One of the distributions I used in the years before starting this blog was PCLinuxOS. After I discovered that PCLinuxOS was a spinoff of Mandrake (the first Linux distro I ever used), I gave it a try, and used it for at least a year. It served me quite well but that was many years ago. What is it like these days? Here’s my review of their latest release.
PCLinuxOS only has 32-bit versions currently, so I downloaded the KDE CD, since it seems to be their official release. They also have community releases for LXDE, Xfce, Openbox, and something they call “Full Monty” – which is a DVD containing the KDE Software Compilation, set up for you with 6 activity-focused virtual desktops. Although I’ve read that they are testing a 64-bit edition, it hasn’t yet been officially announced.
PCLinuxOS is a Linux distribution that uses rpm files, although they use a customized Synaptic as the graphical front-end to install, remove, and update all their software. I do not know how compatible these rpm files are with ones from Fedora, openSUSE, or Mandriva. Installing additional rpms from outside the PCLinuxOS repositories may work, but is unsupported.
Installation went very quickly, perhaps 10 minutes at the most, and my wireless settings carried over from the live CD. Your user password gets a strength check. I’ve mentioned before that both of these things ought to be the default for any Linux installation.
The version of KDE is 4.6.5 after updating everything. As you see above, the desktop taskbar is initially centered and doesn’t extend the entire length of the screen. It only took a couple of minutes to fix, and once I did that, you can switch the “Classic Menu” setting back to the KDE Launcher style menu if you so desire. The “LibreOffice Manager” icon is an interesting way to install your main office software – not only does it save space on the CD, but it acts like one of Ubuntu’s Personal Package Archives in that it’s the only way you update LibreOffice. The good point of this is that you will always have the most recent version of LibreOffice.
PCLinuxOS is one of those distributions that still uses a CD-sized release, so of course you get a fairly small set of software initially. You don’t start off with any games, but the following applications are installed:
Video: Imagination, TVTime, VLC
Sound: Clementine, KsCD, KMix
Software center: Dupe-clean, LO manager, Synaptic
Office: Kcalc, the LibreOffice suite (6 programs), Okular
Internet: Choqok, Dropbox, Firefox, Konqueror, Ktorrent, Pidgin, Samba browser, Thunderbird, Xchat, & a 3G mobile manager
Graphics: digikam, GIMP, Gwenview, Ksnapshot, Okular, Xsane
File Tools: Bleachbit, Dolphin, Konqueror, Midnight Commander
Documentation: Kinfocenter, PCLinuxOS docs
Archiving: K3B, Ark
Additional Apps: configuration, databases, development, emulators, finances, monitoring, printing, terminal
TVTime, Imagination, and Smb4K are applications which I’ve not seen before and I am unfamiliar with them. Open Office isn’t in the repositories. All the necessary multimedia codecs get installed, so you can watch Youtube videos, look at Apple Quicktime movie trailers, or check out an old TV show on Hulu as soon as you’ve finished installing the operating system. Java is also included.
PCLinuxOS’s repository features a “Task” section. This groups together all the metapackages to make it easy for you to install a related group. Looking through the repository, I found plenty of support for the most common programming languages and IDEs, and the best known graphics, video, and music creation applications. In short, PCLinuxOS seems to provide most of the programs that people will look for in a typical distribution. The rest of the KDE Software Compilation is also easily installed via the repositories.
Longtime readers of this blog will be aware that I tend to focus more on games than other reviewers usually do. I’m happy to report that there are plenty of games in the repositories. Nearly all of the best games for Linux are in the repositories, and are fairly up to date, although not the most recent versions. There are approximately 230 games, not counting the Gnome and KDE specific ones. One area where PCLinuxOS excels is the over 30 games configured for DOSbox. It also includes 2 emulators I haven’t seen in other repos – Kega Fusion (for Sega Genesis and Sega Master System), and Nestopia (for NES games). Both feature a GUI and easy configuration of controller and video. There are several other emulators of course – zsnes, mupen64, epsxe, and MAME, to name a few.
Wine, DOSbox, and PlayonLinux are all in the repositories (I installed Fallout and it seems to run just fine).
Help and Support
One of the best features of PCLinuxOS is their monthly magazine. This is a full-color 48 page PDF which you can download for free from the website. It is always well written and is a way for the distribution to build its community.
PCLinuxOS also has an active forum area, and Firefox installs with several PCLinuxOS links already in the “bookmarks toolbar” area. Like Linux Mint, when you run the Xchat IRC client, you are automatically connected to 2 PCLinuxOS chat rooms – support and discussion.
I strongly recommend that you install the “tasks-kde4-help” package – it was left out to save space on the CD, but all KDE apps have a handbook that really comes in handy if you aren’t familiar with an application. Without this group of packages, the handbook isn’t available.
I installed Xfce, Fluxbox, Openbox, and LXDE to try them out. There’s no support for GNOME 3 at all, and I’m not sure when that will change. For information about the Gnome version of PCLinuxOS, you are advised to check out LinuxGator.org, which is apparently the community site for support of the GNOME 2 edition.
The Openbox desktop menu was a bare and incorrect list, unlike LXDE and Xfce. I have seen this in other distributions, this certainly isn’t specific to PCLinuxOS, but bear in mind that if you are a fan of Openbox you should install the community created version that uses it rather than adding it later. Likewise, the most recent edition of PCLinuxOS is the “Phoenix” Xfce community one. If you prefer Xfce, use that instead of trying to add the Xfce software to the KDE edition.
In contrast, after installing Fluxbox and its extra pieces, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the menu was perfectly up to date. I didn’t try the Openbox community version, but I hope it’s as good as I found Fluxbox to be.
My CD-ROM drive no longer works, so I wasn’t able to see how well this distribution handles DVDs and CDs. But I would be shocked if it couldn’t.
I was unable to connect to our wireless HP printer, even though there’s a configuration UI all set to go. I have easily connected to it with other Linux distributions, so something isn’t quite right.
I hope that PCLinuxOS will be able to finish testing their 64-bit version and release it. Only a handful of distributions still lack 64-bit support. I like PCLinuxOS, and it’s a very good option for older computers. It has polish and a small but dedicated fan base. It’s definitely one of the better options out there.