Exploring the PCLinuxOS 2013.04 rollup release

Exploring the PCLinuxOS 2013.04 rollup release

Summary: PCLinuxOS now has 32-bit mini, normal, and FullMonty versions, and a 64-bit KDE version as well. But be careful; it still doesn't support GPT disk partitioning.

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The PCLinuxOS developers have made a new quarterly "rollup" release of their Linux distribution, and this one brings some extra good news with it.

In addition to normal 32-bit distribution, this time, a 64-bit version is available as well. PCLOS is a "rolling release", so updates are continuously released as they are ready, rather than being held back for scheduled major updates.

That means this is a "rollup" release, which simply incorporates all of the updates that have been released since the last ISO rollup was made — for the 32-bit version, that was just in February this year, but for the 64-bit version, I don't even remember when the last release was: There has been a 64-bit Release Candidate available since shortly after the 32-bit rollup was released, but before that, I don't know.

The 32-bit release notes give a rundown of new/improved features; in my opinion, the most important is the update to KDE 4.10.1, the most noticeable is the very nice new theme graphics, the most beneficial is the new QT-update notifier, and the most disappointing is Linux kernel 3.2.18.

That last bit of disappointment is probably not fair, because it is well known that PCLOS is based on Debian, and the developers don't try to keep up with newer kernels beyond Debian, so the release contains what is to be expected.

The most impressive aspect of the PCLinuxOS 32-bit release is the variety of distributions. The minime version is stripped down to a svelte 549MB ISO image. This makes it small and light, without a lot of extra features beyond the base operating system, so if you are installing on older hardware, or with limited disk or memory capacity, or you really want the ISO to fit on a single CD-R disk, you should be happy with this one.

The standard KDE Desktop version weighs in at 1.66GB, so you'll need a DVD or at least a 2GB USB stick for it. It includes a lot of common packages that have been omitted from minime to save space, such as LibreOffice, GIMP, VirtualBox, and a lot more.

The FullMonty version lumbers in at a hefty 4GB, and looks like it includes pretty much everything anyone could think to toss in there. The nicest part of this one is probably the variety of pre-configured desktops. Check the FullMonty detailed description to see some nice examples of these.

A 64-bit version of the "normal" KDE Desktop version is also available. There has been a Release Candidate of this version available since shortly after the previous 32-bit rollup was released, so it is good news to see it become a final release. The contents and features appear to be essentially the same as the 32-bit KDE Desktop version.

PCLinuxOS64
PCLinuxOS 64-bit Desktop
(Image: Screenshot by JA Watson/ZDNet)

The contents of the standard 32-bit and 64-bit versions are essentially the same:

  • Linux kernel 3.2.18: This is probably the single largest drawback to this distribution, because there have been a lot of drivers added and improved in later versions of the kernel. Two things that jumped out at me: There is no driver for the Raling 3290 wi-fi adapter, and the ClickPad is not properly supported. The former turns out not to be so bad, because I can't use PCLOS on that system anyway (see below), but the latter is a killer; I had forgotten how totally awful the blasted ClickPad is without the correct driver. It took less than five minutes of struggling with it before I was ready to launch it out the window.

  • KDE 4.10.1: This is one of the biggest advantages to this distribution. The latest KDE, and it is a beauty.

  • LibreOffice 4.01

  • DigiKam 3.1.0: I am a fanatic about digiKam, and this is the first distribution I have seen with 3.1, so I am very pleased about this.

I have to make one very significant point about this distribution, however. Not only does it not include UEFI Boot support, it also does not support GPT partitioned disks.

As I have mentioned several times over the past few articles about UEFI and GPT, this can be particularly treacherous, because it will not complain, it looks like it is going to work — but unless you are very lucky, and have a very simple disk layout, there is a good chance that it will get confused and destroy one or more existing partitions on your disk.

If you have a GPT disk (if you aren't sure, read that as "if you have Windows 8 and/or UEFI BIOS"), I would strongly urge you not to try to install this distribution.

In summary, this is a welcome release. It seems to me that it adds significant polish to the previous rollup release, and the 64-bit distribution is a big plus. It has a very active and very dedicated user community, and if you try it and find that you need help, you will almost certainly get it in the forums.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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9 comments
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  • GPT?

