May 23, 2007

New PCLinuxOS 2007 looks great, works well

Author: Susan Linton

PCLinuxOS is a live CD distribution that enables users to test Linux without actually having to install it. The highly anticipated new version, PCLinuxOS 2007, was released on Monday. Its intuitive selection of software, high level of stability and functionality, and the quality of the graphics make this the distribution's best release ever.

PCLOS began almost four years ago as a fork of MandrakeLinux 9.2. Subsequent releases were built and updated upon the previous version. PCLOS 2007 still utilizes some source code from MandrivaLinux, as seen in the startup wizard, hard drive installer, and the PCLinuxOS Control Center.

After the live CD boots the kernel and before a user sees the desktop, a system configuration wizard prompts you for the keyboard, timezone, and network connection you want to use. On my laptop I have a WLAN chip that is dependent upon Windows drivers used under Ndiswrapper. This isn't an obstacle with PCLOS. The wizard allowed me to browse my Windows NTFS hard drive and loaded the chosen driver file. After I filled in the WPA security information, it connected to my wireless router within a few seconds without problems.

If you like the way PCLOS performs on your hardware, you can use the supplied graphical hard drive installer to make it permanent. The quick and easy installer asks a few preliminary questions, copies files to the hard drive, then asks a few configuration questions. All told, it took about 20 minutes to install on my test machines.

PCLOS looks polished and professional. The boot and login processes are dressed up with a new Diamond Plate metal theme, while the KDE desktop features an abstract blue wallpaper with a semi-transparent panel containing a few quick launchers and applets. A beautification team has worked for several months to bring this level of beauty to reality. If you prefer the GNOME desktop, you can select task-gnome in the Synaptic package manager and it will install the complete desktop system.

As for bundled applications, this release includes the full suite in the latest stable version. Firefox is the new default browser, although Konqueror is still available. You can see and hear multimedia content through Amarok, MPlayer, Kaffeine, Frostwire, DeVeDe, TVTime, Flash, and Java JRE. To view and manipulate graphics and photos, the distribution provides the GIMP, GQView, digiKam, and Kalbum. Internet applications include XChat, Kopete, Thunderbird, and TightVNC. System tools include K3b, Krusader, GKrellM, and SearchMonkey. Configuration utilities include the KDE Control Panel and the PCLinuxOS Control Panel, an application used to configure a wide variety of system and hardware settings. It lets you set up a firewall, groupware mail services, network devices and connections, system start services, and much more. Under the hood we find Linux-, Xorg 7.1.1, and GCC 4.1.1.

Firefox and Thunderbird are well-integrated; clicking a Web link in Thunderbird opens the Firefox browser, and clicking an email link in Firefox opens a Thunderbird message window. You can also set images viewed within Firefox as the desktop wallpaper simply by right-clicking on an image and choosing "Set as Background."

Proprietary drivers are no longer included on the live CD, but you can install them (and other software) easily. The Synaptic package manager ably installs customized RPM packages from PCLOS repositories, which contain approximately 5,000 additional packages specially made for PCLOS. It's not advisable to install packages compiled for other RPM-based distributions, such as Mandriva or Fedora, due to possible conflicts and missing or mislocated libraries.

I wished to install the Nvidia proprietary graphic drivers in order to try out PCLOS' 3-D desktops. Searching with Synaptic, I found four sets of Nvidia drivers: à97xx for newer cards, 96xx for the GeForce 2/3 line, 71xx for the TNT series, and the experimental 100.14.xx driver. Installing through Synaptic is as easy as right-clicking the package listing, clicking "Mark for Install," and clicking the Apply button in the tool bar. Synaptic downloaded and installed the packages without issue, and I was instructed to restart X in order to use them. The extra NVIDIA dkms packages, that are pulled in as dependencies, update the the system files saving users the chore of having to edit their /etc/X11/xorg.conf files themselves. In addition, anytime users update their kernel, dkms runs at boot and rebuilds the Nvidia drivers for the new kernel automatically.

Upon restarting the X server, I visited the PCLinuxOS Control Center to enable Beryl. To enable the 3-D desktop, enter the PCC, click the Hardware subheading, and then Configure 3D Desktop Effects. The choices are AIGLX or Xgl and Compiz or Beryl. For my Nvidia chip I chose Xgl and Beryl, and was then prompted to start X again, after which all the experimental effects were enabled. PCLOS lead developer Texstar says that this software is still in development and might be unstable, but for me, all the effects performed as designed with no stability issues whatsoever.

Another feature of PCLOS is its support for multimedia files, whether on the desktop or over the Internet. Although the win32codecs are not included, the video players were able to play any movie file I had on hand. In addition, I had no trouble watching streaming video, Google or YouTube videos, or QuickTime movie trailers.

Support options
The project offers a friendly and helpful user forum as well as an IRC channel for those who need support.

PCLOS includes the ability to remaster the distribution as you like. This enables you to craft a live CD containing your choice of applications, customizations, and personal information and settings. To remaster your own PCLOS-based live CD, simply type remasterme into a terminal or console. This is a relatively easy task to perform, although some experience with Bash commands and functions would be helpful.

Hardware support in PCLOS is outstanding. All my hardware worked upon boot, except my wireless chipset, which required a bit of user interaction first. My graphics were correctly identified and the optimal resolution was set, startup sounds greeted my login, and my touchpad worked accurately and smoothly. Setting up a remote printer was as easy as filling in a few blanks in the PCLinuxOS Control Center. Removable media is autodetected; when you connect, a dialog window opens asking if the device should be mounted.

Advanced power-saving features worked wonderfully. In order to take advantage of CPUfreq scaling to slow down the CPU when not in use, I needed to enable it in the PCC under System -> Enable or disable the system services. After enabling ACPI in KLaptop, I was able to take advantage the hibernate function, although suspend didn't seem to work as well for me. As an alternative, I installed KPowersave through Synaptic. When using KPowersave both hibernate and suspend worked well.

In conclusion, I was quite pleased with final release of PCLinuxOS 2007. Its hardware detection and configuration is well above average. All the software I tested was stable and performed well. As delivered PCLOS is missing Kontact, my choice in a mail and news application, and KDE games, but they are available through Synaptic. So, between the included applications and those available in the repositories, PCLOS is a complete system ready for work or play.

With its great looks and out-of-the-box capabilities, PCLOS is a wonderful choice for anyone who wants an elegant yet capable Linux desktop system.


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