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An Early Look at Freespire Linux 171

An anonymous reader writes " takes an early look at Freespire Linux in a recent article. Linspire will be releasing their first version of Freespire, the first community Linux distribution to include many third-party proprietary codecs, drivers, and software. From the article: 'While I still have my doubts about the long-term wisdom of using proprietary software and drivers with Linux, I must say that if you feel you need to use such programs, Freespire makes it much easier than any other Linux distribution. And, when is all said and done, that's really what Freespire is all about -- making Linux as easy as possible for users.'"
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An Early Look at Freespire Linux

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  • It's about time... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Geldon ( 444090 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:54PM (#15834061)
    Linspire has had some pretty good ideas when it comes to making Linux easy for the Windows user. But since it has not been free, I have been reluctent to recommend it to friends. I would like to see how this turns out...
    • Seems Linspire is moving to the business model of giving away the software and charging
      for the support.

      I agree with the notion that 'non-free' software with an 'open' api and documented
      formats is not a true evil and should be allowed as a choice on a free system. If you
      use such an application you are not truly locked in to it as you can migrate your data.

      The only problem I see with Freespire is the same one I see with other Debian clones.
      They may use .deb packages but they don't all follow the same source
      • Seems Linspire is moving to the business model of giving away the software and charging for the support.

        From all what I can tell, most Windows users have fear of tech support. In all my years of helping people with Linux, I found it to be very very easily supportable. Hardest part is to convince user that there is nothing in Linux monstrous like e.g. Windows' registry, that even if user screwed something up - all the damage can be easily recovered.

        Still even after that, most people are very reluctant to

    • is that it uses root accounts by default. That's pretty much asking for trouble.
      • Freespire doesn't handle accounts the same as Linspire.

        It's more like Ubuntu in that regard - a user account with sudo privileges with the account's password.

        It's quite easy to create user accounts in Linspire, and it's even recommmended during the installation.
        • As a target, a sudoable account == an administrator account.

          Honestly. What makes people think that if Desktop Linux starts attracting virus writers, they won't try to sudo their Bad Things?

          Your user should not be a sudoer. Your account should have to explicitly su root and enter a password. If you're talking security, anything else is just masturbation.

          Meanwhile, I run as root. I don't give a shit about security; I have a mostly disposable system, viruses aren't targeting linux nearly enough for me to
      • linspire hasn't done that for years.
      • "is that it uses root accounts by default. That's pretty much asking for trouble."

        How long is this rumor going to live? That hasn't been the case for quite a while now. And version 5 is extremely nice! Much faster and much more stable than ever. It's actually at a point where I'd use it daily at work if I could.

    • by Almahtar ( 991773 )
      I agree. This gives me a good chance to see it for myself: test the waters, so to speak, before passing it along to the less initiated. From the description, it sounds like a killer distro: I'd love to have proprietary codecs and the like installed out of the box. If this distro ends up being all it's cracked up to be, I might just subscribe to the click and run even though I know how to use apt-get already: just to support it.

      Of course, I'll have to really give credance to the FSF's take on proprietar
    • The problem with windows is that it allows people to use a networked computer without learning anything about security. This is false simplicity, much like allowing someone to begin drive a car on an empty road is false simplicity, when that empty road leads to crowded city junctions.

      Linspire following the fundamentally flawed (and now abandoned) windows model of using root accounts for normal users is just dumb.
  • Odd name (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Winckle ( 870180 ) <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:56PM (#15834079) Homepage
    For a linux distro that contains software which is not "free"
    • Re:Odd name (Score:3, Funny)

      by vancondo ( 986849 )
      Yeah, but I heard that this distro includes free beer, so count me in!
    • Re:Odd name (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QuantumFTL ( 197300 ) * on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:44PM (#15834452)
      It is the perhaps unfortunate nature of the english language that two, entirely separate concepts are both given the same name - free. The target audience of this distribution does not care about source code or software politics. They want a tool that they can use to get work done, and they want it on the cheap. For them, the name Freespire is good, as the point of the distribution is that it does not cost money. Whether or not it is Stallman approved means less to them than if it is "kid tested and mother approved."
    • Re:nice quip (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aixou ( 756713 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @04:06PM (#15834608)
      Nice quip, served you well.

