-N-Run is now looking
like a real pain to me. The new user is not going to like the system
because they are bombarded with logins when the windowing environment
starts up. Also, this feature is wasted on dial-up users who are not
instantly connected to the Internet, even if they do log in is as root.

I can complain all day long about Lindows' root system problems and
the fatal design of the Click-N-Run auto-start, but a single end user
is not going to know what I'm talking about, nor will they care. If the
system gets hosed from a virus, the user will simply restore the system
in five minutes and be on his/her marry way. If you must have a user
account instead of root, you could get LindowsOS 2.0 working
satisfactorily after some serious reconfiguring, but you're better off
getting a distro that already does this correctly. LindowsOS 2.0 is a
sweet looking, easy desktop but this problem will kill the adoption of
it, especially in multi-user environments.

Suggested improvement: Default to a user account thereby
making the system secure and multi-user friendly like all other Linux
systems. As Click-N-Run is used for both new software installation and
automatic system updates, set Click-N-Run up to log in as root when a
user goes to the warehouse to install/uninstall software, not when a
user logs in to the system. This will satisfy both the broadband and
dial-up users.

The system comes with a fresh, clean-looking desktop with a select
few essential applications installed, which in my opinion is a good
thing. (Let the users choose which applications they want to use.) The
cost for Click-N-Run is about right at the current $99 for two years,
but Lindows should allow for a one year subscription for $50 instead of
requiring a two-year subscription from users. Many users can not come
up with $99 extra dollars right after purchasing a $200PC, plus the cost of
monitor, plus broadband, and Lindows will get a bad rep for this. When the
new pricing comes into effect ($129 a year) a good portion of the new
user market will not buy it. A big problem with Click-N-Run is that you
need broadband to download some of the large applications, and Lindows
does realize this because the company is touting the operating system as a
broadband-only system. For some reason, Lindows leaves the cost of broadband
out of its TCO comparisons, but there is a solution to that problem.

Suggested improvement: Continue to charge something near
the current price of $50 per year for Click-N-Run and send the user a
CD with a good selection of the large applications included on it to install, which enables new users on dial-up or no internet connection to
enjoy the LindowsOS 2.0 experience as well.

If you choose to use LindowsOS, at least set up a root password by
going to K Menu(L) > Settings > Change Password. Overall,
LindowsOS is great for the new user, if all the person needs is a single-user
system and the security of his computer is not a big deal. I
love the simplicity of its install, and the user-friendly default desktop
is close to perfect.

I don't like the idea of having to pay
the beta releases Lindows so that I can work for them and improve the product.
This concept is strange. I'm hoping I can download the
general release when it comes out, and it will contain some of the
improvements I have suggested here. Until then I don't recommend
LindowsOS for multi-user installations or locations without a hardened
firewall.

One problem, though; my parents want one now. They will
be getting a SYSMAR721, because they want a floppy drive. So I will have to support one of these as
a multi-user system. I hope Lindows fixes that problem soon.

Hardware:

The system is built with off-the-shelf parts anyone could purchase
for assembly, at close to the same price retail. Throughout this part
of the review I will try to provide direct links to the manufacturer Web
sites of each component included in these systems. Please keep in mind:
as with all manufactured systems, the parts (memory, hard drive, CD-ROM
drive) I received in my box my not be the same exact parts you received
in yours, but they should be comparable.

