Freespire Linux

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Freespire 2.0 - A great free operating system. Try it today!

Apr 25, 2008
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:-FREE -web browser, email client, office apps, and chat client included, and great hardware support

Cons:-poor wireless hardware support -WINE Windows emulation failure -CNR failure

The Bottom Line: As a free Operating System, Freespire is one of the best I've seen, a real winner with a great online technical support community, and broad hardware support.


**If you are already familiar with the Linux OS and would like to go directly to my review of Freespire, skip down to the next section.**

Windows is the popular standard, and Mac is the stylish media pro, so why would you consider Linux? Because it's free.

Many people consider dropping Microsoft in favor of free and open-sourced software solutions every day, but few actually try. This is usually due to the fear of migration - the uncertainty of a different computing environment, the unfamiliar layout of the tools, and there's always the question of support. Who will help you when your computer breaks now?

Freespire is based on Linux, a free operating system that has notably ran servers since before the days of the internet as we know it. Often, Linux appears to the public as merely a grass-roots software community, supported by freelance techs and home-based geeks. However, large companies like Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Novell have been using Linux for years, behind the scenes. Only in the last few years has Linux started getting real attention by common computer users.

There are many distributions of Linux, so what makes Freespire special? You can use it without making changes to your computer! Freespire can run live, directly from the CD, without using, changing, or even needing a hard drive! This means not only is it free, but you can actually try it out without any risk of upsetting your current setup! An easy-to-folow installation program is available right on the desktop, so if you like what you see, you may choose the full installation. Finally, the full install usually takes only FIVE minutes to complete. If you have an old computer with no software,

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Freespire 2.0 - review outline

There are several important factors that any user wants to know about, so we'll line them up and knock 'em down. Each section has a rating as well.

0. Hardware Requirements
1. Internet connection
2. Media support - music CD, audio files, DVD, streaming media
3. MS Office compatibility
4. Wireless support/WEP/WPA-enterprise
5. WINE or Windows emulation
6. Web plugins (flash/java) and overall web function
7. Installing additional software - CNR vs other package management
8. Desktop environment and interface/ printing and networking
9. Personal Impression and Opinions

*For any additional or detailed information, you may consult the official user's guide, found here:
http://wiki.freespire.org/index.php/Freespire_User_Manual

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0. Hardware Requirements

>>8/10 REASONABLE

(Minimum)
a. 1 ghz processor
1 ghz processor is certainly enough, 750 mhz works OK.

b. 256 mb ram
256 mb ram works OK, but having 512 mb really improves performance.

c. CDROM
without a CDROM drive, Freespire is (amlost) useless. See below.

d. compatible network card/modem
see the "Internet Connection" section of the review

There are only two factors that really matter, the processor and memory. I have personally tested Freespire out on slower processors, down to 600mhz, with success, but it became slow and in some cases, unstable. Using less than 256 mb of memory is not suggested, as my computers with 128 mb usually failed to finish loading a desktop environment.

A computer without a CDROM is useless to Freespire, unless you're willing to do a little extra work. You may pre-install the system on a hard drive using another computer, and swap that hard drive in to the intended computer. I've used this method successfully many times.

On a side note, I know plenty of people that have a computer tower tucked away in the closet, that may never be used again, that meets these requirements. So finding a free or cheap old computer to use for Freespire testing should not be hard for most people!

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1. Internet connection

>>8/10 EASY/HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL

If you have high-speed internet, and your computer uses a network card and network cable, then your computer should find and connect automatically to the internet, unless you have security settings on your router that would keep this from happening. Wireless can be a bit trickier, and dialup can be trickier still. Basically put, if your wireless or network card does not appear to work right out of the box, then fixing it will be highly difficult unless you are a Linux veteran.

Nework cards: so far all basic cards I have tried, over fifteen types, have worked without a hitch. This is your best bet for getting a Freespire computer on to the internet without hassle.

Wireless cards: definitely is included, but support for different cards it hit and miss. See "4. Wireless support/WEP/WPA-enterprise" for more information.

Modems: Dialup with Linux has always been a sore subject. Most standard modems that are built-in are NOT Linux compatible. If your laptop has a modem built-in, or your desktop has a PCI card modem, chances are, it will not work with Freespire. If your laptop has a PCMCIA card modem, or your desktop has an old, serial cable style external modem, you should be just fine. Configuration is not difficult, just click "F">run programs>internet>KPPP . The click the "Configure" button button to get started, or the "Help" button, and follow a few prompts to set up the Help program the first time, and you'll have access the the entire KPPP Help guide. It's really not hard.


