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Feature: Linspire/Freespire

Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

By Susan Linton on August 20, 2007 (9:00:00 AM)

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Freespire, the free as in beer version of the Linspire Linux distribution, this month released Freespire 2.0, the first version of the operating system based on the popular Ubuntu distribution, and the first to contain proprietary codecs and drivers. Despite its attractive appearance, it left me with mixed feelings.

You can boot the Freespire image as a live CD or go straight into the install. It's always advisable to try the live CD option first to test hardware compatability. When you do, the tasteful and professional silent boot splash whisks you into a short setup setup routine. A full-screen framebuffered dialog first presents a long and involved license agreement that would require a lawyer to decipher. Then you are asked to confirm, adjust, or troubleshoot the volume of your sound system. I raised the volume on my Hewlett-Packard dv2105 notebook test machine, and the test music confirmed my sound was working. The KDE 3.5.6 desktop briefly appears before a configuration window opens that contains buttons to set various system settings, including screen resolution, networking, dial-up, timezone, language, and keyboard. Once finished, you have a lovely KDE desktop dressed up with pretty wallpaper and slick icons. Freespire looks good.

I couldn't tell Freespire is built upon Ubuntu until I used the command line or the native package management system. Under Ubuntu, many commands required the use of sudo to gain superuser privilege. I find it easier to use su to become root once than to use sudo for every command, so the first thing I do in a Ubuntu-based distro is set a root password.

On the desktop is an icon for starting the hard drive installer. The installer walks you through the usual steps, such as choosing your keyboard, naming the root partition, and setting up a user account. It gives you the option of allowing it to take over the remaining portion of disk that Windows is not occupying. My partitions aren't numbered in disk order, so it took me a few minutes to decipher which partition I wished to use with Freespire's atypical naming conventions. For example, the partitions are referred to such as Primary 1 or Logical 8, and it ignores the swap partition, so all partitions beyond the swap are pushed back one number. I still wasn't really sure I'd chosen the right one until the first of two confirmation screens, which use the traditional /dev/sdXx or /dev/hdXx names.

Another thing I found inconvenient was Freespire's method of making or editing partitions. According to the information stanza on the partition step page, after all the previous configuration, if you needed to make partitions for the install you would have to stop the install, reboot the machine, and choose the third boot option, CREATE or MODIFY partitions on this computer's hard drive. However, the real third option is Start Freespire in safe graphics mode, which indicates that the information in the installer hasn't been updated for the new release. The 2.0 live CD comes with the GNOME Partition Editor, so I could have used that if I needed to manually manipulate my partitions.

The install procedure offers no package selection options; it installs the same set of software for everyone. Any customizations you make in the live CD environment are lost in the hard drive install. I chose to have Freespire install the GRUB boot loader, and it discovered and included most, if not all, of the other operating systems installed on the machine.

The same boot splash as seen on the live CD gives way to an understated and attractive login screen. The first time the KDE 3.5.6 desktop starts, Firefox tries to open the user login page for Linspire's Click-N-Run (CNR) software warehouse, which offers one-click software installation.

One of the new additions in this release is the inclusion of proprietary hardware drivers, including more than a dozen for wireless Ethernet chips. Unfortunately, none worked with mine. I still had to resort to Ndiswrapper, but that functioned well, installing and utilizing the Windows driver. The KDE Network Manager wouldn't connect to my router with Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) enabled, but I could connect to WEP at the command line. WPA wouldn't work at all.

I found some quirks with my graphics configuration as well. By default, I had my desired 1280x800 resolution using the "nv" Xorg driver. Since the Nvidia accelerated driver is available in Freespire 2.0, I wanted to use that. When I changed to "nvidia" in the Screen Resolution startup configuration screen, I was offered only a 1024x768 desktop, but I was able to edit the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file manually to achieve the optimal resolution. Also X-related, my touchpad worked acceptably but with a lag sometimes, and many times holding my finger steady caused the cursor to inch right on its own.

The advanced power-saving features of CPU scaling and suspend to RAM worked well out of the box, but suspend to disk didn't. That option would start the screensaver and require a password to return to the desktop instead of putting the laptop to sleep.