      You appear to be misinformed however. Freespire will be released in two distinct versions:

      One containing entirely free software, and one containing proprietary codecs (paid for and licensed by Linspire).
      The user gets to choose which he uses.

      Hence the "Free" -- freedom of choice to opt into one of two free (as in beer) choices: a completely free (as in speech and beer) version, and a free (just as in beer) version.
      Seems pretty free to me.

      Any questions?
  • More Bubbly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:58PM (#15834103)
    Is it just me, or do Linux Desktops seem to be following the Windows trend? They seem to be getting more bubbly. Take me back to the days of BlackBox
    • Re:More Bubbly (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BecomingLumberg ( 949374 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:04PM (#15834159)
      I agree Linux is going that way, but familiarity and 'good' looks are the only way to start converting the non-geeks. And there are plenty of nuts and bolts distros.

      Eye candy is very appealing to the mainstream user, and will help A LOT to increase Linux's usage and familiarity.

      • Re:More Bubbly (Score:5, Insightful)

        by B11 ( 894359 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:20PM (#15834287)
        I don't know about you, but it's nice to have a system that isn't ugly. Of course, the first thing I did when I installed ubuntu was change the theme and get rid of the brown. Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? Of course now, it's sort of their claim to fame, and they can't change it now, but I wonder how many "regular" users are put off by unbuntu altogether, right off the bat?
        • Re:More Bubbly (Score:3, Interesting)

          I'm actually partial to the color scheme in Ubuntu (my choice of distro). I have an asian themed room and the subdued tones mesh very well with the colors of the room. (Using the 'Dawn of Ubuntu' wallpaper, the tree with the faded sky behind it)
        • Actually, they have said that each cycle will possibly have a different color theme, so don't be surprised if they change from Brown/Orange to Pink/Neon Green for Edgy.
        • I don't know about you, but it's nice to have a system that isn't ugly.

          Sadly, I'm not a fan of the 'bubbly' look of XP (or Linspire). Give me a functional look like fvwm or Gnome any day. Functionality and simplicity have their own aesthetic!


      • Re:More Bubbly (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Almahtar ( 991773 )
        It's amazing how many of my classmates I've converted to Ubuntu because they saw how sexy it was with proper theming and the use of a few desklets. Yes, even to senior level computer science students, eye candy sells.

        ...Of course, once they actually tried it out and used the slick features like apt-get the first time, they were head over heels.
    • slackware :)
    • Re:More Bubbly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Divide By Zero ( 70303 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:17PM (#15834254)
      It's easier for an expert to kill X than it is for a n00b to start it. It's not like XP where the CLI is an afterthought. It's there, just like back in the olden days of Windows, running under the GUI.

      If you don't like it, don't use it. For me, I'm looking for a linux system that works BEFORE I start working on it. Give me a working system, then let me customize it. I don't have the chops to build a linux box from the ground up, and while that puts me in the minority here, I'm very firmly in the majority over the general population on this one.

      I'm hoping this gives the linux movement a bit more momentum, even if it does do so at the expense of tarnishing the OSS camps' dreams just a bit.
      • For me, I'm looking for a linux system that works BEFORE I start working on it.

        Not exactly Linux, but my OpenBSD install worked quite nicely out of the box. X even booted in 640x480/256 mode the first time I typed "startx" (sort of equivalent to the "win" command back in the day?). "xorgconfig" was required to set X up to play nice with my video card at 1024x768, but that wasn't a big deal - the config took a minute and was completely straightforward.

