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PCLinuxOS Review: What Does PCLinuxOS Have to Offer?

 

In the quest to find the perfect Linux distribution, we often hit an obstacle that makes the grass look greener on another distro's lawn. When we reach that point, the first instinct is to turn to another distribution and hope that something fresh will also be something better. This time around, I decided to see if PCLinuxOS was indeed greener.

Time and time again, I have learned that something new is not always something better. Take Ubuntu's switch to a new desktop shell with Unity in Ubuntu 11.04. This switch has left a number of Ubuntu users pondering other distributions in search of more familiar territory.

One user-friendly distro that's popular is PCLinuxOS, and they have just come out with a new release. But what does it have that other distros do not? That's my goal, to explore PCLinuxOS and see what you can expect that you won't find elsewhere. And, with that said, let's dig in.

Desktop Options and Integration

There are two different desktops you can opt to go with on PCLinuxOS: KDE or LXDE. KDE is an obvious choice and is offered by plenty of distributions. LXDE (Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment) on the other hand is primarily distributed by Lubuntu and Knoppix. Because there are already two other distributions shipping with LXDE, what about the PCLinuxOS take on this desktop would make anyone want to use PCLinuxOS over these two distributions?

The first thing a user might notice is that, out of the box, PCLinuxOS is set up with both NVidia and ATI fglrx support built in. No matter which type of graphics card is on the machine, PCLinuxOS — with the LXDE desktop — should work great! With either Lubuntu or Knoppix (should anyone actually use Knoppix as a desktop distribution), it is likely that either proprietary or extra drivers will need to be installed to get the same working graphics as found in the out of the box experience of PCLinuxOS.

Another out of the box experience users will appreciate with PCLinuxOS is with multi-media. Instead of having to mess around with installing the proper codecs to get various multi-media files to work, those files should simply play — out of the box. A welcome change for anyone frustrated with having to always install extra packages just to play music or video.

Package Management

PCLinuxOS has one of the strangest takes on package management I've run into on Linux. PCLinuxOS is based on Mandriva, so it uses RPMs. I will admit that I've always been a fan of RPM and Yum for managing packages. What I've never been much of a fan of is PackageKit. PackageKit is a graphical front-end used to handle RPM and Yum, as well as Debian packages when used on those distributions. PackageKit has always (in my opinion) been inferior to the likes of Synaptic. And that is where PCLinuxOS shines. The developers of this rpm-based distribution have taken the Synaptic front end (usually associated with apt and apt-get) and added it as the package manager for PCLinuxOS.

Although I say that the PCLinuxOS take on the package management is strange, in my opinion this was a very strong move on the developers part. Synaptic is far and away easier to use than PackageKit. This ease of use, however, comes with a price — outdated software. The Synaptic version installed is a few releases out of date (and will remain that way because of the way it is set up to work with rpm.)

Control Panels

The LXDE flavor of PCLinuxOS ships with two different control panels — the LXDE control panel (see Figure 1) and the Mandriva control panel (see Figure 2).

Figure 1

The simplicity of the LXDE control panel will please the purists at heart.

Each panel offers different tools and a completely different take on administering a system. The LXDE control panel offers a very minimal, simplistic approach to the control panel and focuses on the desktop. But even with this minimal take on the tool, much can be done here. From the GDM login screen to session saving to screen resolution to much of the appearance of the desktop — the LXDE desktop is nearly completely covered by the control panel. But when it comes to system configuration, the Mandriva control panel (branded as the PCLinuxOS Control Center) is the place to be.

This is where nearly all system settings are taken care of.

Thankfully, the PCLinuxOS developers included the Mandriva control panel so system settings would not have to be done via command line or through multiple tools chosen from a hierarchical menu system. Of course, this isn't really anything new to Linux distributions as most newer releases now make use of a control panel-like tool. PCLinuxOS is one of the few (maybe the only) that offer a control panel for the desktop and a separate control panel for the system.Figure 2

Applications: A Change Of Pace

One of the more refreshing aspects I found with PCLinuxOS was the list of software pre-installed. Instead of the usual line up of pedestrian software, this distribution includes some unusual (and welcome) suspects. This list includes:

  • Claws Mail: One of the most configurable and powerful e-mail clients available.
  • Bleachbit: Outstanding system cleaning application.
  • Clementine: DAAP server.
  • Flashplayer-plugin: That's right, a distribution finally installs Flash out of the box.
  • The Gimp: Linux isn't Linux without The Gimp.

Of course, if the KDE version of PCLinuxOS is installed, the standard KDE software will be included. And according to the PCLinuxOS web site, Dropbox is supposed to be pre-installed — it is not.

