System builders differentiate their offerings from those of tier-one vendors by providing customization and bundled services. While this strategy works well with high-end desktop PCs, the story is different at the low end of the market. As hardware prices drop, the operating system is becoming the most expensive piece of the puzzle. Here, tier-one vendors have the advantage of volume discounts and sweetheart deals with top software companies. This is when alternatives such as open-source products and the Linux OS come into play.
Linspire aims to compete in the low-end desktop market with its Linspire Five-0 OS by mimicking Microsoft Windows. Linspire claims its iteration is the easiest flavor of Linux to use. The CRN Test Center installed Linspire Five-0 on several test systems and met with mixed success. Installation on a Pentium 4-based white-box system worked well, with all the hardware properly detected and drivers loaded. Less generic systems were a different story; installation on a Hewlett-Packard Compaq NC6320 proved impossible. The Linspire installer failed with a cryptic CD-ROM read error. Linspire tech support recommended downloading a newer version of the installation CD, which solved the first problem, but created another—the installer application couldn't find a compatible hard drive. A test installation on an IBM ThinkPad T42 worked flawlessly, with all primary hardware identified and the proper drivers loaded.
Installation on existing or tier-one machines shouldn't be an issue for system builders of new white-box PCs, however. Users will find the interface easy to navigate, and all major PC software offerings are well represented.
With a retail price of just less than $50 and a channel program that offers system builders additional discounts, Linspire Five-0 is a tremendous value.
*For a more in-depth review of Linspire Five-O, click here.