Freespire 1.0 - Free is in the name for a reason

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This entry was posted on 8/15/2006 8:39 PM and is filed under Distros.

The history of Freespire is like a movie plot, with nuances of a Phoenix rising from ashes, Rocky, Mission Impossible and a bit of Ground Hog day all wrapped up in a single OS. Born as OS to directly rival Windows, the original name of Lindows sparked some concerns in Redmond and many lawsuits later a new name was born: Linspire. Now many in the Linux community did not like the approach taken by Michael Robertson and gang, likening the distribution to a bad copy of Windows and a poor Linux distribution to boot. I for one gave them a shot just for the fact that they stood toe to toe with the giant in the northwest and won (MS may dispute this, but if you just have to change a name after all the publicity created, hell sign me up).

So earlier this year Kevin Carmony announced to much fanfare that the Linspire company was starting an OpenSource project call Freespire. The news took some by suprise, while some on the inside of Linspire figured it was inevitible. With Ubuntu gaining so much ground in the community and openSuse drawing more attention to Novell, something had to happen. Freespire would be coming soon. After a few decent Beta copies, on August 9th, the first version appeared.

I had tested many of the Alpha and Beta releases, so the final production version was just icing on the cake. I am very pleased with the overall performance and look of Freespire, so lets get too it, shall we???


Download Here
Kernel - 2.6.14
Desktop - KDE 3.3.2 Freespire Enhanced (An older version, but extremely stable
FAQs -
Cost - FREE!!! However CNR Warehouse does come at a cost of $19.95 for basic service per year $49.95 for Gold
Special Features - CNR and the options for Propriertary codec version or an OSS free version, and did I mention FREE!!!!!

Nitty Gritty:

Installation (

The way to install an OS tells a lot about what you get later. I simply feel that if they can't get this part right, how are they going to get anything else correct. First impressions are everything and I think that some people really need to spend more than an hour getting this right. Freespire basically has the same installation routine as Linsire 5.0, but it worked well there. There is an option for running the install disk as a Live OS and also an addition of a Parition manager in the boot manager from the disk.

I always suggest booting the system in Live mode whenever it is an option so that you can get an idea of how the OS will run with your hardware. It isn't fool proof, but odds are if it doesn't load in the Live mode, it won't run after an install either.

I am not a big fan of the partitioning being seperated from the installation, as most newbies won't understand what this is, nor how to do it, nor is this version very user intuitive. Basically this alone reduces on Pennie from the score. If your system is already partitioned, this isn't a big deal, but for Windows crossovers this will be a huge negative. We will walk you through using this feature later if you need help, but the one thing that always shines on Freespire/Linspire is the awesome user community. The only community as helpful and responsive I have seen to day would be Ubuntu.

This is an extremely informative welcome screen and lets you know to do what we just suggested and run Live before trying to install and the location for support. However, my only issue with that is that it assumes that you have another computer available to get to that site. I wish people would think about that when they make these suggestions in that many people only own one PC and just can't go to a website for support. A nice 800 number or 619 (San Diego) number for support might be nice, or an ability to have a help link on the screen with a simple wiki installation directions or roadmap would greatly improve the look and comfort for the newbie.

There are basically two options for the installation; Full and Advanced. Full is basically watch out below, here it comes option that just does what the coders think it should: Take over the world. If you have another partition of Windows or other Linux, I would strongly recommend that you do the Advanced option, although that is a bit of a misleading statement. The only options in the Advanced tabs are to choose which partition (if you knew to make one in the first place) and if you wish to have the MBR updated. Now there is a little blurb in the text there that tells you if you needed a partition created that you should have alread done so, or that you now need to reboot and select that option from the drop down. This reminds me of that MASH show where they were working on the bomb. "Cut the blue wire.....but first, cut the red wire next to the blue wire." You can't allow people to go down the road for miles only to then tell them of the exit. Now, the one improvement over Linspire 5.0 is that there wasn't even a partitioning tool there, so C for the effort, D for the implementation.