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2. Media support - music CD, audio files, DVD, streaming media

>>9/10 EXCELLENT

Music CD - YES
Audio Files - YES
DVD - without internet - NO, with internet-YES
Streaming Media - YES


Kplayer is pre-installed and supports CD playback, and most file types. When a music CD is inserted, a window will pop up automatically, giving you several options, just like in Windows. You may choose to use lSongs, which appears to be like iTunes, but I highly suggest the use of KPlayer. When you attempt to open a media file by double-clicking, Kplayer will open and play it automatically, just like Windows Medial player.

DVD support can be installed easily, but it requires access to the internet, so out-of-the-box, and without internet connection, DVD is unavailable. If your computer has successfully connected to the internet, you may enable DVD playback as such: open a terminal (command prompt) window, and type:
sudo sh /usr/share/doc/libdvdread3/install-css.sh

You may need to enter your administrator password, but once the script is finished, you may open KPlayer and click "File">DVD Device>Play Disk. Good stuff!

Streaming videos and online games are almost fully supported, because Firefox is pre-packaged with the Flash and Java plugins. See "6. Web plugins (flash/java) and overall web function"

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3. MS Office compatibility

>>8/10 DECENT

Freespire has OpenOffice.org preinstalled, which is almost completely compatible with MS Office. Documents, spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations can be created and edited using this free suite. The new .docx files are automatically supported, and open in OpenOffice.org automatically when double-clicked. Excel .xlsx files however, are not yet supported. OpenOffice.org may have some solutions on thier web site.

For most standard stuff, OpenOffice.org will work great. Just make sure to save your files in a 97/200/xp format, and you'll be set. The options menu allows this to happen automatically, so you may want to set it before any heavy use.

OpenOffice.org is its own independent project, and more information can be found here: http://www.openoffice.org/

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4. Wireless support/WEP/WPA-enterprise

>>5/10 POOR HARDWARE SUPPORT/ GOOD PROTOCOL SUPPORT

This is usually where any trial of Freespire will fall flat. Typically, either your wireless will work, or it will not. I have made many attempts to fix and configure a wireless card that does not work out-of-the-box with Freespire, with countless failures.

So far, perhaps one third of all wireless cards have worked out of the box. Success with PCMCIA wireless cards in laptops is much higher than standard PCI wireless cards in desktops. It's really just hit and miss. If the card works, that's great, but if not, you may just want to search the net for a Linux compatible wireless card. The need to purchase new hardware for your Freespire computer, however, may be defeating the whole point.

If the wireless card is working, you will be connected automatically to your wireless network, so long as it is completely open, and without security settings.

Security configurations have proven good; I have had success with WEP, WPA-PSK and WPA-Enterprise wireless configurations.

Basically, if your wireless card works, you should be able to connect to any wireless network, given you know the settings. The security dialog boxes are easy to navigate, and if you're familiar with setting up your own wireless you should have no problems with the nicely laid out configuration windows.

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5. WINE or Windows emulation

>>0/10 BROKEN.

This feature exists for Freespire, as for most incarnations of Linux. However, the WINE package available for Freespire is broken. I have attempted countless times to install WINE, and each attempt appears to make a successful install. However, when launched, nothing happens. Issuing a wine [filename] command in the terminal does nothing at all. No error, no launch. Hopefully this will be fixed in the near future, because the ability to install and run standard Windows software would allow users to overcome almost all issues with migration.

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6. Web plugins (flash/java) and overall web function

>>8/10 VERY GOOD

Firefox has flash and java pre-installed. Youtube works perfectly and flash games work great. Shockwave may not work, I have not had the chance to test yet.

NOTICE:: Some sites, like www.discovery.com (Discovery Channel) and Netflix have online movie and episode viewing that DOES NOT support Firefox, and will only work on a computer using the Internet Explorer web browser. You may attempt to install Internet Explorer on your Freespire system, but be warned: my attempts crashed my system and I had to completely re-install Freespire. Go to http://www.tatanka.com.br/ies4linux/page/Main_Page for more information. It also requires WINE, which does not seem to work in Freespire. WINE has it's own section; "5. WINE or Windows emulation" which explains this.

UPDATE:: Another computer, using a different version of Linux, has successfully installed the IEs for Linux package. Upon using Internet Explorer 6.0 to visit the Netflix web site web site, I was STILL NOT ABLE to play instant view movies. The page clearly displayed the message, "Your system is incompatible." At least I got to try...

