January 25, 2002

Review: LindowsOS sneak preview -- it's not vaporware after all

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -

I found a copy of the LindowsOS sneak preview lying around and decided to try it out.

If nothing else, the vaporware tag isn't going to stick anymore on

Michael Robertson's latest venture.

My test machine is an HP Omnibook 4150b. Lindows went on as the sole

operating system. There's an option to install it from within Windows

(but not every version of Windows), to run side-by-side with

Windows, but we don't have that OS running at our house. There isn't an

option to dual boot with Linux, so goodbye Mandrake 8.1, and hello


Lindows desktopInstallation

The installation was too easy. I didn't get any options and had nothing

to configure. No language selection, no time zone, not even the X11. And

it didn't take long. From the time I clicked on the hybrid lawyer-speak

license-that-mentions-the-GPL-but-doesn't-like- it-much, to the time the

GUI fired up, no more than ten minutes passed. A friend who signed up as a "Lindows Insider" and agreed to share his LindowsOS experiences with us if we didn't use his name said his installation went the same as mine: Easy, but very limited.

Not only did the installation process not give us the opportunity to add

users other than root, it didn't even explain that we *should* add

users other than root, didn't tell us that the account was root, and

even tended to discourage us from entering the optional security

password for root, because, "if you lose this password it cannot be


Windows users who are trying out Lindows won't be concerned

about this, though, so if they are the target market for LindowsOS,

the "running as root" thing shouldn't be a problem. And if

you're an experienced Linux user, you can open a console and "adduser" like I did -- though our anonymous contributor says that trying to run Windows programs in a user account will cause problems.

Hardware recognition

As already mentioned, Lindows had no problem with my laptop monitor. It

also started pcmcia services just fine, and handled the touchpad

installation without a hitch. It didn't like the modem part of my

linksys combo modem/nic, but my router-based network got picked up

immediately; all I had to do was tell it to run dhcp. It also looks to

be easy to set up Windows shares a la Samba. Our anonymous Insider

reported that he had difficulty setting up network recognition. "Trying

the Internet

connection wizard didn't help much," he said, "and it's not user

friendly enough (no activate/de-activate buttons or anything similar). I

finally found a way to do it through KControl."

Lindows also gave me quick access to the CDROM, something SuSE and

Mandrake have always made me jump through just the right hoops to get. But

the system did not like my laptop's swappable CD/floppy drive, and always locked

up when I clicked the icon for floppy when I had the CD drive inserted.

The GUI and desktopLindows desktop

First thing you'll notice is that Lindows uses KDE components like kdm,

konqueror, and kmail. But it defaults to the Xandros file manager, which

on my installation at least, is unstable. NewsForge has confirmed that

LindowsOS is licensing an early pre-release version of Xandros' Debian-based Linux distro, which a Xandros spokesperson says isn't expected to be ready for public view until the 15th of February at the earliest. I don't have all

the details of the deal Lindows has with Xandros, but it would have

made better sense to use Konqueror as the file manager. It doesn't crash

as much.

Since LindowsOS is based on Xandros, which in turn is based on Debian, I was able to use apt-get to

install a few useful Linux apps like Netscape and The Gimp. Don't try to

download and compile sources from the get-go because gcc and other

requisite items don't come installed with LindowsOS.

If LindowsOS is installed along with Windows, it will pull up a list of

your Windows programs and, the Lindows site says, "maybe they'll work, maybe they

won't," but promises they will with the release of 1.0. With a LindowsOS-only install, you don't get anything except noatun, kmail, konqueror,

and dozens of kde and gnome games and applets -- and not even one Windows

application -- which might come in handy for those who choose to install

LindowsOS by itself. How about a Windows Media Player, or free version

of WinZip, Michael? Even StarOffice for Windows would be nice - anything

that we can click on to experiment.

Getting Windows applications

First thing I tried was to install Internet Explorer. That snagged

because the installer complained that Internet Explorer needs Windows in

order to set up.

Then I tried BearShare for Windows. The self-extracting installer opened

but the installation itself "poofed." By poofed, I mean that it just

vaporized in the middle of its process. Unfortunately, 99% of the

Windows executables I attempted to run "poofed." This is the same

experience I've had in other distributions when I used Wine - which is

what Lindows is using to get those Windows apps going. Also, if you've added a user, forget about trying to get Wine to run properly in any account other than root, our anonymous Insider said. Wine didn't run properly in any instance for me, except one program:
Real Player 8 for Windows gave me a perfect install and didn't hang

playing music or videos; that was a treat because Real Player 8 community version for Linux has

been inconsistent for me at best.

