PCLinuxOS 2009.1: a review

PCLinuxOS is a Linux distribution aimed at those who are used to working with Windows, or simply want to have an OS where there isn’t much configuration to be done. In short, the same crowd that Ubuntu, Mandriva and OpenSUSE also cater for. If that sounds dismissive, it’s not. There should be distributions like this, which aim to make things easy for the user. Unfortunately, an entire OS is such a complicated piece of software literally millions of things can go wrong, and this is true for any OS. There are two possible ways to handle this: either you give the users the tools to solve problems themselves (Slackware, Arch, Gentoo…), or you try to make an OS where almost all configuration is done automatically, so that the user can’t screw things up.

In this world, Ubuntu is king. I know there are people who will vehemently disagree with me on this, and that’s their good right. In my experience however, there isn’t a single other Linux distribution who makes it so easy to install the OS, and configure it afterwards. After testing PCLinuxOS 2009.1, I’m sorry to say that’s still true. PCLinuxOS makes a great first impression, but I encountered too many issues afterwards for this to be a contender to Ubuntu’s crown.

LiveCD

As I mentioned yesterday, I first tried the LiveCD out on my girlfriend’s Dell laptop. At that moment, everything still smelled of roses: wireless card was detected and configured, mp3s played effortlessly, Youtube played its content without issue, and even the notoriously difficult trailers at apple.com provided no problem for PCLinuxOS. Everything looked OK.

Installation

For the most part, the installation went fine too. I say for the most part, because things got slightly hairy when trying to install PCLinuxOS on a partition that contained Windows 7 Beta. Upon selecting that partition, the installer told me the filesystem (NTFS) wasn’t right. Fair enough, I clicked “Format”. Which did something, because I saw a progress bar. What it did wasn’t exactly clear, because the installer didn’t ask me to pick a new filesystem, or anything of the kind. Sure enough, selecting the partition again just made the error message re-appear. I then deleted the partition, created a new one as ext3, and selected “/” as the mount point. That worked just fine, but why is that “Format” button even there?

Other small detail: no possibility use ext4 as the filesystem. Ext3 is true and tried though, and there has been some mentioning of data loss due to ext4, so I won’t make an issue out of it. The rest of the install went smooth and fast, just like the first-boot configuration. Only thing left for me to do is jump into the PCLinuxOS Administration Center and add the printer, which was entirely point and click.

Look and Feel

After the install PCLinuxOS booted into a nice looking KDE 3.5 desktop. KDE 3.5, as the PCLinuxOS developers felt they couldn’t provide the same functionality with KDE4. They will, however, release KDE4 packages as soon as they can.

The look, while pretty, is a bit “heavy” for my taste, especially the taskbar which looks bigger than it actually is because of the blue gradient. I also found the wallpaper a bit too dark, and the window bordersa bit too familiar.

PCLinuxOS 2009.1: Default look

PCLinuxOS 2009.1: Default look

Of course, all that’s easily fixed.

PCLinuxOS 2009.1: Custom look

PCLinuxOS 2009.1: Custom look

Other issue with the looks: fonts look smeared out and blurry,and I couldn’t turn on sub-pixel hinting in the KDE Control Center, because it was greyed out.

Finally, PCLinuxOS mixes GTK and Qt applications. Nothing wrong with that, but the GTK apps don’t get a decent icon theme. Some more effort could have gone into that.

Standard, drab Gnome icons

Standard, drab Gnome icons

Applications

PCLinuxOS comes with all the applications you need for the most common computer tasks, like Firefox for browsing, Thunderbird for e-mail, Amarok for music management, Kaffeine and Mplayer for watching videos and Ktorrent and Frostwire for, well, all that legal downloading we do. I tested all of them briefly, and they worked well, except Amarok, which refused to load 90% of my music collection. As it turned out, this was permission problem, since most of those files were owned by userID 1000 (default in  most Linux distributions), where my user in PCLinuxOS had userID 500. The permissions problem was easily fixed, and while I could happily play mp3s in Kaffeine, Amarok then took ages to rebuild the collection, and still didn’t display the extra songs. However, Amarok has always hated me and my collection, and problems like this have occured in other distributions as well. After a new re-scan, which took 45 minutes, everything finally showed up.

