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Lindows Usability

Even if a user gets past the installation stage, the battle is far from won. The next major test is the usability of the operating system. By usability, I'm referring to how easily a user can achieve his or her goal, and what sort of guidance is built into the OS to point the user in the right direction. While Windows may be notorious for many things, this is one area in which they excel. With Windows XP, the user is led through setting up user accounts, getting online, setting up a home network, and more. This is the competition, which means that Lindows must also provide an understandable interface to the many components of its operating system.

With the impact that Microsoft has had on the world of computing, people expect to be able to access their programs and files via the desktop and a menu, generally located in the lower-left corner of the screen. I don't know whether this is what Lindows was attempting to imitate, or they independently determined that it was the best location based on countless testing and user group studies. In either case, Lindows obviously understands that users want easy access to their systems. Figure 1 shows my Lindows desktop covered by numerous programs.

Figure 1Figure 1 Lindows program sample.

To help users, the desktop contains several useful icons that allow the user to access the computer's files. It even labels one of the icons C:, which is nothing more than a fantasy on a Linux-based system where drives are not labeled by letters. However, to make Windows users feel more at home, the main file structure is linked to the C: icon.


The filesystem in UNIX-based systems is accessed using directories. Instead of letters (A:, C:, D:), you use the /etc/fstab file to define a drive. Using this file, the OS links physical drive space to a folder (such as /mnt/cdrom or /mnt/spare).

In addition to the common desktop theme, all of the popular programs that most users will want access to are located from a menu off an "L" icon in the lower-left corner. This menu offers several options, including Programs, My Documents, Settings, Search, Help, Recent Documents, and so on. If you're a Windows user, you'll feel quite at home. The use of a menu is shared by every major graphical operating system. However, Lindows borrowed RH8's menuing system, a simple and very organized menu based on program function. Under the Programs menu, for example, you'll find submenus with titles such as Audio & MP3, Business & Finance, Games, and Internet. This alone puts Lindows usability one step ahead of other operating systems, where the menu ends up being a very long list of programs and files.

As for the rest of the operating system, the programs basically run as expected. As long as the user stays within the bounds of the graphical interface, Lindows is just like most other operating systems. Users can quickly access email, browsers, and the filesystem. In case of problems, Lindows has an online FAQ, support number (no toll-free number as of yet), and email support.

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