Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Freespire 1.0 - Free is in the name for a reason

The history of Freespire is like a movie plot, with nuances of a Phoenix rising from ashes, Rocky, Mission Impossible and a bit of Ground Hog day all wrapped up in a single OS. Born as OS to directly rival Windows, the original name of Lindows sparked some concerns in Redmond and many lawsuits later a new name was born: Linspire. Now many in the Linux community did not like the approach taken by Michael Robertson and gang, likening the distribution to a bad copy of Windows and a poor Linux distribution to boot. I for one gave them a shot just for the fact that they stood toe to toe with the giant in the northwest and won (MS may dispute this, but if you just have to change a name after all the publicity created, hell sign me up).

So earlier this year Kevin Carmony announced to much fanfare that the Linspire company was starting an OpenSource project call Freespire. The news took some by suprise, while some on the inside of Linspire figured it was inevitible. With Ubuntu gaining so much ground in the community and openSuse drawing more attention to Novell, something had to happen. Freespire would be coming soon. After a few decent Beta copies, on August 9th, the first version appeared.

I had tested many of the Alpha and Beta releases, so the final production version was just icing on the cake. I am very pleased with the overall performance and look of Freespire, so lets get too it, shall we???


Download Here
Kernel - 2.6.14
Desktop - KDE 3.3.2 Freespire Enhanced (An older version, but extremely stable
FAQs -
Cost - FREE!!! However CNR Warehouse does come at a cost of $19.95 for basic service per year $49.95 for Gold
Special Features - CNR and the options for Propriertary codec version or an OSS free version, and did I mention FREE!!!!!

Nitty Gritty:

Installation (

The way to install an OS tells a lot about what you get later. I simply feel that if they can't get this part right, how are they going to get anything else correct. First impressions are everything and I think that some people really need to spend more than an hour getting this right. Freespire basically has the same installation routine as Linsire 5.0, but it worked well there. There is an option for running the install disk as a Live OS and also an addition of a Parition manager in the boot manager from the disk.

I always suggest booting the system in Live mode whenever it is an option so that you can get an idea of how the OS will run with your hardware. It isn't fool proof, but odds are if it doesn't load in the Live mode, it won't run after an install either.

I am not a big fan of the partitioning being seperated from the installation, as most newbies won't understand what this is, nor how to do it, nor is this version very user intuitive. Basically this alone reduces on Pennie from the score. If your system is already partitioned, this isn't a big deal, but for Windows crossovers this will be a huge negative. We will walk you through using this feature later if you need help, but the one thing that always shines on Freespire/Linspire is the awesome user community. The only community as helpful and responsive I have seen to day would be Ubuntu.

This is an extremely informative welcome screen and lets you know to do what we just suggested and run Live before trying to install and the location for support. However, my only issue with that is that it assumes that you have another computer available to get to that site. I wish people would think about that when they make these suggestions in that many people only own one PC and just can't go to a website for support. A nice 800 number or 619 (San Diego) number for support might be nice, or an ability to have a help link on the screen with a simple wiki installation directions or roadmap would greatly improve the look and comfort for the newbie.

There are basically two options for the installation; Full and Advanced. Full is basically watch out below, here it comes option that just does what the coders think it should: Take over the world. If you have another partition of Windows or other Linux, I would strongly recommend that you do the Advanced option, although that is a bit of a misleading statement. The only options in the Advanced tabs are to choose which partition (if you knew to make one in the first place) and if you wish to have the MBR updated. Now there is a little blurb in the text there that tells you if you needed a partition created that you should have alread done so, or that you now need to reboot and select that option from the drop down. This reminds me of that MASH show where they were working on the bomb. "Cut the blue wire.....but first, cut the red wire next to the blue wire." You can't allow people to go down the road for miles only to then tell them of the exit. Now, the one improvement over Linspire 5.0 is that there wasn't even a partitioning tool there, so C for the effort, D for the implementation.

Once you get past that, either on the first or second go around (hopefully if you read this first, you will know to partition before you get started) you will get the "are you really sure you wish to do that?" question that just bothers me. I mean, the other option to take over the entire hard disk asks the same question. I get why they do it, but sometimes these idiot questions are a bit over the top. Oh well, can't have everything can you.

Then you are off to the races. Installation takes between 8-15 minutes, really depending on the size of your PCs hard drive and overall performance. Not bad and there are some nice little pictures along the way describing what you are getting into with Freespire.

The complete screen is next and reminds you to remove your installation disk so that you don't go through this again. It is not what I would call user friendly, but it is about average across many distributions. Three Pennies is a bit of a stretch, but other than the partitioning snafu, everything else is pretty clear.

Starting ( )

I never understand why people don't follow distros like Suse and spend some time on the boot screen. First impressions again, right? This one is so simple it is painful. One thing that has been noted by myself and others is that Freespire does not do a decent job of finding other distros other than Windows. I personally feel that this is due to their drive mapping in the OS, but more on that later.

(Note some of these screens are from Freespire's website as I was having issues with my screen capture function, I give them full credit, but for some reason they still have their Beta background snapshots up instead of updates}

I love the boot screens as it really keeps the eye candy alive while waiting for the system to boot. It is one of those nice features that some people forget about, but here is done well. What happened to the installation, I have no clue.

