I have not done anything with PCLinuxOS for quite some time. First there was some personal / political turmoil in the PCLinuxOS developer community, and then there seemed to be a long time with no activity. When development seemed to pick up again, in the first half of this year, I picked up a copy of the 2010 Beta release, and then through an unfortunate combination of a bug in the installer and my own complacency/inattentiveness, I made a mess of my primary laptop. Now the PCLinuxOS 2010.7 Final release has been out for a couple of months, and I have finally gotten around to loading it up again. It is, as the title of this entry says, like seeing an old friend again after a long time.
I downloaded the KDE installation, transferred to a USB stick, booted that and had it installed and running in less than 20 minutes. The installation dialog was similar to Mandriva, but not identical. (People often say that PCLinuxOS is derived from Mandriva, but that is not really true. They have a lot of common roots, and PCLinuxOS still uses a lot of the "drakxxx" utilities, but it is no longer "derived" from current Mandriva distributions.) It installed easily on all three of my most-used laptops, with the only hiccup being support for the Broadcom 4313 WiFi adapter in the Samsung. The default KDE desktop will be familiar to anyone who has used PCLinuxOS before.
Nice colors, nice graphics, good layout... overall a pleasant desktop. You will notice that there is an icon on the screen to download OpenOffice.org if you want/need it, rather than having it in the base distribution. This seems like a pretty good idea to me, by leaving that one package out of the Live distribution, it makes room for a lot of other packages to be included. Having the icon on the screen makes it easy for those who actually do need it - overall I think it is a better idea than Ubuntu just dropping Gimp a while back.
Another feature that caught my eye was that PCLinuxOS has the KDE "Smooth Tasks" taskbar enable by default. I haven't looked at this very much, because I am primarily a Gnome desktop user, but after this first exposure I have to say it seems quite nice. Here is a screen shot with a few things in the taskbar, and the Smooth Tasks settings window open.
The major components of PCLinuxOS are generally up to date; Linux kernel 126.96.36.199, KDE 4.4.5 (I might like to see it with KDE 4.5 at this point), Firefox 3.6.10, ATI and nVidia graphic drivers are included in the base distribution, Gimp 2.6.9, digikam 1.3.0 and so on. The list of applications included in the base distribution is too long to include here, check the page linked above for a complete list.
If you prefer something other than KDE, PCLinuxOS also comes in a variety of other flavors:
There is also a Gnome ZenMini distribution, which has a Gnome desktop and an absolute minimum of applications included, for the "build your own" crowd:
For the more minimalist/lightweight desktop users, there is an LXDE distribution:
and of course an Xfce distribution:
For the absolute desktop minimalist there is an Openbox desktop:
And last but not least, an Enlightenment desktop:
Wow. That's a lot of choices! If you can't find what you want in PCLinuxOS 2010.7, you must be very hard to please indeed!
In summary I would say that with the large and still-growing uncertainty about Mandriva Linux, PCLinuxOS is a very good alternative. Take a look - try it, you might like it. I'm certainly glad that I got back to it.
Update - it is now just over 24 hours since I wrote this post. I have no idea whether it is a direct result of my writing about it, but the Broadcom drivers have now been updated in PCLinuxOS, and the Broadcom 4313 WiFi adapter in my Samsung N150 Plus is now recognized, configured and working great - I'm writing this on it! So, this is one more example of how a small distribution with dedicated developers and packagers can be very responsive, and can actually "lead the pack" in getting features included. Great work.