Sound worked well for all applications out of the box. Another addition in this release is proprietary multimedia code and codecs. I tested KPlayer with several video and audio formats and all played well -- clear video and crisp sound with no lag or dropped frames. I was able to use Firefox to watch Google and YouTube videos, enjoy Gamespot and Apple trailers, and utilize other Flash- and Java-coded sites.

Freespire doesn't come with a large selection of applications, but it has enough to get started. They include NVU, Lphoto, Gizmo, Pidgin, Lsongs, OpenOffice.org, Firestarter, Kiosk Admin Tool, K3b, several other KDE apps, and a few KDE games (such as KSmileTris and KBattleship). The OS ships with a low-latency preemptive 2.6.20-16 kernel and Xorg 7.2.0. In addition to KDE, the ION/PWM2 window manager is available as well. Many users will have to spend time installing their favorite applications, but that shouldn't be too difficult using either apt-get or CNR.

When I updated the apt-get package database at the command line, I could see the Ubuntu Feisty repositories being updated in the standard output. Unlike Freespire 1.0, 2.0 lacks the Synaptic front end, but apt-get at the command line works fine. In fact, I installed Synaptic using apt-get, as I like it for searches.

I speculate Synaptic's absence is probably due to the presence of CNR. I wasn't able to test the service, as it is still not operational because it's currently being updated, but generally speaking it lists software you can browse under various categories. If you find an application of interest, the utility downloads and installs it, and places an entry in the menu. Basic service is free; a Gold subscription costs $50. I can't personally see any reason to pay the fee and use the service when I can use Synaptic or apt-get, but perhaps someone coming from Windows who doesn't know about apt-get might use it.

After working with the distribution for a while I had mixed feelings about Freespire. It has a pretty boot splash, lovely wallpaper, and modern colorful icons. The installer is a bit confusing and a little less user-friendly than some of its competition. Hardware support was acceptable, even if I had to drop to the command line to configure or tweak some of the settings myself. Power-saving features were also acceptable, though some users may miss the suspend to disk option. Included software is a bit sparse, but it includes something for most common tasks. Some of the application versions were a bit older than those in other distros released recently, but both they and the OS itself were stable and had acceptable performance.

I personally liked Freespire, but it may not be the best choice for a person coming straight from Windows, as I found some previous Linux experience necessary in order to fully enjoy it. For those users, I recommend giving SimplyMEPIS, PCLinuxOS, or Stux Linux a look. I can run any of these without ever opening a terminal thanks to their graphical configurations and package management systems.

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on Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

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Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.178.20.216] on August 20, 2007 11:16 AM
"I find it easier to use su to become root once than to use sudo for every command, so the first thing I do in a Ubuntu-based distro is set a root password."

Wouldn't "sudo su" accomplish the same thing?

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Re: Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 195.11.201.126] on August 20, 2007 11:56 AM
Or use sudo -i for an interactive shell. If there is a reason to set a root password and use su instead, I'd be interested to know about it.

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Re(1): Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.252.213.154] on August 20, 2007 04:18 PM
How about security. If you have a server that is remotely administered through ssh, you disable ssh root logins. Then an attacker needs to discover your user name, user password to get ssh access and then the root password once he's in to get root access. With sudo he just needs to crack your user name and user password and he can use sudo.

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Re(2): Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.137.27.228] on August 20, 2007 07:15 PM
Well...unless you set a root password and remove sudo access from the base account, it really doesn't matter if you have a root password or not.

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Re(2): Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 158.39.124.73] on August 20, 2007 08:05 PM
You got a point, but otoh sudo has the advantage where there are multiple administrators on one server. Security gets sloppy when you are handing out root passwords right and left.

-tactus

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Re(1): Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.80.34.124] on August 21, 2007 04:34 PM
I'm sure it depends on what you're used to. I also create a root account whenever I encounter a distro that uses sudo. I'm familiar with using a root account and using su comes naturally. I don't really see the need for sudo.

