Freespire: An Open OS, but Proprietary is No Problemo

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 10, 2008

Many times, when I talk to people who are just dipping their toes into using Linux, they complain that they end up wishing they could use a mix of proprietary drivers, codecs, applications and other tools with their newfound open source applications. Especially for people used to the Windows environment, I usually recommend Freespire in these cases. In this post, I’ll show how Freespire—an open source Linux distribution with tons of plug-ins and extras—creates a great bridge between the worlds of proprietary and open source tools.

The Freespire open source operating system is based on Linspire (which used to be Lindows), and like Lindows always did, it emphasizes a Windows-like interface. The operating system’s core is based on Debian/GNU Linux and Ubuntu. Most importantly, it offers compatibility with proprietary applications and tools, which can ease the frustration new Linux users often have when using exclusively open source applications.

How does Freespire achieve this mixing and matching of the OSS and non-OSS worlds? As stated at the site, “the main Freespire version is approximately 99 percent open source, and it does include certain proprietary drivers, codecs and software in cases where there are no viable open source solutions yet available.” While that may cause open source purists to throw hissy fits, it actually can make all the difference for, say, a Windows user who is just getting into Linux. (There is an entirely open source version of Freespire, too.)

Freespire offers legally licensed support for MP3, Windows Media, QuickTime, Java, Flash, Real, ATI drivers, nVidia drivers, Adobe Acrobat Reader, proprietary WiFi drivers, modem drivers, fonts, and more. When you load Freespire, you already have a number of open source applications at your service, including Firefox, Thunderbird,, and Gaim.

However, Linspire offers a set of services in Freespire called CNR (click-and-run) which you can access through a link in the OS called CNR More. Clicking on CNR More delivers a gigantic list of applications you can seamlessly download and install, from financial applications such as GnuCash, to free proprietary applications such as Adobe Acrobat. It costs $20 a year to use CNR, but you get a 30-day free trial when you begin with Freespire. For anyone you know who wants to start using Linux and open source applications without entirely abandoning the world of proprietary software, take a look at Freespire.

In the comments to a post I did the other day recommending a series of open source business applications in conjunction with several freeware applications several readers weighed in saying that discussion of open source and freeware applications shouldn’t be mixed.

Do you think Freespire cheats the open source system with its support for proprietary tools? Do you think, as I do, that best-of-breed applications exist in the open source, freeware and proprietary worlds simultaneously? I woud be interested in your comments on this.