Problems

Nothing serious so far, but as I said, fonts looked a bit blurred and I wondered if this could have something to do with a wrong screen resolution. Right-clicking the desktop and selecting display settings showed me that the resolution was 1400×1050, which is defenitely not the right one. However, the PCLinuxOS Administration Manager told me that I had the right 1600×1200 setting. As a result, I have no idea what my current screen resolution actually is.

Much worse: at some point my wireless connection started disappearing. Without any apparent reason the connection was cut, and no matter what I did, my wireless network wasn’t found. Only one thing helped: pulling out my Linksys USB stick, and putting it back in. This didn’t happen the first hour, three times in the following 5 minutes, stopped happening completely in the next hour. I have no idea if this was a temporary thing or not. (Edit: As it turns out, this has nothing to do with PCLinuxOS)

Conclusion

All in all, I really can’t recommend PCLinuxOS to anyone except (K)ubuntu users who prefer KDE 3.5. For everyone else, I think Ubuntu is the better option. PCLinux does a lot of things right, but so does Ubuntu, without blurry fonts, derivative window borders, an unfinished look and flaky wireless connections. Of course, that’s just my personal experience. Your mileage may vary.

San

35 Responses to PCLinuxOS 2009.1: a review

  1. Roel says:

    Awesome!PCLinux OS is indeed the revolution of internet technology. I am an avid user of Windows but I am also open for new technology.

  2. Nobody Important says:

    That was a fair assessment. I tried it myself, but my dedicated video card gave the distro some fits for no apparent reason. Safe mode worked, but once I installed I couldn’t get the desktop loaded. Twas a shame – I really loved PCLinuxOS 2007 (when it booted correctly) and I wanted to try the new one. Maybe I’ll puts with it a little more.

    Ext4 wasn’t included because the kernel that supports this is very literally hot of the presses, and PCLinuxOS has been in testing for quite a few months.

    I’m finding more and more distros who don’t really have much to set themselves apart; they’re all getting mighty similar. Either that, or I’m just becoming too lazy with my former distro-hopping ways. ;)

  3. f says:

    Treating a OS review as if it was a theorem ‘s not a good practice, man! Reviews can’t start with points to demonstrate as you do, buntuser!

  4. pelouro says:

    I have been an avid PCLinux user too, but now I know there are better alternatives.

    My problems with PCLinux were almost the same: the version of freetype carried by this distro is compiled without BCI (not as Ubuntu and other Debian derivatives) and that´s why it can´t show ttf fonts properly. The wireless management is poor, the Kubuntu one (trough Knetworkmanager) seems to be far reliable.

    And finally the repositories can´t compete in any way with the Debian/Ubuntu ones.

    I think PCLinux is by far the best rpm-based distro, but Kubuntu-Mepis-Sidux are several steps beyond, mainly due to the Debian software-management inheritance.

  5. celettu says:

    Nobody Important:

    That’s my impression too. People complain about the number of distros, but I think there are only a few who really set themselves apart.

    pelouro:

    I agree completely with your last paragraph.

    f:

    Actually, I can and I did…and I use Arch, not Ubuntu :)

  6. and says:

    I think we should tell people that ubuntu is really really slower than PclinuxOs 2009. For me the problem with PCLinuxOS is that many programs in synaptic are quite old…

  7. Kaj says:

    I have tried PCLinuxOS 2009.1 in both the KDE and the Gnome version. As live-CD that is, I haven’t made any installation yet.
    Both versions give me a screen resolution of 800×600, if I don’t select 1024×768 at boot. I want 1280×1024, and when i try to set that resolution in the KDE version, it just tells me, I have to reboot to make the changes. When I log out and in again, I still have 1024×768.
    In the Gnome version I can set the resolution to 1280×1024, lo9g out and in again, and then have the right screen resolution of 1280×1024, and it looks great. The Gnome version is also much faster.

