Breaking some Windows

I was intrigued to read recently that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is going to sell a new budget PC line. The hardware, made by Microtel Computer Systems Inc., ranges from a US$300 machine powered by an 850MHz AMD processor to a US$600 box with a 1.8GHz Intel Corp. Pentium 4 processor. While those might seem to be great prices, the thing that makes it possible is that the machines don’t have Windows preinstalled. What they offer instead is LindowsOS.

LindowsOS, from Inc. ( is a heady combination of Linux and Wine.

Wine, according to Wine Development HQ (, is “an implementation of the Windows Win32 and Win16 APIs on top of X and Unix. Think of Wine as a Windows compatibility layer. Wine provides both a development tool kit (Winelib) for porting Windows sources to Unix and a program loader, allowing many unmodified Windows 3.x/95/98/ME/NT/2000/XP binaries to run under Intel Unixes. Wine works on most popular Intel Unixes, including Linux, FreeBSD and Solaris.”

LindowsOS supports most Windows applications with the exception of games – that is to say, it won’t run any application that requires DirectX. What the Lindows folks did to improve on Wine was to focus on supporting applications rather than knocking off support for each Windows API.

This, I am told by John Bromhead, vice-president of marketing for Lindows, lets the company build support for specific target applications, giving it the opportunity to bring the system to market quickly.

Anyway, LindowsOS’ Windows applications support is solid enough to support Windows productivity offerings such as Office 2000 and Lotus Notes. And if you don’t fancy shelling out for Office, LindowsOS, of course, supports Sun’s StarOffice 6.0.

What I find so interesting about StarOffice (which in the 6.0 release, I am told, is solid and fast and can exchange data with Microsoft Office applications) is that the native format of StarOffice applications is XML.This means that once you migrate documents to StarOffice your ability to integrate them into knowledge management systems is much greater than with Microsoft’s native formats.

And this is the key to anyone considering migrating to the likes of LindowsOS – the ability to get your data into the new system. If that is possible, then the next hurdles are having the right applications to work with the data and a framework (an operating system) in which the data and applications exist that is fast, full featured and reliable.

LindowsOS looks capable of doing all this and more, which means that, for the first time, there might be a viable alternative to Microsoft Corp.’s Windows.

Better still, Lindows offers what it calls the Click-n-Run Warehouse, a repository of 1,644 applications that can be installed online with one click. The cost of full access to the library is a paltry US$99 per year.

So let’s assume that LindowsOS is all that it claims to be. Why wouldn’t you consider making it the underpinnings of your corporate IT strategy?

The forthcoming general release will support the majority of PCs (the current Wal-Mart version is optimized for Microtel platforms) and the price of LindowsOS, probably about US$100, will be appealing.

Installing LindowsOS is said to be a few minutes, with networking and other facilities autoconfiguring themselves. Managing Linux-based systems is well-understood and should fit into most net management systems with ease.

In short, Lindows should be a very appealing strategic solution that has significant cost benefits.

So what would it take to get your company to switch? Success stories? Technical proofs? What would it take?

I mean, its not like there aren’t a gazillion IT people who claim to be desperate to jettison Microsoft from their corporate networks.

I think we have here perhaps the first serious contender that could take market share from Microsoft, but what do you need to be convinced?

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at