"If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail." - Maslow

Freespire 1.0

Wednesday 30th August 2006

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Package Management

Linspire users normally have a paid subscription to CNR (Click and Run), which is Linspire's way to install new packages. Even though Freespire is supposed to be free (it's even in the name!), CNR is everywhere - it's the default tool for adding new applications, there are dozens of entrys for CNR in the menus (which can be somewhat annoying if you do not use CNR), and there are icons in the taskbar. Of course, if you chose Freespire because it was free, you probably wouldn't be willing to pay for CNR. Okay, you get a free trial for a month, but what about after that?

The problem is that without CNR, Freespire's package management is just apt, a command line tool which Freespire's target users probably won't want to touch. Yes, you can install Synaptic to get around this problem, but how the heck is the newcomer supposed to know that? Or about apt for that matter? Freespire could benefit greatly by including Ubuntu's package management utilities, or something similar - that is, Synaptic for the more advanced users, an update notifier and installer, and Add/Remove Applications for most people that just want to install something. As it stands, the only way to really make use of Freespire's package management is to pay something.

There is an update notifier on the panel, but this is for CNR - if you choose not to use CNR, this notifier becomes far less useful.

A quick side note: some people will probably point out the presence of GNOME Apt in the menus. There's two problems with this: first of all, it doesn't work - it asks for the root password, which you can't give since you don't know it. Although it can be used from the command line, the new user wouldn't know this, and Freespire is supposed to be making things easy anyway. Secondly, GNOME Apt is not particularly pleasant for the new user to use, especially considering that Ubuntu's utilities are available and much nicer to use, as well as Synaptic for the more advanced users.

Conclusion

So, what can we say about Freespire? While there are some small problems, such as ejecting USB disks and setting the resolution, the major disappointment is package management. If you don't feel like paying for CNR, then Freespire's package management suddenly becomes rather lacklustre, especially considering that other utilities already exist that fit the bill perfectly. Of course, another alternative is to make CNR free!

Freespire's real strength on the other hand is the proprietary components which are not only included but installed seamlessly. This makes the migration from Windows to GNU/Linux all the more simple. Some may claim that Freespire is user friendly. Well, yes, it is relatively user friendly, but Ubuntu and other distributions are at the very least on a par with Freespire, if not even easier to use. My opinion? Freespire's only real advantage is the proprietary components. If you don't mind a little work and adding these yourself, then Ubuntu or similar would be a better choice. Other distributions might well be less work in the long run, with only a small amount of work to get proprietary components working. If you absolutely must have the proprietary components pre-installed then I'm still not sure Freespire is quite the cat you're looking for - another distribution, in my opinion, has it beaten in that respect. It's name is SimplyMEPIS 6.0 (review coming soon).

The only other case I can think of where Freespire might be useful is where the proprietary drivers are needed, although I cannot comment upon this since I have never had any driver problems with any distribution of GNU/Linux.

Thus far, I've been pretty negative, but that's not really all that fair. You see, what Freespire (well, Linspire) has recognised is that GNU/Linux is a decent platform for an operating system, but that we cannot cling to being completely open source and appeal to the mass market at the same time. The fact is if we want GNU/Linux to be used by more people, we need a distribution that can play MP3s and Flash videos without having to poke around first. The only problem is that, in my opinion, Freespire has failed to create a watertight, solid distribution to base everything else on. Until Freespire can create that reliable base system, Freespire has limited appeal.

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