Posted by: duskfire | May 25, 2014

PCLinuxOS 2014 review

PCLinuxOS has been around since 2003, and is one of the distributions of Linux that are termed “rolling distributions”. What this means is that once you install it, it should constantly receive updates and you won’t need to install a “newer” version six months or a year later. Just recently, Texstar and his team have put up more current installation images (for people who are just now trying out this interesting Linux distribution). I used this particular distribution for a year or two about 8 or 9 years back. I got started in Linux with Mandrake 8.0, and this was a very familiar and newbie-friendly version of Linux to use.

As best I can tell from the website, the primary edition of PCLinuxOS is termed “KDE Full” and is a 1.6 GB iso file. There is also a KDE MiniMe, a MATE edition, one with the LXDE Desktop, and finally one called “Fully Monty” which is KDE again, but really large (> 4 GB).

In this review, I’m going to look at both the KDE Full edition and the KDE MiniMe one. I’m using the old Gateway M460 laptop for this review, with 2 GB of RAM and an integrated graphics card.

KDE FULL

Installation

As should be no surprise these days, installation was fairly simple and took under half an hour. The LiveDVD asks you to provide your preferred keyboard layout, and the draklive installer will ask one main question – what kind of installation you want. It provides a warning about wiping your information to confirm you are ready to proceed, then installs all of its stuff. After installation you are asked about timezone and UTC/local time,  you set a root password, and then set up at least one user. When setting passwords for root and any users, there is no strength check provided. The value of providing a “password strength” check is questioned by some people, but it’s a useful feature in my opinion – especially for the less-savvy folks who I think are the main target audience for PCLinuxOS.

Your wireless security password is carried through to post-installation, which is nice. Like many other rpm-based Linux distributions, PCLinuxOS doesn’t disable the root password and use “sudo”; to carry out administrative tasks you switch from a regular user to root.

One issue is that my resolution initially was set too low, to 1024×768. This is because PCLinuxOS retains the “xorg.conf” settings file in the /etc/X11 directory. Once I removed it, my resolution became 1400×1050 – a little high, but easier to deal with.

Features

The KDE Full edition is LOADED. There are about 40 games and over 80 other programs installed, in categories from Archiving and File Tools. to Graphics, Office, Sound, and Video.

If you are in school, or have a child who is, you will be pleased to find that PCLinuxOS apparently installs the entire KDE-edu package – about 20 specialized math and science applicationss!

PCLinuxOS uses the Synaptic package manager to install and remove programs; they use an rpm version of apt-get on the backend. Java and most media codecs come installed out of the box; you can watch YouTube, Hulu, or Apple movie trailers.

The default desktop looks like this:

Desktop

Along the bottom are the Application Launcher Menu, Show Desktop, Configure Desktop, Configure Computer, Synaptic Package Manager, and File Manager (Dolphin). Two virtual desktops are accessible. Over on the right are the Update notifier, the network manager, clipboard, volume control, and time/date. The Launcher menu is a customized version of the Classic menu, and is not switchable with Kickoff like in a stock KDE install. The update notifier needs to be right-clicked to bring up a menu of choices.

The main menu feels cluttered, honestly. I haven’t used PCLinuxOS in years, and I can only assume that Texstar and other fans like the organization, but for someone new it doesn’t always make sense. For instance, there’s no “Administration” section. There’s a “More Applications” area which leads to ten OTHER categories, including some that seem to be administrative. Education (with Sciences) deserves to be in the main menu. KMyMoney could easily be put in the “Office” category”

Software

Some of the programs installed include: Skype, Calibre, TVTime, VLC, Juk music player, a radio station player, GIMP, Hugin, Inkscape, ImageMagick, Choqok (aTwitter client), KMyMoney, and the entire LibreOffice suite (6 programs). There’s a link to install Oracle’s Virtualbox if you want. Surprisingly, only one editor seems to be installed (Kwrite).

The repositories contain over 13,000 programs, files and libraries.

Printer support, especially for HP printers, is ready “out of the box.” My printer was no trouble to detect and add to the list.

printer-2If your goal is software development, the repositories include IDEs and files to work on Haskell, the latest Python and Perl releases, Java, Lisp, mono and gtk#, PostgreSQL, MySQL,  REALbasic, and of course C and C++.

Games

This main edition contains about 40 games and a few toy apps installed right out of the box. Among them are MahJongg, Breakout, Mines, a Tetris clone, Go (but not Chess, surprisingly), Sudoku, a Risk clone, Breakout, Reversi, and 2 Solitaire applications (PySolFC and KPat). Plenty of casual ways to waste time!

Although the repositories are smaller than the ones for Debian or Ubuntu, the most popular games can be found and installed. MegaGlest, Freeciv, Battle for Wesnoth, Widelands, OpenTTD, and many more await you.

