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Hands-on with PCLinuxOS: A terrific release

A new release of this venerable Linux distribution is always good news - and if you want to avoid systemd, this PCLinuxOS release could be your new best friend!

I had been thinking that a new PCLinuxOS release was due any time now, based on their quarterly release schedule. Sure enough, it has now arrived, just in time for Christmas - PCLinuxOS 2014.12.

The ISO images for the new release are available from their downloads page. The PCLinuxOS development team produces the KDE "Full" and "MiniMe" versions, and community members (and groups) contribute LXDE, MATE and FullMonty versions. All of these are available as either 32-bit or 64-bit ISO images, ranging in size from 563MB (MiniMe 32-bit) to 1.7GB (64-bit KDE Full) and all the way up to 4GB (64-bit FullMonty).

These are not hybrid ISO images, so you have to use unetbootin to create a bootable Live USB stick (you can't just 'dd' the ISO to a stick). Of course, they can be burned to CD/DVD disks. In my case, I put the KDE Full version on a stick, and the FullMonty version on a DVD.

The PCLinuxOS installer is descended from the Mandrake/Mandriva 'drakelive-install' utility. On the positive side, it is very stable, although I couldn't get it to install on any of my UEFI firmware systems, even with Legacy Boot enabled.

Update: 24-12-2014: I was wrong about it not being installable on UEFI firmware and gpt systems, and have written another post detailing my experiences which you can find here.

It also has a rather irritating tendency to ask just a couple of questions, then go off and do part of the installation, then come back with another question or two, then go off and do some more of the installation, and so on, and it still leaves the entry of the root password and user account creation until after the installation is complete and you reboot the installed system. Pretty much all of the other major distributions have changed to a 'get all of the info at once' approach, and that really does seem to be a lot cleaner and easier for the user.

I had one other problem which I think was caused by having more than 15 partitions on one disk, but I suppose there are not many people in this world who are as deranged as I am, so this is probably not much of an issue. If you try to install, and it goes through the file copy but then the installer just disappears without any warning or error message before going to the GRUB installation dialog, that's the symptom.

So, not being able to install on any of my UEFI systems rather severely limited my options - the Samsung N150 Plus netbook and Lenovo T400 on my desk are the only legacy/MBR boot systems I still use regularly. I decided to install the KDE Full version on the N150 and see how that works, and then if I was reasonably happy with it to go ahead and install the FullMonty on the Lenovo.

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PCLOS KDE Desktop

This release includes Linux kernel 3.18.1 and KDE 4.14.3, with the associated programs, utilities and applications. I recently wrote about the systemd controversy, and if you are on the 'just say no' side of that issue, then this PCLinuxOS release could be very good news for you. There have been several discussion in the forums about systemd, and the PCLinuxOS developers have said quite clearly that they aren't interested in it and don't plan to use it. Sure enough, PID 1 in the new release is 'init'.

In terms of overall configuration and applications, this release is nicely outfitted with Firefox (34.0.5), Thunderbird (31.3.0), LibreOffice (4.3.5.2), GIMP (2.8.14), digiKam (4.5.0) with all the kipi utilities, Clementine and JuK music players, Dragon Player and VLC Media Player, Great Little Radio Player (Internet Radio) and TVtime television viewer. Whew, that's a really nice set of applications, and this isn't even the FullMonty! I can't wait to see what all is in that!

Of course, the latest KDE SC also includes the KDE Netbook desktop, and my trusty N150+ practically cries out for that...

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PCLOS KDE Netbook

The Full KDE installation worked very well, so I decided to go ahead and try the FullMonty. I've never tried to install that version before, but I saw a few comments about it from a friend (hi Thomas), and that motivated me. This time I burned a DVD image, which was dead easy, booted that up on the Lenovo, and even running from the DVD it looked really good. Installing took quite a while, of course (4GB on the DVD expanded to nearly 13GB installed on the disk), but was uneventful.

