Industry experts have said the Lindows operating system could become a viable open source alternative to Windows on the desktop, writes Karl Cushing.
Lindows.com has taken an operating system that is relatively hard to use - the Debian version of Linux - and given it a user-friendly graphical interface. It is compatible with some Windows applications, including the 2000 editions of Excel, Word and Powerpoint, and a subscription-based service allows users to download and install open source software products such as Sun's Staroffice 6.0.
Its makers claim LindowsOS delivers the power, stability and cost-savings of Linux with the ease of Windows.
Graham Taylor, director of open source promotion body OpenForum Europe, said Lindows' increasing acceptance in the consumer space and improved availability will "create a groundswell that will percolate through to business strategy".
However, Taylor's welcome for LindowsOS is tempered by caution. "I would like a bit more evidence and a better understanding on interoperability and integration issues - especially with Microsoft products," he said.
Dan Kusnetzky, system software analyst at IDC, said organisations relying on Windows applications need to be aware of the difference between making an application run in a foreign environment and supporting it.
"If the organisation feels confident enough in its capabilities for supporting Microsoft applications on Linux, it might be worthwhile considering Linux and, thus, Lindows," Kusnetzky said.
LindowsOS began life bundled with low-cost computers sold through US retail outlets such as Wal-Mart, and it has only recently become available as a separate product.
Lindows.com is now targeting the lucrative US education sector, where its licensing programme allows schools to install the operating system on an unlimited number of computers for just $500 a year.
However, there are hurdles to overcome before Lindows conquers the world. Lindows.com is facing a lawsuit Microsoft has filed against it in the US alleging an infringement of its Windows trademark.
As well as the court case with Microsoft, scheduled for April, Lindows has caused splits within the open source community. Several key participants pulled out of the Lindows-sponsored Desktop Linux Summit this month, accusing the firm of trying to monopolise the event. Lindows.com has also been left out of new Linux promotion body the Desktop Linux Consortium, whose members include Mandrakesoft, SuSE and Lycoris.
Eddie Bleasdale, director at consultancy group Netproject, said Lindows is "a perfectly good operating system". However, he said IT bosses should not just be looking at the operating system, they should be looking at their architecture as well. "IT directors and IT managers who are not looking at Linux on the desktop are not doing their job properly," he said.
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July 2001 Lindows.com set up in San Diego
Jan 2003 Lindows Media Centre software launched to compete directly with Microsoft's Media Centre XP
Feb 2003 Walmart.com begins selling LindowsOS 3.0 Membership Edition, with a one-year membership to the Lindows.com software Warehouse, for $98.72 (£60). It can also be ordered from the UK
April 2003 Microsoft and Lindows go to court to decide if the use of the Lindows name infringes on the Windows trademark.