Monday, December 26, 2005

Dell Doldrums and Linspiration

A little over year ago my son received a Dell Dimension 2400 as a Christmas present. Thanks to a combination of clicking where he should and some overzealous antivirus software, he completely lost the networking components and his internet connectivity.

"No problem," says I, "we'll just reinstall the missing components from your OEM disks." As I have a spacious basement, I've kept all of the material that came with the computer, including the original packaging. But guess what... there were no OEM disks. So I determined to look for the missing DLLs in the Options directory commonly used by OEM manufacturers to store the .cab files. Wouldn't you know it, the Dell didn't have that, either.

So I decided to call Dell's famous technical support. It was, of course, expired. Before I could even talk to somebody about providing the materials that they should have included in the first place, they wanted my credit card number and $40. No way. It's not the money, it's the principle. The license to the software was already purchased with the computer. Dell flatly neglected to provide materials to which the buyer is entitled. It is the END USER that is the licensee of Windows XP, NOT DELL. For those asleep at Dell's legal department, that's why it's called an "End User License Agreement". Duh. So I choose not to deal with Dell any longer, and I won't be purchasing any more of their computers, sorry.

On the theory that I'd simply install an existing copy of XP (after all, we do have a valid license... the registration key is on the computer itself) I did exactly that. That's when I discovered that Windows XP knows nothing about the hardware on a Dell Dimension 2400. It recognized neither the Sound, nor the Graphics adapter, nor the NIC card, nor the modem. And without the NIC or modem there's no networking, and no connecting to the Internet to get the proper drivers. (A nice racket Dell and Microsoft have worked out amongst themselves, no?)

So, the answer is, to hell with them both. I installed Linspire, a variant of Debian Linux. Linspire installed immediately, HOURS faster than Windows + updates, and came with the OpenOffice.org productivity suite. It recognized all of the hardware immediately, including his 3D graphics accelerator, recognized the broadband connection with no bloody wizards needed, and secured nicely and securely.

Linspire's CNR (Click and Run) service, at about $25 per year, is absolutely excellent! You will never again see a setup wizard for software. Instead, you simply browse Linspire's CNR Warehouse. When you see a program you want, simply click the green CNR icon next the the program, and a few moments later the program appears in your menus, ready to run. It simply cannot be easier.

For my son it's a breeze. He can use the same Firefox browser and OpenOffice.org productivity software on Linux as he was previously using on Windows. (We don't use MS Office here, as it makes exactly zero financial sense whatsoever on a home machine.) Using GAIM he's also able to connect to all of the same IM services he previously used in Windows. He can burn CDs, play awesome 3D games, listen to MP3s... everything he did in Windows is done faster and more easily in Linspire.

If you haven't tried Linux on your desktop, I wholeheartedly recommend Linspire. If you're staying with Windows because you believe it's somehow "easier", then you're sadly misinformed. Linspire easily outstrips Windows in ease of installation and use.

As long ago as 2002 I predicted that Linux would be ready for home consumers desktops by Christmas of 2004. Though the date came and went without fanfare, Linspire 5.0 proves that the promise has been delivered.

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