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Feature Article
LindowsOS vs. Windows

December 1, 2002
By Scott Lewis

Over the last couple of months I have written about the Mac vs. the PC, and building vs. buying a PC. I did this to try and come up with the best value in a computer, especially since I will be "getting" a new computer early next year. To continue on that theme I want to start looking at Linux as an alternative to Windows and the value benefit to be had.

What is Lindows?

Lindows is a version of Linux that has been bragging about affordable PCs running their operating system and how much cheaper it is to run Lindows than Windows. They also claim an easy install and ease of use for installing applications and using Linux. This month I will focus on Lindows because of its push that it is a viable alternative to Windows. In the future I will look at other versions of Linux as I attempt to see if there is enough value in having a PC running Linux instead of Windows.

Lindows is the brainchild of Michael Robertson, formerly the brainchild of MP3.com. I first heard about Lindows about a year ago. It was supposed to be a Linux version that could run Windows applications.

As Lindows is very close to its first general release (conveniently labeled 3.0) I thought I should take a quick look at where they were and where they are. And more importantly, is it really worth thinking about Lindows as a replacement for Windows 2000 Professional as my main operating system.

Lindows Running Windows - Before

In the beginning (late 2001) Lindows was touting it would be able to run the majority of Windows applications, without you having a copy of Windows itself. The key applications it was targeting at that time was Office 97, Office 2000 and Office XP. Lindows was getting its ability to run Windows application from WINE and/or Crossover Office, a product by CodeWeavers that allows any Linux distribution to run Windows software.

At that time I read some good things and some bad. Some said that if Lindows is successful in running the three major Office versions (mentioned above) that Lindows would have a really good chance to make headway onto the desktop. However, there were others that complained that emphasizing Windows capability in Lindows was bad for the Linux community. One article stated, "Linux developers need to be sure not to make the same mistake that IBM made with OS2 -- trying to be a better Windows than Windows and not developing native applications."

Lindows Running Windows - Now

Some time around April 2002 (as best I can figure from my Lindows newsletters) they stopped touting "support for a great deal of all Windows software," and switched to "LindowsOS has been optimized to run certain Microsoft® Windows 'bridge' programs. So far, Microsoft Office 2000’s Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint have been certified to run under LindowsOS." You can find that second quote on the Lindows FAQ and in a number of places on the Lindows web site.

I read an article back when Lindows was a new idea. John Dvorak said, "Nobody is taking [Lindows] too seriously except me. I think Lindows might fly if it can conquer one simple roadblock, and that's running Microsoft Office 97, 2000, and XP." John followed this up with, "Once the Lindows team starts talking about running StarOffice applications, then you'll know the developers have failed."

The latest from Lindows states, "To edit Microsoft Office compatible files, we'd highly recommend one of the office suites in our Click-N-Run Warehouse such as StarOffice or OpenOffice." Also, I have not seen any mention of Lindows being able to run Outlook from any version of Office.

Did they fail? No. Lindows and CodeWeaver had a falling out. CNET Reported, "In April, however, CodeWeavers ended its business relationship with Lindows.com and began offering CrossOver Office, a $54.95 application that offers the kind of Windows support for Linux that was originally claimed for Lindows."

Oops! And it was right about April that I started noticing the change in the Lindows newsletters for there Click-N-Run Warehouse (more later) and StarOffice. For the longest time StarOffice was the only commercial application in the Click-N-Run Warehouse. There are more now, but not a lot. The vast majority of applications in Lindows' Click-N-Run Warehouse are available for free if you spend the time to look for them on the Internet.

Here is a quote from the Lindows FAQ I came across. Q: Will LindowsOS support games and graphics? A: "The Click-N-Run Warehouse contains many games and graphics programs, including a powerful graphics editor called GIMP that runs under LindowsOS."

At the time I read this the Click-N-Run Warehouse had only freeware style games, with graphics about on par with old 16-bit Super Nintendo games. As for GIMP, what that statement fails to tell you is that GIMP is a freeware program that is even available in a Windows version. Almost every version of Linux includes GIMP.

Click-N-Run Warehouse

You may be wondering what this Click-N-Run Warehouse is. Well, it is a web site that contains a large number (probably over 2000 at the time of this writing) programs. Each program has been setup so that you can install and run the program from Lindows with one click.