Once in the OS for the first time, the system will bring up the EULA for you to agree to. This is super simple and nothing in there should scare even the most paranoid out there.

Next the system will allow you adjust all your network settings, first your sound with a nice slider to adjust your volume, which is a nice way to test your sound against what the system chose for you. I have heard of some issue with JACK, but personally have no experienced them.

The desktop is pretty much plain old KDE, and since it is from the 3.3.2 variety, don't expect many bells or whistles but do expect the system to work. Firefox has been customized for Linspire, but you can install the generic from CNR once you get there.

The little icon in the bottom right of the toolbar is the CNR icon and you might see another with a Blue arrow moving or circles moving around the little running man. CNR is the repository for Linspire and the bread and butter of their offering. It is by far the most user friendly and complete listing of software available to Linux users. The "warehouse" includes free software, drivers, kernels, patches, and for sale pieces such as CodeWeavers, Win4Lin, games such as Cold War and other pieces that you can purchase at a discount, if your are a Gold Member. A regular member can get the Free software and purchase the other packages, just without the discount. Now in Freespire is one new avenue, which is that apt-get is more functional that before in Linspire and provides flexibility of other repositories such as Ubuntu's while offering the advanced offerings of CNR. I for one think CNR is what clearly sets Freespire/Linspire apart from the field and will for some time to come.

CNR is also availble to the user from the Launch icon structure in each sub branch. By simply selecting the CNR expansion, one can select the package they want and then CNR launches on that page and they have the option to install. Another neat trick is that you can install from the website for CNR and that too will launch CNR on your computer. The hits keep coming and coming for CNR.

As mentioned briefly before, there are two levels of CNR subscriptions: Basic and Gold. Pricing between the two options has a big gap, $19.95 for basic and $49.95, and the benefit of Gold is pretty small. There is a table to describe the benefit, but unless you plan on purchasing the kitchen sink, most newbies will be happy with the Basic plan to start with. As your needs grow, then you could look into Gold later.

One thing that really is nice for Freespire is the video and wireless support on PCs, especially laptops. In their efforts to truly support proprietary drivers, they really hit the nail on the head in that most video cards and wireless adapters work out of the box. Now having said this, my laptops ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 did not get full 1280x800 resolution, but that is the case on Linspire as well (I ask and ask, and still asking for some help, but have honestly been too busy to push it). Wireless is accomplished by pre-loading NDISWRAPPER drivers galour. This was no easy task and is a really good way to keep this out of the kernel and still allow some user flexibility without having to know how to add/remove kernel packages and modules.

Bonus Stuff (

The number one item that is bonus in Freespire, other than CNR that really is a Linspire leftover, is the packaging of the proprietary codecs and drivers in the base package and then an optional OSS version free for the FSF lovers of the world. I don't mind these free systems and understand those that want total control, but those people also should realize there are people in the world that just don't want to spend the weeks it can take to get one of those systems functional. Time is more valuable than spending money on packages or losing some controlls. I for one like the middle ground that FrQuick Blog: Blog Administrationeespire offers, in that they pay the bill for this through support from Linspire and donations so users just don't have to worry about it.

So everything really works out of the box, minus the DVD, but that can easily be obtained from CNR in a couple of different options. You can see those before you install on the Web CNR here. There is a package for PowerDVD that if you plan on watching movies will pay for the GOLD subsription with its $40 discount. This isn't some crappy fly by night DVD player but rather a CyberLink offering that works extremely well.

There are two packages unique to Linspire that Freespire enjoys which are Lphoto and Lsongs. Another project by Linspire founder Michael Robertson is, which probably helped spawn Lsongs, which is a truly simple music manager. I for one like Amarok, which is also in the warehouse, but that is personal preference.

The other project that sees itself in the Freespire offering is the Gizmo Project, or VoIP client that compares with Skyp. It is a SIP protocal user that really has some interesting offerings, including free calls to any phone that is registered with their system. Check it out and this works for Windows and Apple as well.

So wireless works, Video cards work (for the most part), MP3 out of the box, DVD with a couple of clicks and LEGALLY done, and a clean desktop that will keep the windows lovers happy and the KDE Linux lovers in the works as well. It truly is a desktop that fullfills The World's Easiest desktop Linux! branding that comes over from Linspire, along with the FREEdom and FREEprice that many Linux lovers expect in their distribution.

Overall ( )

So what do I think overall? (if you care, right ) Freespire is truly a distro that allows Linux lovers to get their hands dirty and the newbies to have their simplified desktop that functions 95% of the way MS does right out of the box. The installation is not the easiest by far, nor the lack of a partitioning agent built into the process. But knowing that before hand you will hopefully work through that mine field unscathed and get to the meat on the table: Proprietary drivers, CNR that allows packages to be found and installed in a single click, apt-get flexibility, and a community second to none.

So give it a shot and tell me what you think. You should at least try the live version and keep that around so that if you Windows dies you will have a way to get files off your PC. That alone is worth the time of downloading.


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