April 26, 2004

Thoughts about Linspire's approach

Author: Michael 'STIBS' Stibane

Reading the comments at some Web sites about Linspire's new open source applications Nvu, Lsongs, and Lphoto inspired me to have a closer look at my own feelings about the three applications, Linspire CEO Michael Robertson's person, and his aggressive way of selling his product.I've read two reviews of Nvu, a Mozilla Composer-based Web development application, one rather superficial and the other going more into detail, comparing the actual version with Macromedia's Dreamweaver. I've also tested Nvu, and I have to say it's nice for a product at release 0.2 development stage. I teach Web programming from beginner to expert level and Nvu is already fine for intermediate webmaster use if a source code editor is also in reach.

Lsongs, an all-in-one music application for the Linux desktop, can rip, feed your MP3 player, organize the collection, burn playlists, and make mix CDs from your MP3s. It even can stream Internet radio. It's integrated, so it differs from the traditional Unix practice of one app for each task. It support audio in MP3, Ogg, Windows Media, QuickTime, and Real media formats.

Lphoto, a picture manager, offers the same integration as Lsongs. The main features a user wants from photo software is organization, easy access to photos and digital images, and an easy way to publish them in print, on screen, or on the Web. I can tell from a look at the company's screenshot and explanations, Lphoto addresses these needs.

So what do we have here? Three applications for which there is a market demand. How are they being developed? Nvu is an external project supported by Linspire, while the other two are developed in-house ("... in our labs" -- chuckle!). How are they made public? You can download the last two at the Click-N-Run warehouse, where you can also find a small link to the source code of Lsongs and Lphoto. Nvu has its own Web site.

Some comment posters accuse Linspire of using others' code. I don't see anything bad if this is true. This innovation by combining existing solutions with one's own ideas is very common, isn't it? It's the way most of the software we use today was developed.

What really drives the posters mad is the way the programs get introduced and presented to the public. There are community members who just hate Michael Robertson. To me, he is a marketing smartass with the urge to be the center of attention, since being in the news, no matter how good or bad it is, sells products. I personally don't want to have much to do with the kind of person who wants business and success at any price.

On the other hand, I can learn from Robertson, who seems to have done his homework in his field. He utilizes the work of thousands of developers, puts a blue/green L instead the original logo on it, and places a product on the market with the goal to cut some parts for himself out of the OS cake. While I dislike his replacing the logos, it's not forbidden.

Putting the social contract aside, a Linux distributor has to live, and pay his developers, and there are commercial needs behind every company. Linspire's Click-N-Run is one smart way for a Linux company to generate cash, and it has been copied quite often because of its success. I hope Mr. Robertson will show the community more innovative ideas for making money, so everyone can benefit from his marketing and sales talent.

Michael 'STIBS' Stibane lives in an old water mill in the Eastern Ore Mountains (the so-called Christmas County) near Dresden, Germany. He works as a freelance trainer and consultant for Linux, writes for two German Linux magazines, and volunteers for the Escapade Scripting Language, MEPIS Linux, and the LPI. His Linux interests include the desktop, terminal servers, Linux in SMBs, and Linux education.

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