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Linspire chief exec Michael Robertson is visiting London on a mission to persuade system builders that there's money to be made in Linux on the desktop.

Robertson guesstimates that it costs PC builders £125 or more in licensing fees to offer PCs with Windows XP and Office XP pre-installed. Linspire's pitch is that system builders could offer machines with equivalent functionality using Linspire 5.0, Open Office and 12 months access to CNR (Linspire's online software library) for £15 a pop. By reducing software costs, resellers could offer systems at much lower cost, the pitch goes.

It's a plausible line for an assembler of cheap desktops and laptops. But even though Linux on the desktop has become far more user friendly over the last year or so it's yet to emerge as a mainstream product.

Linspire currently boasts 350,000 users, half of whom pay for extra services (such as renewal licences to CNR). "Linux on the desktop doesn't need improved technology. We need to work on the on the distribution channel to sell more desktops and laptops with Linux preinstalled. The market needs profitable companies to incentivise retailers," Robertson said.

The US is the worst market for desktop Linux, according to Robertson. "The momentum is in Europe and South America," he said. Linspire is represented by Phoenix Global Software in the UK.

On par with XP

Linspire has developed its OS to have file compatibility with Microsoft formats. Microsoft has been filing patents in this area which Robertson said could be used as a "hammer" to hit the smaller firms. Whilst not relishing a patent dispute, Robertson said Linspire would contest any Microsoft file format dispute.

Linspire released the latest version of its Linux-based desktop operating system, Linspire 5.0, last month, touting ease-of-use and affordability as key selling points. Robertson told a meeting of early adopters, partners and journalists in London on Monday that the release was "on par with XP and better in some areas".

Hardware support has traditionally been something of an Achilles heel for Linux but Robertson said hardware compatibility is far better than it was 12 months ago. "It's not just better support for graphics cards, Linspire 5.0 supports a wide variety of peripheral devices, including digital cameras and printers. Apps on Linux have also improved with developments in OpenOffice, Firefox," he added. ®

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