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Is Lindows Another TLO? 25 September 2002 Edition
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Right now you're probably asking yourself "What's a TLO?"

Well it's the acronym for a program written in the UK over 20 years ago called "The Last One."

This program, from the stables of DJ'AI Systems, was touted as being the last piece of software you'd ever need to buy.

Yes, it was "a program that wrote programs" which was, at the time, an incredibly novel concept. It's easy to see why they pretentiously called it "The Last One" eh?

It was written in Microsoft MBASIC (interpreted) and designed to operate on the growing number of CP/M computers that were being churned out in the very late 1970's and early 1980's.

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At that time there was a veritable dearth of software for these many and varied different computers -- so the prospect of a single program that would allow you to create any other program you might need was indeed very attractive.

The company began running ads in all the various computer magazines (remember way back before the Net when we got our industry news on paper?) and of course journalists went crazy on the idea.

Major features were published extolling the virtues of this amazing new program and analysing the way that it would change the face of computing -- and all this was before a single byte of code had been seen.

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Advance orders for TLO flowed like water and it's rumoured that the developers took in over a million UK pounds before the first copy was shipped.

A client I was working for at the time told me that he had to have a copy of this product and, since I was curious but skeptical, I reluctantly agreed that it wouldn't hurt to buy a copy.

Delivery dates slipped, and slipped -- but eventually the product was launched.

What a disappointment!

It didn't come close to living up to the claims that had been made for it.

It was a mess of spaghetti code that came in modules with amusing names such as banana.bas, water.bas, etc.

If you walked slowly through the simple tutorial provided, and if the wind was blowing the right way, and if you were really patient (we're talking about 4MHZ Z80 processors remember) -- you might just get it to spit out a really bad BASIC program that would add up a column of numbers.

It was far more likely however, that you'd encounter an error in the code and the program would terminate prematurely -- or that the generated program was faulty and wouldn't run.

In short -- this was a good idea, poorly implemented, grossly over-hyped and representing little more than a triumph of smart marketing over reality.

Which is where Lindows comes in.

When Lindows was first mooted, it was claimed that it would be a real desktop alternative to Windows -- offering the chance to break away from Billy-boy's monopoly without having to get a PhD in Geek to do so. It also promised to offer much cheaper "system" prices.

Phrases such as "the ability to run a select set of 'bridge' Windows-compatible programs" and "a streamlined installation process which requires no computer knowledge" still appear in the Lindows promo material.

Unfortunately, according to the reports that are now being published in the wake of Lindows' release -- it seems that these promises don't quite tally with reality.

Maybe they'll sort out the problems with Lindows (they never did get TLO to work as advertised) -- maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see I guess.

In the meantime however, it appears that it's the worst of both worlds -- sacrificing many of the great things about Linux (such as parts of its security mechanisms) while having little compatibility with the huge library of Windows-based applications.

One thing's for sure -- it's probably not going to be the last time, in the computer/software/Internet industries, where products are sold on a promise.

If you want to have your say on the contents of today's column then please do so. Only comments marked "For Publication" will (if I have time) be published in the readers' comments section.

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