Whither Lindows?

The first OS built to run Linux and Windows natively naturally faces technical and legal questions. Naturally, Microsoft just sued.

Nobody can stay on top of everything. That's why it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I got a note from a colleague that consisted entirely of this: "Lindows: scoundrels or fools?" I didn't know what he was talking about. Then somebody else pointed me to an AP report that Microsoft had sued Lindows for having a name that rhymed too closely with Windows. This person annotated the story by giving it the subject, "suicidal or dumb?"

Now I was up to four choice characterizations: scoundrels, fools, suicidal and dumb. And it wasn't even clear if the labels were meant to apply to Lindows, Windows, Microsoft or all four -- since Lindows is the name of both the company and its only product, an OS that runs both Linux and Windows.

(By the way, if we didn't use the target tag for that Windows link in the last paragraph, the page would trap you there by disabling your back button. How metaphorical is that?)

Lindows is the creation of Michael Robertson, the cofounder and former CEO of MP3.com, which is now part of Vivendi Universal. About the lawsuit, Robertson told the Wall Street Journal, "There's not a single person, perhaps outside of the 600 attorneys that work for Microsoft, who can say with a straight face that people will confuse" Lindows with Windows. The Journal also observes that, while Microsoft employs about 600 people in its law and corporate affairs unit, not all of them are lawyers. This probably does not reassure Mr. Robertson, although there could hardly be more sure-catch lawsuit-bait than his company's name and mission.

About the latter he says this:

Many of you have taken the time to write me about my new venture Lindows.com; and I've tried my best to personally respond. The most common question asked is, "Why are you doing Lindows.com ?" The answer is straightforward -- the world needs it, the technology industry needs it, computer owners need it. What is 'it' you ask? Choice. Putting another choice on the shelf for consumers is the ultimate tonic for high prices, restrictive licenses and intrusive security measures. The power to choose means consumers will be in the drivers seat and not beholden to the policies of one company.

Sounds fine, except for that "consumer" label, which we rarely hear in Linux circles (where the default would be "users" or "customers"). Still, these are honorable motivations, and perhaps commercially viable ones as well.

Robertson goes on to say that LindowsOS is a Linux-based operating system with a "Windows Compatibility Module". I assume this means he's talking about something that involves WINE, but he doesn't say. Nor does anything else on the site. The closest thing to a technical section is an FAQ that tells us LindowsOS will cost $99 and run on Pentium-class hardware with at least 64MB RAM and 1GB disk space.

Right now LindowsOS is vaporware. But the company does have a highly entrepreneurial CEO. I think they have some potential in the low-end hardware market if they can make everything work. Let's face it: Linux-based thin clients haven't set the world on fire. Not yet, anyway. Maybe running Windows apps natively would be the right gas for that job. Hardware has gotten cheaper, but while Moore's law continues to drive up performance, there's a price floor that gets a lot lower when you subtract the rising cost of Windows, especially considering XP's one-OS-per-machine authentication scheme.

The question for me is, can they do it alone? Clearly Lindows is a closed-source company building a product with open source code and tools. Do they really need to close the source? Do they actually plan to? I don't see them listed as an exhibitor at LinuxWorld, which would make sense if they wanted to join the community. Seems to me they could use a few more eyes to make their bugs shallower. It's doing the job for Apple with Darwin, and attracting serious geeks in the process.

So I don't know. In the absence of more information, the choice still defaults to the original four. What do the rest of ya'll think?

email: doc@ssc.com

______________________

Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal

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Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

I have very little confidence that Lindows will be able to run many of the newer Windows application using any type of OS emulation. Windows is just too BIG. Not to mention that MS patches the OS almost weekly. Historically, good OS emulation is at best, only nearly impossible.

Hardware emulation, i.e. VMWare, is usually the best solution when trying to run software for other operation systems. Of course this would require having the MS OS, which really defeats the purpose of purchasing LindowsOS as an alterative to Windows.

Personally, I think packages like StarOffice are the best route. I can read and write MS Office documents, and the apps are more than adequate for my personal needs. The only problem is that StarOffice doesn't really "fit in" at work.

My real hope for LindowsOS is that it will be a descent desktop OS in it's own right. Leveraging Linux's large selection of hardware support gives Lindows an advantage over some other alternative OS offerings.

The general impression I got from the Lindows.com web site goes something like this:

Here is something really cool! If you pay us $99 we will let you be a Beta tester, and then you can see what it looks like! Oh yeah, and most of the code we are using was written by people who aren't going to get paid a dime. Have a nice day.