Once you get past that, either on the first or second go around (hopefully if you read this first, you will know to partition before you get started) you will get the "are you really sure you wish to do that?" question that just bothers me. I mean, the other option to take over the entire hard disk asks the same question. I get why they do it, but sometimes these idiot questions are a bit over the top. Oh well, can't have everything can you.

Then you are off to the races. Installation takes between 8-15 minutes, really depending on the size of your PCs hard drive and overall performance. Not bad and there are some nice little pictures along the way describing what you are getting into with Freespire.

The complete screen is next and reminds you to remove your installation disk so that you don't go through this again. It is not what I would call user friendly, but it is about average across many distributions. Three Pennies is a bit of a stretch, but other than the partitioning snafu, everything else is pretty clear.

Starting ( )

I never understand why people don't follow distros like Suse and spend some time on the boot screen. First impressions again, right? This one is so simple it is painful. One thing that has been noted by myself and others is that Freespire does not do a decent job of finding other distros other than Windows. I personally feel that this is due to their drive mapping in the OS, but more on that later.

(Note some of these screens are from Freespire's website as I was having issues with my screen capture function, I give them full credit, but for some reason they still have their Beta background snapshots up instead of updates}

I love the boot screens as it really keeps the eye candy alive while waiting for the system to boot. It is one of those nice features that some people forget about, but here is done well. What happened to the installation, I have no clue.

Once in the OS for the first time, the system will bring up the EULA for you to agree to. This is super simple and nothing in there should scare even the most paranoid out there.

Next the system will allow you adjust all your network settings, first your sound with a nice slider to adjust your volume, which is a nice way to test your sound against what the system chose for you. I have heard of some issue with JACK, but personally have no experienced them.

The desktop is pretty much plain old KDE, and since it is from the 3.3.2 variety, don't expect many bells or whistles but do expect the system to work. Firefox has been customized for Linspire, but you can install the generic from CNR once you get there.

The little icon in the bottom right of the toolbar is the CNR icon and you might see another with a Blue arrow moving or circles moving around the little running man. CNR is the repository for Linspire and the bread and butter of their offering. It is by far the most user friendly and complete listing of software available to Linux users. The "warehouse" includes free software, drivers, kernels, patches, and for sale pieces such as CodeWeavers, Win4Lin, games such as Cold War and other pieces that you can purchase at a discount, if your are a Gold Member. A regular member can get the Free software and purchase the other packages, just without the discount. Now in Freespire is one new avenue, which is that apt-get is more functional that before in Linspire and provides flexibility of other repositories such as Ubuntu's while offering the advanced offerings of CNR. I for one think CNR is what clearly sets Freespire/Linspire apart from the field and will for some time to come.

CNR is also availble to the user from the Launch icon structure in each sub branch. By simply selecting the CNR expansion, one can select the package they want and then CNR launches on that page and they have the option to install. Another neat trick is that you can install from the website for CNR and that too will launch CNR on your computer. The hits keep coming and coming for CNR.

As mentioned briefly before, there are two levels of CNR subscriptions: Basic and Gold. Pricing between the two options has a big gap, $19.95 for basic and $49.95, and the benefit of Gold is pretty small. There is a table to describe the benefit, but unless you plan on purchasing the kitchen sink, most newbies will be happy with the Basic plan to start with. As your needs grow, then you could look into Gold later.

One thing that really is nice for Freespire is the video and wireless support on PCs, especially laptops. In their efforts to truly support proprietary drivers, they really hit the nail on the head in that most video cards and wireless adapters work out of the box. Now having said this, my laptops ATI Mobility Radeon 9600 did not get full 1280x800 resolution, but that is the case on Linspire as well (I ask and ask, and still asking for some help, but have honestly been too busy to push it). Wireless is accomplished by pre-loading NDISWRAPPER drivers galour. This was no easy task and is a really good way to keep this out of the kernel and still allow some user flexibility without having to know how to add/remove kernel packages and modules.

Bonus Stuff (

The number one item that is bonus in Freespire, other than CNR that really is a Linspire leftover, is the packaging of the proprietary codecs and drivers in the base package and then an optional OSS version free for the FSF lovers of the world. I don't mind these free systems and understand those that want total control, but those people also should realize there are people in the world that just don't want to spend the weeks it can take to get one of those systems functional. Time is more valuable than spending money on packages or losing some controlls. I for one like the middle ground that FrQuick Blog: Blog Administrationeespire offers, in that they pay the bill for this through support from Linspire and donations so users just don't have to worry about it.

