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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Freespire 2.0 - Newbie Friendly Linux Distribution

Freespire was released back in July 2006 as Linux Distribution that provided out of box support for Multimedia codecs , was user friendly , had a easy application installation system and best of all was free . Now Linspire has been in the Desktop Linux business for a number of years they even had to change their name from Lindows to Linspire after a lawsuit from Microsoft which was settled with Microsoft paying Lindows 20 Million US$ and now since Linspire has been in desktop Linux business for a number of years and Freespire is community open source version of Linspire so it's natural to expect freespire to be extremely user friendly and to a extent it's true too .


1. Installation : -

Freespire comes on a single cd (ISO 680 MB in size) and has an option for booting into Live CD mode as well as a straight forward installation . Now if you are unsure whether you really want to install Freespire you could try running Freespire in Live CD mode initially (which is highly recommended) . Now I have been using Linux for over 10 years now and i have tried almost all the popular Linux distribution now i have to admit Freespire/Linspire has one of the of the simplest installation routines/newbie friendly among all the popular Linux distributions .

The entire installation completes in few clicks and the installation doesn't take lot of time to complete as well . On my relatively old system (Cel 1.4Ghz laptop with 256 Megabytes of RAM ) entire installation took less than 17 Minutes to complete which was far better compared to other Linux distributions in fact i had a hell of difficulty installing Ubuntu since Ubuntu does not mount swap drives automatically so the entire installation and the Live CD mode was in operable and took almost an hour to install even after mounting my swap partition entire installation again took around 35 Minutes to complete which was still significantly greater than what Freespire took .

The entire installation is very user friendly with pop ups describing packages which are being installed and user friendly graphics making installation simpler .

Freespire Installation Under Progress


Though one thing i disliked about the installation routine was that during partitioning it had only two options either to take over entire hard disk or you could chose some already pre-existing Linux partition to install Freespire on . This could be bit difficult for Linux newbies who don't know much about partitioning and who are trying to install Freespire as a dual boot system . What Freespire team could have done was put an option in the installer where the installation program would make partition from free space in partition table or resize windows partition and create a Linux partition where Freespire could be installed easily (like the installer of many other linux distribution notably Ubuntu ) making life easier for Linux newbies .

Overall except for Partitioning entire installation process was extremely user friendly and very newbie friendly .

2. Booting Into Freespire

Freespire 2.0 is based on Ubuntu (7.04) as opposed to earlier version of Freespire which was based on Debian linux .

Now After rebooting i was pleasantly surprised to note that my windows and other linux distributions were correctly recognized in grub and grub configured Freespire as default operating system to boot into in case of no response from the user in stipulated time interval .

Freespire Loading


Now , right from the login screen to the actual desktop the first thing that strikes is extreme user friendliness of Freespire , from fonts to icons everything seems to be very user friendly or to say correctly newbie friendly . Colorful Icons , Properly Spaced fonts etc every thing adds to the user's experience .

Login Screen Freespire


Unlike Ubuntu on which Freespire is based on internally , Freespire uses KDE as it's default desktop . Now personally i like using Gnome , but in certain aspects KDE is better than Gnome and with upcoming KDE 4 which could revolutionize Desktop Linux things look bright for the KDE based Linux Distributions .

This is How Freespire's Desktop Looks

As i had mentioned before the entire desktop , icons , fonts are extremely user friendly . You would find all kind of user friendly icons in the task bar at the bottom including one for Trash , Power off , lock , Time , Date , Web Browser , IM , Email etc .


Desktop has ICONS for CNR (Which is a tool for installing applications easily ) , Browsing Network Share and Computer for accessing resources of the computer .

The first time you boot into Freespire , a wizard like tool is loaded that helps you configure your newly installed Freespire system .

Now, even though my system was running on 256 Megabytes of RAM i didn't notice any significant delay or performance lag while using freespire this is really good unlike operating systems like Vista which require ridiculously large amount of RAM to work properly atleast this is good for people like me who are stuck with old pc's .

