Linspire to create free community version of Linux

Linspire, best-known for its commercial distribution of Linux aimed at consumers, said Monday it will create a free, open-source version called Freespire.

The San Diego firm hopes to persuade Linux developers to contribute to Freespire, said Linspire CEO Kevin Carmony, who expects a first public beta version to be ready by August. It will be aimed at tech-savvy users, although Carmony hopes it will also attract the interest of enterprises.

Carmony spoke at the Linux Desktop Summit, held Monday and Tuesday in San Diego. There are about 800 attendees at this year's event, which is aimed at popularizing the use of Linux on the desktop. That's up from about 600 people on hand for the summit last year, organizers said.

Freespire will be similar in concept to the Fedora community version of Red Hat Linux, or Novell's community version of SUSE Linux.

Based on the Debian version of Linux, Linspire claims that more than 350 PC makers, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard Co. and a number of smaller OEMs, installing its operating system.

Linspire heavily touts its CNR software download service bundled with Linspire, which makes the download of Linux software and drivers easier. The vast majority of Linspire's revenues come from selling or supporting CNR, with only 15 percent of its revenues coming from the actual licensing of the operating system, Carmony said. CNR will be bundled with Freespire.

Linspire is also known for a more openly-commercial stance than many other Linux vendors. "We love open-source, but we are business people," Carmony said. "We have different DNA, but our goals are the same. And that can be a good thing."

For instance, CNR, while itself open-source, allows users to download both open-source and closed-source software that costs money, Carmony said. That is in contrast to some other Linux distributions. But this way, users can get "their Twinkies along with their healthy, organic food," he said.

Solving the problem of the general dearth of software for Linux -- an oft-cited reason for its slow adoption on the desktop -- remains tricky, Carmony said. "I tell Adobe, 'Every day you delay bringing out Photoshop for Linux, GIMP [a free open-source photo editing tool] gets better and better,'" he said.

Based on his experience, Carmony also said that pressuring large PC makers to install Linux is not the best way to popularize Linux on the desktop. "We should stop looking to Dell to be the champion for Linux," he said. "When you're king of the hill, you have zero incentive to change. We need to go to the smaller guys, because they'll eventually put pressure on the Hewlett-Packards and Dells of this world."

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