Two sides to the same story: Linspire are releasing a freely-available, freely-distributable, community-led, Debian-based Linux distribution (sound familiar?) to be called Freespire. Linspire’s edge is that they will distribute non-free drivers, such as for nVidia or ATi graphics cards, as part of the core distribution, and not from optional repositories a la Ubuntu.
Jono Bacon, who is on the Leadership Board of Freespire, is genuinely excited about Open Source and distro diversity, and I’d trust his opinion to be as unbiased as possible. Meanwhile, Pamela Jones over at Groklaw is characterising Freespire as Satan’s Distro. Yes, binary non-free, non-open drivers are Bad. But think about the first thing a new user of Ubuntu does — and when I say user, I don’t mean an average Linux geek, I mean a Joe Bloggs user, a wants to read e-mail and buy stuff off Amazon user — is to look for ways to play their MP3 collection, or watch a DVD, or go to a website with Flash, or listen to BBC Real streams, or … You see my point? The Ubuntu forums are littered with requests to just Make Stuff Work™. This is undoubtedly the market Linspire is targetting, and it is a market.
Is Jono wrong to be associated with this distro? Is Pamela right to vilify it? I’ve no doubt that while Freespire is a noble effort by a company well steeped in commercialism, it’ll survive with a niche of its own; not a huge niche, but a cult following nonetheless. Ubuntu is a steamroller of a distro with a strong ethical community. Freespire just won’t have the momentum to keep up. I really don’t know what Pamela is worried about.
Note that this isn’t SquiggleOS, the original attempt to create a free version of Linspire which began under the same name. SquiggleOS has now been abandoned in favour of Freespire development. Also note that SquiggleOS lead Andrew Betts is a Leadership Board member too.