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In a surprise move, Linspire is now offering its Click ‘N Run software service at no charge to its Linspire and Freespire Linux distribution customers. In addition, the company will soon be open-sourcing the CNR Client.

CNR, previously a fee-based service offered at annual subscription rates of $20 for basic and $50 for premium (“Gold”) access to new programs, had been the San Diego-based company’s main source of income.

Can you have open-source goodness and proprietary software in one Linux distribution? Linspire says yes. Listen to this podcast for other views.

Now, however, according to CEO Kevin Carmony, Linspire is doing well enough from selling its higher-end products and services that it can afford to offer its basic CNR service free of charge. Thus, both Linspire and Freespire users can use the extremely easy software delivery and update program for free.

“For nearly five years, thousands of CNR users have paid annual subscription fees for the CNR Service,” Carmony said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to now be in a position to offer this excellent service to desktop Linux users absolutely free. CNR really makes using desktop Linux easy, and we want everyone to have access to this quality service.”

With the free service, Linspire and Freespire (the company’s free community distribution), users will be able to install, update and manage thousands of free, open-source software programs. The functionality will be exactly the same as Linspire customers get from their $20 basic service.

In addition, CNR users will continue to have the option of purchasing premium products and services, such as Sun’s StarOffice; the Win4Lin Pro Windows virtual machine, which enables running Windows and Windows applications side-by-side with Linux; CodeWeavers’ Crossover Office, for running Windows applications directly on Linux; and TransGaming’s Cedega, which allows users to run popular Windows games on Linux.

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