It was three weeks ago that I took the plunge and purged the dreaded Microsoft Windows from my computer in favor of Linux based Linspire. Windows went to that big bit bucket in the sky! So after 3 weeks of using it on a daily basis I thought it was time to collect my thoughts and share my experiences to date.

As I said in my initial review the installation process is simple, a 5 year old could install it, the only question you are asked through the whole install process is to select a user name and password. I was also really impressed with the speed of the install, which on my 1.5 gigahertz dinosaur was less than 15 minutes including a hard drive format! So impressed was I, that I just had to show some people at work. I work for a non-profit and one of our programs is to provide free computers to low income families, we have a team of staff and volunteers that spend their day loading Windows, Open Office, Virus and Spyware checking software on used computers. This is a hugely boring and time consuming business.

While they were incredibly impressed with the speed, 15 minutes versus 3 hours, they are from the Microsoft Borg mentality. They peppered me with questions that I could not answer. “How can we check that all the drivers are loaded”? “How much free space is left on the hard drive”? “How do I change the screen resolution”? The questions kept coming, and I kept telling them that I had no clue.

I reflected on my inability to answer, and then i realized that what they were asking were Windows questions and totally irrelevant to the subject. I do know that with some book work I could find the answers, but why do I need to? In my mind a computer is a tool, I just want to use the tool. I don’t need to understand the manufacturing process. When I bang a nail in, I use a hammer, I do not need to understand the process of casting and forging metal to do that!

OK, so what do I like about Linspire as a user. Well it may sound like a small thing, but I love the fact that if you are playing with text the spell checker is always active. This site for example is maintained using WordPress, and the version we use does not have a spell checker, being a bad speller I was continually copying and pasting into MS Word to check articles. No more! Now my WordPress has  spell check! This feature alone has saved me hours of frustration.

I also like the way that media is handled. A big problem that I found with previous excursions into the dark side was the inherent inability by Linux to deal with MP3’s and the various video formats out there, oh, come to think about it, Windows has the same problem! Windows media, Real Player, Quicktime, and the wonderful world of Codec’s make for a frustrating time, and one false move and your entire library becomes ‘scrambled eggs and ham’. Even worse media files suddenly open in the wrong player.

Linspire (so far) has handled all of the media files I have thrown at it, I have not had to download new players or codec’s. My one complaint is that playback is sometimes a little choppy, but my suspicion is the lack of RAM in this computer, I have a paltry 256 megabytes, and Linspire recommends 512. So this problem will likely be resolved with more memory.

I also like Open Office, I do a lot of ’email’ interviews with authors and musicians, my preferred weapon is MS Word documents sent as attachments. Open Office can read and write MS documents, including Word 2007 format, which my Word 2003 version could not understand. Open Office may not be as feature rich as Microsoft Office, but it certainly does an admirable job.

While I am at it, kudos to Firefox, a couple of times in the last three weeks something bad has happened resulting in me rebooting the computer, Firefox asks if I want to restore my sessions, and reconnects me to the sites I was on, this is an outstanding feature! Nothing short of brilliant!

OK, so what don’t I like? This list is pretty small. My wife runs an IRC channel, and I have to admit that mIRC is superior to Pidgin. Pidgin is serviceable, and flexible, you can use it on a variety of platforms, in many ways it is the Linux equivalent of Trillian, but like Trillian it lacks depth in the IRC world. This of course is just a minor gripe. You know that I must be happy if that is the worst thing I can find to say.

I give very high marks to Linspire, with a street price of under $50, it is ideal for the person that just wants to use the computer as a tool. I build them, I fix them, and I support them. In other words I hate the damn things. Linspire has been a pleasure to use, and I certainly won’t be stitching back to Windows anytime soon. Check out Linspire Web Site for more information.

Simon Barrett

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