May 2, 2005

Review: PCQuest Linux 2005

Author: Aditya Nag

Last year, I reviewed PCQuest Linux 2004, and found it to be an interesting distro, with good multimedia support and a decent set of installed apps. It's 2005 now, and PCQ Linux 2005 has been released. It is based on Fedora Core 3, with many modifications. After spending some time with PCQ, I can recommend it as a good, fun distro to work with.

The software was distributed on three CDs free of cost with the March 2005 issue of PC Quest magazine. As far as I could determine there is no DVD version, or a downloadable version.

PCQ's installation process is very similar to that of Fedora or Red Hat. PCQ Linux does not support any European languages; instead, it offers English and six major Indian languages. There are 14 package installation options, including SuperComputer, Grid Computing, Portal Server, Edge Server, Groupware Server, and Remote Boot Server.

Two of the most interesting installation options provided with PCQ Linux 2005 are Supercomputing and Grid Computing. PCQ Linux includes OSCAR (Open Source Cluster Application Resources) and some management utilities to help you set up your own backyard supercomputer, limited only by the number of machines you have. An article in the magazine covers the initial setup, hardware requirements, and network configuration.

As for the Grid Computing option, JCGrid, the bundled software, supports POV-Ray rendering by default. Design and animation houses might be interested in this option as a cheap and efficient way to reduce rendering time.

The variety of installation options makes it easy for inexperienced users to set up servers. Power users, of course, would be better off choosing the custom installation option.

Besides the variety of options, the rest of the installation is exactly like a Fedora Core 3 installation. There are a few localized options, such as the time zone, which are preset to Indian defaults. SELinux is enabled by default, in line with the Fedora and RHEL set up. You can choose to turn it off during the installation, or set it up in a warning state.

I installed the Personal Desktop configuration. The PCQ team has included an interesting option to play games during the install. You need to drop into a shell, execute a command, and then you have a choice of three games: Nibbles, Snake, and Freesweep. Full marks for innovation.

After the installation and mandatory reboot, the installers for Acrobat Reader, Sun's Java virtual machine, and the NTFS kernel patch run. After one more reboot the first run wizard executes, and finally you are ready to go. All this takes about half an hour.

Since PCQ Linux is based on Fedora Core 3, it includes all the packages of that distro. Rather than focus on them, let's see what's different in PCQ Linux.

The most important difference is the great support for multimedia applications. PCQ Linux installs many audio and video players by default, including amaroK, MPlayer, XMMS, RealPlayer/Helix, and many others. I did not have any problems running a variety of file formats and DVDs.

Another difference lies in the great variety of bundled applications. PCQ Linux includes apps like Null Groupware, SugarCRM, Drupal, phpBB, MediaWiki, and Issuetracker. By distributing such software with its distro, and writing about them in the magazine, PC Quest is doing a good job of pushing open source.

PCQ Linux 2005 has added better support for laptops as well. It includes drivers for Centrino Wi-Fi cards, specifically the IPW2100B chipset. If you have the 2200g chipset, the magazine informs you that you have to download a small file, and tells you how to set it up. The new 2.6 series kernel has better power management, but laptop users might have issues with suspend and standby.

Everyday usage and updates

PCQ worked as you'd expect it to for everyday usage. Hardware was well supported, Nvidia drivers worked easily, and, in short, there were no nasty surprises. For normal desktop use, PCQ Linux is a fine choice.

The one major security fault I noticed was that PCQ installs Webmin by default in many of the installation choices and activates it with a blank password, which could allow an unauthorized user to wreak havoc on your system. Other than this, I did not run into any major flaws or bugs. There were a few small problems, but those were easily fixed with a quick trip to the excellent user forums. These forums are populated by many users, as well as the developers. As forums go, PCQ's are among the better ones out there. Most times, a reply with the solution to your problem is forthcoming within a few hours.

Though PCQ Linux 2005 has many similarities to Fedora Core 3, the development team has done a decent job of adding value. The additions ease the pain for users moving to Linux for the first time, and PCQ Linux has the unique advantages of supporting major Indian languages out of the box and providing good support through the magazine, Web site, and forums.

PCQ Linux 2005 is more of an evolution than a revolution. It has nice features, but no killer feature to set it apart from other distros. That said, it is a well-crafted distro, and works well at its intended task. It has some flaws, but they are mostly easy to fix. The forums in particular are a great help. They are polite and well-moderated, and long-time users go out of their way to help newbies.


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