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Re: Sudo Su

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.174.150.213] on August 20, 2007 06:41 PM
Yeah, I was wondering the same thing, though the corect way to do it is sudo -s, AFAIK.

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 128.210.4.214] on August 20, 2007 12:40 PM
You had more luck than I did; I was not even able to fully boot the livecd in either mode until I manually loaded the driver for my hard disk. Surprised me a bit since Ubuntu did not give me this inconvenience.

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Fantastic!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 220.236.186.200] on August 20, 2007 12:55 PM
Personally, i think freespire 2.0 is great!

I didn't need to do any command line editing. All worked out of the box, sound, video, hardware detection, ect... I also think the installer is very easy to use, especially if you want it to auto-partition the whole hard drive.

It's fantastic for new windows as well, very stylish and smooth looking - easy to navigate the menus. The included codecs also make it easy for new linux users.

The only thing i didn't like is the inclusion of CNR, because its not even usable yet. They should have either waited to release 2.0 after CNR is fully functional or included synaptic.

But thats just my opinion, try it for yourself :)

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.115.200.33] on August 20, 2007 12:58 PM
When I changed to "nvidia" in the Screen Resolution startup configuration screen, I was offered only a 1024x768 desktop, but I was able to edit the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file manually to achieve the optimal resolution.

Go into Control Center, Peripherals, Display, Admin. Mode, unclick "Show only modes this system can support"

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.253.212.228] on August 20, 2007 12:58 PM
The main point of Freespire is that things that Windows users expect to work (Java, Flash, Quicktime, RealPlayer, mp3 etc...) just work.
I do not think the other distro's mentioned af the end of this article handle this for the newbie. Freespire does.
These are the things that frustrate Windows users trying to move to Linux...

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Not to sound elitist but...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.90.11.226] on August 20, 2007 08:20 PM
I think users who demand that everything "just work" should get someone else to install an OS for them or buy a system with the OS pre-installed. That is how it works in the Windows world - the "newbies" most certainly do not install and configure Windows themselves. There are good legal reasons why Debian and Ubuntu do not include proprietary codecs and drivers - it is good for "newbies" to learn about these issues. If they are interested in free-as-in-freedom software, they will benefit from the process of examining the actual issues and deciding if they want to use non-free code. If they don't care about freedom but are just looking to get software without spending a penny, I really don't care if they get frustrated by the codec/driver issue and give up. They can wait until computers come with Linux et al preinstalled.

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Re: Not to sound elitist but...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.80.34.124] on August 22, 2007 03:12 PM
Yes but..


When you're using windows and an addon is missing there is a link with instructions to download and install. Your hand is held through the install process and most windows users can handle that. Linux is a long way from doing that. A pop-up letting the user know what they need and directing the user to the package management tool for their distro would be a good idea. Of course the flip side is that they will install malware in exactly the same way because they received an email from Nicki P. Storey that said they need critical windows updates.


On the whole I agree with you. Users don't want or need to install and configure their OS and it is foolish to go any further trying to make it possible. We are at the stage now where any poorly experienced MCSE ought to be able to install Linux. Making it any easier is doing a disservice to the user. Live CD's ought to come with a warning, "If you want to install this to your harddrive make sure you get a qualified technician to do the job."

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Re: Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.80.34.124] on August 21, 2007 04:29 PM
PCLinuxOS certainly does set up most if not all of those things by default. I don't know from direct experience but I'm pretty sure SimplyMepis does as well. That's the definition of a user-friendly OS, that it requires no additional setup.

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Re: Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.223.226.5] on August 21, 2007 08:04 PM
PCLinuxOS also attempts to do the same thing Freespire does - install common codecs and plugins so that the desktop works with multimedia the way you would expect it to work. I tried using PCLinuxOS 2007 with a new Lenovo T60 laptop with 1 GB RAM and both wired and wireless interfaces. Works with both and is easy to set up.

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Re(1): Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.203.150.239] on August 26, 2007 12:33 AM
I am not willing to install a unstable OS aren't you ?

clearly at PCLinuxOS website download page it says 'use at your own risk' and to me that says it aint ready..
I will look elsewhere.

