You might not have heard of Linspire Linux before; that's because this is the first version that has gone under this name. After a legal wrangle with Microsoft, Lindows had to change its name to Linspire - which serves to underline both the imbalance of power and Microsoft's strong-arm tactics in the operating system market these days.

So Linspire Five-0 is the latest edition of the Linux distribution once known as LindowsOS. Geared toward Windows refugees, it is available as a standalone package for £50 inc VAT. We tested a beta version of the OS and soon decided we're glad competition exists in the Linux realm - if Linspire were the only option, we'd definitely stick with Windows.

Things started off well: the installation took less than a dozen clicks and only 20 minutes. However, unlike most installers, Linspire's cannot shrink existing Windows partitions to make room on the drive for Linux. We had to turn to a third-party partitioning tool to do the job. The installer asked no questions about the hardware it was going on - a nice change of pace from most Linux installers.

Familiar desktop

When you log in, Linspire presents an attractive desktop with icons, a start menu, a system tray and a taskbar, all in the places a Windows user would expect to find them. However, there's more than a hint of Mac OS X as well.

Linspire includes the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, plus Mozilla for web browsing and email. The hyped Gaim provides instant messaging on all the popular networks, but this customised version nags you to sign up for a free VoIP (voice over IP) account at SIPphone.com, another firm started by Linspire founder Michael Robertson. The note appears repeatedly until you finally give in.

Linspire throws in a few other applications as well. Lphoto is a picture manager similar to Apple's iPhoto. Lsongs is a music library program that plays MP3s and internet radio stations and integrates with the MP3tunes.com music store - another Robertson creation. But an OS has to do a lot to compete with Windows XP.

Linspire does a decent job of being compatible with a lot of hardware and software, but it just doesn't give the options that XP does. And even if you're staunchly anti-Microsoft, Five-0 might still not be the OS for you.

Linspire Five-0 Beta: Specs

  • 800MHz Pentium III or equivalent
  • 128MB RAM
  • 4GB hard disk space
  • 800MHz Pentium III or equivalent
  • 128MB RAM
  • 4GB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

With version Five-0, Linspire has crafted a Linux OS that just about anyone can use - but these days, that isn't unique. Linspire Five-0 distinguishes itself only with its custom applications and its penchant for clawing at your wallet. There are better alternatives out there.

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