The basic idea of the FullMonty distribution is that there are six pre-defined desktops, each focused on a particular purpose. The KDE bottom panel (which is common to all of the desktops) has a six-section desktop selection control, so you have direct access to whichever one you want. Hovering the mouse on any of these produces a pop-up that shows the name of that desktop, which is a nice touch while you are still getting used to the layout.

Also in the bottom panel, to the left of the desktop selection, is the Quicklaunch area, with a cluster of four application icons - Kwrite, Konsole, Dolphin and Konqueror initially. You can right-click here to customize it by adding/removing launchers as you wish.

Each desktop has a wallpaper that is indicative of its focus, and pre-defined workspaces with icons for the most commonly used applications in that category. A screen shot of each desktop and a few comments about the applications follows.

PCLOS Internet Desktop

This is the first of the six, the Internet desktop. It has three workspaces defined, containing general purpose web surfing (Firefox, Chrome and Opera; Thunderbird and Kmail; Google Earth), communication programs (Skype, pidgin, kopete and chokoq) and file transfer and management (dropbox, gftp, ktorrent).

Another thing that I think this desktop shows clearly is that this distribution is not called the "FullMonty" only because it has lots of pre-configured desktops, it also comes with lots of pre-installed applications and packages.. There are three different browsers and two different mail programs, and this is seen again and again in the subsequent desktops with multiple, often overlapping options for applications.

PCLOS Office Desktop

The second desktop, with Office programs. One launcher group with LibreOffice and abiword (hmm. I wonder why the KDE Caligra suite is not included, it seems like everything else is here...). Another group with ebook reader and management programs, and the third with other miscellaneous bits like kmymoney, korganizer and such. Here's an interesting note... I have been using kmymoney for quite a few years now, and this is the first distribution I have seen which actually includes it in the base image. Nice.

PCLOS Games Desktop

The Games desktop, with two workspaces containing a variety of games. I'm not much of a gamer, so this doesn't mean much to me and I don't have much to say about it. One thing I did notice, it doesn't look like Steam is installed. That seems a bit odd, but maybe there is some good reason for it.

PCLOS Multimedia Desktop

The Multimedia desktop. Zowie, is this one packed full of goodies. Desktop icons for amarok, clementine, flvplayer, VLC, tvtime and a lot more. But look beyond that, check the Sound and Video menus in the KDE launcher hierarchy (desktop menus). There's more stuff there than I could list if I stood here and typed all day! Check it out! Sound:

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PCLinuxOS Sound Menu

Video:

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PCLinuxOS Video Menu

Honestly, that's a LOT of multimedia applications and utilities.

PCLOS Graphics Desktop

The Graphics desktop. Yes, of course the GIMP and Image Magick are there, along with a variety of other image viewers and editors. Lots of photo management and manipulation programs too, including (of course) digiKam (4.5.0), darktable, fotoxx, fotoprint and more.

PCLOS System Desktop

Finally, the System desktop. I have a feeling that I will be spending a lot of my time on this one. Three workspaces, for configuration utilities (system, desktop, netowrk), disk and file management utilities, and monitoring/status utilities (kinfocenter, ktop, ksysguard, hardinfo and filelight). Again, these pre-configured desktop icons are just scratching the surface of what is really included for system management and administration. Poke around a bit, and you'll be amazed.

Ok, that's enough for now. To summarize, I would say that this is a terrific release. It covers a very wide range of needs and systems, including different desktops (LXDE, MATE and KDE), very small 'flesh it out yourself' KDE MiniMe or well-equipped Full KDE, all the way to the insanely equipped and pre-configured KDE FullMonty distribution. I can say honestly that I will keep PCLinuxOS on the two legacy boot systems that I installed for this post.

It's very, very good. Try it.

Note: An earlier version of this posted wrongly suggested that PCLinuxOS was not installable on UEFI firmware systems. For more detail on installing PCLinuxOS on UEFI systems see this post here.

Further reading