Target Audience Perceptions

There is a mis-perception with PCLinuxOS in that it is an ideal distribution for new Linux users. I have to disagree with that sentiment. I'll explain. Distributions built for new users tend to pull back on the users' ability to tinker. Why? Because when new users tinker, they break things. Take Ubuntu, for instance. With Ubuntu it's much harder for a new user to break the install than, say, a Fedora distribution.

PCLinuxOS falls in place nearer to Fedora than Ubuntu in that more things can be easily broken. Just open up the PCLinuxOS Control Center (Mandriva control panel) and look around at what can be tinkered with. For example, a new user could easily install a web server, an ftp server, configure NFS or SMB sharing, or easily modify security settings. On a distribution for a new users, these configuration options would be a bit less obvious and/or easy to access.

Does this take away from PCLinuxOS as a distribution as a whole? Not in the slightest. In fact, I would recommend that anyone looking for a distribution to alleviate the Ubuntu Unity/GNOME 3 headaches should give PCLinuxOS a try. Which flavor depends on exactly what is desired from the desktop. If a desktop resplendent with special effects and eye candy is preferred, go with the KDE flavor of PCLinuxOS. If a lightweight, faster, minimal (yet highly functional) desktop is preferred, go with the LXDE flavor.

What it all Means

The latest release of PCLinuxOS brings to the table a good amount of relief for those suffering from the upheaval brought about by the release of some of the game-changing desktops that have come to light. Although I don't believe PCLinuxOS to offer any one single deal breaker or deal maker aspect, it's still a solid distribution that does have a few unique twists to the Linux desktop distribution.

 

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  • base64decode.net Said:

    PCLinuxOS is awesome........ great review

  • david wagg Said:

    while a comparative newbie to Linux i have tried quite a range of distros I have found Pclinuxos in all its varieties to be the best. I particularly love the out of the box experience of KDE provided that one doesn't tinker. Tinkering best done in Virtual box. The fact that software is not bleeding edge is of no concern..

  • DAG Said:

    Since this is an old review, I will keep my comments to a minimum and only cover what I found wrong with the latest LXDE flavor. I installed the 2013 version. It looks good, boots quickly, plays streaming video well through Firefox, and was not hard to configure. I do have one big stick to throw in the mud. Synaptic fails me. I have no problems installing or removing packages. What Synaptic fails to do on this distribution is give you the ability to see what files the packages provide. There is supposed to be a tab in the package preferences window, but there is not. Another issue I have with it is menu editing. This may be an LXDE issue, though I have LXDE with Fedora 19 and have no problem with the menu there. In LXDE the menu the user sees is not the menu that lxmed opens. I have yet to find where this alternate menu came from, or is stored. There is no other menu editor listed in Synaptic. Now and then the OS hangs when shutting down or rebooting. Minor, but still an indication that something isn't right and it isn't happening at the same moment each time it happens. For me, these three problems make the PCLinuxOS 2013 LXDE distribution a candidate for replacement.

  • JAMES SHEPPARD SR. Said:

    I AM A NEWBIE HERE, HOWEVER I AM TIRED OF ALL THE PIGGY BACK STUFF PROGRAMS ARE ADDING TO UPDATES & ECT. THEY ALL WANT TO GIVE YOU A NEW TOOLBOX AND TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR COMPUTER. I AM ALSO TIRED OF SUBSCRIPTIONS, USED TO BE WHEN YOU BOUGHT A SOFTWARE PROGRAM IT WAS CURRENT TILL A UPDATE ISSUE CAME ALONG, YET YOU STILL HAD THE ORIGINAL ISSUE YOU BUY A COMPUTER WITH MICROSOFT OS ON IT YET YOU GET NO DISC TO GO WITH IT, THEN YOU CONTACT MICROSOFT & THEY SAY YOU DIDN'T BUY ANY THING? YET YOU HAVE THE PRODUCT KEY & STICKER ALSO THE INVOICE YET YOU MUST GO TROUGH A TON OF SPOTS ON THEIR WEB SITE AND STILL ARE UNABLE TO FIND WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR BECAUSE IT'S HIDDEN (BECAUSE IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FREE?) YET ANYTHING FOR SALE IS READILY AVAILABLE WHERE EVER YOU GO? CUSTOMER SERVICE SUCKS

  • Scott Said:

    This was an excellent and accurate review of one of the best Linux distros out there. Other great Linux choices include any flavor of Ubuntu and of course Suse. A lot of people don't care for the Ubuntu desktop, but that is easy to change. Personally I just hide the side bar. I also like Manjaro open box based on Arch. But I currently don't use it because it was to much of a pain to get all videos to display and play correctly.. Love the speed and stuff, but in the end its nice to just have everything work out of the gate. That is why I use PC Linux OS, Suse and Ubuntu.


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