Why is Ubuntu Succeeding Where Linspire Failed?

Linspire was the Ubuntu of its day, yet it failed despite using tactics that are now succeeding wildly for Ubuntu.
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If you've been a desktop Linux user for any length of time, chances are excellent that you remember a company once called Linspire. At its time of creation, Linspire was brought forth with a very specific mission: Make desktop Linux easy to use while 'one-uping' Microsoft Windows.

Perhaps this is why the original name of both the company and the operating system they sold was called Lindows. After various legal battles with Microsoft however, Lindows eventually became known as Linspire as part of a settlement agreement.

Now for the big question: Why is the Linux community 'reasonably' happy with Ubuntu while Linspire was almost immediately painted as a mockery within Linux universe?

In this article, I’ll explore my own thoughts on this along with publicly known perceptions held by the community at large.

What Linspire did right

Linspire at one time had arguably the easiest to use desktop experience I had ever seen. To me, this became self-evident with the release know as Linspire 5.0, which presented a number of huge improvements over the 4.5 release.

At the time of Linspire 5.0's release, things were very new in the "simple to use" desktop Linux ecosystem. Alternatives to Linspire did exist, but Linspire's offering had more polish to it from a new user's point of view, based on users I had tested the Linux distribution with.

I think it had to be the CNR application management tool, based on apt-get, that completely destroyed the competition from a user convenience point of view.

What Linux purists will likely never admit is that in 2005, Linspire's CNR was the definitive app store for any platform. Evil or wonderful in community perception, CNR made locating, installing and uninstalling software mind-numbingly simple to do. This is not merely my opinion. I found this to be true based on having people who barely knew how to check email using CNR back then. These users couldn't get over how easy it was to add/remove software. And finding out about new applications was surprisingly intuitive as well.

In addition, Linspire made funds available to a number of open source projects, ranging from Kopete to the ReiserFS file system. So while they were not loved by much of the Linux community by any stretch, they did appear willing to support projects used within their Linux distribution.

Where things get fuzzy

From a more traditional Linux users point of view, Linspire crossed lines that many Linux enthusiasts were simply not happy with. These issues include:

1. Linspire was a 'for sale' product. To make matters more controversial, Linspire was driving people to buying the CNR warehouse (aka CNR) memberships as well. This meant users were basically subscribing to a service for ease of use, while accessing open source software along side of proprietary applications.

2. Mixed licenses used. Linspire's CNR was not open source software at the time, in addition to other restricted/proprietary codecs being made available with this Linux distro.+

3. Later deals with Microsoft with regard to IP licenses, a few years later. Worse was the statement in which the company expressed the idea that a Microsoft embrace would provide for a better Linux. Clearly, the Linux community did not share this assessment.

4. Freespire – Too little, too late. By the time Freespire finally found its way forward, we still found a lack of community involvement at the level most users would have liked to have seen. And to the Linux purists, the mixed licensing bundled with easy access to proprietary, Microsoft-blessed code was a major negative. Yet oddly, we're okay with allowing people to do basically the same thing on Ubuntu with Linux distributions like Linux Mint? A bit of a paradox, no?

Flash forward to Ubuntu

The two single biggest things I see Ubuntu doing differently from Linspire is keeping the community involved at all costs, and making sure of constant availability.

Yes, there are people who are paid to work on the Ubuntu project fulltime, but at the end of the day you won't find proprietary codecs or video drivers installed by default. To some this may seem like we're splitting hairs, yet this is a huge deal to many users in the Linux community.

Availability is key. Ubuntu is made available at no cost to anyone. Development is generally considered cutting edge, sourced from the latest work on Debian and tweaked to meet the needs of the most die-hard Ubuntu enthusiast.

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Tags: Linux, Ubuntu, Linux desktop, Linux downloads, open source tools

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