LindowsOS 4.0 $49.95, download; $59.95, box Lindows.com www.lindows.com
Mention LindowsOS to any Linux geek and she's likely to respond, "That's not a real distro." LindowsOS may suffer from a lack of respect in the Linux community, but the latest incarnation shows that it is turning into a viable operating system. LindowsOS aims for budget-minded buyers who want an easy-to-use operating system but don't want to pay the overhead for Microsoft Windows, which can add $200 to the price of a PC.
LindowsOS 4.0 presents a colorful, intuitive interface that's complete with a launch menu, control panels, and other graphical elements that should be familiar to any computer user. Underneath, the OS is all Linux; it's based on the popular Debian distribution, which is a double-edged sword.
Installation is painless and takes just minutes, but LindowsOS doesn't work with NTFS, so you can't dual-boot with Windows without third-party partitioning software. The first time you run LindowsOS, it starts you off with a genuinely helpful multimedia tutorial that can help you get your bearings. A few minutes with the tutorial can make the transition from Windows easier.
Support for USB devices has been improved since version 3.0, but LindowsOS' peripheral support remains spotty. In my tests, LindowsOS could print to only one of two printers. It also underestimated the maximum resolution and refresh rate of the monitor and was unable to format a Zip disk, although it could read and write to a preformatted disk.
The cable modem connection worked out of the box, but my wireless networking card wasn't supported. For dial-up users, LindowsOS supports most ISPs as long as you have an external modem or an internal hardware modem. (Software-powered "Winmodems" won't work.) Many of these limitations aren't specific to LindowsOS, however. They are issues with Linux in general; glitches that typical Linux geeks might be able to work around, but LindowsOS' intended audience probably won't be able to.
LindowsOS costs $49.95 to download or $59.95 for the boxed version, which includes two CDs. That's certainly much cheaper than Windows XP, but the add-on software could keep your wallet open. LindowsOS comes preinstalled with very little software:there's a Web browser, email client, text editor, MP3 player, and a handful of other basic applications. If you want to download images from your digital camera, use an office suite, play streaming media files, or do much of anything, you'll need additional applications. Users with a little Linux savvy can use APT, the Debian package-management utility, to download and install software; it's easy and free. Lindows.com offers two official solutions: software CDs and the Click-N-Run software download service.
The Click-N-Run service, which costs $4.95 per month or $49.95 a year, lets you select from more than 1,800 open-source applications in categorized lists, downloading and installing the ones you want automatically. The process is smooth; my software was ready to use in just minutes. The company also offers software on CD, which could be important for users without a broadband connection. Lindows Plus is a $59.95 CD that contains most of the Click-N-Run catalog. Other add-on CDs include a pop-up ad blocker, antivirus utility, and Web-filtering software.
The package also includes LindowsCD, a version of LindowsOS that boots directly from CD. You can use it to try the operating system before installing it on your hard drive or to turn any PC into a read-only workstation. The company has partnered with TigerDirect and iDot.com to sell Lindows WebStations, $170 computers that, lacking hard drives, boot from a version of LindowsCD to provide a Web browser, word processor, and other basic functions.
LindowsOS doesn't demand a powerful PC; it works with as little as an 800MHz processor and 128MB of RAM. Although it is still a young OS with its share of problems, LindowsOS is a stable, usable OS that shows real promise as a Windows alternative for the everyman. Users who know how to compile a Linux kernel won't be happy with Lindows, but folks who want a cheaper alternative to Windows or want to send a trial balloon into the world of Linux might be pleased with it.
Reprinted with permission from Computer Power User magazine.