Linspire Updates Desktop Linux, But Demand Is Weak - VARs

Founded in 2001 as Lindows (a named changed as part of a settlement deal with Microsoft, following a trademark-infringement lawsuit), Linspire has carved out a niche in the Linux desktop field but hasn't achieved the mass-market breakthrough its founders envisioned. Resellers say demand remains light.

"There's just not a lot of customer interest. We're selling a few a week," said TigerDirect CEO Gilbert Fiorentino. TigerDirect, a unit of white box system builder Systemax in Port Washington, N.Y., has been Linspire reseller for years, but the desktop Linux field just hasn't taken off, Fiorentino said. His sense is that users who want Linux on their PCs generally download their preferred distribution and install it themselves, rather than shopping for a preinstalled system.

"We still sell the product, but people just aren't breaking our doors down to get it," he said.

Still, Linspire has its fans, who congregate in areas like the message forums on the Web site. The company's main point of differentiation is CNR ("ClickNRun"), a distribution service that aims to make installing Linux applications a quick, painless process. Linspire 6 includes a beta version of the CNR Client, a built-in tool for once-click application access.

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Linspire 6's release comes two months after the launch of Freespire 2, the free variant of Linspire's Linux distribution. Like Red Hat with its Fedora project and Novell with openSUSE, Linspire pursues a two-pronged, commercial/community development path, supporting work around a free core Linux operating system and separately commercializing the software by adding support and additional proprietary components in its commercial release.

Like Freespire 2.0, Linspire 6 is the first Linspire release built around Ubuntu Linux, replacing the Debian base Linspire previously used as its core. Linspire announced the switch earlier this year, citing Ubuntu's popularity among developers and strong work in building up a Linux desktop user base.

Linspire 6 is also the first version of Linspire's operating system to benefit from Microsoft patent covenants, the controversial Microsoft campaign Linspire signed on for its June. The "interoperability and technical collaboration" deal Microsoft and Linspire and Microsoft struck gives Linspire customers the same kind of "no-sue" patent covenant Microsoft inked with Novell last year, setting off a firestorm of criticism in the Linux community.