This is Lindows #1 feature. They have truly made it easy to get and install software. But... and this is a big but... it costs $99 a year to have access to the software in the warehouse. The vast majority of the software in the warehouse is available free elsewhere. So all Lindows really does is put a simple install on it. Yes, they have some commercial applications, but far too few in my opinion to justify a $99 subscription. Even Windows has not yet forced a subscription down our throats. Can you image the backlash Microsoft would get if it suddenly forced you to subscribe to anything just to run Windows.

At present you cannot get Lindows without the CnR Warehouse subscription.

Lindows vs. Xandros

Xandros is a Linux distribution that is touting Windows compatibility, particularly with games. They use CodeWeaver's Cossover Office and Crossover Plug-in to get their Windows compatibility. Sound familiar? I wonder how long they will keep that up? Are they doomed to the same fate as Lindows. Xandros is also charging $99 for their version of Linux with no free download available. Probably because of the cost of CodeWeaver's products. (Note to Xandros: provide a free download without the CodeWeaver pieces for Windows compatibility. It can't hurt... and could help.)

Linux and Ease of Use

I have been starting to play with Linux. The first version of Linux I tried was Lycoris. Lycoris stresses easy of use. I have read that it has a wonderful desktop, and looks a lot like Windows XP. But in my brief testing I found that Lycoris lacked the ease of use a typical Windows user needs. I don't want to get into a huge Linux debate here, but I will state that I think the Linux camp has a long way to go toward ease of use. It's not just the install of Linux, which Lindows does make pretty easy, but it is also the the day to day using of an operating system. This usage must assume a harmonious blending with existing Windows files and computers, and that is where I see all Linux versions falling short. (I will discuss this more when I review some other versions of Linux in a future article.)

If Lindows has not made big strides above Lycoris in ease of use then it will be problematic. Lindows is supposed to install side by side with Windows 98 on one machine, allowing you to decide when you start your computer whether you want to run Windows or Lindows. I did this with Lycoris, but I had to repartition my hard drive so I could install Lycoris on a Linux partition. I think this is one area where Lindows might have an advantage. If they can make it seamless to the user where their files are I think that will go a long way toward making it easy for Windows users. Lycoris makes it easy to find files you have stored using Lycoris, but it is far from seamless to find files on other Windows partitions. I have to open a separate window to browse to my "D" drive, and I have yet to figure out how to do that from the file open dialog boxes provided in Linux applications.

I heard that Lindows has an unusual way for setting up the resolution of your screen, so I looked it up. Here is a partial answer on how to adjust the resolution from their FAQ: "From within LindowsOS 'click' on the 'Launch' button in the lower-left corner and select 'Run Command...' Type in 'xf86cfg' (use lower case letters), then select 'Run'. Now click on the 'monitor' icon. Then while holding down the left mouse button, click-and-drag to 'Configure Monitor(s)' then release the mouse button. Now choose the settings that your monitor supports. (If you need to alter your refresh rates alter the 'Vertical sync' settings.) Then click 'Ok.'"

Wow... and that's shortened down. Read the full answer to see the BIG RED warnings. Is this Lindows' idea of easy?

Cost

As I said earlier, you must buy Lindows for $129 (the 3.0 general release). This includes one year subscription to the Click-N-Run Warehouse. But considering that you cannot buy Lindows without the one year subscription, and the massive number of free applications, is this a bargain?

Michael Robertson sent out one of his newsletters bashing Steve Ballmer of Microsoft for charging so much for Windows, complaining that it was such a major part of the cost of a new computer. How could we have $300 computers or even $200 computers if Microsoft was getting $100 of that. Michael proceeded to compare two Wal-Mart PCs. One was a $199 computer running LindowsOS and the Other was supposed to be an identical computer running Windows XP for $299. Obviously, he picked these two to try and make it look like Windows cost $100 of the price of a new computer. Hardly. I don't know what Microsoft gets from dealers, but I bet it is less than $100.

