January 16, 2008

New CNR.com is a work in progress

Author: Andrew Min

Last year, Linspire announced that it was opening its software distribution service, CNR (short for Click 'n' Run), to users of the Debian, Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu distributions. A month ago, it announced a beta version of CNR that includes support for Ubuntu 7.04 and 7.10 (the two most recent versions), with versions for the other systems on the way. Alas, after trying it on my Ubuntu system, I think it needs work.

On my system, which is basically a stock Ubuntu install, installing the CNR Client (available through a Linspire repository or through a provided .deb package) also installed 13 additional dependency pacakges. The procedure also added users to the cnr group (apparently, only users in the cnr group can use CNR), so I restarted my computer just in case.

When my system booted up, I started a browser and headed over to CNR.com. The site lets you download .cnr files, which are XML files that tell the CNR client where to get each application. Each CNR program has its own homepage, complete with a description and user-submitted rating and screenshots (though many programs have little or no user-submitted information).

I downloaded the Wine .cnr file and double-clicked on it. A progress window opened up and the CNR client began downloading the application's .deb package, and when that completed installing Wine. After it was done, I checked the version of Wine it installed and found it was 0.9.46, the version in both Linspire's and Ubuntu's repositories, which was released in September. The latest version, however, is 0.9.52.

Installing Glest, a real-time strategy game, was a different story. The Ubuntu version in the Canonical repositories is only for the upcoming Ubuntu 8.04. Unfortunately, this means that Glest will only install from CNR.com on Linspire and Freespire (it is apparently in the Linspire repositories), not Ubuntu. Why doesn't Linspire offer an option to filter the software list so that users who ask for software for a particular platform can see only what's available to them?

For installing free software, CNR is basically a front end to APT, similar to Synaptic or Adept -- though not as good. It requires a two-step process: you need to download the .cnr file, then double-click on it to install it. Using the Web version is clunky and slower than using a native client. It's not clear why Linspire doesn't create such a client -- it doesn't have to use a Web page -- but all the current cnr program does is process .cnr files.

Installing commercial software

CNR does a better job when it comes to installing commerical software. There's a decent collection of commercial software, ranging from StarOffice 8 to TuxRacer Deluxe, though I was surprised to see popular programs like Crossover Linux and Cedega missing. Software Tycoon looked cool (despite the 1.5 star user rating), so I clicked on it. That took me to the purchase page for Software Tycoon on the CNR site. To buy software, you must have an account set up with CNR already, and you can pay with Mastercard, American Express, Discover, or Visa (though surprisingly, not PayPal or any other online checkout system). Linspire also offers a $50 premium account, which lets users get discounts of as much as 30%. If you expect to buy a lot of software, it's a nice deal.

To uninstall software installed by CNR, I had to use APT, Synaptic, or Adept to find the appropriate package; it appeared that CNR didn't provide a way to uninstall software using CNR.com. A Web search brought me to uninstall instructions on Freespire's wiki, but they didn't seem to work. A client that can install but not uninstall software seems incomplete.

In fact, overall, CNR seems like a half-baked program. Sure, it does a good job of installing commercial software, but it's not meant for installing just commercial software. Linspire needs to make some modifications to its new site and software before it becomes truly useful.

Categories:

  • System Administration
  • Reviews