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
    If you have a GPT disk (if you aren't sure, read that as "if you have Windows 8 and/or UEFI BIOS), I would strongly urge you not to try to install this distribution.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Any thing wrong with just repartitioning a brand new machine with gparted?

    I am completely opposed to buying something which 'not mine' from the standpoint that I can't do whatever I want with what I OWN. If nec essary, I'll wait until hardware makers start offering a quality piece of iron with no built-in restrictions so that I can do as I please with it. I realise I may be in for a long wait. Thanks...
    pairo'docs
    • You could do that

      But if you have a UEFI only machine you still can't boot. Best to stick with a Linux distro that does support UEFI and GPT.
      Michael Kelly
    • Possibly

      I believe that you could do that, but I have not tried it myself. Certainly something like gparted would very happily wipe the disk and write a DOS BIOS partition table to it. I believe what Michael Kelly is means is that if your UEFI BIOS setup does not support "Legacy Boot", you could end up unable to install and boot Linux, but I think there are very few UEFI systems which do not have a "Legacy Boot" option. Another interesting question would be whether you would be able to reload Windows to the repartitioned disk. I really don't know the answer to that one. But if your intention was to wipe and change the disk to DOS BIOS, and then install only Linux, I think your chances of success are pretty high.

      Thanks for reading and commenting

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
  • it is well known that PCLOS is based on Debian

    Hang on, wasn't it originally based on Mandriva, but now it's independent?
    guzz46
  • Article based on serious error

    PCLinuxOS is *not* based on Debian, it's a remix of Mandriva. As such, most of the conclusions about its out-of-date kernel are void.
    liamproven
  • Comments based on serious error (or common misunderstanding)

    There has been extensive discussion over the years about the original and relationship of PCLinuxOS and Mandriva. If you talk to the people responsible for PCLOS, they will tell you vehemently that it was not "derived" from Mandriva. It did use some features of Mandriva, and still does use them, most notably the "drake___ utilities. The presense of these has led many people to assume incorrectly that PCLinuxOS was derived from Mandriva.

    I will admit that my statement about "derived from Debian" was an assumption based on what I know about its background and current state, and the kernel version used in this distribution, and it is probably wrong. The commenter above who said it is now independent is probably closer to the truth, but if anyone who has direct inside knowledge would like to comment here, it would be welcome.

    As for "most of the conclusions about its out-of-date kernel are void"... well, I have both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions running, and they are both running kernel 3.2.18. Compare that to Fedora 18, which is currently running 3.8.7, or openSuSE 12.3 which is running 3.3.7.10... the PCLinuxOS kernel is seriously behind those, and as a consequence it suffers from the things I mentioned in the original post - missing drivers and thus unsupported hardware. The same could be said about the X Window System, PCLOS is still using X server 1.10.4, while many current distributions have 1.13 or so. This results in lacking support for certain newer graphic adapters.

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    jw
    j.a.watson@...
  • As for "most of the conclusions about its out-of-date...

    So I better stay with what I got.

    Oh wait, it is PCLinuxOS and it's been stable, reliable, and in continuous use for 6 years. Rolling updates are so easy. Thankfully there are never been issues with my IBM and Lenovo installations.
    Agnostic_OS
    • Exactly Right

      Thanks for saying this so clearly. PCLinuxOS is a good, solid, well supported distribution. If you don't have driver problems because of the kernel - and most people will not - you are very likely to be extremely happy with it. There was some doubt about its future when TexStar reduced his involvement, but that has proven not to be a problem.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      jw
      j.a.watson@...
      • PCLinuxOS solid

        The team have kept it good, I'm glad to see you gave it a review.
        Yes, the very latest hardware will have problems and I'm sure they'll get it sorted but as you say most-times it will work. Overall I've found PCLinuxOS tends to aim for maximum stability before bleeding-edge technology. Something I like. I'm quite conservative about operating systems and I'm still on the 32 bit distro but will give the 64 bit a spin before the end of the year.
        Agnostic_OS