  • The case is an Enlight case that is similar to model 7305-mATX found on the Enlight wWb site.
  • The processor is a VIA C3 800Mhz running at 133 MHz frontside bus. It comes with a heat sink and fan. This processor is very stable, energy efficient and is quite adequate for the tasks this
    computer was designed to perform. If you don't already know you need a
    faster processor, this will get the job done quickly.
  • The system board is a Giga-Byte model GA-6VEML. It's
    nice board with features that include an often hard-to-find ISA slot.
    The BIOS is full of options unlike most manufactured PC BIOS
    configuration utilities.
  • The keyboard is a Turbo-Xwing KB-3001 R+ (without wrist rest). It includes the useless Microsoft operating
    system keys and is full size. This keyboard adjusts to three angle positions and works well.
  • The mouse is a KeyMouse MS-303. It is
    a three-button scroll mouse with a PS/2 plug. The wheel functions as the
    third button and scroll. This mouse serves its purpose, but the cord
    is too short for many installations.
  • The speakers are ACCUBASS AC-180
    (Outpost.com). They are powered, include a headphone jack and work quite
    well. I had a problem with one of the speakers, two screws were only
    screwed in half way and another screw had been screwed in too tight and
    broke the catch inside the speaker housing. I didn't attempt to send
    this back as it works fine with only three screws attached. We are
    talking about $8 speakers here. I'm not concerned, but Wal-Mart did
    include a USPS return label if I wished to return it.
  • The system comes with a Kingston KVR133X64C3/128 memory module. Contrary to what I like to call
    "Microsoft reviewers" (reviewers who base hardware requirements on that
    of the latest Microsoft operating system instead of the operating system
    the computer was built to run.), 128MB is adequate to run the LindowsOS
    desktop and common desktop applications; however, there is a slot
    available to upgrade the memory if you so desire.
  • The CD-ROM is a NEC CD-3002A .
  • The hard drive is a Maxtor 10GB 5400rpm Fireball 541DX Model 2B010H1. This is plenty of room to run
    LindowsOS 2.0 and common desktop applications.
  • The floppy cable is included in a bag with the motherboard
    manual, the power cord, installation guide, USPS return label and a
    motherboard utility CD.

Notes for Microsoft reviewers:

  1. Linux applications tend to clean up after themselves and store
    files that are much less bloated than comparable Microsoft
    applications. The object of Microsoft's bloat ware is to fill
    up your hard drive with useless junk, so that you'll purchase a new PC
    with the latest version of Microsoft's operating system pre-installed.
  2. For $100 more than the low-end model 710, you can purchase the SYSMAR721 that comes with a 40GB hard drive, 256MB of memory,
    floppy drive and modem, which is overkill for most users running
    LindowsOS 2.0. However, if you can afford it and are in need of just
    one of those extra components, it is worth going ahead and ordering the SYSMAR721 and getting the extras along with it, unless you plan on
    installing that extra component yourself.
  3. I agree that the SYSMAR150 is inadequate to run common desktop applications with the Microsoft operating system it ships with, but don't blame the 710 for the faults of the 150.

Conclusion:

The main user of this computer is quite happy since I changed the
mouse clicking to one-click, then left him as root and the only user of
the system. I hear him playing Tux Typing as I write this, and I didn't
ask him to use it. This is quite an accomplishment, considering he
wouldn't touch his previous computers unless I begged him to sit down in
front of them.

This computer is a good bargain for average home or corporate users
on a tight budget. It does cost considerably less than a comparable
Microsoft based computer system, and it currently works great only for single
user installations. One of the biggest bonuses I found with this setup
is the inclusion of an ISA slot. On the job, we have no budget and
thousands of PCs that need replacing. I'm still supporting many Windows
3.11 machines and I think we still have a few Tandy 1000s around. Go
ahead and laugh, I try to laugh the pain away every day. Parts of the
network are still running Token-Ring and 3270 ISA cards. These cards are
not cheap, the cost adds up quickly when your replacing more than a
few.

This hardware, combined with the low cost and ease of use that
LindowsOS provides, could get us out of the stone ages within a few years
instead of decades. For now, we are switching to more multi-platform
applications, considering this hardware combination in a desktop case
(not a tower) and keeping an eye on LindowsOS and other GNU/Linux based
desktop solutions for improvements.

Copyright (c) 2002 Matthew A. McGuigan
This document is freely distributed, if you contact the author to let him know where it will be published.
Any changes you've made to this document should be noted before publication.

McGuigan is an IT Consultant. On weekends and nights, he spends his time tinkering with Open Surce software solutions. The project he's most involved in
right now is the Mycroft project.

Click Here!