Frankly the experience felt like an infomercial minus the money back guarranty. I'm not a huge fan of Billy-G, but I can usually get MS Betas for free just by signing up.

If Mr. Robertson's intentions truly are as altruistic as he would have us believe, He should give something back to the Linux community.

Oh, I saw someone comment about how window (the kind you look through) manufacturers should be able to sue MS, if MS can sue Lindows for trademark infringment. Sorry, that's not how it works. Physical windows on your house, car, or whatever have nothing to do with operating systems. Also, due to the fact that window is a generic term when refering to glass things that people look through, no window manufacturer can have a window product trademarked as Windows. On the other hand, Windows as an OS name, is definately a word one would associate specifically with MS, ala trademark.

The problem is that MS lets other companies infringe upon their trademark without legal reprecussions. So why is MS singling out LindowsOS? Well, the answer should be obvious.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

Is Lindows just another upstart like Winlinux? Or an emulator like Samba? Who knows? Spending $99 for a beta is not cool! Anyone out there ever done a comparison of win/lin emulaters?

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

Well, Lindows isn't even a new software development at all.

Just try this with Your Lindows copy:

1. Login

2. open a console

3. useradd [new user]

4. passwd [new user]

5. enter new password

6. log out

7. log in as [new user]

Surprise!!!

Lindows is just a Debian Distro with altered logos and buttons. They compiled WINE, added some shell scripts for ms office installation and binded EXE-Files to be run with WINE - that's all.

This fact shows us Lindows is nothing more than vaporware.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

Well, Lindows isn't even a new software development at all.

Just try this with Your Lindows copy:

1. Login

2. open a console

3. useradd >

4. passwd >

5. enter new password

6. log out

7. log in as >

Surprise!!!

Lindows is just a Debian Distro with altered logos and buttons. They compiled WINE, added some shell scripts for ms office installation and binded EXE-Files to be run with WINE - that's all.

This fact shows us Lindows is nothing more than vaporware.

Update: Lindows definitely uses WINE; WINE now considering GPL l

Anonymous's picture

Just some updated info like in the subject line Lindows is using WINE and there is now talk of WINE going to the LGPL -- until now it had not been.
There have already been plenty of non-profit groups doing a lot of good work on Windows emulation (wine, etc.), there have been companies that use and also contribute back to those same organizations (redhat, corel, etc.), there are at least a couple of good, solid proprietary emulators out there (VMWare)
then there there are companies like "Lindows" cashing in on hype and contributing nothing...

Microsoft does not own

Anonymous's picture

FIrst of all to start with MS does not own the words windows or else they may have to sue people upto pre-historic times for using windows in their houses!!!!

Secondly, even in computers X-windows for Unix have been around even before MS launched WIn3.1 so on their own lines they should be sued first.

Thirdly, on the same lines MS-DOS can be considered as duplication (with all features removed for dummies) of Unix shell.

So who is voilating what? Seem to bring up the good question!!

Re: Microsoft does not own

Anonymous's picture

I am now a Lindows Insider, paid 99 but I'll get first dibs on the preview releases and I'm hoping a discount on the final product...

-brandonfpu@yahoo.com

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

If Microsoft is taking legal action, they're taking it seriously. Personally the thought of being able to run all my Windows software on a OS as stable as Linux AND get it for only $99, is a great one. Bring it on Lindows!

Re: open source?

Anonymous's picture

ok, so my understanding before this article was that lindows would have an advanced wine implemtation built in.... since(i believe) wine is gpled, if lindows used wine, any lindows improvements on wine must be OPEN SOURCE.... same with linux, any linux improvement are open source too....so back to the analogy of apple and darwin..... lindows is osX, darwin is linux.....lindows will use linux as its core, but add non-open source software on top of linux to give it the windows compatability. much the same way apple used darwin to give apple the core and keep its top layer of closed source software.

that make any sense?

Re: wine not GPL'ed

Anonymous's picture

Wine is not GPL'ed, but has "an X-style license" (whatever that means...). The license can be found at: http://www.winehq.com/source/LICENSE

As far as I understood, you are not obliged to redistribute changes you make to the wine sources.

Re: open source?

Anonymous's picture

From the lindows.com website:

"Lindows.com respects all applicable licensing and is proud to be a strong supporter of the Open Source community by helping to advance several Open Source initiatives. Coming soon to this page will be information, links and resources for obtaining source code and licensing information for any applicable software."