DBGL (for playing DOS games) seemed to work well once you installed the 2 prerequisite libraries and unpacked it. PlayOnLinux and Wine are in the repositories.

Help and Support

PCLinuxOS has documentation built right in – one of the 3 entries in the “Documentation” menu slot brings up this window:

pclos-documentation

For additional help, the forums are a useful starting point. Also, PCLinuxOS is unique in that they produce a monthly free e-magazine, which can be obtained in several formats or viewable online. The links are on the lower left-hand side of the main website.

Likes

- Runs fine on older hardware

- LOTS of programs installed.

- virtual desktops shown by default

Dislikes

- the menu could be a bit more sensibly organized.

On the next page, I’ll take a brief look at the MiniMe edition and then reveal my final thoughts.

Pages: 1 2

Posted by: duskfire | May 17, 2014

Current projects

As of the third week of May, there are a number of things that I want to do:

1. I installed PCLinuxOS on my older laptop, and I have been using it for several days and working on a review. Since I have to work this weekend, I don’t expect to post a review until mid-week. I’m going to look at both the main KDE Full edition and the KDE MiniMe edition. I had originally planned to check out MiniMe in a virtual machine, however I can’t get Oracle’s VirtualBox to run Linux distributions (or install them) for some reason. I’m probably going to end up installing it over the Full edition after finishing my initial review, and writing a “page 2″ second review.

2. I found 2 library books on beginning C programming that I am reading. Both use my favorite Integrated Development Environment, Code::Blocks, which is good encouragement for me to work on the exercises. I’m trying to spend at least a little time working on C programming with the aid of those books.

3. Since I have made the decision to keep my main laptop on Linux Mint for the long term, and to not use it to review new Linux distributions, I can install and play around with programs that I’m curious about such as the Hydrogen drum machine and the lmms music creation software. As time permits I might also try to work with more of the KDE-specific applications like Krita and Calligra Words that I really haven’t taken a good look at before.

4. PlayOnLinux seems to be having a sound problem in some games, notably with voices. I am unsure what is causing this but will try to fix it. This is a fairly new bug (or a setting mistake on my part), I don’t recall having any problems 2 months ago.

5. A two-part article recently appeared discussing how to install Arch Linux. I’m still curious about this distribution and am seriously considering the idea of putting it onto my older laptop when I’m finished reviewing PCLinuxOS.

6. Another option is to try once more to complete a Linux From Scratch setup. I first worked on LFS about 2 years ago and only wrote 2 articles, not getting very far into the creation of an fully functional LFS system. The stable version of LFS is now 7.5 and I definitely want to have a working LFS system as an accomplishment.

7. Two of my early blogging posts were very brief discussions of 7 first-person shooters. These days it seems like there are a dozen of these games in the repositories (and PlayDeb), with a possible 2 more in the near future. I hope to write up a 3 part series looking at the current state of FPS games native to Linux, and giving each game a lot more space than the brief paragraphs that I had back in the past.

8. Linux Mint 17’s Release Candidate is now available. In addition to the many cool improvements to the distribution itself, this is the start of a new release plan – it seems that 17 will be supported for 5 years, like any LTS release, but also will have 3 “point” releases prior to 2016. So there won’t be a Mint 18 this November/December – it will be 17.1 instead. The developers are hoping this will allow them to focus more on their own technology (like LMDE, Cinnamon, MATE, and the various Mint specific utilities). All in all, it sounds like a great idea and I totally support it. I’m already tempted to install this on my main laptop to replace Mint 16, but I probably will not, simply because there’s only about 2 more weeks to wait for the full release, and Mint 16 is working just perfectly for me. TERA Online actually runs now, albeit quite sluggishly.

Posted by: duskfire | May 11, 2014

Xubuntu 14.04 review

In addition to Ubuntu, several related distributions released their 14.04 LTS editions on April 17th. One of these is Xubuntu, which matches the Xfce desktop environment with the Ubuntu base. Since many people are still unhappy with some of the decisions made by Canonical (Ubuntu’s parent company) – mainly revolving around privacy issues in the default release – Xubuntu serves not only as a good desktop edition for folks with older hardware, but also as an alternative that avoids the default use of the Dash and its search features.

I’m reviewing the 32-bit edition of Xubuntu 14.04 LTS, on an old Gateway M460. It has an 80 GB hard drive, 2 GB of RAM, and an Intel integrated graphics card.

Installation

Xubuntu uses the Ubuntu installer, and it is fairly easy to understand and use. I didn’t need to partition my drive, and chose not to update while installing. I did choose to install 3rd party software for media viewing/listening. The installer will ask you if you wish to install alongside your current OS, replace it, or do something else (create custom partitions for instance). You can choose to encrypt your home directory, and support is offered for LVM (logical volume management). I don’t know much about LVM, honestly, and chose not to do that.

