PCLinuxOS 2010 (KDE)

The last time I looked at PCLinuxOS was back in 2009 when I was working full-time for ExtremeTech. There’s a new release out and it’s a good time for a review of it here on DLR. I’ve also gotten some requests for it in the Request A Review page and I’m always happy to try and fulfill those requests.

PCLinuxOS comes available in a number of different desktop environments:

KDE
Gnome
Gnome ZenMini
LXDE
XFCE
Openbox

For this review I decided to use the main KDE version.

There is also a “MiniMe” version that contains the desktop only, without all of the extra applications. If you are the type that wants total control over what applications are put onto your system, the MiniMe version is definitely for you. I, being somewhat lazy and not much of a control freak, simply opted for the regular version.

What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of what’s new in this release:

Kernel 2.6.32.11-bfs kernel for maximum desktop performance.
Full KDE 4.4.2 Desktop.
Nvidia and ATI fglrx driver support.
Multimedia playback support for many popular formats.
Wireless support for many network devices.
Printer support for many local and networked printer devices.
Addlocale allows you to convert PCLinuxOS into over 60 languages.
GetOpenOffice can install Open Office supporting over 100 languages.
MyLiveCD allows you  to take a snapshot of  your installation and burn it to a LiveCD/DVD.
Parental Controls to keep your kids away from those naughty websites.

I don’t have kids so I don’t usually bother with parental controls. I took a quick peek at the ones in PCLinuxOS though and found them somewhat limited.

If you want to access the parental controls for PCLinuxOS, click the Configure Your Computer icon on the panel. Type in your root password then click the Security link after the PCLinuxOSControlCenter. From there choose Parental Controls.

You can blacklist or whitelist sites and you can also set time limits on use. You’ll have to type in each site you want blocked in the controls though, there doesn’t seem to be a list you can easily import into the parental controls to block known nasty sites automatically.

After booting into the Live CD desktop, you can explore or start the install.

Hardware Requirements & Installation
Hardware Requirements
Here’s a list of system requirements necessary to run PCLinuxOS:

Modern Intel or AMD processor.

RAM : 512 MB minimum, 1 GB recommended.

Hard disk : 3 GB minimum, 10 GB ore more recommended if you plan to install additional software from our repository.

Video card: nVidia, ATI, Intel, SiS, Matrox, VIA.

3D desktop support requires a 3D instructions set compatible card.

Any Sound Blaster, AC97 or HDA compatible card.

CD/DVD drive required.

Installation Steps
When you first boot PCLinuxOS up, there’s a bit of a delay before a keyboard selection screen comes up. After that the Live CD desktop loads and you can begin exploring or you can start the install right away. The information for the root and guest accounts appears right on the Live CD desktop.

This is a good idea and one I’d like to see other distros adopt if they require a root login to do an install, etc. In the past I have seen a few distros that don’t make it easy to find this information and that could be a real irritant to a newbie.

You don’t need to set up a root password of your own until after the install. When you first boot into your desktop, a menu will popup asking you to pick a root password and also offering you the opportunity to customize the authentication method. After that another menu comes up that lets you pick a regular user name and password for using your system as a non-root user.

Here’s a breakdown of the install, with screenshots:

Step 1: Start the install wizard.

Step 2: Disk partitioning.

Step 3: Installation.

Step 4: Bootloader Customization.

Step 5: Reboot.

Step 6: Choose root password.

Step 7: Choose user name and password.

Click the install icon on your desktop to launch the install wizard.

You can opt to use the free space on your disk or choose the custom disk partitioning option.

After you choose your disk partitioning, the install begins.

You can customize your bootloader.

You can customize your bootloader.

After the install is complete, boot into your new desktop and choose a root password.

After picking a root password, choose your user name and password for non-root use.

The install routine was reasonably speedy and I didn’t encounter any significant problems with it. Experienced Linux users should not have a problem and newbies just need to follow the menu prompts to install PCLinuxOS.

Booting & Login

Bootsplash
The bootsplash screen features the PCLinuxOS logo of a bull. You can opt to boot regularly or boot into safe mode. At the bottom of the screen are help, language and kernel option choices.

Login Screen
The login screen lets you choose to login as yourself or as root. At the bottom of the screen you’ll find session and menu options. You can restart X, shutdown, console login, remote login or switch user.

The bootsplash screen offers help, language and kernel options.

The login screen offers session and login options.

The desktop after PCLinuxOS is installed.

The Desktop
One thing I have never liked about KDE is the crazy scroll-to-the-side desktop menus. I was very pleased to notice that the PCLinuxOS developers wisely decided to default back to the older KDE 3 menus. These are much easier and faster to navigate. I know that some people probably think the menus that scroll to the side are cool or whatever but I am not among them. I find them irritating to use and I truly wish the KDE developers would get rid of them altogether.

That said, the PCLinuxOS desktop is pretty well designed. The panel contains the “PC” button that lets you pull up a list of application categories, actions, etc. You’ll also find configuration icons for the desktop, your computer, the Synaptic package manager and the Dolphin file manager. Application categories are setup pretty well, it’s easy to find things.