What Michael failed to mention was that Wal-Mart's lowest price computer without an operating system was also $199. It is exactly the same computer as the Lindows $199 computer just without and OS. You may be thinking that this means you get Lindows for FREE. Not really. Bought this way you only get access to 10 applications from the Click-N-Run Warehouse... and from their "Starter Aisle" section. You have to pay $99 for the subscription that provides full access to the warehouse and its large library of free programs. I am sure Lindows is hoping that all of these computers are a $99 sale to their warehouse.

One thing the $299 Windows PC has is a 56K modem, which is lacking in the Lindows or OS Free PCs.

lindows.gif (21802 bytes)

This is the comparison chart Michael showed us in his newsletter (it pays to save e-mails, huh?). Notice that he assumed everyone would want Office XP and FrontPage if they bought a $299 computer. However, OpenOffice (the open source version of StarOffice) is available for free for for Windows users. Also, HTML Composer is part of Netscape... again, also available free for Windows users. If we take out the cost of Office XP and FrontPage that leaves us with the Lindows PC at $427.28, and the Windows PC at $428.26. That's two cents cheaper for the Windows PC and you get a modem.

Now, if lowest cost is the main criteria, then we should assume that people would be willing to invest a little time downloading free software and installing it themselves. So now you have to ask yourself if a simple install to pre-selected freeware applications is worth $99. If you actually want the few commercial applications in the warehouse, then it is a bargain. But if you are really building a computer on the cheap... then it might be worth it for you to find your own freeware on the Internet. Heck... it might even be fun.

Version 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0

I mentioned earlier that Lindows is about to make their general release available. This version is being labeled 3.0. Notice that the Wal-Mart PCs have version 2.0. Supposedly the Wal-Mart PCs got a version that was good enough for the specific hardware. I feel sorry for the people that buy them and need to add or change any of the components. They'll probably need to upgrade to Lindows 3.0.. at $129 or $99 to support any hardware not included in the Wal-Mart deal.

I find it odd that Lindows jumped to 3.0 for it FIRST general release. Even Microsoft releases stuff before its 3.0 release, even though it seems that it takes Microsoft until a 3.0 release to get it right, or at least good enough. Does Lindows think they need to call their version 3.0 to try and get people to think it has been running since a 1.0 release?

The Lindows/Wal-Mart PC

Keep in mind that these PCs are at the bottom of the food chain. I have not been able to find much information on them. However, I did come across this enlightening article from Stephen Manes on Forbes' website. Stephen was not too pleased with the PC. Parts of it didn't work and he had this to say about its Windows compatibility, "LindowsOS as delivered can run just six Windows programs: the elderly 2000 versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint--all of which behaved in unexpected ways, including an outright refusal to print--and viewers that let you look at files those programs create."

Try to find a 10 GB hard drive anymore. They are obsolete. And what is a VIA C3 800 MHz CPU? Is this as good as an Intel Celeron 800 MHz processor... that is so slow they don't sell them anymore?

Lindows "or" Click-N-Run

If Lindows is so wonderful, without the warehouse, then why don't they offer a version that you can download free (or inexpensively) without the subscription? Its one click install is a nice feature, but as I see it it is its only feature above any of the other Linux distributions. 

Mandrake and Red Hat are two good examples. They are both starting to stress ease if use. They also include a lot of software in there distributions, much of it the same as what's in the Lindows warehouse. You install from the CDs not the Internet. And you can keep installing again and again without having to worry about the software being in place on the Internet.

If you are determined to stay on the cheap you can download Mandrake and Red Hat from the Internet for free. Add Crossover Office from CodeWeavers and you can have Microsoft Office compatibility for $54.95. That's cheaper than Lindows' $99 price.

And that's what I have done. I downloaded Mandrake 9.0, and Red Hat 8.0. I also downloaded the afore mentioned Lycoris (Build 46) and a "demo" version of SuSE 8.1. I will try to spend a little time with each and report back what I like and don't like about each one.

Conclusion

I wish Lindows well. I think they should provide a free or low cost version of their Linux distribution that provides no access or limited access to the Click-N-Run Warehouse for people to try before they buy.

It is probably better to try Mandrake if you are new to Linux. It is supposed to be the most user friendly version of Linux, and it is available for free to download. Also, if you really need Windows compatibility in Linux you could look into Xandros which still has a good relationship with CodeWeaver and its products.

Sorry Lindows.

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