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7. Installing additional software - CNR vs other package management

>>7/10 CNR is BROKEN, ALTERNATIVES GOOD

Freespire 2.0 has CNR (Click N Run), which is BROKEN. In Freespire 1.0, an earlier version of CNR was included which was functional, and greatly inspired my interest in Freespire and Linux in general.
In theory, CNR is an incredible service, which I would like to see reach its fruition. Visit cnr.com to get a better idea, but envision an online shopping mall full of great software with a very good search engine. Include lots of free software and top it off with a button that will install any program AUTOMATICALLY, from WITHIN THE WEB PAGE! It's clearly one of the best ideas for software distribution ever - putting tons of free software in an easy to navigate environment, and let the user install anything with just one click - no downloads, no saves, no more finding that setup file and running it.
Unfortunately, the version of CNR which is included in Freespire 2.0 does not work properly. It takes about five minutes to open the first time (during which your computer is halted) and fails to install most software properly. Many times, it will appear to succeed, even placing an icon in the "F" menu, but that new program will not launched when called. Usually, it will just hang halfway through progress, and nothing more. I sincerely hope that this is fixed in future versions of Freespire, because CNR would be an incredible tool, allowing for much better migration into the unfamiliar Linux world.

For practical, easy to use software installation, I suggest installing Synaptic Package Manager. It works well, and runs quickly. To install it, follow these simple steps:

Open a Terminal window, and enter the following command:
sudo apt-get update (enter your administrative password when prompted)
Wait for updates to finish and then enter:
sudo apt-get install synaptic
Agree and let it finish installing. Give it a try - it's well worth it.


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8. Desktop environment and interface/ printing and networking

>>9/10 VERY GOOD

KDE desktop environment is the standard in Freespire, and it does its job well.

Mostly, Freespire has a solid desktop environment, and a very comprehensive setup, with good right-click menu options for files, and user friendly configuration in the systems settings windows.

A straight-forward task bar with a clock, date, and familiar icons for network, sound, and power settings.

On the left is another familiar feature, the "F" button functions the same as the traditional START button.

Next to it is the "quick start" toolbar equivalent, with icons to open the trash, launch a terminal window, open the file browser (Konquerer - an EXCELLENT file manager that deserves an entire review of its own), and icons for Firefox (web browser), Thunderbird (email client), Pidgin (multi-service chat client) and the "Clear Desktop" button, which minimizes all windows.

Eye candy is mostly limited to semi-transparent menus and heavy use of screen-font smoothing. This is perfect, because most machines that people would consider using Freespire for are older, second-use machines, and likely would not hold up well in a graphics-intensive environment.

Printing has proven to be easy, far easier than most Linux distributions I have tested. I dare say that Freespire has gotten right on this aspect what most others have failed miserably: printer installation and sharing. No direct instruction is necessary. Just open the system settings window, go to peripherals, and follow the dialogs to install the printer. I've tried at least eight different printers, and each worked flawlessly. Even better, print sharing was a snap as well. I was quite surprised to find this great feature.

Network file sharing is easy as well, much like setting up a share in Windows. Just open the "Network Share Manager" on the desktop, and start setting up shares!
To reach a shared file on another computer, just open your file browser, and in the address bar, type three backslashes \\\ and hit enter. Now you're browsing your home network!


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9. Overall Impression and Opinions

Now, we get past all of the ratings and I state my real opinion about Freespire 2.0. I tried to sum up this section with a number rating, but found it difficult to do. Freespire certainly accomplishes many of the tasks that one would want a cheap/free/reused computer to do: web browsing, word processing and spreadsheets, and even some games.

Over the past two years I have tried to completely escape my reliance upon Microsoft Windows, and have tested many different distributions of Linux, and out of these, Freespire has come out on top of all other distributions. If I were to choose just one Linux system to go with, currently, it would definitely be Freespire 2.0.

Having said that, however, I must state that after two years of trying, I cannot completely migrate to Freespire, or any Linux system. Each version of Linux has its shortcommings that keep it from accomplishing all the things that I would personally require in a single, stand-alone computer.

There are only a few things that would need to be fixed for Freespire to become the best free Windows alternative for normal users:

-built-in DVD support
-full compliance with MS Office files
-FIX the CNR system!!!
-better wireless operation

Finally, I have to say that Freespire is and EXCELLENT tool and a GREAT opportunity for those who wish to revive and old computer, or experiment with a Linux system. It has many great features and an excellent online community for technical support. I would gladly install this system on and old computer and hand it to a novice without fear. It would in fact be a better system for an inexperienced user than for a normal user, because while a new user will only see what works, and be happy, the rest of us will likely be let down with the little things we must give up, and ultimately find it too much of a compromise.

This software has a special place in the CDROM carrier that I keep with me at work, right along with my copy of Windows XP Pro, and another, smaller Linux version that I use for data recovery. It is a great system and I love what it can do. I usually use Freespire to test and build computers, because the hardware support is excellent, and once a legal copy of Windows has been provided, the upgrade is made.

I may not use this system on my main computer, but I will certainly never leave home without it! Give it a try and see for yourself - you just may find yourself a new tool, or a new system!




Recommend this product? Yes

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