        Installing Debian was slightly more fun because of

      • what does that have to do with how the distro looks? He wasn't saying he wanted no gui, just one that isn't so 'bubbly' like Windows.
    • Just use Gentoo with pekwm the way I do.
    • Take me back to the days of BlackBox

      Go for it: [] []

  • Kickstart (Score:5, Interesting)

    by also-rr ( 980579 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:59PM (#15834116) Homepage
    Proprietary software, as long as it doesn't make the system less free, is not necessarily bad.

    For example a proprietary document system that uses open formats and has open APIs does very little to harm the user and potentially fills a niche that cannot be served by free software very well (eg handles certain legal compliance issues, which requires expensive insurance and research).

    As long as you *could* write your own software to replace bits of the system, or interoperate with the system, then you dont necessarily have to for the benefit to be very real indeed.

    A lot (although not all) of the stuff that comes with Linspire falls into this category.
    • Re:Kickstart (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Almahtar ( 991773 )
      Much of the concern over the use of proprietary material is that it'll eventually be relied-upon with no alternative. If that happens and then the owner of the proprietary software has a change of heart or goes belly up, there are problems. For example: if everyone uses ATI's fglrx drivers, there's no need for the open source ones. If ATI goes out of business, everyone's using this huge black box to power their ATI cards. Bug fixes would have to be in the form of unofficial binary hacks, and new featur
  • Actually.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by AltGrendel ( 175092 ) <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:01PM (#15834138) Homepage
    And, when is all said and done, that's really what Freespire is all about -- making Linux as easy as possible for users.'"

    Usually, when all is said and done, more is said than done.

  • by tlacuache ( 768218 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:06PM (#15834175)
    ... but EasyUbuntu [] accomplishes the same thing (at least as far as the codecs and drivers go, I didn't RTFA) for Ubuntu and is as easy as the name suggests.
    • by aixou ( 756713 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @04:11PM (#15834640)
      One eensy weensy little detail distinguishes Freespire from EasyUbuntu:


      Freespire uses fully licensed codecs (paid for by Linspire), whereas EasyUbuntu takes the gray area route of not using fully legal stuff.

      Since Linspire is footing the bill for the codecs, I think we can all see which choice is both more practical for the user and more ethical.
      • >One eensy weensy little detail distinguishes Freespire from EasyUbuntu:

        Only in the U. S. of Eh. my friend. Up here in the Great White North, not to mention the rest of the free world, (NOT Australia since they've joined the US copyright tyranny) it is completely legal to use most of those codecs that might land an American butt in the slammer.

        What I find most frustrating is that because people are so afraid of what the Americans will do, they intentionally cripple these distros.
  • Far superior, of course, to Ubuntu + Automatix [].
  • GPL violation? (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by bughouse26 ( 975570 )
    Including proprietary drivers in a distribution violates the GPL because your are distributing a derivative GPL work (the linux kernel) without also making the source code available.

    How are they working around this?
    • Re:GPL violation? (Score:3, Informative)

      by humajime ( 952879 )
      The work around is that there is no GPL violation. The Linux Kernel has an open API. If you conform to the API and have written all the code yourself, your code isn't subject to the GPL. The Kernel source is GPL. Any module can be whatever the author deems it.
      • Except that binary kernel modules are illegal, and will not be allowed in, period.

        Seen the various talks at OLS a couple of weeks ago? Seen the stance by Novell as a result of it?

        • Using the GPL layer approach, they are not.
          But apparently, I was mistaken about the open-source nVidia kernel modules that act as the layer. They are not GPLed. If they are re-released under the GPL, then the nvidia binary drivers are perfectly legal.
  • Didn't a little company called "Caldera" try this marketing strategy once? Hopefully when freespire changes its name again, it won't be changing it to "SCO".
    • Yes,

      But this is web 2.0 stuff we're talking about here!

      Caldera was early and the Linux desktop has come a long way since.

      I'll hazzard a guess and say Linspire is still a little early to the game, but I think Longwait's convoluted marketing plan with different packages unlocking different functions only benefits Linspire.

