Lindows at the Showdown

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 12:14 AM
Lindows has aimed to become the GNU/Linux distribution for anyone coming from Windows to Linux (hence the name). They have, without a doubt, pushed the envelope for marketing and pushed the operating system into the mainstream media and retailers. Still, does LindowsOS have what it takes to be the victor of the Penguin Shootout?

Lindows is a rather polarizing distribution in many ways. For the most part, people either love it or hate it, both for the company's attitude and the distribution itself. We'll consider that in a bit, but first comes the question of how it stacks up to other distributions technically.

If Only It was the Best of Times
The first potential issue in any distribution, although one I've only encountered a handful of times, is whether the setup program will boot. Unfortunately, it would seem that LindowsOS now joins its close relative Xandros Desktop in having a problem at the boot up stage. Like Xandros Desktop, LindowsOS chokes on our new test box after getting to the "detecting hardware" portion of the boot process (before actually launching into the setup tool). During our testing we did try the various alternate options (including using the VESA display mode) and the only option that worked was the recovery mode that dumps one at a prompt without anyway to get into setup.

This is a rather curious issue as we have tested many other distributions on this system, including SuSE Linux, Mandrake Linux, Red Hat Linux, Lycoris Desktop/LX, and Ark Linux without any major hardware issues (i.e. all of them provided a working setup and working system). It should also be said that this is far from an exotic configuration: a Dell Dimension 4550 with an Intel Pentium 4 2.6 GHz processor, Intel 845PE chipset, ATI Radeon 9700 video card, and 256 megs of RAM. While the Radeon and 845PE both have minor issues with some distributions, all of the other flavors that we tested were able to successfully fall back to slower settings that worked well with that hardware (the next batch of distributions promises to eliminate all issues with this system).

Whatever the case, we remained undeterred, and continued testing on our veteran Pentium II test box. The setup program is friendly, perhaps one of the friendliest out there. While the program lacks most of the control veteran GNU/Linux users take for granted, it probably is a step in the right direction for new users. Much like Windows 2000/XP, and the in-development Ark Linux distribution, software selection is not part of the installation process. Rather, the installer just assumes which basics you need, and lets you use their software management tool later if you wish to add more packages. I think the jury might be out on whether this is better, but I don't think I would say it is worse, at least.

After answering a few simple questions, the installation process took only about 10 minutes to install even though we were using a system with only modest hardware. We were quite pleased with LindowsOS's speed at installation and were soon rebooting and on our way to a working LindowsOS system -- or were we?

Unfortunately not, or not all the way to a GUI at least. It would appear that the nVidia Riva 128 ZX chipset in our system was thought to be another type of nVidia, as XFree86 terminated complaining about being unable to find the video card. Fortunately, we had a working XFree86 configuration file handy and replacing the Lindows created one with our configuration file solved the problem. Oddly enough, the Lindows HCL (Hardware Compatibility List) suggests that the card in question, a Dell/STB Velocity 128 ZX, is not supported by the operating system, even though it most certainly is (abet not by the installer). LindowsOS now claims the dubious distinction of being the only GNU/Linux distribution we have ever tested on this machine (going all the way back to Red Hat Linux 5.1) that does not get along with this card, save early versions of OEone HomeBase that were intended mostly for specific hardware.

Back on Track
After one complete failure and one botched configuration, I was relieved when we finally got the graphic environment going and saw that at least it was in working order. If I can say one thing, has done a nice job with their KDE modifications. For the most part, the modifications do not change any functionality, but they do dress up the desktop a bit. Good job Lindows! Our version of LindowsOS included KDE 3.0.1 updated with a prerelease of the Keramik widgets (buttons, scrollbars, etc.), a fancy version of the Keramik window decorations customized by, an attractive LindowsOS wallpaper, and an extended Crystal icon set. Like Desktop/LX, the desktop featured a variety of icons familar to Windows users such as "My Documents" and "My Computer," a good idea for those newly migrating to GNU/Linux.

All of that was fine, but what we really wanted to see in Lindows was the much-hyped Click-n-Run system. While we were aware that it was basically just a front end to apt-get set to a non-free software archive operated by, it was still intriguing to finally see how it worked. It isn't "knock your socks off" great, but it is pretty nice, and has some nice graphical touches that makes it more pleasant to use than Mandrake or SuSE's package managers.

We do take issue at Lindows? policy concerning Click-n-Run, however. is the only distribution we know of that actually makes users subscribe to a service ("Click-n-Run Warehouse") to receive full access to product updates (the "junior," free, version does provide access to "select updates" and 10 free downloads). Click-n-Run membership does provide some nice software, including StarOffice and a Bitstream font pack, although most of the premium applications are already included on the Click-n-Run Express CD that you receive as part of your purchase. While you won't be able to get full update access if you don't spring for the $99/year membership (or get the LindowsOS/Click-n-Run bundle for $119), we would probably recommend against a Click-n-Run subscription in most cases, especially since most of the Click-n-Run items not included on the CnR Express CD are Free/Open Source software available on the internet already via the same basic system ("apt-get") that LindowsOS uses.