So everything really works out of the box, minus the DVD, but that can easily be obtained from CNR in a couple of different options. You can see those before you install on the Web CNR here. There is a package for PowerDVD that if you plan on watching movies will pay for the GOLD subsription with its $40 discount. This isn't some crappy fly by night DVD player but rather a CyberLink offering that works extremely well.

There are two packages unique to Linspire that Freespire enjoys which are Lphoto and Lsongs. Another project by Linspire founder Michael Robertson is, which probably helped spawn Lsongs, which is a truly simple music manager. I for one like Amarok, which is also in the warehouse, but that is personal preference.

The other project that sees itself in the Freespire offering is the Gizmo Project, or VoIP client that compares with Skyp. It is a SIP protocal user that really has some interesting offerings, including free calls to any phone that is registered with their system. Check it out and this works for Windows and Apple as well.

So wireless works, Video cards work (for the most part), MP3 out of the box, DVD with a couple of clicks and LEGALLY done, and a clean desktop that will keep the windows lovers happy and the KDE Linux lovers in the works as well. It truly is a desktop that fullfills The World's Easiest desktop Linux! branding that comes over from Linspire, along with the FREEdom and FREEprice that many Linux lovers expect in their distribution.

Overall ( )

So what do I think overall? (if you care, right ) Freespire is truly a distro that allows Linux lovers to get their hands dirty and the newbies to have their simplified desktop that functions 95% of the way MS does right out of the box. The installation is not the easiest by far, nor the lack of a partitioning agent built into the process. But knowing that before hand you will hopefully work through that mine field unscathed and get to the meat on the table: Proprietary drivers, CNR that allows packages to be found and installed in a single click, apt-get flexibility, and a community second to none.

So give it a shot and tell me what you think. You should at least try the live version and keep that around so that if you Windows dies you will have a way to get files off your PC. That alone is worth the time of downloading.


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    • 8/15/2006 11:27 PM C C Chakkaradeep wrote:
      Hi Kevin,

      Good review... :)

      Yes, the freespire wiki has to be updated with the new screenshots by removing BETA :)

      Can you add showing Synaptic in process, so that people will come to know that CNR is not the only choice and they do have Synaptic/apt-get, well, Pictures speak more than words :)

      Freespire Community Board Member.
      Reply to this
      1. 8/15/2006 11:59 PM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        Hey C.C.

        Thanks for the feedback and yes I was planning on a screen shot of Synaptic, but was lacking some internet connectivity when I was collecting those. I did mention the apt-get which I think really will attract a lot of positive feedback from the Debian crowds.

        Glad to know the wiki has been updated, will try and update my pics as well.


        KnoLinuxGuy (Kevin)
        Reply to this
    • 8/16/2006 7:52 AM andrew wrote:
      I agree with you comments in regards to FSF lovers.
      I started using Linux with RedHat 5. It was fun before to get the computer configured and working properly, but now I am married and have a family. I dont have the time nor inclination to spend a weekend or more hunting drivers and editing scripts.
      I like Linspire because it works. Will be trying Freespire as well.
      Thanks for the review

      Reply to this
      1. 8/16/2006 7:56 AM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        I know that feeling Andrew. I spent the previous 3 years as a telecom consultant living in hotels and last year got married (to my wonderful wife who lets me break her laptop every once and a while) who hated me loading this distro and that, spending hours upon hours trying to get my video card loaded. That frustration is really what is driving me to publish a lot of what I do, so she can see it is more than just my hobby, but a way to help others based on my experiences and knowledge (what little there is).

