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First look: Freespire

By Nathan Willis on July 28, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Freespire is the free offshoot of the proprietary Linspire Linux distribution, formerly an outside effort, but now produced by the company itself. The first beta release is available through the Freespire Web site, both as an CD-sized burnable ISO image and as a VMware Virtual Appliance. Despite its youth and inexperience, it already exhibits considerable polish.

Freespire is Debian-derived and uses KDE as its desktop environment. Both the beta and eventual 1.0 release are based on KDE 3.3 and the 2.6.13 kernel. According to the roadmap, these older components were selected in order to speed up delivery; shortly after Freespire is officially declared 1.0, newer versions of all the major components will go into the testing branch for Freespire 1.1.

Clicking and Running

Like the commercial version of Linspire, the default Freespire installation ships only a small set of applications; others are available through Linspire's Click-and-Run (CNR) service. The installed applications include the standbys: Firefox, Thunderbird, Gaim, OpenOffice.org, and a sizable bundle of media-centric apps for MP3 playing, CD ripping and burning, and BitTorrent downloads. It is light on games, supplying only what I would call office accessory grade amusements such as solitaire.

Of note among the installed programs are several proprietary apps -- the Gizmo VoIP client, RealPlayer, Adobe Flash, and the Mplayer plugin for Firefox, with QuickTime and Windows Media DLLs pre-installed. Two apps developed inside Linspire make an appearance -- Lsongs is an iTunes-like media player and Lphoto an iPhoto- or Picasa-like snapshot organizer. Linspire refers to both of these applications as open source, but the sources available on the Web site are noticeably out of date.

Despite its heritage as a "new user" distribution, Freespire is not unfriendly towards hackers and software developers. An xterm launcher occupies space number one on the task bar, and developer tools qualify for a top-level Programs menu. Only Emacs, Qt Designer, and some app called "vim" are installed by default, though far more accessible through CNR.

The pre-selected CNR-installable applications in every category are available via a CNR sub-menu in each category (e.g., Programs -> Games -> CNR). I found this to be a far more convenient method for finding these apps than launching the CNR client and browsing the repositories. Overall, I was pleased with the app selection, though there are several apps I hope will be promoted to the default install from their current CNR location. The GIMP, for instance, is the de facto image editing application in the Linux universe. Lphoto's Crop and Red-eye tools simply are not sufficient.

CNR is subscription-based service, starting at $20 per year, and is the same price for Freespire users as it is for Linspire customers. Anyone can sign up for a 30-day free trial. The service offers both proprietary and free applications, including most of the offerings familiar to experienced Linux users. In addition to the basic catalog, CNR furnishes customized application lists it calls "aisles." Aisles can be informative in nature (like the "recently updated" aisle) or created by individuals (like Amazon.com's Listmania feature).

If it seems pointless to create a "free" distribution of Linspire only to require that it depend on a for-pay service like CNR, there is good news. Freespire can use the entire chain of APT tools for software installation and package management, connecting to Linspire's repositories, completely free of charge.

Of course, CNR's claim to fame is its ease of use, and it is certainly far friendlier than apt-get or even Synaptic. CNR presents only human-vetted selections, and accompanies them with detailed explanations and screenshots. For the techno-timid market Linspire seeks to serve, it is undoubtedly better.

But then again, Freespire is intended to serve a less timid market. Certainly installing Synaptic from the command line is no great burden, but I think it makes more sense to install it by default. If the Freespire project is truly community-driven a Linspire advertises it, expect to see that in future releases.

Less really is more!

Not only does Linspire not ship with APT and Synaptic, it is in fact limited to using CNR alone for adding software. Add to that the fact that both distros ship with the same closed-source components, such as video drivers, MP3 support, and proprietary applications like Flash and Gizmo, and the bottom line is that the "free" Freespire actually includes considerably more than the commercial Linspire.

Perhaps Linspire sees more money to be made in giving away the distro itself and selling access to the CNR service. Such a business plan would make sense; with almost all competing distros available at no cost, the initial price tag could scare off a lot of potential customers. Better to get them in the door, then start selling.

The Freespire Web site, in fact, describes plans to begin work on two distinct Freespire distros: the existing Linspire-like Freespire, and Freespire OSS Edition, with no proprietary code whatsoever. It seems more likely that for-pay Linspire will disappear at some point than that the company will choose to maintain three distinct distros when two are almost identical.

But regardless of whether that is Linspire's scheme, today the Freespire distro offers a better value than its commercial counterpart. No cost up front, CNR for those interested in paying monthly for the convenience, and traditional package management for those who don't. The company sponsoring its development has taken flak over the years from free software advocates, but in Freespire it has put together a solid distribution.

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on First look: Freespire

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Freespire

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 30, 2006 02:05 AM
Well, I will have to wait to find out how good Freespire actually is. I attempted to download it and test it. The problem was I was only getting a download rate of about 19kB/s. It would have taken forever. I thought that BitTorrent was supposed to be something useful; however, having a 20mbit ADSL2 line means that I should have been able to download this puppy in about 15 minutes. Guess I'll have to wait for the mirror sites. The only problem is that I am pretty satisfied with Ubuntu....

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I am unborn

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 29, 2006 01:26 AM
I clicked on Ubuntu.com and ran quickly towards it and away from paying for software.

If I wanted to pay for software I'd still have my head up my ass^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H run windows.

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Re:I am unborn

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 29, 2006 07:50 AM
Sorry, I was on crack when I wrote that Ubuntu comment. I'll try to behave myself in the future.

