Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

Freespire to take over Toys-R-Us?

Once upon a time there was a Linux distro that wanted to be Windows. It wanted to be Windows so bad that it called itself Lindows. And it made a promise to all his friends: ‘One day you will not see the difference between me and Windows anymore’.

However, Windows did not play nice and Lindows had to rebranded into Linspire. Harding out free copies has always been part of the companies’ strategy, especially since it wants to make money on a subscription based access to free software. Freespire is a continuation of that strategy. This time the distro come loaded with some proprietary parts like MP3 and flash, for which Linspire paid the licensing fees. Does that make for a good contender on the desktop?

The install is very fast. It was finished in 10 minutes, which resulted in a complete KDE desktop. During the install you see the how and why of Freespire. The freedom of choice, including the freedom to use closed source proprietary software and components in Linux. Well, not much argument there, since I am a pragmatist when it comes to Linux. I do want to listen to my legal MP3 files and visit websites including those that lean on flash or java.

Freespire comes with a free signup for CNR, the click and run warehouse of Linspire. Free as in trial, free as in ‘feel free to look around’. CNR is a subscription based repository with some commercial software like CrossOver office thrown in for good measure. The icon to sign up is already in the panel. A panel which I found to be cluttered by the default install. Anyway, signing up with CNR is supposed to be easy. You fill in the details, get an email for verification and…. then you get the message that the password is incorrect. You know, the password they just send you.

I am not going to bore anyone with tech specs. They are okay. Freespire is a solid Linux distribution based on Debian. Like Ubuntu, it comes with a decent selection of applications. A KDE desktop with all it’s pro’ and con’s. Freespire wants to impress it’s own look and feel to the desktop and that is the big turn off for me.

I did not move to Windows XP for years because I absolutely detested the color scheme. Think about it. Why do toddler’s toys have those very bright primary colors? Try putting a toy with soft tones next to it. When you are that young you grab for bright and shiny. I was offended by XP and now Freespire has a desktop filled with primary colored icons, consistently, even in CNR.

Beyond those feelings I don’t see much that is compelling to encourage peple to swith to Freespire. Actually, it is a disappointment to see how little progress has been made since the Lindows days. If you compare that to Suse or Fedora, if you see Ubuntu next to Freespire, then there appears to be almost nothing. Why would anyone actually pay for the CNR subscription?

When thinking about I Freespire an analogy popped in my mind. It is like a drag queen dressing up like Jadzia Dax. Raven dark hair? Check. Stale blue eyes? Check. Gorgeous body in a standard Star Fleet uniform? Check. Would you go out with the drag queen? Heck no! Freespire is still trying to be the free Windows (well, a cheaper version). In the end it is not convincing nor easy enough to be a Windows desktop replacement. And as a Linux distribution there are too many great contenders with a better look and feel and with free repositories. But it could still be the toddler’s distro of choice. Wow, imagine the market. Your First Computer preloaded with Freespire at your local Toys-R-us.

More screenshots can be found here

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