Anonymous Man reports he had problems with several programs he attempted to install. "Windows Media 7.1 doesn't install (it

detects an unsupported operating system), Norton Anti Virus 2002 doesn't work, ICQ2001B installs perfectly but doesn't run, Windows

Media 6.4 installs okay, even installs new codecs, but when it needs to start playing from the network it says that the address is not found."

Lindows desktop

My NewsForge colleague Norb Cartagena says the real test for

Lindows is whether it'll run big MS apps like Office. So I whipped out

my backup Office 97 CD, and no matter how I approached that setup.exe file,

it poofed. Our Insider says he got Explorer 5.5

running, but he also got Windows NT installed (within LindowsOS) first with a prior instance of Explorer (5.0), and was able

to get Office 2000 working, though not without glitches. Neither WindowsME or

Windows 98 would install inside LindowsOS on my system. At least with Windows 98 the

install screen came up, but then it froze. This *is* a preview

version, so glitches like this are to be expected. It will be interesting to see if LindowsOS 1.0 breaks

through the "Microsoft Applications" barrier.


Keeping in mind that this is an early beta of LindowsOS, one

of the first questions that comes to mind is, who is Michael Robertson

targeting? Once the Windows user gets LindowOS installed, he's looking

at an interface that is, while similar to Windows, a foreign one. I

already knew how to look for a console or get out of the GUI, and how to

set up the network parameters -- even though this was about a two-click

process, a newbie isn't going to just know how to do it. There's no help

on the Lindows site or within the desktop, either. There's no

interactive forum or official tech support avenue other than a feedback

form at Lindows.com.

There's something scary about an imaginary LindowsOS-from-Windows

convert, happily running as root, downloading emails with infected

.exe or .pif screensavers attached -- or even with infected .rpms. Oh

well, as long as it's not in my house. Our Insider got Outlook running and found that yes, it would happily execute common worms. But remember, he couldn't get his Norton antivirus program to work. LindowsOS developers may want to work with one of the antivirus software publishers to correct this before they release their product to the general public.

Linux users will find this preview fun to play with, but LindowsOS

appears to be hampered without a Windows partition, which defeats the

implied purpose of Lindows: to be able to freely run all Windows apps

on Linux with no need for Windows. To reach Linux people, this

needs to be a true Linux -- easy to install but configurable; transparent

to the user so that if he chooses to make changes he can; and secure --

unless Robertson is only seeking previous Windows users who are not

interested in configurability and security. And if that is the case, I

wonder what benefit Robertson thinks there is for these people to switch

to LindowsOS?

Xandros -- LindowsOS connection?

As mentioned above, Xandros has supplied code for LindowsOS under license. The LindowsOS boot screen says,

"powered by Xandros," and after having immersed myself in Lindows over the past day and a

half, this blurb on the Xandros Website seemed eerily familiar: "Xandros is developing a customized Debian-based Linux

distribution that is derived from version 3.0

of the award winning Corel LINUX OS. It will support both the KDE and

Gnome desktop environments. In addition to the features that Linux users

expect, Xandros will be distributing

significant additions and enhancements."

Our Insider friend was able to "split" the LindowsOS Wine components out from the operating system itself rather easily, and said he was running them successfully with other Linux distributions and was having great fun playing with the Lindows version of Wine in Red Hat 7.2.

It is going to be interesting to see how well Xandros' own distribution works when it is finally released. LindowsOS seems to have some nice features, although it has a long way to go yet. If nothing else, this early version's availability will give Lindows and its CEO, Michael Robertson, credibility with the Linux community that they did not have before, and will also boost Xandros' visibility to the rest of the world. It will be interesting to see what these two companies come up with in the next few months.


This is a beta and Robertson cautions that it is not expected to work properly. I had many more problems with Wine than our anonymous tester did. And while I wouldn't spend the $99 to get LindowsOS, he would. "Slick installation, great Wine, very good integration," he says. But the fonts need work. "Wine fonts look horrible (especially on the popup boxes) even if you add your fonts to the X server." We both agree that the user management needs to change, and Lindows needs to add more configurability -- if Robertson is going for the Linux crowd, that is. If he's going for Windows market share, then he needs to cater to the people who are logging in, looking at the pretty KDE desktop, and wondering what to do next.


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