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Re:I am unborn

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 29, 2006 10:16 AM
well if thats your number one reason for using Linux
you then are more fitting of a windows user. the OSS movement is not about free as in no cost... its about free as in freedom. and if you actually read the article you would see that you do not have to pay for anything if you do not want to. Freespire ships with apt tools and synaptic can be gotten from the repositories at no charge. its only if you want the ease of use that CNR provides and some of its more powerful tools that you need to pony up the $20. IMHO $20 is a very small fee to gain access to the CNR repository. While alot of the software is freely available... you get many more features than just a package grabber. You get the ability to create custom aisles.. this allows you to setup your box 1 time... if you have to re-install (which by the way is less than a 10 minute task on modern hardware) all you do is fire up your CNR account click on your aisle and presto all your software comes back in with ease... you may even share your software selections with others. IMHO Linpire has done much work on the CNR service and they should be able to charge for it without being roasted by other users. I find myself that most people that roast Linspire or Freespire<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.. havent tried it<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:) keep in mind that if all users thought like you and wanted everything for free... OSS developers wouldnt be able to eat. I for one always donate to OSS projects that i use regularly... and if I use one during daily business and make profit using the projects code... i always donate to the project. That is what helps to keep these projects alive and delivering good releases to us all.

anyway... my 2 cents

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Re:I am unborn

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 29, 2006 11:30 PM
WHY, oh, WHY do the Lindows people stress the "10 minute reinstall?" The entire idea behind *nix is to identify and fix the problem, not reinstall to hopefully fix what was broken. Stressing the "10 minute reinstall" merely perpetuates a Windows-world viewpoint. My Ubuntu install started as a pre-Warty, and has been apt-get dist-upgraded through the various releases to the current Dapper Drake. The notion of "nuke and pave" needs to die.

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Re:I am unborn

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 30, 2006 10:35 AM
why do we stress the 10 minute reinstall. humm let me think. kernal goes into panic mode i can spend 10 minutes trying to figure out why it is happening OR i can spend the 10 minutes to reinstall and be up and running no muss no fuss.

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Re:Nuke and pave mentality

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 31, 2006 05:41 AM
I have been running Linux for years, even gone so far as to do Linux from scratch, and have not experienced a kernel panic in that time. I HAVE had a NetBSD kernel puke, but that was because of my own ignorance. Nuke and pave is Windows, not *nix.

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Re:Nuke and pave mentality

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 02, 2006 01:57 PM
You've never had a hard drive fail before? I mean not even spin up on power up? I've had more than a few, and the ability to share my selections (especially when we are talking about dozens of apps, some of which I forgot I even had to install) with people new to Linux (I'm slowly converting everyone I can) would be a nice feature. Sure you can do all of it manually. But by that logic we should all be using LFS and not someone else's distro. There are times were it is okay to let someone else do all the heavy lifting, and other times where you should do it yourself. And we each make that choice, since no single answer is right for everyone all the time.

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Re:I am unborn

Posted by: Administrator on July 29, 2006 07:43 AM
Freespire is free??? LOL

And APT is there (Apt was in Linspire also but you had to be careful what repositories you used or you could mess up your install)

CNR is $5 a month and it's great, much better then APT sorry to say.

And if you don't want to use CNR then don't and use APT for free, no bg deal. But to me I think it's worth the money to pay for access to CNR for my 5 Linspire and 2 Freespire machines. In CNR I can make software lists that are in my account and when I make a new machine or I have a machine crash, I log into CNR on the new machine, select all and install then walk away. No searching through apt, no confusing one app for another etc.

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Freespire has no MP3 or DVD license

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 31, 2006 02:48 AM
MP3 and DVD support requires a license. Linspire has it--I don't believe that Freespire has these things unless you download (and pay for them) through CNR.

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Re:Freespire has no MP3 or DVD license

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 31, 2006 03:36 PM
That is completely incorrect.

It has MP3 support out of the box as well as other propreitary codecs as well as nVidia Drivers. But because of royalty reasons it doesn't have DVD support. But that can be added from CNR for $10.

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Re:Freespire has no MP3 or DVD license

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 31, 2006 09:03 PM
Well, sort of. It has DVD support, but not *encrypted* DVD support. Effectively, of course, this means nearly all DVDs that people generally want to watch. But that's what MPlayer, and Xine+libdvdcss, are for.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:-) Thank you, DVD Jon!

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Something called "vim"

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on July 31, 2006 08:50 AM
is that a joke?

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I refuse to use it

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 01, 2006 06:44 AM
"I find myself that most people that roast Linspire or Freespire<nobr> <wbr></nobr>.. havent tried it<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)"

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA<nobr>H<wbr></nobr> AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH
What you smokin there?

I bet some people pay to breathe air from the outdoors too when they're healthy and outside but for most people a nose works fine.

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Re:I refuse to use it

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 01, 2006 06:03 AM
not a very sensible arguement...if you dont try it how do you know if its good or not..your not being fair to the possibilties and biting yourself in butt in processs just because of a short sided view based on ignorance.

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Re:Click and Run.

Posted by: Nathan Willis on July 29, 2006 06:47 AM
Yep, that was a typo alright. Fixed. Good eye, there.

Nate

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Re:Click and Run.

Posted by: Administrator on July 29, 2006 07:38 AM
Thanks. Hope it was helpful, didn't want to sound like I was trying to embarass anyone for a typo.

But I have always liked Linspire and didn't want to see the high price turn people off. LOL!

Thanks for the article.

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Click and Run.

Posted by: Administrator on July 28, 2006 08:56 PM
Actually Click and Run is $20 per YEAR for basic and $50 per YEAR for Gold.

Not per month as in this story.

<a href="http://www.linspire.com/products_cnr_whatis.php" title="linspire.com">http://www.linspire.com/products_cnr_whatis.php</a linspire.com>

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