Linspire Five-O

April 23, 2005

Linspire Five-O is a Debian-based distribution that pushes the envelope in terms of usability and slickness. It squarely targets both Microsoft Windows and Apple's Mac OSX, providing an alternate version of Apple's easy to use GUI atop a solid Unix foundation.

The Look of Linspire


Linspire Five-O is complete with a very slick look. In fact, the white plastic look used throughout is very similar to the look found in Apple's Tiger release. However, as Linspire Five-O was released months before Tiger, this is one time that no one can accuse Linspire of copying.

I know it's just a series of themes, but Linspire's look deserves more mention: They've managed to create a theme that looks fantastic and, more importantly, is consistent between GTK applications, Qt applications and Mozilla applications. This is certainly no small feat, and Linspire should be commended for their efforts. If I hadn't been a Linux user for many years, I wouldn't be able to tell that applications were using different toolkits. The most telling example of this is Lsongs. It apparantly uses Qt/KDE. though I'd have pegged it as a GTK application given the font styles. That I couldn't tell is a real testament to Linspire's efforts.

The one glaring exception to Linspire's integrated look is OpenOffice.org. It looks terrible! It can be vastly improved by adding the OpenOffice.org-kde package available through CNR, but this wasn't included by default and still uses Gnome icons. SuSE has proven that it is possible to integrate OpenOffice.org into a KDE desktop. It boggles my mind that Linspire didn't use the SuSE code to offer a truly integrated office suite. My only guess is that they simply ran out of time and are planning something really special for 5.1. Boy, I hope so.


Linspire-centric Applications


Linspire is clearly attempting to be an end-to-end desktop computing provider. In some ways this means that they are stretched a little thin. However, this approach also forces Linspire to actually pay attention to what computer users want, need and expect. This focus has lead Linspire to push for pre-built Linux systems on both desktop and laptop machines. This has also lead to the creation and integration of the mp3tunes music service which, coupled with Linspire's Lsongs, offers iTunes/iTunes Music Store-style integration.

MP3Beamer is another example of Linspire's attempt to offer a comprehensive set of products for home users. In all honesty, Linspire has been positioning itself as a real alternative to Apple and Microsoft's vision of a digital hub. To this end, Linspire have created several applications to improve users' experiences with the OS. Here are a few of the major items:

Nvu


Nvu is a very easy to use WYSIWYG HTML editor. Linspire compares Nvu to Dreamweaver. This is not unlike comparing AbiWord to MS Word. I love AbiWord, I'd rather use it than MS Word, but the two are very different products. Similarly, Nvu lacks many of the sophisticated tools that Dreamweaver has. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it is an excellent editor. While I do most of my web design by hand, Nvu will be a great option for Linspire's target audience.

Nvu is based on Mozilla's excellent and largely forgotten "Composer" component. Like Firefox and Thunderbird, Nvu removes the other components from the application suite before adding many unique features and streamlining the interface. Examples of this streamlining are the integrated in-line spellchecker, site management features and a much improved theme.

They've done a great job. For small tasks, I still use Nvu. Best of all, Nvu is available for free for Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and more.

Lsongs


Lsongs and Lphoto are Linspire's two homegrown applications. Lsongs is a complete rip of Apple's excellent iTunes. I've written about it before. It has improved much since then, but still chokes for me when adding more than 5000 songs. It's okay, and it's great to have a program similar to iTunes available on Linux, but it needs work to be of similar quality to iTunes. Please Linspire, make Lsongs faster! It's a great, if unoriginal, application. I applaude your efforts. Now, finish the copy job and make it fast like iTunes.

Lphoto


Lphoto is an iPhoto-like image manipulation and management tool. It interfaces with your digital camera and imports pictures that can then be categorized, filed and modified to remove red-eye, crop the image and more. Lphoto also lets you burn photo CDs that can then be played in most DVD players. I wish that Lphoto would integrate with an on-line photo management tool like the excellent Gallery program that I use on my site.

To be honest, I haven't used Lphoto much yet, but it does seem to offer all of the features that users have come to expect from this type of program.

Linsipre Internet Suite


Linspire Internet Suite is a customized version of the Mozilla Application Suite. To be honest, I gave up using the Mozilla Suite over a year ago on Linux, Mac and Windows. At the time, I found Firefox and Thunderbird to be a better combination. However, Linspire has put some amazing touches on the suite to once again make it a first-class product.

These changes have renewed my interest in the suite. The new theme in 5.0, Hot Words and the in-line spell checking everywhere are great. I now find using the Suite on 5.0 to be a better experience than Firefox/Thunderbird on Linux and the Mac. It's too bad that they didn't find a way to directly integrate Nvu with their suite. I hope that their modifications are merged upstream and integrated into Firefox and Thunderbird.

With the App Suite and Nvu, Linspire seems to be picking up the components that the Mozilla Foundation is increasingly abandoning. Perhaps Linspire's next work could be further development of the Calendar/Sunbird. One thing is for sure, Linspire's take on the App Suite is still more feature-complete than even Firefox/Thunderbird and Nvu.

Multimedia


Another area where Linspire shines is in multimedia support. You can purchase a legal, licensed version of Xine from CNR for $5 that will give you legal DVD playback on Linux. They've also licensed WMA codecs from Microsoft and offer full support for Quicktime. Plugins are preconfigured for Flash, Java, Quicktime, WMA and more. They've also recently added Adobe's much improved 7.0 Reader, which also provides an excellent PDF reader. I have yet to find a multimedia format that Linspire can't play. They provide both Xine and KPlayer, which uses MPlayer as a back-end. This is the most media-friendly version of Linux that I have ever seen.

Hardware Detection


So far. Linspire Five-O has done as well as Ubuntu 5.04 with hardware detection. It correctly installed my Nvidia drivers, works well with my Clie TJ-37 in either sync or import mode, and it has correctly detected and worked with my Epson CX5400 scanner/printer and the Olympus digital camera. I have yet to throw it a piece of hardware that it couldn't deal with. I'm sure it can be tripped up, but if your hardware can be made to work with Linux it will likely work quite well with Linspire Five-O. Over the years, Linspire has been quick to add support for exotic hardware, I'm sure that this will remain the case over time.

Installing software with CNR


Click and Run, or CNR, is often given as the biggest appeal to Linspire. It really does live up to the hype. Simply put, there is no easier way to install or remove software from any other operating system that I have used. Of course, it works well because Linspire so carefully maintains it. If Linspire was to go bankrupt or give up on CnR tomorrow, it would simply cease to exist. This would be catastrophic. But, short of some terrible happening at Linspire, CnR is absolutely a joy to use. Linspre tends to keep packages current and is constantly adding interesting programs, both free and commercial. CNR really does make Linux very easy to use. I've no doubt that even casual computer users would have no problem maintaining and adding software to Linspire.

Conclusions


Linspire Five-O is a very solid release. At this time, I can honestly say that it is the simplest desktop Linux distribution in existence. My only real complaint with it is that it's boring. I actually enjoy tweaking. With Linspire, this is unnecessary.