Tomas Beaujean (a.k.a. The Man in Black)

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

This sounds incredibly stupid (the lawsuit) along the lines of McDonald's suing a European (?) chain starting up called McChina. They lost. Microsoft does not own anything that sounds like windows ... otherwise the millions of window manufacturers would have to go back and sue Microsoft for using a name that could confuse consumers with the glass things people stick in the walls of their homes and businesses. Sounds stupid, doesn't it. That's what this Lindows lawsuit is. Would it be any less of a lawsuit if they chose Winnux instead of Lindows? Of course not ... it's the rip roaring Redmond machine in action is all.

Personally, I'm curious to see what comes of Lindows ... even though I agree so far that it's vaporware - even with the two screenshots on their website. If they have screenshots, why not issue a pre-alpha sample of it? It would 'appear' to at least work well enough to run the Office suite based on those shots. Only time will tell.

Oh wait ... I have to toss in the mandatory Linux-lover's cry of "WHY ISN'T IT GPL??" "I WON'T pay for software - it should all be free!" [end sarcasm] Come on people ... there is no free lunch. If you think so, tell your boss you'll now work for free ... and see how long you keep your car, your home, etc. Get real. Take what you can get free, be glad for it, and pay for the things you need just like the rest of the real world has to.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

You're making a common mistake about the GPL and what it says. When you say software released under GPL is free, you need to think free speech, not free beer. The GPL software is completly YOURS. You can change it, copy it, and yes, SELL IT FOR MONEY. Otherwise Red Hat, Mandrake, SUSE and other distributions wouldn't exist. (and in case you're wondering, Red Hat is posting profits , so everyone there is selling GPL software and keeping their car and house etc.)

GPL allows knowledgable people to know what they are buying, by being able to examine the code.

Would you buy a car with it's hood sealed, so you couldn't see the engine and you were legally prevented from checking your oil or inflating your tires ? No ? well that's what you are doing when you buy non GPL software like MS products.

GPL IS REAL, it's real software produced by real profitable businesses.

The biggest obstacle is people who never bother to actually learn what GPL actually says.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

Would you buy a car with it's hood sealed, so you couldn't see the engine and you were legally prevented from checking your oil or inflating your tires ? No ? well that's what you are doing when you buy non GPL software like MS products.

That is not a fair analogy. The engine in the car has patented technology. With any operating system, you can do the equivalent of checking the oil or inflating the tires which would be equivalent to system tools.

Whether or not GPL works is another question altogether. In the Enterprise / Corporate market, companies pay alot of money for support, so the GPL model may indeed work such as in the case of RedHat. But in the Consumer market, how many consumers actually pay for support of the operating system? Very few. The two newest up and comers for Linux for the desktop consumer pc market are Xandros and Lindows.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

None of the four, obviously. A lawsuit, especially if it makes it into the nightly news repeatedly, is incredible advertising, the kind only tons of money -and- tons of luck can buy.

How is Lindows with linux -not- like MacOS X with darwin? Both Lindows and MacOS X have large proprietary components, and both linux and darwin are opensource. If Apple had much sense, they'd forget about darwin and use linux, but that's another story. But if Apple made this smart move, then they'd be in much the same boat as Lindows.com!

Sure, I'm disappointed that lindows.com probably won't be giving (what I presume will be) their improvements on wine back to the community, but I have one lonely windows app I really want to run, it doesn't work with wine, and if LindowsOS will run it, I'll be ecstatic. And don't you have to expect software hoarding if you don't use a license like the GPL? Is there really anything wrong with a company coming along and exploiting what was probably not a very good license choice?

If someone comes along and does a LindowsOS-like project that's fully GPL'd, and works as well or better than LindowsOS, they'll win my allegiance away from lindows.com. But until then, lindows.com might be my only way of running my app without funding microsoft's death grip on the industry.

Re: Whither Lindows?

Anonymous's picture

FWIW, there is an existing commercial system which will run 90% of Windows applications. It's called Win4Lin. Unfortunately, it still forces you to use a Win9x desktop (in a window or fullscreen) but it is stable. Plus, Windows boots in a minute or two. In my experience, it has proven to be more stable than Windows on a real PC. Go figure... I'm not sure of the current cost as I 'got in' during the beta stage. Anyhow, try http://www.netraverse.com

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