Mandriva last week released the latest version of its distribution of the open source Linux operating system -- and it's hoping some new features will catch the eye of mainstream computer users weaned on Microsoft Windows.
Mandriva Linux 2008 Spring uses the final version of the KDE 3 desktop environment, version 3.5.9, to deliver a Windows-like graphical user interface and menu. The included Elisa multimedia center provides drag-and-drop tools for storing and managing digital content such as photos, music, and videos.
There are also tools that help users synch Mandriva-based PCs with cell phones and PDAs running in the Windows Mobile and BlackBerry environments. A new parental control utility lets parents block content to certain Web sites and limit their children's time on the Internet.
Linux, created by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds, has long been the preserve of tech enthusiasts willing to trade ease-of-use for a free operating system that doesn't lock them into the Microsoft ecosystem.
But distributors like Mandriva, as well as Ubuntu and Red Hat, are hoping that the addition of more user-friendly features to the OS will entice everyday computer buyers to Linux.
Mandriva says its 2008 Spring release was developed with the low-cost Asus Eee PC in mind. The Eee PC features an assortment of office productivity, Web browsing, and e-mail tools, with some models selling for less than $300.
Mandriva says Linux 2008 Spring works out of the box on the Eee PC.
Low-cost PCs from Asus, Everex, and other manufacturers are becoming increasingly popular as some computers user conclude that mainstream systems running the Windows or Macintosh operating systems are overpowered for their needs.
The trend has provided an opening for Linux in the consumer PC market. Wal-Mart recently began stocking a Linux-based PC from Everex in its online store.
Microsoft, however, is taking steps of its own to cash in on the growth of the low-cost PC market. The company recently announced that it would extend the life of its Windows XP operating system, but only for deployment on low-cost systems.
Microsoft's current OS, Windows Vista, carries system requirements that are beyond the reach of most budget computers.