A Review of Linspire Beta 2

Written 1/27/05

NOTE: Currently, the beta versions are only available to Linspire insiders.

I have been a Lindows (oops)  Linspire user since the early days.  The days when Lindows was a pretty basic distro and just getting started. I have followed the progress of this distro, trying each new version as it came along. My last review was on Lindows 3.0. See my previously written article Is Lindows Ready for Microsoft?

Well, there have been quite a few changes since then. I took a little hiatus for about six months, happily running Lindows 4.5 on my main. I recently got back on the horse, bit the bullet and signed up for another year of Linspire's CNR (Click_N-Run) membership, so that my insider status would not expire. Originally,  Linspire was kind enough to give me a few years of CNR for free, as an original Insider subscriber, thanks, Lindows!

So let's take a look at the new Linspire and how it is shaping up.


The Tested System


MSI KT-266 Pro2-R motherboard (raid capable)
256 mb DDR 2100 RAM
S3 Savage 4 video card (32 mb)
AMD Duron processor (1000 mhz)
Linksys NC 100 Ethernet PCI card
Onboard VIA Sound
Toshiba 40X CDROM drive


Installation


One of Linspire's strong point has always been it's ease of installation.

But first, some background. I had tried an earlier beta release of Linspire, nicknamed Marlin, namely version 4.9.232. This worked flawlessly on my generic test box. The problem with beta testing this version was there was no CNR available, so I played with this version for a while. No real issues here, except for a lack of development tools that hampered installing any real useful packages form source. No problem, I still had my original 4.5 install on my main system.

Attempting to install version 4.9.373 was another matter. After burning several cd disks, i could not get a good burn that would run. Now, I'm not a newbie with this, so I just waited until the new beta 2 came out on 1/15/05 (version 4.9.411).

Ahh.. the first disk burned without a problem. The neat "click to verify" utility on the Linspire cd showed that my disk seems fine (checks the md5sum on the files to assure that they are valid). Popped the disk into my test box and started the install.

This is where the first minor glitch appeared.  Trying to do an advanced install (choosing a partition to install to, rather than allowing the installer to take over the entire hard drive), I kept getting a message that Linspire could not find any usable hard disks to install. Hmmm... well I know that i have 5 distros on the system, but.....the problem eventually came down to a zip disk in my zip drive that Linspire did not like.  After ejecting the problematic zip disk, the install started without a problem. Yes, always consider hardware as a possible cause of installation issues.

As mentioned above, the Linspire install, as expected,  worked flawlessly and took just under 17 minutes to complete. Pretty good by Linspire standards on my Duron 1000 mhz system.

Some points to consider here. Linspire is really designed to be the only OS on your system. Most folks want ease of installation. A "takeover" install would write Linspire over the entire hard drive, which is what you want to do, if Linspire will be your only OS on the system. Advanced users are looking for options, say, if you are like me and now have six distros on you system. The advanced install allows me to choose what partition to install to, which is what I was looking for. This requires some knowledge of hard disk partitioning and such.


The First Startup

On initial boot, I was greeted by the Grub boot screen. Viola! All my previously installed distros showed up on the boot screen. Pretty impressive. We will see if they all work, later on. Since, I had a previous install of Linspire on the system,  probably Linspire picked up all my other boot options from the former Grub install. Fine with me!

On first boot, it took Linspire about 4 minutes to produce a desktop. Subsequent reboots took much less longer, about 1 minute on average. This was expected.

 I was initially greeted by a startup screen that gave instructions how to add users, followed by a configuration screen that gave such options as the ability to change my password and some other tasks that users might want. Since I had no problem accepting the defaults (yes, even as root user) I elected to skip this section and move on. They can be changed later, if needed. Some veteran Linux users may be hesitant to run as root user and may wish to add a regular user account.


What's Included

NOTE: Previous builds of Lindows/Linspire came with just the basics. Functional, but limited to basic users. Most programs (packages) were obtained via the CNR Warehouse. This is by design. The CNR Warehouse was designed for ease of downloading packages and installing with 1-click. Adding "external" packages has always been a little complicated, but one has to consider the design of Linspire. It works for most users not interested in compiling applications on their own.

Click-N-Run: Unlike other beta versions of Linspire, this version comes with the CNR client installed. I attempted to download NVU, which failed on the first attempt, but successfully completed on the second attempt.  Subsequent attempts to install Bluefish and Photogenics also failed.  K-mail and screen Capture installed without incident. One annoyance with CNR is that it takes a while to load properly, initially telling you that you do not have an active internet connection and offering you a membership with CNR. Also, on boot and CNR start, I continuously got a message that an update to CNR failed to install. Obviously, CNR is not totally ready for the beta version yet, but meant for testing only. This problem is noted in the beta release notes.

KDE 3.3.2: 
KDE has always been my favorite desktop environment. Sorry Gnome users. Linspire has taken this version of KDE and integrated it into their own customized environment. Former (or current) Windows users will relax and concentrate on the tasks at hand.

Linspire Internet Suite
: This is a customized build of Mozilla 5.0, including a web browser, mail client and basic HTML editor. The package is a little bulky and slow for me, but completely appropriate for most users who do not want to fuss with things. Being the simple user that I am, I probably will elect to try Firefox, which is available by CNR.

Lsongs: From the CNR page description;

Lsongs is a music manager and media player for Linspire. This all-in-one program installs easily with CNR Technology and offers great features for any audiophile:
 
Import audio tracks from your CDs
 
Organize your music collection using play lists & more
 
Listen to MP3s, audio CDs, or hundreds of streaming Internet radio stations
 
Create custom music CDs
  
A simple-to-use interface will have you rocking in no time - get Lsongs today!

Enough said!

K3b (v0.11.17): Simply the best all around cd burning software around for Linux.

Open Office Suite: An excellent pick for a Microsoft Office clone. StarOffice is still my favorite, but this will do nicely.

Lphoto: I came across this nice photo organizer some time ago. A very nice addition.

Kernel 2.6.10: The latest kernel version, which will be interesting to test on my newer systems.

Other notable additions;

LTorrent
Macromedia Flash Player
RealPlayer 10
KGhost View
Emacs
Instant Messenger
AOL Dialer
MPlayer


What's not Included

NVU: An excellent web page designing application (developed by Linspire) , my absolute favorite. The nice thing about this application, is that you can use the "normal" mode to just write away and publish you document easily, or you can elect to use the "HTML Source" option to tweak your web pages. It is available as a CNR option, or as downloadable package for use with other Linux (and yes) Windows environments. The Nvu web page is located here.

Kmail: Still the Linux mail standard, as far as I am concerned. I installed this right off using CNR, to ease the integration of my e-mail from my other installed distros. 

Gftp: Although Nvu has an automatic Publishing feature to post web pages to your server, I prefer more control using with a package like gftp. Fortunately, gftp installed via CNR without incident.

Gimp 2.0: A must have Photoshop clone for photo editing and manipulation. I installed an updated version from CNR with no problem.

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