Another item of note about LindowsOS is its inclusion of Netscape 7.0, something that we are unaware of any other distribution including. While you can download that browser for free, it is nice that it is included, at least for AOL members who will appreciate the ability to check their AOL e-mail through Netscape Mail (of course, since AOL doesn't support GNU/Linux, you will still need an alternate internet dialup or broadband connection to get on the internet).

Feature wise, probably nothing in LindowsOS has attracted more attention than the company's decision to make the default user root (the super user/administrator). Most distributions avoid this because it opens up a whole new can of "worms" (and viruses) to GNU/Linux systems. Thankfully, LindowsOS does support non-root users in this release, so at least those aware of the risks can move to a more secure setup without a lot of hassle.

How its Cost Stacks Up
Simply put, concerning initial investment costs, LindowsOS is the most expensive GNU/Linux distribution for enterprise deployment. For the full package, including Click-n-Run, LindowsOS costs $119, whereas Xandros Desktop Deluxe, which includes CrossOver Office and Plugin, weighs in at $99 and Mandrake Linux PowerPack, including StarOffice, is only $79.

Lindows has introduced a $49 version without Click-n-Run membership, but Xandros recently took a similar action offering a $39 edition and Mandrake Linux has its standard edition priced at $30. More importantly, in our opinion, is the fact that both Xandros and have per-seat/per-user licensing for commercial usage, meaning that unlike most other distributions we've been testing, you will need to buy more than one copy of the distribution if you plan to deploy it on multiple systems. If all other things were equal, that would mean Mandrake Linux or SuSE Linux could end up being thousands of dollars cheaper to deploy than the others. Are all other things equal? In many cases, we'd be inclined to say "yes," although LindowsOS does offer some unique features, so in-house analysis of the different distributions is advisable before making a decision.

Lindows vs. the World?
Then there are the "political issues" concerning LindowsOS that constantly keep the company in the computer news. As I noted at the beginning of this article, is a rather polarizing company, and this should be of concern to those considering adopting its products. On the one hand, many people have been heralding LindowsOS as the first real competitor to Microsoft Windows, but a larger group of observers have accused of living up to its name -- that is, having Microsoft-like business practices. Neither is completely true, obviously. The other distributions we've reviewed are all fine candidates for Microsoft Windows replacement and is cooperative with the community to a certain extent. Regrettably, the complaints against Lindows are not completely without merit., for whatever reason, just seems to take the controversial route in many cases. Notable examples since its launch in August 2001 include violation of the GNU General Public License by requiring beta testers agree to a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), renaming of common KDE applications with glitzier names and then claiming that they were worth hundreds of dollars (for example, KWord was renamed "WritePro" and listed as a $299 value for Click-n-Run members), and claiming a special development relationship with AOL when it really was just bundling Netscape 7 with LindowsOS.

There are also several current LindowsOS actions that have drawn somewhat of a stir, most notably, the "Desktop Linux Summit." As we reported in an earlier article, many companies have pulled out of the summit after decided it would no longer be run by a vender neutral advisory board as previously promised., Lycoris, Hewlett-Packard, and most recently, Sun Microsystems, have all since canceled plans to exhibit or sponsor the show. Another action that has generated some skepticism is the $299 price tag on the "Lindows Insiders" program. While it does provide a newsletter and a 2-year Click-n-Run membership, it appears that a good portion of the purchase price goes to receiving access to beta versions of LindowsOS. Like Microsoft's similar policy,'s system looks suspiciously like an attempt to get users to pay to be beta testers. Also like Microsoft's policy, we'd imagine this does have a negative impact on the number of bugs found, especially since if we figure that $119 of that price is LindowsOS and another $99 is the second year of Click-n-Run warehouse, there is still $72 of the price tag going towards beta testing. The last we checked, Microsoft's latest desktop beta could have been had for a mere $20.

It would be unfair to judge the viability of the LindowsOS distribution on the basis of some of the company's practices, especially considering that those practices aren't unusual in the overall software industry. Furthermore, has made some contributions to KDE (including the KDE League and support), Debian GNU/Linux, and the WINE Project. In all, I think that indicates that LindowsOS does understand the community, it just needs to make a bit more of an effort at reconciling some of these issues to insure better relations between itself and the rest of the GNU/Linux sector in the future.

So where does that leave us? It's rather hard to say. LindowsOS has a lot of good ideas behind it, and as other reviews have shown, it is possible to have a good LindowsOS installation. Unfortunately, we believe that the fact that LindowsOS installation either partially or completely failed on two otherwise GNU/Linux friendly system configurations, as well as the other issues noted above, prevents us from recommending LindowsOS 3.0 in most situations. Hopefully, considering the breakneck speed of development at, we can reevaluate this recommendation in the near future.

Summary of LindowsOS 3.0
User Interface:
Total Cost of Ownership:
UPSIDE: LindowsOS is a distribution that really seems to have the potential to go somewhere. If not for a number of unfortunate issues, Lindows OS, with its very attractive user interface, could have been a top contender for the Penguin Shootout. ($119,

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. You can reach him at tbutler@uninetsolutions. com.