LindowsOS 2.0

  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • easy software installation.

Cons

  • Flaky performance
  • really requires broadband for software downloads.

Lindows 2.0 is like Baby Bear's porridge -- it's just right. This new operating system isn't too hardcore for the average user, and it's nowhere near as expensive to buy and operate as Windows (the download costs just $99, while the full CD version is priced at $129). Plus, it's easy to use, sports an attractive interface and comes with an application subscription package that can't be beaten. Perhaps future versions will offer improved stability and better technical support: in the meantime, if you're looking for the full-on Linux experience, stick to Red Hat 8 or Mandrake 9. But if you want something in between -- not too technical, not too easy and not too mainstream -- don't be afraid to try Lindows.

You'll know quickly whether or not you like Lindows -- this OS features the easiest installation we've ever seen on a desktop system. On our test PCs -- an HP 6540C with a 466MHz Celeron and 128MB of RAM and a newer HP 521n with a 1.4GHz Athlon and 256MB of RAM -- we had Lindows set up and running in less than 10 minutes, without a single request for arcane (or, for that matter, commonplace) information. This is what Plug and Play was supposed to be!

After installation, you'll be looking at a KDE interface (that is, a graphical desktop environment based on Linux) that looks and acts a lot like Windows 98. You'll see the same Start-like menus, for example, and you double-click to open folders and applications -- even the file icons look just the same as they do in Windows. Sure, an expert eye can tell in a moment that this isn't Windows, but casual observers might not even notice the difference until, say, OpenOffice pops up instead of Microsoft Office.

Lindows acts like a powerful operating system right off the bat. In our tests, the OS automatically connected to our local area network and the Internet right after installation. The result? Immediately, you're able to use Netscape 7, the included browser, the Netscape IM client (a version of AIM), and the Click-N-Run online software installer (more on that later).

Once up, the test systems with Lindows flawlessly executed most ordinary jobs, such as copying and printing files, as well as running native Linux desktop applications, including Acrobat and OpenOffice. That's not too surprising. Lindows traces its ancestry via Xandros to the Corel Linux Desktop, the first attempt at a commercial Linux desktop. And, at heart, Lindows is based on the tried-and-true Debian Linux.

When Lindows first came out, the company trumpeted that its best feature was the ability to run Windows applications on Lindows. It's not so loud about that anymore. While it's true that Lindows can run some Windows applications, such as Microsoft Office 2000, many other programs -- including Office XP and Quicken 2003 -- won't run. If you really want Windows on Linux, you're best off running NeTraverse Win4Lin, a product that requires you to have a copy of Windows 98 or ME and lets you run either OS on top of Linux.

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But once you're running Lindows, you might not want to bother with Windows applications anyway. For an additional $99 (~£65) a year, you can subscribe to the Lindows Click-N-Run Warehouse, which lets you download thousands of Linux applications. You'll get basic office functionality with StarOffice and Free Office, multimedia with RealPlayer or Xine, money management with GnuCash, and some simple games such as Galactic Invaders -- all you'll ever need.

Of course, a Linux expert might pipe up immediately that all of these (except for current versions of StarOffice) are freely available on the Web. And he or she would be correct. But installing software on Linux requires that you know the OS backwards. With Click-N-Run, you don't have to know anything -- the title says it all. You simply click to install an application -- as many as you like, with your subscription. You can install the same application on any Lindows machine in the house, and a Web-based interface keeps track of which programs you've installed.

Granted, Lindows isn't perfect for newcomers. Even with Click-N-Run, Linux software can take some getting used to, and we found that the OS itself has a few stability glitches. For example, we noticed that the desktop environment occasionally crashes, with little rhyme or reason. However, this never shut down the system, and simply continuing to work in the environment or, at worst, restarting the program solved the problem.

That overall stability is a good thing because Lindows support isn't great. Your only access comes via email and an online support centre. We're sorry to report that the online knowledge base is less than complete. Want to find out which Microsoft applications can run on Lindows? Except for Office 2000, there's no listing of supported programs. Brave souls can go the trial-and-error route, but we'd prefer to know up front whether a Windows program won't work.

So who is Lindows for? It's for anyone who wants a taste of desktop Linux; a Windows-like system without Microsoft; and, most of all, an operating system and applications at an affordable price.

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