My desktop OS: PCLinuxOS 0.92


Author: Atanu Datta

After getting my hands dirty with nearly a dozen operating systems over the years, I find PCLinuxOS (PCLOS) comes closest to being a complete desktop solution right out of the box. Initially built on the Mandrakelinux 9.2 base, it has come a long way as an independent GNU/Linux distribution. Because PCLOS is a live CD, you can test your system for hardware compatibility before you install it on your hard drive.

The current version 0.92, released last November, comes with KDE 3.4.3 (with KOffice 1.4.2), 6.9cvs, Linux kernel 2.6.12, and a host of applications. In addition to the normal download, developer Texstar offers ISOs fine-tuned for Nvidia and ATI chips.

Personally, I don’t favor distros that follow the one-program-per-task ideology, because I’m fickle and keep changing my favorite programs. Then again, too many applications that do the same thing can be confusing. PCLOS is somewhere in between. Its main menu is similar to Mandriva’s. Similar tasks are categorized together, and then programs are further classified into their particular tasks.

For my daily use, I need a music player-cum-manager, a word processor, and Internet stuff. Sometimes I also need to watch DVDs. For music, PCLOS provides amaroK. I use Writer, KWord, and AbiWord for writing; as I said, I’m fickle. PCLOS comes with Konqueror and Firefox and all the plugins one needs — whether Flash, Java, or multimedia. If I had my way, I’d rather have all media in Ogg Vorbis and a Web without Flash and Java, but sometimes you have to give in. However, I like the way PCLOS includes only the proprietary apps for which there are no adequate free software alternatives.

As its name suggests, the PCLinuxOS Control Center is where you control basic system-level administration. You can use it to configure networking, define mount points, set up a firewall, or fine-tune the hardware.

PCLOS also comes pre-installed with lots of KDE themes. Since installing a new theme in KDE means compiling it, it’s handy if a distro comes with some good-looking ones.

Installation and configuration

PCLOS installation is a straightforward six-step procedure that uses a graphical installer. The first three screens ask you to select your language, then define the partitions and verify them. The fourth screen clocks the installation and shows the files being copied. PCLOS doesn’t offer package selection; instead, it installs everything on the disc. It took around 55-60 minutes on my four-year-old low-specs desktop, which was kind of slow, considering Mandriva clocks half of that.

In the next screen you get to select where you want to install the LILO bootloader. The final screen lets you set a new root password, make a user account, and turn on system logging, which by default is turned off in the live CD. Reboot, and you’re ready.

If you want to add software, you can use AptRpm and its front-end Synaptic to add applications from a repository of more than 5,000 packages. I needed to add the KTorrent BitTorrent client, office suite, Drivel journal editor, Gwenview image viewer, and a few others — all of which installed easily and were ready to use as soon as the process was complete.

Unlike the repositories of many major distros, the ones for PCLOS are mostly updated as soon as a new version of program is made available, so forget there’s even a word called “backport.” Thus, I’m not on KDE 3.4.3 anymore, but 3.5.2 instead. Somehow, KOffice 1.5 is still not available though.

Being a small community-driven project, PCLOS doesn’t offer any commercial support, but I’ve found the forums and the #pclinuxos IRC channel on quite helpful. There is also a wiki knowledge base specifically for those switching from Microsoft Windows.

While my all-around experience with PCLOS has been very good, its developers acknowledge wireless support is still an area they have to work upon. Also, since it’s a KDE-centric distro, its GNOME packages aren’t always up-to-date.

While “it just works” is a cliche, I don’t think I can define this distro any better. Most of us aren’t programmers, but need the computer for our daily work. We want something that “just works” without much fuss. Thanks to PCLinuxOS, this has become a reality. PCLOS is probably one of the most user-friendly and pleasant-looking operating systems around.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we’ll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven’t already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we’ve covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, Gentoo, VectorLinux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, Frugalware, and Kubuntu.


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