As promised, today I am going to begin the trickle that will come to be known as one of the longest Linspire reviews out there. Before we get started however, I wanted to take a moment to clarify a few things to the you, the readers.

Selling Open Source software-

First off, Linspire is not in the business of winning over people from other Linux distros. So when I read other reviews from people that are Linux users and find them expecting a corporate entity to behave as a community service, I have to admit that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

For example, let’s start off with the method most Linux distributions use to enable their users to download software. Most of the time, you will be downloading software from within that distro’s package manager. The ease or difficulty of this process varies greatly depending on the program you are looking for. Assuming you do not have issues with dependencies, then you have the software installed without too much trouble. But, chances are you will need to look for it once installed since it is not always going to show up within the KDE program menu. Then again, this is a free service and you are getting what you are paid for. I am not talking about the software, I’m referring to the delivery of it. Basically you end up with “as is” accessibility to some terrific software. It remains the users responsibility to know how to seek out support and deal with any issues that may arise if things are not going exactly to plan – we all know how this can happen on any OS. To be frank, a new computer user is not going to be able to deal with this – no matter how you cut it. Facts are that even the simplest community distro will leave many new Linux explorers frustrated and perhaps even later on, fueling the FUD about Linux in general thanks to a series of unresolved issues they had to face.

Linspire’s CNR program catalog takes all this pain away. While it is certainly not going to ‘wow’ a Linux guru, to the Windows user looking to try Linux, I believe it is worth the cost of subscribing. “That is insane! Why the heck would anyone pay for software that is available for free?” Simple, you are not paying for the software in most cases. See, unless you are buying commercial software or a commercial game via CNR, the yearly subscription fee is paying for the service of making software installation easier that it is in any other OS.

Yes kids, you are subscribing to access for a simpler way of doing things. If this is not acceptable to the user, then I’d recommend looking at the cost in wasted time tracking down dependencies with other distros. Truly, do as you wish. But please, refrain from the misinformed comments about ‘selling OSS’. Frankly it is not true (within CNR) and even if it was, OSS licensing allows for it to be sold. Just look at any commercial distro out there for the proof.

Let the review begin-

Do me a favor. Before you rush out and buy a copy of Linspire, then come back to complain about ‘this not working and that not working’, use your head. Download a free copy of the live CD. This allows you to check for specific hardware issues before ever spending a red cent. Once you have done this and feel that you are ready to take the next step…we can begin with a real hard drive installation.

Hardware, hardware, hardware-

Folks, I have installed more ‘easy to use’ Linux distros than I’d care to mention. Many of them have outstanding installers. Xandros for instance, is very attractive to install and gives you a user-friendly feel during the install process. Linspire also provides an outstanding install outline that is both easy to use and to follow for most users.

Yet unlike every other distro that I have tried to install on my notebook computer, Linspire actually detected my video card without any help from me whatsoever. With Xandros version 3, I had to do a VESA install. And as for Simply Mepis? Well now, it took a lot of work to even get that to happen at all. Installation with L-5.0 was flawless on both my AMD 64 desktop with a GeForce 5200 vid-card and on my Averatec 3200 notebook.

Speaking of hardware detection, both machines had no issues at all with one single piece of harware – short my Canon scanner of course. Now I knew going in that this particular model of Canon scanner was a no-go to begin with, so I had no problem with this. If it was really an issue, I could just get another model of Canon scanner that will work with SANE.

At anyrate, this custom kernel that Linspire is using proved to be fantastic in regard to locating my hardware. My Saitek gaming keyboard, Microsoft (funny, eh) optical mouse, crappy Apollo printer, Plantronics USB DSP headset, Kodak EasyShare camera, SanDisk card reader, USB thumbdrive, PCI soft-modem, NVIDA nForce integrated network adaptor and my external hard drive all work perfectly. One thing that struck me as funny is that with my printer, I have to hunt for a bit just to find drivers for it in XP. In Linux, it is always a snap. CUPS has it every time.

That actually brings to me an interesting point. While so many hardware companies out there work not to provide workable driver solutions to anyone other than Windows users, Linspire will detect more hardware before you ever see the desktop appear than XP will out of the box to be sure. Specically, I am thinking of printers, cameras and PDAs.

External devices that are supported in Linspire will simply mount when I hook them up. My Palm Zire 31? Drivers are already there (although I still need the Palm Sync software to work with it). USB thumbdrive or hard drive, no waiting for it to install. Plug it in, it mounts right away.

But what about DVD and CD-ROM drives? Does it detect them alright? It sure did on both of my test machines. My notebook uses a CD-Writer combo drive and my desktops has both a DVD-Writer and a DVD-ROM. Everything worked out of the box, no issues at all. Both write data to DVDs and CDs without any problems either.

Now one question I am willing to bet that you have is whether or not the WiFi support has been improved since version 4.5 and in comparison to other distributions. My answer to this is yes and no. Yes in that I have seen better support for wireless devices in this distro out of the box than with any other. Having said this, they are still the victim of the everchanging chipsets and version numbers.

In the XP environment, you just download the drivers or pop in the CD. With Linux, they don’t have this option. The hardware companies have decided that the hundreds of thousands of people that use Linux worldwide, do not constitute enough of a need to bother. And yet even then, there are many cards that will work out of the box thanks to Linspire pre-installing and configuring ndiswrapper within the OS. Non-supported cards can be made to work – sometimes right off the bat.

But what about affordable, native to the kernel options? Besides those old Orinoco cards that use the quickly aging 802.11b standard, are there any options out there for wireless G? Why yes, yes there are. I have two of them being rushed to me via express mail and will be giving you my thoughts on them and the performance they provide once they arrive. One of them is said to even work without a driver CD in Windows! Now that is something I’d love to see!

Well folks, that covers part one. Next week, we will look at some hardware shortcomings, solutions that I have found for out of the box for those shortcomings, Webcam support, scanners and other devices that have likely given Linux adventurers a major headache in the past. As the installments of this review progress, we will also venture into software, troubleshooting, the Linspire support system, diagnostic tools and other fun goodies as well.

And with that, I’ll see each of you tomorrow. Until then…