While Linux has stalled somewhat in its attempt to take over the PC desktop market, I still believe that this open source solution has it what it takes to satisfy the needs of most users, especially those who simply need email, Web access, word processing, and other basic services. My favorite Linux distribution, Ubuntu (see my review), is particularly well suite for business users. But another distribution, Linspire (formerly known as Lindows), is making waves with consumers, thanks to its installation deals on PCs sold at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and other high-profile locations.

Despite both being based on Linux, Ubuntu and Linspire couldn't be less alike. Unlike the free Ubuntu, you have to pay for Linspire ($50 for the downloadable version). For the money, you might expect a more polished product, and that's true, if only on the surface. Because Linspire uses the candy-colored KDE graphical environment by default (compared to the more corporate and, in my opinion, pleasant-looking GNOME environment used by Ubuntu), it's got a colorful, splashy sheen to it (Figure). I find the look distracting--like an amateur rip-off of Mac OS X Tiger (see my review)--but it has its fans.

Like Ubuntu, Linspire tries not to overwhelm you with too many choices (Figure). So you get one excellent office productivity suite--OpenOffice.org--and not several. And you get one Web browser, which is simply named Web Browser in the UI, that's based on the Mozilla browser suite. That sort of simplification can be found throughout Linspire, and it's arguably a good idea. In Linspire, GAIM is called Instant Messaging and Mozilla Mail and Newsgroups is called Email Client, so as not to confuse people. If you're moving to Linux from Windows, these simple names will make the transition easier.

There are other benefits to Linspire. Because it is a commercial Linux distribution, you get DVD playback capabilities out of the box, a feature other Linux distributions cannot add because there are no (legal) open source DVD players thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Linspire also supports Microsoft's Windows Media formats out of the box, which is rare. And the company runs an online software store and service, called Click and Run (CNR) Warehouse that makes it easy to find and install the latest Linux applications (Figure). The downside is that CNR is not free. But, as with Linspire itself, the cost is justified by the error-free, handholding experience you get.

So, can I recommend Linspire? Yes, if you're interested in Linux but have failed previously with more traditional distributions because you lack the technical skills needed to run this system, Linspire might just be what you're looking for. It's also a good bet for anyone looking for an interesting half-way house between true open source systems and Windows. I'm not a big fan of the KDE eye candy personally, but that's just personal preference. So I'll be sticking with Ubuntu for a number of reasons, I suspect that Linspire will find fans as well. If you do use Linspire, I'd be interested to hear what persuaded you.