Xubuntu desktop, with the menu open

Xubuntu desktop, with the menu open

Features

Unlike the more widely known distributions, Xubuntu uses Abiword as the default word processor. Here is a first look at the most recent version (3.0), which is the one shipping with Xubuntu 14.04. I haven’t really used it much, but my impression is that if you just need a good word processor with a few extras, Abiword more than fits the bill. Just remember to change the default save format if you expect to send documents to LibreOffice, Calligra Words or MS Word.

The media player supplied is called Parole, and the music player is “gmusicbrowser”. Unfortunately, try as I might, I simply couldn’t get CDs to play at all:

media-player-fail

Not even VLC would see my DVDs or CDs. Even after running the install script for libdvdread4, nothing happened. I could play mp3 files easily, but physical media simply weren’t readable. If it turns out that this is a problem with my DVD player, I will make note of it here.

The web browser installed is Firefox, not Midori. I think Xubuntu made the right choice, because although Midori fits in with their “low resource” ideal and is a fine browser, it is not a familiar program to the typical user and has less options than Firefox does. A browser is often the most used program on your computer these days, so Xubuntu chose wisely.

The default installation of Xubuntu offers no support to watch DVDs or play CDs, I can only assume for legal reasons. One of the reasons why I prefer Linux Mint is that I never have had an issue playing CDs and DVDs.

There are usually 2 ways that an Xfce desktop can be set up by default. Xubuntu uses the “taskbar on top, menu at upper left” style that Gnome 2 used (as you can see in the first screenshot in this review, under Installation). At the right-hand bottom corner of the menu are 3 icons: one for your overall Settings, one to lock the screen, and the last one will bring up your Logout/Suspend/Shutdown options.

Xubuntu uses the Whisker menu instead of the usual Xfce default. I’m not familiar with either, but Whisker does provide some nice features, which are accessed by right-clicking the (tiny) “start button” mouse icon and choosing Properties:

whiskers-menu

In addition, to edit your list of applications, you now have MenuLibre as the method to do so:

menulibre

One other feature of note is that Xubuntu installs the Ubuntu Onboard on-screen keyboard. For folks who need this accessibility, it’s a great application and I am pleased that it is included.

My printer was discovered pretty easily, always a plus:

printer-utility1

Software

The software installed by default is fairly good. Under Accessories we have 12 programs, including the Ubuntu Onboard onscreen keyboard application.  There are 2 casual games installed, Mines and Sudoku. The Graphics applications consist of a document/pdf viewer, GIMP, the Ristretto image viewer, and a simple scan utility. Under Internet, you have Firefox for a web browser, Pidgin for messaging, Thunderbird for mail, Transmission for torrents, and XChat for IRC. In the Multimedia section, you have the GMusic browser, Parole (a media player), the Pulseaudio volume controller, and xfburn for CD/DVD burning. For Office needs, you start off with Abiword, a dictionary, the aforementioned document viewer, Orage Calendar and Orage Globaltime (both Xfce applications)

You won’t find Libreoffice, Banshee, or Brasero installed by default.

Xubuntu uses the Ubuntu Software Center for your installation needs. I tend to install the Synaptic program manager and use it instead, but either way works fine.

Games

As noted above, you have 2 games available right from the start. Since Xubuntu uses the Trusty Tair repositories, all the games found in Ubuntu are there for your use. PlayOnLinux is available in the Software Center and I definitely recommend it for many older Windows games.

There are quite a few games available through the Software Center which cost money, but most have ratings and are reviewed online as well. That’s an advantage the SC has over using Synaptic.

Ubuntu-SC

Help and Support

The main website for Xubuntu has a webpage you should use as the first line of support. It includes documentation, a FAQ, the IRC channels, and mailing lists. To ask questions in a forum, they point you towards the official Ubuntu forums which are found here and suggest the “Desktop Environments” subsection for Xfce specific questions.

I found a couple of very useful webpages offering suggestions on what to do after you install Xubuntu:

Here is one of them

and here is a different one.

Things I liked

- Most programs are light on resources, making Xubuntu one of the better choices if your laptop is old or has very little RAM.

- The exception is the browser, using Firefox instead of Midori.

- Xubuntu users have access to the Ubuntu support forums, and to all of the hundreds of applications in the Ubuntu repositories.

Things I didn’t like

Playing DVDs and CDs is disabled in the default installation and seems very difficult to get working.

Final Thoughts

Xubuntu strikes me as a good, solid distribution. For newcomers, it seems to be fairly easy to use and while not flashy, certainly not unattractive. It uses the Ubuntu repositories, so if there are programs you need that aren’t installed, they are easily obtainable.

