Langa Letter: Lindows: Beyond Windows, Before Linux - InformationWeek

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Commentary
11/26/2002
01:17 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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Langa Letter: Lindows: Beyond Windows, Before Linux

Fred Langa test-drives the latest version of this Linux-based Windows work-alike operating system to see if it's ready for prime time.

Fine Wine And More
I was able successfully to install and use Microsoft Office 2000 on Lindows 3.0; in fact, my whole Lindows experience was impressively glitch-free: The base operating system set up in about 10 minutes and correctly identified and worked with all the hardware in my test system--an AMD-based Micron Millennia equipped with an nVidia graphics system and Creative Labs sound card. The only thing that didn't work right after installation was the networking, but that's my fault because of an unusual configuration I use for security purposes: No operating system I've ever tried has gotten my network setup right the first time, so this is not a slam against Lindows. And, with just a couple of manual entries in the networking control panel (exactly the same manual tweaks I need to use with Windows XP, by the way), I was online.

And getting online is key to the Lindows experience, as it is with most flavors of Linux. Although Lindows 3.0 is available by CD, it's normally installed by downloading a 397-Mbyte ISO-standard CD image of a setup CD, which you then burn to a blank CD and use for installation. Once online, one of the first tasks is to connect back to the Lindows site to download updates, additional components, add-in applications, and utilities. Moving all those bits consumes a fair amount of bandwidth; Lindows (like most flavors of Linux) really is meant for use on a broadband or LAN-based setup and would be painfully slow to set up via dial-up. But with a reasonably fat data pipe, it all goes smoothly.

In fact, the online component is a real strength of Lindows and is the true center of its business strategy. The purchase price for Lindows not only gets you a copy of the operating system but gives you a year's access to the "Click-N-Run" site, which features a selection of software (currently, some 1,600 titles) optimized for or known to work well with Lindows. (Although most of these titles are available from other sources, it would be daunting to track them all down.) What's more, the Click-N-Run facility isn't just a download service; it's an integrated download-and-install utility that automatically sets up whatever downloads you choose, making software selection and use incredibly simple. Plus, by aggregating good software in one place and hosting it on private servers, Lindows lets its users avoid the sometimes-long delays or slowdowns common to more trafficked Linux search-and-download sites.

What It Is And Isn't
As this brief overview has shown, Lindows' strength isn't its technology. In fact, virtually all of Lindows' technology is nonproprietary and available from many sources: The base operating system itself is the open-source Linux; the Windows-lookalike interface is provided through the open-source KDE interface; and the Windows compatibility is provided through the open-source Wine. In fact, any sufficiently motivated individual could cobble together essentially the same pieces as Lindows offers, for free.

But Lindows is providing an added value to its customers beyond the bits themselves by doing the aggregation of components for you, ensuring that the pieces all are easily accessible, easily downloadable, and easy to get working together. In fact, I've never seen a distribution of Linux quite as polished and easy to get going as is Lindows.

Of course, it's not wart-free. More-experienced Linux users probably will chafe at some of the choices and biases that Lindows has built into the operating system. As one example, most Linux distributions either have reasonable security settings and permissions in place or can be locked down without a lot of hassle. But Lindows glosses over security issues and features to an amazing degree. For example, a very broad Google search of the entire Lindows site for any instance of the word "security" turns up just 20 hits; the same search on the Red Hat Linux site turns up nearly 4,000 hits; the same search on the Microsoft site turns up almost 90,000 hits.

On the flip side, some fairly unpolished elements of Linux that you might expect Lindows to bury or disguise are left in plain view where they're bound to confuse less-experienced users. Imagine the confusion when new converts from the world of Windows see their hard drive listed in some places as "Root Direct (Z:)" or when they install a Microsoft Windows application and find the default user name is "Root." (This also highlights another security issue in Lindows.)

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