Lindows makes the claim that their Linux distribution is user friendly and ready for the desktop. We review their latest version, 4.0, and see if it lives up to their claims. We evaluate everything from the company, to the presentation and marketing to the actual software itself. As Lindows is geared towards the beginning Linux user, so is our review.
Read on for our evaluation of Lindows 4.0.
Lindows 4.0 Review
The Luni Scoring System
- A positive feature or strength will earn a plus (+1). A flaw or weakness will earn a minus (-1). A superior feature or severe weakness will earn a +2 or -2 respectively. At the end of the review I will sum the pluses and the minuses and provide the totals for each. I will then give the product an overall rating on a 1-100 scale.
Interaction with the Company
- All of my dealings with Lindows.com were very positive. The company responded to email inquiries in a timely fashion. They were energetic and enthused about their product. I contrast this with various other Linux distributors I have contacted so far, whose responses have ranged from no response to why don’t you join our business partners program (which costs money. This even though I explained I run a site on my spare time out of my own pocket). Lindows wins hands down over any other Linux distributor I have contacted from Linux-Universe. They also shipped the distribution via FedEx, which was a nice, professional touch. SCORE: +1
- Installation begins as most Linux distributions do – insert the CD and set your bios to boot from the CD. Lindows includes two CDs in the box as well: a regular installation CD, and a “live eval” CD where you can run the OS directly off the CD. This is a nice addition and allows Windows users the chance to try out Lindows without the danger of messing up the installation and losing their data or having to reinstall Windows. More distributions should follow this idea and put a Knoppix-esque live CD in with the traditional distribution. SCORE: +1
- The first screen you are presented with contains two options. 1. Installation and 2. Diagnostics. I chose #2 since this is my first experience with Lindows and I wanted to see what would happen. The system dropped to the CLI and went through a number of hardware detection steps and routines. A few warnings were issued, which may be somewhat intimidating to the new user who will just see a warning scroll by on his screen in very rapid succession.
- At the end of the diagnostics routine you are presented with a prompt informing you to type “startx” to begin the installation or “exit” to reboot. I chose exit so I could evaluate the installation from the beginning, as most users would choose. SCORE: NEUTRAL
- Upon reboot, I was not presented with the choices again as described above. Apparently the installation routine was aware that I had already run the diagnostics. The first screen I am presented with asks whether to choose an installation method. The default is “take over entire hard disk” and the alternative is “advanced installation”.
- Since I have other operating systems and data on the test box, I have no choice but to go with “advanced”. This is the same box I used for my SuSE 8.2 mini-review and unlike the SuSE installation, my Sony USB mouse has been properly detected and functional from the get-go. All hardware for a smooth setup was recognized. SCORE: +1
- The next screen asks for a computer name and a (what I assume is a root) password. The password is optional. I realize that Lindows is marketed to new users, but the use of a root password should be mandatory. Also, there was no option presented to add an ordinary user during the installation.
EDIT: When you first load Lindows after install you are presented with a license agreement dialog box. Clicking the advanced button here allows you to set up a non-root user. I simply agreed to the dialog and thus missed this ability. As such, I am changing the score for this section from -2 down to only -1 for not being intuitive/for being easy to miss.SCORE: -1 as this is very dangerous.
- At this point I was presented with a final confirmation of my choices. I agree to the selections I have made regarding the computer name and the partition I wish to install on and installation begins. There are no choices of what packages to install, even though I have chosen “advanced” above. This is a good thing considering their target market, as the new user will be confused by the wealth of Linux packages in a typical distribution. Still, I would like to see the addition of a “I am not a new user, let me do a customized installation” choice. The installation routine completes very quickly – I was not timing it, but it couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes, in fact I would estimate it was closer to 2 minutes. This is on a P4, 2.0 GHz with 512 MB of RAM. I have to say this was the most painless and rapid installation in my years of installing various flavors of Linux. On the positive side we have simplicity and speed and on the negative side we have the inability to do a custom install, and so what could have been a big positive instead is… SCORE: +1
- Upon first boot I am presented with a rather bland grey screen with a Lindows logo in the lower right hand corner and a password box in the center. No username selection, so I assume I am defaulting to root. I enter the password I chose during installation and KDE starts up. The KDE startup was extremely fast as well, 2-3 seconds for the splash screen, which is less than half the time it takes to load for SuSE 8.2. When KDE loads the first time you are presented with a Lindows desktop tutorial. You can see what the tutorial looks like online. This is a nice feature that other distributions would be wise to include as well – it eases the transition for the new user and the window is easily dismissed by the experienced user. SCORE: +1
- The default desktop environment for Lindows is KDE 3. It is clean and professional looking. One of the nice features that Lindows has is an icon on the desktop for “Internet Connection Tools”. Inside you will find a number of icons for various ISPs, such as Juno, Earthlink & AOL. Clicking on any of these leads you through a guided setup for using that ISP with Lindows. Nice and easy for the new user. Note: The AOL icon just takes you to a page that says “Sorry, AOL moves slow and doesn’t support Linux yet. Lindows recommends you switch to another ISP”. I think this is a little unprofessional in the way it is worded and either they should not have an AOL icon or simply state “AOL is not supported under Linux/Lindows”. Despite this, the clean professional look of the desktop and the nice “Internet Connection Tools” section earns Lindows another plus. SCORE: +1.