However, if you regularly listen to CDs or watch DVDs, I’m hesitant to recommend this distribution. Even the most recent suggestions haven’t worked for me. It’s possible that this is my laptop’s fault, but in the previous reviews I never found it to be an issue.

Also keep in mind that if you have a Realtek wireless driver, check the Ubuntu forums – I found that both Ubuntu and Kubuntu 14.04 have problems with my driver on the main laptop – it would shut off after abut fifteen minutes – and I think it reasonable that Xubuntu could also have the same problem.

Posted by: duskfire | May 7, 2014

Gaming on Linux 2014 – part one

I spent quite a few hours this weekend checking out which Windows games would run well under Linux. My laptop is a 2013 HP Pavilion 17 Notebook, 17″ with 8 GB of RAM, a Radeon HD 8650G graphics card, running Linux Mint 16, 64-bit KDE edition.

 

Running Steam (for Windows) under Crossover Linux 13.12 is very good. I have been able to run Civilization 5: Brave New World, Skyrim, Simcity 4 (a much older game), and several others with no real issues. Those games both run and exit “cleanly”. In the past, only Final Fantasy 7 refused to even run, and most of the Steam games in my catalog will at least run well. There are a few games where the desktop resolution stays at the lower one that the game was running on after I end it (what I call “exiting uncleanly”) or there will be a square box smaller than the actual desktop that the mouse gets trapped inside of after quitting the game, and you must re-boot (a very annoying thing to do).

PlayOnLinux is another excellent means by which you can play older games. As I have mentioned in the past, many scripts have been written to ease the installation of Windows games from the late 90s and early to mid 2000s. Many of the Good Old Games’ games have scripts, and installing and running them is simple and painless.

I attempted to run TERA Rising Online, and Path of Exile – both under PlayOnLinux. They each installed fine, but Path of Exile wouldn’t bring up the login screen, and TERA, although technically running, has some graphical glitches, and lag that currently makes it unplayable for me.

Path of Exile running - for the time being - in Linux

Path of Exile running – for the time being – in Linux

Under Steam, Neverwinter Nights installed but didn’t want to show the login screen either. Path of Exile does run as you see in the picture above, but the graphics options show a non-changeable “ATI Radeon HD 2700″ which is a much lower quality card than I am actually using. The game did play, but crashed twice, both times when lots of effects were on-screen.

My experience so far seems to point to, at least for me, most MMORPGs being just unplayable, but most single-player games are definitely quite playable.

I’ll be continuing to look at MMORPGs and other recent single player games in upcoming posts.

Posted by: duskfire | May 2, 2014

Goodbye, Windows 8

So I unintentionally installed Ubuntu 14.04 on my entire hard drive last Monday night. What I had wanted to do was to replace the Linux Mint 16 partition with Ubuntu, leaving Windows 8 in place. Didn’t quite work out that way.

I accept part of the blame, but I think Ubuntu’s installer could be a bit clearer. The install routine from Kubuntu (and Mint KDE) shows off a partition table with “before” and “after”, prior to you committing to the install. This very useful feature is lacking in the main Ubuntu install routine (and Linux Mint’s as well).

kubuntu-install

I actually was intending to get rid of Windows 8, but kept putting it off. You could argue that my subconscious did what was necessary….

On top of that, Murphy’s Law showed up. It turns out that there is some problem with the driver for my brand of wireless card (Realtek 8188E). There have been instability issues in the past and apparently they have returned. With the newest versions of both Kubuntu and Ubuntu, my wi-fi signal is lost after approximately 15 minutes. Knowing that I had had Linux Mint 16 on for over 4 months with no problem, I re-installed it and am using it instead…KDE edition of course. Because I’ve never denied that I’m a KDE fanboy. :D

So now what? Well in pretty much every area other than gaming, I know I won’t have any problems staying on Linux. In weeks to come I’ll be looking at games that I have enjoyed in the past to see what works and what does not.

I’ve installed DOSBox with the DBGL front-end that I love, a few emulators for classic consoles, and PlayOnLinux.  I have a feeling that certain games will work better with Crossover (from Codeweavers) than with PlayOnLinux, but I guess I will find out soon enough by installing them. There’s also UnNethack and Nethack4 (which I need to compile).

There are several games that I would like to get working on my system: TERA Rising, League of Legends, Star Wars The Old Republic, and a few others. I have found videos showing that each of these can be run using either Crossover or PlayOnLinux, but whether they will be easy for me to do the same is something that only trial and error will determine.

PlayOnLinux has several other MMORPGs listed that I have heard of, and I will need to check them out. They also list Path of Exile, so I’m eager to see how well that runs.

I am also still working on a Xubuntu 14.04 review. It’s good, but nothing flashy. It’s a perfectly fine operating system, but I just am not excited about it.

 

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