      If they continue to concentrate on OEM contracts, I think they'll provide a great deal of exposure to the Linux desktop. It will be a clearly lower priced and function as well. Let's not f
  • When Redhat dropped their supported free desktop version and split their offerings into the 'community' Fedora Core and the 'professional' RHEL, everybody beat up on them then, and continues to do so (see the Ubuntu-as-Redhat-Killer article from earlier today). Yet it seems like many Linux distros with commercial aspirations are doing the same (Suse, and now Linspire).

    Maybe Redhat was onto something?
    • With respect to SuSE, you got that wrong. OpenSUSE (the free SuSE), is ONLY free software. Nothing that doesn't have source is included in there. Non-open SuSE (the pay for DVD one) contains all the binary only bits that make GPL folks cringe.
  • No GPL Violations (Score:1, Informative)

    by humajime ( 952879 )
    People don't seem to understand what the GPL covers in term of "derivative" work. If you fulfill an API, that is not covered under the GPL. If you take parts of the linux kernel, modify them and then repackage them, that does constitute derivative work. It just happens that most kernal modules distrubuted with Linux distros are GPLed, but they don't have to be. The module can be 100% new code, and the author can then release it under whatever Liscence they want.
    • This is a large problem. The GPL says little about what does or does not constitute a derivative work.

      There's a good reason for that: the GPL is supposed to be portable. However, including a clause that says "The following do not constitute derivative works: [...] Licenses that differ only in this clause are considered to be fully compatible" might be a viable option.
  • We'll see. (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've tried over a dozen Linux distros and all of them have had major, glaring problems from a user standpoint. The worst is support for MP3 files. SuSE pretends there isn't any such thing; Ubuntu gives you a link to a cryptic page which says "please go away". USB thumbdrives can be plugged in but not unplugged on SuSE. Music CDs won't play, and no apparent reason is given. On and on. Ubuntu's the closest, but it's still not anything I could give to anyone who's not a masochistic geek. Get over it and fix th
    • Indeed, automounting still has issues. For example, you unmount it using the KDE menu, but after unplugging, its still present. Or, it simply does not automount etc.
      IMO automounting is not well integrated, even after Project Utopia. The Unix design is simply not made for automounting and removable media, and it shows. Only after the creation of pmount *useful* media mounting is possible (i.e. you dont have to be root).

      Another thing I am not fond of is samba share mounting. It is really not trivial to mount
      • Only after the creation of pmount *useful* media mounting is possible

        I discovered recently that if you do not have a real local user (ie, authentication was via NIS, and you only access NFS disks) then pmount will not work because it can't work out which user you are. Just posting in case somebody else has a similar problem.

    • Hum, my SuSE came with mp3 support out of the box, thanks to a clever integration with real helix software used as a back end. What the hell is it with Ubuntu anyway, you might be able to do the same with automatix or easy ubuntu or what not, but freespire makes it LEGAL (at least in the US, in the civilised word software patent don't yet apply)!
      • What the hell is it with Ubuntu anyway, you might be able to do the same with automatix or easy ubuntu or what not, but freespire makes it LEGAL (at least in the US, in the civilised word software patent don't yet apply)! Only a small proportion of all humans on Earth live in America. For this reason - and the support of a massive Ubuntu userbase - Ubuntu with Automatix/Easy Ubuntu is both a sane and legal option for most.
    • Hmmm ... ever try to play a DVD on a vanilla Windows install? Yeah, SuSE doesn't let you play MP3s or other goodies of that ilk out of the box. You need to update against a few choice repositories before you can use that goodness. That said, it's VERY easy to create a super-install DVD from Yast with all those "omitted" packages. As for the CD and USB thumbdrive issue, you need to run SuSEPlugger, it handles all that mount / unmount stuff for you. I don't use it personally, I like to mount shit when I need
      • don't use it personally, I like to mount shit when I need it rather than have it automounted, but for non-techs, it works just as well as Winders auto-detection mech. Same with Debian/Gnome. Plug in an external HDD? It shows up on the desktop about a second later, without all the hemming and hawing that takes 'doze 10 sec to detect a drive. And don't even get me started on "do you want to Autoplay?" (I know it can be disabled, but if you plug a USB key into an unfamiliar system and forget...bleh).


