LindowsOS licences herald cheaper PCs

The Linux distributor institutes an unusual flat-rate licensing plan which could mean cut-price PCs, but the company has also quietly toned down its claims to Windows compatibility

Linux software developer Lindows.com has said it will offer system builders a flat-rate licensing plan for its operating system, in contrast to the per-unit fees charged by Microsoft and other software companies.

On Monday Lindows.com, which claims its operating system will eventually be able to run popular Microsoft Windows applications, launched its Builder programme, which offers system builders technical support, testing tools, LindowsOS Certification eligibility and a software library for $500 (£350) per month. The licence allows the manufacturer to install the software on any number of systems, potentially allowing massive savings over traditional licensing plans.

LindowsOS is based on a distribution of Linux, which is covered by a licence that requires it to be made freely available for modification and redistribution. However, a system designer who used an unlicensed version of LindowsOS would not be able to use Lindows.com's logo or join the LindowsOS Certification programme, and would receive no technical support.

"This will be a huge saving for computer assemblers in both licensing and logistical costs, which will ultimately make them more profitable and deliver savings to their customers as well," said Lindows.com chief executive Michael Robertson, in a statement.

Lindows.com is targeting unbranded or "white box" PC makers who sell machines for rock-bottom prices, often through mass-market retailers. Such machines make up 58 percent of the worldwide PC market according to a recent IDC study, taking up some of the slack left by the continued slump in mainstream PC sales. Besides the ability to sell PCs for an even lower price than before, LindowsOS also offers freedom from Microsoft's draconian restrictions on how its software must be presented.

Lindows.com has already won a significant distribution deal in the US with Wal-Mart, which is selling PCs from Microtel Computer Systems on the Wal-Mart Web site. "This type of programme is not only easy and effective, it is a catalyst for change in the computer industry," stated Microtel vice president Rich Hindman.

However, Lindows' marketing manoeuvres have provoked scepticism. Many industry observers were surprised when the Wal-Mart deal emerged earlier this month in light of the fact that the Lindows software has not yet achieved its first general release and is only available in a preview version called LindowsOS SPX. The general release is due to ship sometime this year.

Lindows.com says that the Microtel systems are certified to run LindowsOS out of the box but the company is still working on its original claim to fame: the ability to run Windows applications.

Shortly after the Microtel systems originally appeared on Wal-Mart's site, an advertising claim that the software could run most Windows applications was removed. On Lindows.com's own Web site Windows compatibility claims have been shifted into the background and are not mentioned in the main description of LindowsOS SPX, which instead emphasises the operating system's use of the Internet to distribute software. A note in the site's technical support section says: "Our goal is to eventually run some of the more popular Windows software.... at this time, Microsoft Office 2000 has undergone the most testing and is the most compatible".

LindowsOS uses a modified version of a Linux technology called WINE, which has been in development for several years with the goal of allowing Linux to load and run Windows applications.

The software has also been criticised for automatically logging users in as "root", a user level at which there are no checks against damaging the system. Internet worms executing as root have a much greater potential to wreak havoc than if they execute at a more limited user level. Lindows.com says it made root the default user login in order to simplify the login process for beginner users.


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