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.
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.
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.
Of course, all that’s easily fixed.
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.
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.
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)
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.