  • low-quality drivers (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:41PM (#15834421) Homepage

    What sometimes gets left out of this kind of discussion is that closed-source drivers are often of very low quality. Recently, I've been scanning in an old 400-page book on an HP scanner, using HP's closed-source MacOS 9 driver and scanning software. The MacOS X driver wasn't released until a couple of years after we bought the scanner, although they claimed it would be coming "real soon now." When the MacOS X driver finally was released, I found that it crashed so often as to make it useless. So here I am, in the year 2006, booting into MacOS 9 whenever I want to use the scanner. IIRC a driver is available for SANE, but I think I had dependency problems getting it to instal on my Linux box.

    I scanned the first 100 pages or so, transferred them to the Linux box, and made sure I could read them. No problem. I finished scanning the book, transferred the rest of the pages to the Linux box. Oops --- can't read anything after page 250. Why? It turns out all those files are empty --- zero bytes in size. Why? Oh, the Mac's hard disk had apparently filled up, and the software didn't check for an I/O error when it wrote the files.

    I'm not saying that OSS is always perfect and bug-free, but I doubt that this kind of low-quality code would ever have become widely used if it was open source.

    I don't really want closed-source drivers for Linux. All I want is two things:

    1. I want to be able to find clear, accurate, up-to-date information on what devices have OSS drivers available, so I can buy hardware that's well supported.
    2. I want to be able to install the OSS drivers without a lot of hassles.
    Really, #1 seems to be pretty well covered by the SANE folks (although the situation seems to be worse for wireless cards, where there's a ton of out-of-date info on the web, and I didn't find any canonical, well-maintained site that had all the info). #2 is probably slowly getting better too, as Ubuntu becomes more and more mature. I suspect that by the time I upgrade to the next Ubuntu, the scanner driver I need will already be included in SANE by default, and the dependency problems will be fixed.
    • by ardor ( 673957 )
      The problem with #2 is that the drivers need constant support, because the kernel changes so fast. Of course it is logical that a driver written for Kernel 2.6.1 may not work with 2.6.15, but sometimes stuff even breaks because it was written for 2.6.14! This makes Linux driver maintenance expensive. If the maintainer does not have 24/7 devotion behind it, the driver is gone.

      Contrast this with stuff like ext2fs for Windows. I can *still* use it, even after the updates and the switch from 2000 to XP. There s
  • Not only does the default interface look like Windows XP, some of the icons look like their Windows equivalents. The IM icon for Gaim, for example, has more than a passing resemblance to the AOL AIM icon.

    ...and even more of a resemblance to Apple's iChat icon [].