3. Application Set

Even though the entire installation of Freespire comes on a single CD , it has a wide array of applications . There is entire Open Office Suite which is a very popular office productivity application and alternative to popular Microsoft Office on Windows platform , There are a number of simple games to help you fight your boredom ,then for Internet browsing there is Firefox loaded with all the plug-ins like flash and java etc, there is a tool for downloading torrent and making VoIP calls over the Internet and there are hosts of other open source applications as well. Freespire is based on 2.6.20-16 kernel .

Now besides all the popular common application which are found in most other Linux distributions , freespire is unique in the sense they support/have developed/developing a number of good desktop applications like LPhoto for Photo management , Lsongs which is a audio player , Nvu for web page development(Not included with Freespire 2.0) and inclusion of these friendly application is one thing that might tempt people to try freespire out .
LPhoto in Action


Besides these Freespire has included support for number of proprietary file formats (means ability to play different audio / video files and display different types of files ) , Java , Flash , Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) files , Windows Media FIles , MP3 files, RealPlayer 10 (for RealMedia files) etc are all supported out of the box and there is no need for installing any additional plug-in to play/use these file formats .


Lsongs in Action

Freespire also includes modified Firefox Web Browser and Thunderbird email client , it is modified in the sense that freespire team has customized it to increases it's over all friendliness .

Now , application installation is one thing which freespire/linspire from the initial days have stressed on and have wonderful tool called CNR(Click and Run) allowing users to easily install free/ closed source applications(after paying) from the Internet with few mouse clicks . Now because of some reason i wasn't able to start CNR on my test system (gave me Segmentation fault :( ) , but trust me i have used CNR before and it really makes application installation easy for Linux newbies .

Another thing which i particularly liked was i could easily browse all the computers on my LAN painlessly through "Network Share manager " , now in other distributions which i have tried it's bit difficult to share files with computers on the Lan running operating system other than Linux .
Windows Share being accessed in Freespire

Another important thing , since freespire is based on Ubuntu Linux so with a little bit of tweaking it's also possible to use the Ubuntu's repositories and synaptic tool to install applications on the freespire system .


Hardware Support

Overall i didn't have any kind of problems with any of my hardware , all my drivers on my IBM Thinkpad worked well under Freespire , i tried connecting in my Sony Erricson k750i phone and it was instantaneously recognized by freespire and mounted .Similarly my Video iPod was automatically mounted on connecting it . Overall hardware support seems quite satisfactory and infact freespire in their website claim that they have added proprietary drivers to improve overall freespire's usage experience .

From Freespire's Website : -
Proprietary drivers are added to expand hardware compatibility and provide optimum 3D graphic card support, better WiFi support, and more.
Here is the entire list of Proprietary codec's and Drivers supported by Freespire : - http://wiki.freespire.org/index.php/Summary_of_Proprietary_Components

What's Missing : -

Now overall freespire does seem to be promising but there are few things that they could work on , now even though Freespire is based on Ubuntu they have removed the Synaptic front-end now they could include Synaptic in the distribution too . Yes they are promoting their own subscription service CNR but there's no harm in including Synaptic as well .

Secondly as i have already mentioned before there should be more options during the partition stage of the installation

and finally they could include some sort of Wizard or an application to allow users to Sync their data with Windows and other Linux installation easily it could be wonderful addition to the distribution .

Conclusion :

Overall i have been highly impressed by the usability of the freespire linux distribution , it's extremely simple , installation of new application is just a click away and support for all proprietary formats is added out of the box , this distribution can just get better with every release . it's one linux distribution i would suggest to people who want to actually use Linux without spending too much of their energy learning how linux works .


Article Written by : -
Ambuj Varshney <>
For Linux on Desktop Blog
(http://linuxondesktop.blogspot.com)
(C) 2007, Ambuj Varshney