Testdriving Freespire Beta2 (Build 0.0.76)
The folks from Linspire/Freespire released their latest beta for public testing on July 25. Freespire is the open source version of the commercial proprietary Linspire distribution. Freespire offers users a chance to run the user-friendly great-looking system without an initial purchase. One can choose to purchase extra and proprietary software if desired, but Freespire is a complete system itself. Tuxmachines tested this latest beta to see how it's doing.
When one boots the system they are give a chance to start the installer or boot the system as a live cd. I believe this is the only system I've tested that does it this way. The installer is great looking with it polished buttons and check boxes and its beautiful background. The live cd boots up in a silent mode by default behind a really tasteful splash screen. Hitting escape will bring up the verbose mode, which scrolls white text over a background almost identical to the silent splash - minus the progress bar. It's wonderful little touches like this that make this distro feel very professional.
When booting as a live cd, one is presented with some configuration options such as timezone and sound then auto-logged into the KDE 3.3.2 desktop. It has lots of great looking touches such as the really pretty wallpaper of various blue hues in a whispy wavy pattern. The Kmenu button is a another customized addition looking very much like the kbfx offerings that have become so popular. Freespires version has a cool icon and the word Launch on another blue background.
In the menus one can find at least one application for the various common computer tasks. Most are open sourced KDE applications customized with fantastic icons and a great windec. Some are newer versions while others are beginning to become a bit outdated. For example, Firefox and Thunderbird are 126.96.36.199 while OpenOffice is 2.0. Also in the menu are some configuration tools, system utilities, and help links. Missing from the menu is a system installer. One must boot that option at the boot screen.
Basic hardware detection was good and performance was surprising even from the live cd. Nvidia proprietary drivers are included and multimedia support is good as well. I could play any of the commonly downloaded video formats such avis, mpegs, or even bins. There was a Macromedia Flash player as well as Real player too.
It is quite obvious that CNR is a big factor in the Freespire releases. Linspire was once considered an almost evil element in the Linux community. It was likened to Microsoft in many ways. This was due to their using free open source software, customizing it, and then releasing their system for a fee. The kicker was they didn't release any of their work back into the open source community. First revising their initial plans of supporting Windows applications and then finally releasing an open sourced version of their system helped alleviate this ill will. However, the roots are still visible in CRN. Click and run is their software package manager of sorts, but it requires a subscription fee to access the repositories. Most of the applications in this repository derived from the open source community. Thanks to cpd747 for pointing to the faq that states there are repositories available and accessible through the apt-get from the commandline. Yet it still feels very much like Freespire was born to sell CRN, not that trying to make money is a bad thing.
The CRN software itself appears to be easy to use, however I became turned around or started moving in circles when trying to use the 15 day free trial. This free trial consists of only five applications. One is this desktop weather gdesklet. Others include Frozen Bubble, Sticky notes, and Mahjongg.
So in conclusion, I think Freespire is a wonderful system for the new windows convert who doesn't mind a modest subscription fee to use the CRN Warehouse. The CRN software seems easy to use. The system is really great looking and that's an important factor. It's a bit disappointing that the KDE version and some other applications are a bit outdated. However, the menus are laid out logically and applications are named for easy identification and use. The live cd performance was above average and one could only expect better with a hard drive install. Overall it was a nice professionally polished system.
The Release Notes state there will be two final releases. One will be "the regular, complete version, comprised largely of open source software, but which also includes proprietary codecs, drivers and applications for an enhanced, "out-of-the-box" user experience." The other will be the "Freespire OSS Edition - This version removes any software that isn't licensed as open source. This version will have limited functionality, as it will not, out-of-the box, support MP3, Real, Java, Flash, QuickTime, Windows Media, ATI drivers, nVidia drivers, etc."