        Thanks for the feedback and best wishes

        KnoLinuxGuy (Kevin)

        Reply to this
    • 8/21/2006 2:06 PM Lee wrote:
      Hi! I run a small computer support and repair company in the UK, but up to now have held off from dipping my toe in the Linux pond.
      Although I have been reading reviews and browsing Linux sites I have always been put off by the amount of commands that seem to be required to be typed into the console just to make something simple function - I gave up using DOS years ago and really have no urge to go back to flexing my brain that much.
      So, after seeing Freespire mentioned on a site a few days ago I thought I would take the plunge - and now I am addicted! It really did not take any time to install, then configure the desktop to the way I like it, and despite a total lack of knowledge of Unix filing systems (I forgot all that when I left college 20 years ago!), I soon had it seeing all my NTFS partitions with full read and write access ... though I have now changed that to read only after reading that it MIGHT not be a good idea after all :)
      Overall I am really impressed, and I have signed for the CNR and it really does work!
      I already have a customer wants me to build a brand new Freespire box for her to use email, play solitaire and type letters on. Why pay £££$$$ to MS just to do those simple things?
      I am impressed! Now, if I can only just get my Plantronics USB headset to make some sound ;)
      Reply to this
    • 8/22/2006 7:18 AM c.cacioppo wrote:
      Thanks for a fair review. In spite of the fanfare for Freespire, in my case its not ready for primetime. On one machine I reload it a number of times and never had any more than 48 hrs of stability before it self destructed.
      On a laptop top it never made it to the live cd stage.

      My solution was to ditch this distro for Ubuntu 6.06 which installed and has existed quite well on the same hardware.
      Reply to this
    • 11/16/2006 12:48 PM james logan wrote:
      ive been using freespire since beta 2 was released and have only had to reinstall it once and that was when the released the version 1 of it. every other linux distro i have used has always ended up with my using windows again within a few days due to some issue or another but low and behold almost 3 months down the line and ive removed windows entirely, still miss halo online i must admit but legends is shaping up to be an admiral replacement just need a few more people to play it is all. other versions of linux i have tried gave me no end of problems the worst being kubuntu which cost me 2 hdd and fedora which left me with 2 corrupt partitions, linux and windows xp, shant be changing from freespire for some time as it is has for me been so far very stable and extremely fun to use
      Reply to this
    • 1/2/2007 7:09 AM Peter wrote:
      Thanks for the review. As a Linux user of 8 weeks, Freespire seems to be the best, since it is the only distro that runs my wireless card : D-Link DL-G650+. The following would not: Ubuntu 6.10; Ulteo; MEPIS; Knoppix 5.1. I was really surprised that these highly-rated distros would not run a normal wireless card.
      CNR is now free and there is apt-get, although some of the software is a little past its sell by date.
      Version 2 is due out 1 March, which should show some significant improvements - according to the forums. and the road map. We are promised a new open-source CNR with swifter updating of software in the repositories. This update, together with the existing (probably best there is) hardware support, should make Freespire the distro of choice for those coming over from Windows.
      Reply to this
      1. 1/2/2007 9:02 AM KnoLinuxGuy wrote:
        Thanks for the comments. The reason that most of those other cards didn't catch your wireless and Freespire did is that Freespire includes a lot of cards in ndiswrapper with the basic build. They do this to try an capture 90% of the wireless cards out there, based on popularity. All you would have had to do really is install your card via ndiswrapper and those other systems would have worked for you. If you go to your prompt and run 'ndiswrapper -l' you will see all the cards that are listed. I even included a list of the preloaded ndiswrapper in the review. If you don't have your windows drivers, go to

        To install, run 'ndiswrapper -i {name of windows file}.inf'
        then 'demod -a'
        then 'modprobe ndiswrapper'
        then 'ndiswrapper -m'

        This should never preclude you from trying out any linux distro, as most wireless cards are proprietary, and technically shipping a distro with proprietary drivers is against the GPL. Just ask those who get flak from including Video from ATI and Nvidia like Kororaa and now Freespire themselves. I don't think Kevin Carmony cares too much on other people's opinion on this subject, but some have removed these due to pressure, mainly from the FSF.

        So I am glad you like Freespire, it is a solid distro. I am now testing the 2.0 Alpha build, but there are some issues right now that are keeping me from reviewing it, like say being able to boot up =) But I hardly ever review anything that is Alpha, or even Beta.

        Glad to see you moved away from the dark side, let us know how things are going.

        Thanks again and best wishes



        Reply to this
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