    The very dark theme in the Gnome version can easily be changed to something better.

    Do yourselves are favour, and try the Gnome version of PCLinuxOS.

  8. dallas says:

    Sorry you folks have had issues with PCLOS. I’ve used PCLOS in the past and it’s on the short list (Mint, Mepis, PCLOS) of distros I’ve kept coming back to.
    On most of my machines I can get away with running just about any distro, out of the box, with no problems. But, I have an Acer Aspire 5520 that doesn’t play well with most distros. The screen resolution is a bit non-standard, it uses an Atheros setup for wireless and the chipset is Nvidia. Somewhere along the way most distros get confused and at the end of the install, something usually doesn’t work.
    The new KDE PCLOS install went quite well. After booting the installed system I had to do the normal tweaking to taste, installed LXDE for the window manager, changed the look, etc.etc. but for the most part, it worked out of the box.
    PCLOS isn’t my all time favorite distro because I don’t have one. There are a handful of different distros I use on different machines for different reasons. I don’t care if it’s Deb, RPM, I just care if the packages I want are available and everything works.
    I don’t suggest that everyone is going to have as good an experience with PCLOS as I did because obviously, they aren’t…not with PCLOS, not with Ubuntu, Fedora or any other distro. As the reviewer pointed out, “Mileage may vary.”
    This won’t go over well with so many Ubuntu or Deb or Puppy or Mandriva fan boys out there but truth is that at the end of the day, linux is linux. If you know what you’re doing and are willing to spend the time doing it, you can make any distro work just the way you want it to…if you’re willing to spend the time doing it.
    If you’re new to linux, PCLOS is a distro worth trying. And if it doesn’t work for you, fine and dandy, there are plenty of others. One of them is sure to suit your hardware and needs.

  9. f says:

    @celettu

    you said:

    Actually, I can and I did… and I use Arch, not Ubuntu :)

    But… that is said in your profile:

    <>

  10. Wow… that’s quite strange. I think I’ll stick with my mac. It’s the way to go.

    You might like my new blog, comment it if you can! http://theriverjordan.net/4-leadership-essentials.

    Jordan.

  11. Praxis says:

    I installed PCLinux2009.1 on a 1.5 GHz Athlon box for a friend and I have to say, it was a very nice experience out of the box. A very good mix of packages, quite presentable appearance, decent stability, a nicely honed KDE 3.5.10 desktop that needed only minimal tweaking for my tastes.

    That said, I did have a few issues. I couldn’t figure out how to get compiz fusion to scroll for Enhanced Zoom or to change window opacity, I guess the Win key that is normally used for that is cued to work the Menu. But other attempts did make the effect work with other key combos didn’t seem to work. I have to say, Mandriva has often had trouble with this aspect of compiz, for some reason. When I set the desktop up as a cube it only used the left 3/4ths of my Radeon 7000 / 1440×900 screen on the other 3 of the cube’s four surfaces. And the mouse scroll button didn’t work properly with my cheapo KVM switch (now that I think of it, this may have caused the CF scroll wheel oddness). But my buddy doesn’t have a KVM switch and I’ll probably never even show him how to use CF, so no biggie.

    Other small glitches, Miro video aggregator kept dying until I uninstalled Sun Java (wouldn’t work with 1.5 version either), and it is still a bit buggy. It dies if I try to switch from playing one video to another. I wasn’t happy with kpodder or icepodder, the 2 podcast programs I found in the repository, I had to install gpodder with “make install” after getting some python dependencies from the repository. I guess I could have used Amarok, but I figured that would be too difficult for my friend to figure out.

    A couple of other problems. The installer used the Mandriva partitioner, which isn’t great. I was having trouble setting up the extended and logical partitions the way I wanted them, this is a known problem with the partitioner. I finally just backed out of the install and installed gparted on the live CD to get my partitions the way I wanted them. Probably not a big issue for most people. Getting KDM to automatically fill in the username field seemed like a pain. I kind of remember that issue for 2007, as well. Hopefully I set the system up to auto login my buddy.

