Another Day Another Distro – Part 4 – PCLinuxOS 2007
I had a slightly frustrating start to my PCLinuxOS experience when I couldn’t boot the LiveCD, it was the same situation as with openSUSE only this time choosing VESA graphics didn’t help. After choosing “LiveCD” on the menu I just saw a black screen with a few traces of garbled blue letters. Luckily I managed to fix it by adding the “noapic” option at the end of the options box on the install screen. This is the same thing I had to do with Ubuntu and thinking about it now it probably would have worked on openSUSE too. I cannot blame the distro for this as it’s happened on many others and I think it must be a quirk of my motherboard or something. I’m sure someone out there much smarter than me knows exactly what this is but never mind I’ll struggle on ignorantly.
The rest of the installation went pretty well but I did get a very nasty 800×600 resolution all the way through and couldn’t see some of the buttons on the install dialogs as they were too big. I got the system installed though and you can see the full blow by blow slide show below (wow that rhymes) if you’re interested.
Using the system:
One of the first things I noticed on PCLinuxOS, even during the LiveCD boot was that the boot screen looked suspiciously like Mandriva. I later found out that the distro is actually based on Mandriva which explains it. I was greeted with the standard KDE desktop all be it at a very nasty 800×600 resolution, so my first task was to fix that. I opened the Control Center application and had a look at the hardware settings, my X server (the graphical server) was set to use VESA so I searched through the different options and managed to find some for Nvidia cards. I chose the generic GeForce driver and this allowed me to set the correct 1440×900 resolution of my LCD, I had to log out and restart the X server for this to take affect. Next I tried to turn on the 3D desktop without much success. I couldn’t get my X server to allow 3D acceleration and I tried a number of different drivers and settings, then looked in the PCLinuxOS forums but still to no avail. Deciding I’d wasted enough time alreadt I gave up on accelerated graphics and moved on to other things.
The default set of applications is very good, the usual complement of goodies: Amarok, Firefox, OpenOffice, GIMP and so on. The distro also featured a couple of programs I would normally install anyway such as Ktorrent and Putty, that was all good. I fired up Synaptic package manager which has been added into this distribution and makes a nice touch. I’m used to Synaptic from Ubuntu so it wasn’t hard to get the hang of, although I did struggle to find any software at first. All my searches turned up nothing so I went into the “repositories” item on the menu and ticked a few boxes to add more sources, then reloaded the package list. This did the trick and I was able to install stuff pretty easily after that, I even found the latest version of Skype 1.4 in the repositories which was great. Normally I would have to go to the Skype website to get that in every other distro I’ve used so far, a nice touch.
I decided to try opening some multimedia files and was able to play my music in Amarok without any need to install codecs. I was also able to watch my Xvid videos in Mplayer without any trouble. That was great but I have to say I prefer Kaffine to Mplayer just because the controls suit me better, it’s purely personal but I prefer Totem to both of them as I’ve said before. Still, it played the videos and that’s the point.
Up next I decided to try using my external NTFS drive to see if it had write support, it didn’t so I went into Synaptic and did a quick search for “NTFS” which turned up ntfs-config and a few other ntfs-3g related things. I installed the config tool because I knew this would install the other dependencies and sort things out for me. After that I tried the drive again but still had no write support, it was at this point I realized I was being a complete idiot (nothing new about that) and I hadn’t turned on the write support with ntfs-config, I’d only installed it.
I found it buried away in a sub menu, ticked the box and all was good. All in all I was a little disappointed that NTFS writing wasn’t supported out of the box like it is in some other distros but it didn’t take long to fix. No great hardship.
Overall I had a reasonable experience with PCLinuxOS 2007, not brilliant but considering I went into it with no prior knowledge not bad at all really. My initial impression wasn’t good I have to be honest, I’m not normally one to worry about the design or look of a distro but it seemed this was trying a little to hard to look like Windows XP. The big blue window decorations looked pretty nasty to my eyes. Not necessarily a bad thing I know, it just didn’t appeal to me. Maybe it would make new Linux users more comfortable coming over form XP I don’t know, if it does then I’m all for it. I had a few minor problems with PCLinuxOS but I managed to fix most of them, apart from the 3D graphics which may have been fixable with more time. I’ve seen a lot of reviews which try and compare PCLinuxOS with Ubuntu head to head and I have to say in this fight there would be only one winner… Mandriva 2008 hehe 🙂
PCLinuxOS is supposed to be based on Mandriva, so I wonder if this release is based on Mandriva 2007 and we will see an new version now that Mandriva 2008 has arrived? Probably, it seems logical. So maybe comparing PCLinuxOS 2007 and Mandriva 2008 isn’t exactly fair but still it’s not a patch on Mandriva in my eyes. I will keep my eye out for an updated release of PCLinuxOS and give it another test just to be fair though.
For me this distro is average. I don’t want to upset anyone by saying that, it’s a perfectly good distro and I managed to do pretty much everything I would do on Ubuntu or anything else, it just didn’t feel right. That’s purely personal of course and you should try it out for yourself if you want a better idea. It’s supposed to be an improved version of Mandriva though and it’s not as good as the original. So far I have tried 4 distros on my tour and Mandriva 2008 is the winner up to now. Closely followed by Ubuntu Gutsy with PCLinuxOS and openSUSE bringing up the rear I’m afraid. I have yet to try a few other distros though so those positions could change, we’ll see.
Onwards and sideways:
So it’s off to another distribution tomorrow and I think it’s going to be Debian Etch. It’s been out a while but a lot of the things I love about Ubuntu are thanks to it’s Debian base so I’m looking forward to it. I’ll report back with my findings soon…