The desktop comes with the following icons on it:

Home
Add Locale
Firewall Setup
Get OpenOffice
Network Center
Trash

Generally I don’t like a lot of icons on my default desktop but I didn’t mind the ones setup in PCLinuxOS. It’s certainly a good idea to make OpenOffice.org easily available to new users who might not know to look for it in the applications menu.

The PCLinuxOS Control Center
Click the Configure Your Computer button on the panel and you can change settings for the following:

Sharing
Network Services
Hardware
Network & Internet
System
Network Sharing
Local Disks
Security
Boot

Note that you’ll need to use your root password to access the PCLinuxOS Control Center.

Desktop Settings
You won’t need to use your root password though if you just want to change your desktop settings. Just click the Configure Your Desktop icon on the panel and the desktop config menu will load. From there you can change the Look and Feel, Desktop, Notifications, Window Behavior and lots of other things to customize your experience.

Use the control center to configure your system.

Bundled Software

Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.

Games
Breakout
Mahjongg Solitaire
Patience
Sudoku
Sokoban
Minesweeper

Graphics
GIMP
digiKam
KSnapshot
Wally
Okular
XSane
Gwenview

Internet
Firefox
Konqueror
DropBox
KGet
Choqok
KTorrent
Pidgin IM
Thunderbird
XChat
Umtsmon
Smb4k

Multimedia
Imagination
SMPlayer
TVtime
Amarok
Floola
KMix
KsCD

Office
OpenOffice (must be downloaded)

Software Management
PCLinuxOS uses Synaptic as its software manager. To start Synaptic just click on the Synaptic icon on your panel and type in your root password. From there you can browse applications via categories (sections) or you can search for a particular application. There’s a lot of software available via Synaptic, probably far more than your average desktop user would ever want or need. But it’s fun to poke around and check things out anyway.

One neat thing in the Software Center menu is a the repository speed test. This helps you to find the fastest mirror to add software to Synaptic. While this isn’t something I’d worry too much about, it’s a nice touch for the speed-crazed software addicts out there who want their software and who want it NOW! It takes just a couple of minutes to run the test and the results are displayed from fastest to slowest.

Use the Synaptic package manager to manage your software.

Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
I checked out a video of Colt McCoy on YouTube and it played great. No problems with sound or video and I didn’t have to install flash. My Firefox browser was already set up and ready to go after installing PCLinuxOS.

DVDs
PCLinuxOS does not come with the libdvdcss2 needed to run DVDs. However, you can choose to install it yourself later if you want to run DVDs on your system. Just pull up Synaptic and do a search for libdvdcss2.

YouTube looked great in PCLinuxOS.

Problems & Headaches
One thing that I found somewhat odd was setting up the root password and non-root user ID and password after the install. Most other distros seem to do this during or before the install itself. It seems to me that that’s probably a better way to handle it so that when a user actually boots into his or her desktop, everything is set up and ready to go. This is a minor nitpick but it might be something for the PCLinuxOS developers to consider.

I was also slightly annoyed that I had to download OpenOffice.org. I prefer to have it pre-installed to save me the time of downloading it. However, it was quite easy and simple to download it so I can’t complain about this too much. Still, my preference is to have it ready to go after I boot into my desktop.

The other thing that struck me was how ugly Synaptic looked in this release. Ubuntu’s Software Center is much more attractive and, for newer users, easier to use. I’d like to see the PCLinuxOS developers create and adopt something similar in future releases. Synaptic gets the job done but it lacks elegance and contrasts poorly with the PCLinuxOS Control Center, for example. Synaptic is functional but that’s about all I can say for it.

Beyond these minor issues, I didn’t encounter any particularly difficult problems. PCLinuxOS works pretty well and didn’t give me any real headaches while using it.

Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum (registration takes less than a minute and you can login with your Facebook account if you want); everybody is welcome. You are welcome to post a message in the Linux Help section and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, but also many other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.

Drop by the forum to get help, talk about Linux or just hang out.

You might also want to check out the PCLinuxOS forum and the PCLinuxOS Wiki. You can also get information about IRC and mailing lists from the PCLinuxOS support page.

Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
My experience with PCLinuxOS was quite positive, for the most part. It’s very easy to install and use, and there is a robust community ready to assist newcomers.

PCLinuxOS should definitely be at the top of anybody’s desktop distro list. There’s a version of it for pretty much everybody, from desktop eye-candy addicts to extreme minimalists that want total control over what applications go on their system. It provides a great alternative to Ubuntu, Fedora and some of the other prominent desktop distros.

If you’ve never tried it, find a version that appeals to you and give it a download. I suspect you’ll be pleased with what you find.

What’s your take on PCLinuxOS 2010? Tell me in the comments below. Looking for opinion columns and other articles by Jim Lynch? Visit JimLynch.com.

Summary Table:

Product: PCLinuxOS
Web Site: http://pclinuxos.com/
Price: Free
Pros: Excellent control center, decent selection of software. Comes with an easy to use script to download OpenOffice.org. Doesn’t use KDE’s sliding menus by default.
Cons: OpenOffice.org not installed by default. You have to set up the root password and your non-root user ID and password after the system installation.
Suitable For: Beginner, intermediate or advanced users.
Summary: PCLinuxOS 2010 updates KDE and the Linux kernel. It also adds support for additional wireless devices and includes a repository speed test (among other things).
Rating: 4/5