    I had installed PCLinuxOS 2007 on one of my own boxes and was never happy with it, slow on a Duron 1.2 GHz with 512 MB, and with some glitchy behaviours, particularly with Samba. I eventually just blew it away and put Debian on the box, and have been happier. All in all, I would recommend PCLinuxOS for a person of limited Linux experience, though I prefer Debian, myself.

  12. Just Me says:

    I think what we are seeing is that the dev team was undermanned (and womaned, where appropriate) and Tex was on vacation for whatever was ailing him. The reason 2007 was so damned near perfect is because Tex is a perfectionist… and when you take a distro’s perfectionist leader and (whatever happened to make him need to take time off) and then have five devs left who are all part time volunteers… things don’t go quite perfectly.

    PCLinuxOS 2009.1 is not as good as 2007 was for it’s time, IMHO, but the fact that the distro is alive at all right now is nothing short of amazing, given some of the behind the scenes facts nobody really seems to know. About a year ago, I honestly thought it was going to die instead of get a 2009 release out the door.

    Yes, there are problems. It’s not as well tested and polished as 2007 was (again, for it’s day). But Tex is back now, and I’m sure there will be a 2009.2 (since there’s a 2009.1) and it will take care of a lot of these problems and complaints (probably all of them).

    In the mean time, use whatever works for you. I have recently tried openSuSE, Mint, Mandriva, Ubuntu and a couple others I can’t remember right now… and with all it’s problems, PCLinuxOS 2009.1 still wins for “does what I need done best”. If it didn’t… I wouldn’t use it. Fanboyism doesn’t get work done.

  13. [...] PCLinuxOS 2009.1: a review PCLinuxOS is a Linux distribution aimed at those who are used to working with Windows, or simply want to have an OS wher [...] [...]

  14. Airdrik says:

    @Just Me – I agree about your comments of 2007 vs. 2009.1. PCLOS 2007 was definitely tops when it came out, however a lot changes in 1.5 years, and I sometimes wonder what exactly PCLOS offers over other distros, primarily Mandriva.
    Yes PCLOS is one of the more rock-solid distros available, but it has fallen (perhaps too far) behind the curve.

  15. davemc says:

    dallas – “This won’t go over well with so many Ubuntu or Deb or Puppy or Mandriva fan boys out there but truth is that at the end of the day, linux is linux. If you know what you’re doing and are willing to spend the time doing it, you can make any distro work just the way you want it to…if you’re willing to spend the time doing it.”

    Why would any Linux user have any problems with that statement? I use Ubuntu for the last 2 years and Fedora too and what the reviewer says is true too. Ubuntu works so well and its so easy to use its almost like a Windows replacement now. Its to the point now that you should pretty much never have to crack open a terminal anymore for anything. Even Fedora 10 was a real shock to me when I first installed it because I literally had to do nothing. It just installed and runs and runs and runs without me doing a thing. I have thrown every piece of hardware I have (and I do have some exotic stuff) at those two distro’s and they really don’t have any issues with any of it. PCLos on the other hand seems to always have issues with even my basic nvidia card and simple LG monitor with 1280×1024 resolution that no other distro seems to have, even including PuppyLinux and DSL. Also, the PCLos repos are very bare compared to pretty much every other major distro out there now, and even Slackware offers better support than that. Nice try, but keep at it guys. You will get there some day!

  16. FU says:

    Everyone has their favorite distro. I found that pclos works best for me on my hardware.

  17. ubutfan says:

    Ubuntu fan reviews another distro. Concludes Ubuntu is better. Well duh!