    iqu :|
  • by sqlgeek ( 168433 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:47PM (#15834476)
    Linux' ability to run proprietary software such as an Oracle database is essential to its success. How is this any different?
  • by Hortensia Patel ( 101296 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @03:50PM (#15834499)
    Coincidentally, I discovered [] today that Linspire/Freespire are standardizing on Haskell [] for core OS development. I'm still blinking a bit about that one, but you have to give them marks for chutzpah.
    • Thats bizare, but they might not have asuch a difficult time finding developers. Parrot ( the backend of Perl 6) is beign writeen in Haskell. I like haskell, or at least the idea of it. As the note says they've already written a lot of the packaging system in Ocaml another functional language that was the basis of an experimental microsoft .Net language F#. I'd like to see functional programing take off, but I have my doubts it will in any shape or form. I think Haskell will be a big drawback inthe short te
  • I was hoping this would provide a free alternative to the CNR warehouse of Linspire. Linspire isnt' really that expensive to begin with ($50 or even cheaper last I checked). But then asking people to pay $20/year for the CNR warehouse wasn't cool. People don't want to associate some kind of yearly fee with this I don't think.
    • You can use apt-get to install all the non-commercial software in Freespire. Personally, I don't see $20 / yr. as being excessive considering my time is worth money. I spend more on that every month for my Netflix account.
      • And yet getting all that software is easy and free in windows (the non-commercial stuff). The point of CNR was to make it easy to install so that it was just like windows for the people who don't know any better. Since this is supposed to be a free alternative its not much of a free alternative if it still costs money.
    • Not only is the use of CNR not mandatory with either Lin or Freespire, but since in practice you have to pay for a virus scanner and an antispyware for your windows box, and if you do not want to change each year and try a new "free" (as in beer and not speech, or more accuratelly as in "toke" as its free to start, but then you really HAVE to pay) version it will cost you at least 50$/year to have a half way secure Windows PC.
      So 20$ is actually cheap.
      • Who pays for anti-virus and anti-spyware? All the better ones are free. The point is in Windows, install McAfee and installing AVG require the same level of skill. To install the free software doesn't cost anymore or require any more skill. However in Linux it requires more skill to use apt-get, which was the whole point of the CNR system. Its still not a free alternative if part of it costs money.
        • No what really happens is that the average Luser receives a PC with Norton bundled in.
          The let the 3 month period expire, get zombified, the machine slows down, doesn't work anymore, and then they find an idiot (me for instance) that fixe their computer when it dies.
          Then somebody else downloads some free version, that expires, and then the "friendly helper (idiot)" gets tired and tells them they have to fork over a couple of bucks to get their manchine running.

          so it does cost!
  • Sheesh! The "launch" menu is basically a clone of the Start menu, which wasn't a great idea in the first place. Give me an application menu that can show up anywhere on the screen like in fvwm or blackbox, and a NeXT/Apple-style dock on one side of the screen for the apps and directories I use most often...

    Actually, give me a true 3-button mouse and allow different menus to show up at the pointer site with different combinations of button clicks.


    • I think you missed the point of Freespire/Linspire. The word they're going for is "simplicity". While I may agree with you on the menus, I don't really want to try to teach my grandmother how to do that. It's far easier to say "look at the top left of your screen where it says 'launch'. Now click there and look for...". People who are looking for something like Freespire want simplicity and consistency. It's in no way, shape, or form, geared toward power users.
      • I think you missed the point of Freespire/Linspire. The word they're going for is "simplicity". While I may agree with you on the menus, I don't really want to try to teach my grandmother how to do that.

        Sell it with stickers for the mouse buttons. "Menu" "Change Program" and "Actions".


  • by jiawen ( 693693 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @04:37PM (#15834819) Homepage

    Two other versions are currently being designed. One, which requires that users give the company some of their intellectual property in exchange for additional software packages, and another, which allows users to exchange a few hours' work for a robust Linux-based system. The first version will be called Inspire; the second, Perspire.

    The company is also thinking of donating free software to relatives of the recently deceased. This will naturally be called Expire.

  • First of all, may as well mention that a lot of smaller distributions have included all that stuff for years, but whatever the case it's good to see that one of the big distributions has finally chosen to do something pragmatic and practical rather than follow a bunch of abstract ideas like most of the others (*cough* Debian *cough*) seem to do. Now, don't get me wrong – I do agree that freedom is very important in any context and form – but as far as the whole "proprietary software is EVIL!!"
  • I'm horrified (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tinned_Tuna ( 911835 )

    Because they've fallen for the same trap as Microsoft Windows: They put the button you push to turn the machine off in a sub menu of the button you push to start your work! What could possibly be next? Insert headers and footers in the View menu on the Freespire-customized version of

    May god save us all.

The following statement is not true. The previous statement is true.