- One of the icons on the KDE panel that I wasn’t used to seeing was that of a life preserver. Clicking on it brought up a Lindows customized help menu with a list of various multimedia tutorials. This is a very nice addition for a new user as it infintely more useable and understandable then sifting through man pages or KDE help files. A big plus. SCORE: +2.
- The default browser is configured as Mozilla 1.3. Launching this attempted to take me to a page on the Lindows site. Unfortunately, I could not get there as Lindows had either not detected or not properly configured my wireless network adapter. Failure to do so earns Lindows a minus. Note that this is an Orinico Gold card that is fully supported under Linux, yet Lindows failed to set it up properly. This is not unique to Lindows, Red Hat & SuSE fail as well for me. For some reason, having the card in a PCMCIA to PCI adapter in my desktop seems to throw off all the Linux distributions when it comes to this. This needs to be corrected in all of them, but since we are revieiwing Lindows here, Lindows earns a minus. Doing some diagnostics lets me know that indeed the card is detected but not configured. Using the provided KWifi and configuring the card allows me to obtain network access. Asking my mom or the regular end-user to do this, however, is not going to happen without a headache. SCORE: -1
- The default mail client is also Mozilla Mail 1.3. The shipping kernel is 2.4.20. I could find no menu item to drop down to a shell, so I used the run command to launch the KDE console. Even though it may be a little intimidating to the new user, it should still be on the menus. MS doesn’t hide the DOS/command prompt window (though they nest it a few levels deep) and they seem to be doing OK on the desktop.
EDIT: Yours truly missed the console. It is indeed in the menus at Launch -> Programs -> Utilities -> Console. Mea culpa.
- Opening the console, I am able to indeed confirm that I am running as root. The other items on the various menus are clearly laid out (games, audio, utilities, etc.). The menus are much clearer than the still very bad Red Hat 9 and better than SuSE as well. The software is somewhat spartan, but there is a “Click and Run” icon at the bottom of each category for the user to obtain more software from Lindows. It also is not nearly as confusing as other distributions because there aren’t 4 different text editors and 5 WWW browsers installed by default. For having recent updated versions of packages and making things simple, this is another plus. SCORE: +1
Click N’ Run
- Click N’ Run is what differentiates Lindows from other Linux distributions. It has both good and bad points to it. Let’s start with the bad. Much of the software that is available via Click N’ Run is Free Software that can be obtained elsewhere on the Internet with no additional charges. However, they do give you a free trial, so if you are quick, you can “click and run” your way to whatever Free Software is available in the Click N’ Run warehouse. The good side of the equation is that it really is simple to use. It has rough edges…for instance it takes a small while after you click on something before the installation begins, but there was no notice that it did – so I wasn’t sure whether it was working properly or not. But the software is all categorized and well layed out and you can literally browse to what you want and then install it with one click. This is easier to use than YAST or Red Hat’s package manager or apt-get packagename. There really is no comparison between say rpm -Uvh mozilla-blahblahblah-blah.blah-0.2.blah.rpm or clicking on an icon. Is this convenience worth paying for? That is something only you can answer for yourself. I give the overall Click N’ Run idea a plus, as there is nothing wrong with charging a bit for services in my opinion.
Packaging, Source Code & Other Miscellaneous
- CThe Lindows box is slick and professional looking, but in my opinion it is misleading. For example, on the back of the box it lists four sets of software that are laid out with nice descriptions. It does say they are sold seperately, but the design makes it look like they are included in the package. This is somewhat misleading to the person browsing the software aisle. The inside flap also proclaims that Lindows is the “world’s first broadband OS”. Hogwash. Also, this is a bit nitpicky, but the CDs themselves come in clear plastic jewel cases with no liner. As such, they look a little amateurish as if they were burned on a home PC instead of part of a commercial software package. I almost expected them to be written on with a sharpie instead of printed.
- CFinally, there are no source code CDs included. Yes you can then download them from Lindows, but they should be included. Label them “for advanced users only” if you want and put a liner in with them explaining that they are source code and what that means to the average user. Yes, the GPL states that you don’t _have_ to include the source as long as you make it available, but Lindows _should_ as it is the right thing to do. All Lindows is accomplishing by doing it this way is leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths who know what the GPL is about and thus they are piling up ill will for no good reason with the rest of the Linux community.
- CIn summation of the above points, I feel that Lindows should raise the bar a bit when it comes to their business practices. While not crossing the line, they seem to want to straddle as close to it as possible, and that is not a good way to proceed in this reviewer’s opinion. As customer service, corporate ethics, clear and honest marketing and overall experience with a company are important factors to me, so Lindows gets a double minus here. SCORE: -2.
- CPU: 800 MHz or higher
- RAM: 128 MB or higher
- Hard Drive
- Super VGA (800×600) capable video card or better. 3D card required for certain games and screensavers.
- CD-ROM or DVD drive
- Keyboard & Mouse
- Sound Card (optional)
- Modem (optional)
- Internet Access Required
- Ethernet card for LAN connection or high speed internet access. (optional – either a ethernet card or a modem is required for internet access).For a list of compatible hardware, software and devices check the Lindows compatibility list.
Lindows is not perfect, but the overall experience was very good. I was pleasantly surprised. The install was one of the most painless I have ever done for a Linux distribution. The install was extremely fast and the system itself post-install was very snappy and responsive in most situations. Lindows is currently about as good as it gets for Linux on the consumer desktop.
And so, our final score is:
Total Minuses: -4