  18. minyeli says:

    My pc is toshiba satellite (1800-s203) [celeron 800, 8mb vga,
    20gb hd, 256mb ram] 2001 model laptop. I’ve tried many distros(mint,gentoo,mepis,pardus,arch,zenwalk,puppy,kateos,freespire,
    suse,vector,kanotix,ubuntu,austrumi,xandros,antix,dreamlinux,
    elive,mandriva,gobolinux,bonzai,opensuse).What I want is playing any audio, video and web browsing without any problem.
    All the distros above either have an installing problem or video playin problem or speed problem. for my old laptop I’ve found only linux distro which gives what I want is Pclinuxos.
    Thank you.

  19. neosix says:

    I’ve just installed it, and I’m not impressed. Fonts are terrible, and there’s no fix for that. Ubuntu is much better, although Slackware is my favorite distro…

    Nice Review.

  20. celettu says:

    It’s probably not much use, but I’d like to point out that I’m not an Ubuntu fan. I’m a Linux fan, and an Arch fan. I have used Ubuntu, and I’m sure I’ll use it again on some PC or another in the future, but in the end I’m not their target user.

    I have used PCLinuxOS 2007 and .93 before for quite a while, and liked it a lot. But in my opinion, and that’s just my opinion, if you want an easy distro that works out of the box, Ubuntu’s the better choice.

  21. thomas says:

    This disto rocks
    All hardware detected
    A breeze to set up my winfast leadtek 2000 xp tv card
    I use the ditros that will set up my tv card with out fuss
    The task bar at the bottom is very pretty, real great.

    These are, Pardus opensuse and now PClINUXOS

    Ubuntu linuxmint fedora knoppix no such luck

    Thanks very much for this, keep up the good work guys, thanks again,….. thomas

  22. thomas says:

    Forgot to mention
    I use kdetv for my tv card, I find its best, its in the repos.

  23. Les says:

    I have not had any problem with Pclinuxos on my system. I used Ubuntu for a while, and recently did a fresh install of 9.04, and it was a nightmare. It was slow to boot, sluggish, and the wifi had issues. 8.04 was much better. My opinion of Linux, especially Ubuntu is that they all are trying to compete with looks rather than efficiency. Ubuntu and Fedora lead the race in this, and it has caused them quite some problems. Pclinuxos has run better than the rest, other than Mandriva One Ghome. I want to clarify one thing. Ubuntu’s free edition does NOT offer commercial support, you have to pay a yearly subscription to get that. Everyone gets confused about this.

  24. [...] future, but right now I don’t see it as a “must install”.  For another review, check this out. Share and [...]

  25. Frank says:

    Hey PCLinuxOS! Mandriva 2005LE called. It wants it’s boot time back.

  26. Stinky58 says:

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  27. Faggot35 says:

    How are Kroenke and Fiszman killing the club? ,

  28. Roy41 says:

    Ronnie Liu – July 24, 2009 at 10:21 pmThe Sg. ,

  29. No_limits10 says:

    I think he is really smart and fun to play with. ,

  30. dalfish says:

    PCLOS is failure when it come to supporting mobile broadband. I had a huawei ec325 modem which cannot be configured in PCLOS. I posted it in PCLOS official forums. I was not able to solve the problem. I regret my decison to switch to PCLOS. That decision was not a wise one. as my USBmodem worked flawlessly in ubuntu, linux mint and fedora.
    if there is a hardware failure with the distro it can be kicked out. now i use ubuntu. i am not blaming any distro by this. i just want my devices to work in a distro.no matter which name it is. for the time being it works well in ubuntu. So naturally Ubuntu is my choice.

  31. Shannon says:

    PCLinuxOS works perfectly for me, and it has since late 2004. If it were not for Adobe Audition, I’d be using nothing else. I have had so little trouble with PCLinuxOS over the years that I can count on one hand how many times it has failed me, and have three fingers left over. And that was because of faulty ram!

    I can’t see why the majority of people use anything else.

    And now that 2010 is coming out, and will have KDE 4.4 and EXT4 and a 30 series kernel, I think they’re going to give Windows 7 a run for its money.

  32. Cjvvamsn says:

    spyderco butterfly knife,

  33. how many calories in a grapefruit salad…

    [...]PCLinuxOS 2009.1: a review « Celettu’s Weblog[...]…

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