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.115.200.33] on August 20, 2007 12:58 PM
i just go into Control Center, Peripherals, Display, Admin. Mode, unclick Show only modes this system can support, and can then begin to experiment...

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.98.65.215] on August 20, 2007 06:50 PM
And well it should leave the blogger with mixed feelings. KC and the Sunshine Band buggered this distro so badly they couldn't handle Debian based, so shifted to Ubuntu core to allow somebody ELSE to do the heavy lifting for them. Then, a pact was signed which said "Sure, we don't make nearly any of what we distribute, but we agree for those who DO make it that it violates MS patents, even though we haven't seen any." Novell did it, Xandros did it, and Lindows did it. If you truly want a GNU/Linux with training wheels, go for Ubuntu or PCLOS or Mandriva.

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sudo -s -H

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.65.192.118] on August 21, 2007 02:11 AM
sudo -s -H

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.45.110.162] on August 21, 2007 02:27 PM
I like it at first, but then i tried to install a bunch of applications I always use, and then was where of problems start. I have it installed for one week then decide to change to PCLinuxOS, is as easy and polish as Freespire, but let me control my applications. And I had problems with my sound card, actually it don't work well on Ubuntu/Kubuntu so I was not surprise, but it was worst that i spect, it work only the right channel and it sound horrible. On Ubuntu/Kubuntu it sound low, but both channels.
[Modified by: Anonymous on August 21, 2007 02:35 PM]

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.84.75.136] on August 21, 2007 04:02 PM
Strange review title. :)

But, hey, writers are often "creative," aren't they.

Freespire evoked the "just works" cliche for me on this Acer Aspire 5610Z
by simply being able to, at boot, find and connect my wifi. Woo-hoo! I had
not been able to get PCLinuxOS, Vectorlinux or (of course) SUSE to do
that.

Everything else works great, too. So, it is now my default OS on this new
machine.. and folks, for me that is a great big leap after fooling around
with so many distros over the years on my other machine, an old pc.

"Freespire Inspires my Aspire." :)

- Jerry

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Re: Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.98.65.215] on August 21, 2007 06:04 PM
My condolences on your being infected with the Quisling distro that is Lin/Freedows. Or perhaps my condolences on the death of your concern for freedom.

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Re(1): Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.203.150.239] on August 26, 2007 12:36 AM
get lost zealot your inflamatory and no doubt conservative ideas arent' needed or desired.

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.121.182.223] on August 22, 2007 01:48 AM
The people at Linspire have created a Linspire facade for Freespire,
but inside it's a marshmallow:
last night I installed adept, the Kubuntu package manager,
from Freespire's repositories
and let adept_updater upgrade the kernel
resulting in an unbootable Linux.
Today I installed Kubuntu 704
plus ubuntu-desktop on the partition.
These I can work with.

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.237.212.108] on August 22, 2007 02:07 AM
I installed Freespire several days ago and with what I have noticed in working with it and other Distro's out here is it isn't no worst or better than others. Not one Distro is perfect and it's not meant to be , that's why it's free and we can set whichever one we want and set to our individual taste. To me Freespie works fine, so does PclinuxOs, Ubuntu,SimplyMepis they are all great . That is why it's all free and we have the freedom of choice to choose to our hearts content..By the way I have been using CNR for 2-days now downloading and it works flawlessly..

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.208.132.205] on August 23, 2007 04:20 AM
The only thing that CNR has going for it is the access to legal codecs and DVD decryption within the package manager, other than that I see no reason to use it or freespire.

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Re: Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.203.150.239] on August 26, 2007 05:07 AM
aisles for one and a ONE click interface for another ?

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Growing fast but....

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.20.39.39] on September 07, 2007 02:43 AM
Freespire is growing fast, but it's still not good home desktop. Try PCLinuxOs till the Freespire matures. Visit http://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com

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Freespire aspires, but fails to inspire

Posted by: Nathanael on October 17, 2007 10:57 PM
I run a copy of Freespire on my PC (shared with a partition of Windows) and it's not exactly that much of an OS if you ask me. It's got it's positives but it's also buggy --- especially for the low 256MB computers =,

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