Although Linux has experienced a bit of a stall in its attempt to take over the PC desktop market, I still believe that this open-source solution has what it takes to satisfy the needs of most users—especially those who simply need email, Web access, word processing, and other basic services. My favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu, is particularly well suited to business users. But another distribution, Linspire (formerly known as Lindows), is making waves with consumers, thanks to its installation deals on PCs that you can buy at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and other high-profile locations.
Despite their Linux-based commonality, Ubuntu and Linspire couldn't be less alike. Unlike the free Ubuntu, Linspire will cost you some cash—$50 for the downloadable version. For the money, you might expect a more polished product, and it is more polished, if only on the surface. Because Linspire uses the candy-colored, graphical K Desktop Environment (KDE) by default (compared to the more corporate and, in my opinion, pleasant-looking GNOME environment that Ubuntu uses), it's got a splashy sheen to it. I find the look distracting—like an amateur rip-off of Macintosh OS X—but it has its fans.
Like Ubuntu, Linspire tries not to overwhelm you with too many choices. So, you get one excellent office-productivity suite—OpenOffice.org—instead of several. And you get one Web browser (simply named Web Browser in the UI) that's based on the Mozilla browser suite. That sort of simplification can be found throughout Linspire, and it's arguably a good idea. In Linspire, GAIM is called Instant Messaging and Mozilla Mail and Newsgroups is called Email Client, to avoid confusion. If you're moving from Windows to Linux, these simple names will make the transition easier.
Linspire offers further benefits. Because it's a commercial Linux distribution, you get DVD-playback capabilities out of the box, a feature other Linux distributions can't add because—thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)—no legal open-source DVD players exist. Linspire also supports Microsoft's Windows Media formats out of the box, which is rare. And the company runs an online software store and service called Click and Run (CNR) Warehouse from which you can easily find and install the latest Linux applications. The downside is that the CNR Warehouse isn't free. But, as with Linspire itself, the cost is justified by the error-free, handholding experience you get.
If you're interested in Linux but have failed previously with more traditional distributions because you lack the technical skills necessary to run this system, Linspire might just be what you're looking for. Linspire is also a good bet for anyone looking for an interesting halfway house between true open-source systems and Windows. I'm not a big fan of the KDE eye candy, but that's just personal preference. I'll be sticking with Ubuntu for a number of reasons, but I suspect that Linspire will find its fans. If you do use Linspire, I'd be interested to hear what persuaded you.