Manufacturer: Lindows.com, Inc.
Price: $59.95 US (download version, $49.95 US)
Easy install with hardware detection.
Slick package management.
Family license might be a good deal.
Poor security—defaults to always running as root.
Rough edges could confuse new users.
Many packages confusingly renamed.
Lindows is a Linux distribution intended to be as easy to use as possible, even for complete beginners. The Lindows promotional literature promised a ten-minute install, and indeed, the process took about ten minutes.
Lindows 4.0 comes with two CDs. One is the installation CD, which detects all your hardware and installs Lindows. The other is a demo CD, which detects all your hardware and then runs Lindows in RAM, loading any applications directly from the CD. You can use the demo CD to try out Lindows 4.0 on a computer without overwriting your data. I booted up the demo CD, and it worked as advertised. It let me experiment with Lindows and did not write to my hard disk.
Next, I installed Lindows on a spare computer. When you begin the installation you are offered two choices: automatic disk partitioning (labeled “take over the whole hard disk”) or manual partitioning for advanced users. I let the Lindows installer take over the whole hard disk. It created a small boot partition and a 256MB swap partition; it then filled the rest of the disk with a single large ReiserFS partition.
The installer asked few questions, none of which concerned what kind of hardware the computer had; the installer detected hardware without prompting. At the end of the install, the installer prompted me to enter an optional system password. This password is, in fact, the root password. By default, Lindows sets up the user to run as root all the time and only weakly encourages the user even to set a password for root. This design certainly is a convenient way to set up a system, but it gives up much of the traditional security inherent in Linux.
Lindows is based mostly on KDE. The desktop is a KDE desktop, heavily customized with the Lindows brand. The custom theme's icons run to green and blue colors that match the Lindows logo.
Lindows 4.0 defaults to Mozilla for both Web surfing and e-mail. Mozilla is rebranded as “Lindows Internet Suite”, and unless you run mozilla --version at a shell prompt, it is difficult to figure out that it is version 1.3.
Konqueror, rebranded as File Manager and Web Browser, is the default file manager for Lindows. Desktop icons for My Computer, My Documents and Network Browser all open Konqueror to the appropriate location.
When I tried out a command prompt, I discovered that Lindows was missing some important tools, such as the man command. Fortunately, Lindows is based on Debian GNU/Linux and contains a working core Debian system. By running apt-get I was able to install man, vim and other must-haves for the more advanced user.
The most impressive part of Lindows is the Click-N-Run system. With Click-N-Run you can browse through a virtual warehouse divided into categories, with aisles (departments) containing software packages. For example, in the Multimedia & Design category you can find an aisle named Image Editing, which contains various image editors including The GIMP. If you click on the Click-N-Run icon next to The GIMP, it is added to your Click-N-Run queue and automatically installed.
Because Click-N-Run starts up as soon as you log in, it can download software continuously in the background while you work. As long as you are connected to the Internet, Click-N-Run downloads packages until your queue is empty again. You can open the Click-N-Run client to check on the status of your queue and to see what's already installed, see what's pending, cancel pending downloads and so on.
One nice touch, the Programs menu in the main program launcher is organized exactly the same as the Click-N-Run Warehouse. Thus, after you have installed The GIMP, you can find it by clicking on Start Applications, Programs, Multimedia & Design, The GIMP. The icons on the categories are the same icons used in the Click-N-Run Warehouse as well, so the system is visually well organized, too.
In order to use Click-N-Run, you need to sign up with Lindows for a Click-N-Run account. This costs from $50 to $150 US per year, depending on what level of account you choose. Much of the Click-N-Run software is free software, such as The GIMP, but some proprietary software also is offered. If you use Click-N-Run to download a proprietary package, you are billed automatically.
Among the available proprietary software packages are VirusSafe, a virus scanner based on Vexira Antivirus, and SurfSafe, a Web site blocker based on the Cerberian Web Filter. With SurfSafe in place, trying to access a site like playboy.com brings up the “LindowsFamily — SurfSafe Warning” page.
Click-N-Run isn't perfect. When I installed MPlayer, it didn't work, but returned with no error message—it simply shut down. By running MPlayer from a command prompt, I was able to see an error message explaining that the .mplayer directory was not set up correctly. But Click-N-Run worked well for the other packages I tried.
I was somewhat annoyed at the relentless rebranding of packages that exists in Lindows 4. KWrite, the KDE word processor, is available in Click-N-Run, but it's called Write Pro. GTKPool is called Billiards; Gnumeric is rebranded as Numeric. Some other packages retain their names—but does a typical Lindows user know what TK Gocr is? If Lindows needs to come up with friendly names, I would hope they include the original name in the new one, as they do with XGalaga Galactic Invaders. Or, at least mention the original name somewhere on the Click-N-Run information page.
In the future, it should be possible to use Click-N-Run to upgrade from a previous version of Lindows to a newer one. However, Click-N-Run currently cannot upgrade from Lindows 3.0 to Lindows 4.0; you need to use the Lindows 4.0 CD.
At the end of Lindows setup, you have the option to create user accounts. Also, after setup, the standard KDE tool for managing users, KUser, is available in the Settings menu as User Manager. It's simple to create non-root users with this tool. Then, after the computer boots up, the KDM login manager prompts for a user name and password.
I highly recommend that you create a separate account for each person who will use the Lindows computer. For more on managing user accounts in Lindows, see my companion article on the Linux Journal Web site (www.linuxjournal.com/article/7166).
The Lindows Family License permits Lindows customers to install Lindows on multiple computers, as long as all the computers are in the customer's household. Click-N-Run has a section, My Products, that shows all software installed by the Click-N-Run user; this includes proprietary software licensed by the user. Any software the user has installed with Click-N-Run on a different computer is listed in a dim-grey font, while software installed on the current computer is shown in black. It's easy to click on grey packages and select them for downloading and installing on the current computer.
Thus, any proprietary software purchased using Click-N-Run actually is licensed for all Lindows computers in the purchaser's household. If you run proprietary software and your household has multiple computers, this license potentially could be a good deal.
Click-N-Run is the slickest package installation system I have seen yet in a Linux distribution, but you must pay a minimum of $50 per year to use it. The Lindows system is mostly smooth and polished, but a few rough edges remain.
If you read Linux Journal, it is unlikely that you will want to run Lindows on your own computer. But, it is a possibility that family members or friends would appreciate a Linux system designed for newbies. As long as you set them up to not run as root all the time, Lindows is a good choice.
Steve R. Hastings first used UNIX on actual paper teletypes. He enjoys bicycling with his wife, listening to music, petting his cat and making his Linux computers do new things.