March 11, 2005

My Workstation OS: Linspire 4.5

Author: Dave Smith

Built on a Debian Linux core, Linspire is designed for simplicity of use, and it delivers this in spades. Linspire eliminates the need for me to be technically proficient in the nuances of Linux to successfully operate and enjoy the OS. This includes loading software, staying updated, and never seeing a command-line interface. It makes it very easy to just get on with what I have to do and not worry about the technicalities of using a Linux-based system.

Installing Linspire is a often a pleasant surprise for seasoned Linux users, as the operating system's hardware detection routines are really top-notch. Many of the common trouble spots for Linux, such as printers, USB keychain drives, and DVD writers, are recognized and installed automatically; no need to hunt for obscure libraries and drivers. Linspire is also one of the very few distributions to offer a legal DVD software license to its users. Support for laptops is equally good, with touchpad and hibernation support for most models offered right out of the box.

Linspire's KDE desktop offers a familiar and comfortable launching point for Windows users, complete with a My Documents folder and dozens of polished Flash tutorials to help get you up and running. A host of Linspire-ized Linux applications load with the OS. Highlights include the Linspire Internet Suite: a unified Mozilla-based Web browser and email client extended with in-line search, spell checking, and pop-up blocking capabilities; a version of the Gaim instant messenger software enhanced with Sipphone technology for free Internet-based calling; and a broad assortment of utilities and tools. Linspire bundles the OpenOffice.org suite to help bridge the Linux / Microsoft document gap. I routinely use OpenOffice.org for my word processing and spreadsheet work, and have had no problems sharing and collaborating with colleagues using Microsoft Office.

The distribution includes the Linspire-sponsored Web site creation toolset Nvu. Frontpage and Dreamweaver users will feel right at home in this open source alternative. The bundled Palm OS tools had my data sync set up within minutes, and the excellent networking tools made connecting to my peers at work quick and simple.

In a nutshell, the 10-minute Linspire installation provides you with everything you need to accomplish virtually all of the common PC tasks, and without requiring you to do anything except occasionally click a mouse.

If I need more applications, I can download and install almost 2,000 programs from the company's Click-N-Run Warehouse with a single click of my mouse. Thanks to Linspire's Click and Run interface and Debian's Advanced Packaging Tool, there are no dependencies to worry about; that single click does it all for me, right down to automatically putting an icon on the desktop. The $5 a month I pay for the Click-N-Run service is a good value for the convenience of not having to spend time configuring software or recompiling the kernel. And if I choose not to pay for the monthly service, I can still use Synaptic, apt-get, and other familiar Debian tools.

With the emphasis it places on reliability, Linspire does not immediately offer the most bleeding-edge software versions, preferring to extensively test packages prior to offering them. This delay is a common complaint from experienced Linux advocates, but my opinion is that stability and reliability of my PC is more important than having the latest experimental version of something.

When I first began to explore the possibilities of using a Linux-based operating system, one of my largest concerns was where to get help. Linspire tackles support in a three-pronged approach. First, each installation comes with dozens of easy-to-use, technobabble-free Flash tutorials covering just about every aspect of the system. Next, add in toll-free phone support manned by real people and available 24/7. Finally, in the Linspire online forums you won't be belittled for your lack of knowledge and experience. There is a strong company presence on the forums, where it is common for Linspire engineers, marketing personnel, and even Linspire CEO Michael Robertson to personally answer questions. The Linspire forums are among the most friendly, welcoming, and active Linux OS forums on the Web, and an outstanding resource for someone new to Linux.

For more than 25 years I have used almost every imaginable desktop operating system, and I continue to come back to Linspire. I don't need infinite opportunities to build and compile everything myself, or spend hours fine-tuning applications and making everything just-so. I just want a reliable, professional computing environment that doesn't stand in the way of what I need to do, but rather provides me the tools to get the job done. Linspire does this for me, every day.

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