I used to be an avid PCLOS user. 2007 to 2008 I swore by it. It was THE distro for installing on PC’s. It supported codecs out of the box, worked when Ubuntu would not, and was quicker. It wooed me away from Mandriva back then. Ubuntu improved a lot though. It became more polished, and eventually between Linux Mint and Gutsy, I became an ubuntuphile. I decided to take a look at the newest release of PCLOS this week, here’s what I found.
Note: If you enjoyed this review – You might want to check out my review of the Gnome edition of PCLOS here
A note on installing PCLOS. It uses the now prevailing Install From Live Environment formula that is the norm nowadays. The Live environment is rather unique as well in that you need to authenticate as root to do some things, just like on an installed system.
Installation takes some time, and there is not much to look at while installing. It is a small gripe though, and I have no problem with a lack of flashy installation graphics.
Another feature that reminds of Mandriva is that users are set up at first boot post install. With Debian based distributions you will set up user accounts as part of the installation process.
Of course you can set up multiple users.
After you have done that, you can now log in for the first time. The Login screen is pretty, and reminds of the older KDE based distros. As you will read below, that is not all that harks back to KDE3…
Making an Image of your Install
PCLinuxOS has a really cool feature. Included is a script that allows you to make a live CD from your installation. Once you have installed OpenOffice, for instance, you can then very easily roll your own live disk to keep around. Need to re-install? Pop in this disk, install as per usual and you are good to go!
Many smaller distributions use this to roll their own distro, in fact. I hope that other distributions implement a feature such as this soon.
Now on to the review post install…
No 64Bit support. Yep, scanning through the download repo’s I couldn’t find a 64bit build of PCLOS. If there is one out there and I am so lucky to be read by the PCLinuxOS community, won’t you guys point me towards it?
It is pretty. PCLOS has always had a blue-ish theme. A little dark for my liking, but pretty nonetheless. It is also nippy. Not as fast out of the blocks as Lucid is by a long shot, but once you are in your desktop you know you are dealing with a quick distro. Very nice.
No OpenOffice! Yikes. There is an installer script available, but I would think that any Linux distro that takes itself seriously would include THE free office suite available today.
It uses Synaptic. YES PCLOS has used Synaptic as it’s package manager since I can remember, and this is a real plus. Good on them. It makes managing your system that much easier.
Wow, that is a bit of a blow-by-blow right there. Let me elaborate a bit.
Lack of Openoffice
I find this odd, from a business user perspective. But then, the feel I get from PCLOS is that it is not aimed at the office drone, but more at the casual computer user that needs to edit a document from time to time. If that is the case, fair enough.
The installer for OpenOffice resides on the desktop, or you can install it from the menu. For some reason it also installs Java. I am not sure if OpenOffice needs it, hrrmmm I need to check up on that….
After Java is downloaded and installed, OpenOffice is downloaded and installed…
Look and Feel
PCLOS 2010 uses KDE4 as its desktop environment. You also get a Gnome variant that I will try out later on. It is, and has always been, one of the premium KDE based distributions. I remember right before the launch of KDE4 PCLOS came out with KDE3 sporting a customized menu that looked and behaved exactly like the KDE4 menu.
For some reason the KDE4 menu has been dropped in favor of a menu that looks and behaves like the old KDE3 menu. I disliked the KDE3 menu, finding it too cluttered, and I dislike it in PCLOS now. Some yearning for the glory days of KDE3 might like it, I don’t. It also impacts on the Usability Rating for PCLOS. It is cluttered and confusing. (Read the update below, some commenters pointed out that you can change to the Kickoff menu by right clicking on the menu icon and selecting it. I would prefer it the other way around though. Thanks for pointing it out!)
PCLOS has decided to use Firefox as it’s default browser. At last sanity has prevailed in a KDE4 based distro. Of note is the inclusion of Thunderbird as well. Two solid packages that address a key problem area with many KDE4 based distributions, Konqueror Browser and Kmail.
Props for that software choice.
PCLOS is to Mandriva what Mint is to Ubuntu. A lovingly customized, personalized and streamlined version of the parent distribution. Readers pointed out that PCLOS is a standalone distro, well so is Mint, in my opinion. Maybe PCLOS is to Mandriva what Ubuntu is to Debian, would that be a more apt (excuse the pun) analogy?
The lack of OpenOffice and the confusing and cluttered menu hits it hard in the desktop readiness stakes. The right-click menu for the desktop is also a bit of a nightmare to negotiate.
That said, when Ubuntu failed to work in the past, PCLOS came through. I often found that PCLOS will install hardware that Ubuntu will bork at, like the Gutsy era and Nvidia screen cards. Today Ubuntu has managing Nvidia cards down pat.
Another plus for PCLOS is the computer management center. It makes the task of managing your computer a joy. You can do any manner of PC related tasks with ease. Ubuntu should take note of this.
PCLOS is also friendlier to cellphone modems than Ubuntu. It has an ingenious network setup wizard that has allowed me to bluetooth dial through cellphones when Ubuntu has simply refused. This feature is a carry over from Mandriva, which has also performed well in that area.
I give PCLOS a desktop readiness score of 3/5. It could have done better if it were not for the omission of OpenOffice, and that horrid menu.
PCLOS is not aimed at your average housewife. It is a bit harder to get around than Ubuntu is. The Control Centre goes a long way to mitigate this. I have to mention the Menu, and the Right Click menu again though. I find it hard to find my way around these. They hark from a time when KDE3 was loved by geeks (and I still really love it) and new users took some time to get into it. KDE4, for all its faults, has at least hit on a lower learning curve when it comes to just using the environment, why the PCLOS guys would fall back on the KDE3 menu is a bit of a mystery to me.
Therefore it takes a hit in the user friendliness stakes as well. 3/5
Ooh. I struggled with this one. I gave Ubuntu a 3/5 overall, and that is the highest an OS has scored during one of my reviews. I love PCLOS though, and my heart wants to give PCLOS the same score. But I cannot. It just lacks that final something that Ubuntu has achieved over the past few releases. The final back breaker is the old-style KDE menus.
That said, PCLOS is probably the best KDE4 based distro out there, better than Kubuntu, in my opinion.
Sadly, taking everything into account, including the lack of a 64bit port, 2/5 it is.
I expect to be thoroughly lynched by the PCLinuxOS Community for this review. It really is a great distribution after all. It just lacks in certain key areas that can be improved. I am sure there are very good reasons for some of the design or tool choices they made, but when I remember the days when I used PCLOS as my default I feel that there has been a few steps taken backwards that I cannot excuse.
I still say it is the best KDE based distro I have used though.
Quite a few readers (in the comments below) have pointed out that there is an option to change to the kickoff menu style. I missed it, to my great embarrassment. Sorry guys!
I changed it and once that is done PCLinuxOS suddenly makes much more sense. I would suggest that instead of going for the old-style menu by default, that the kickoff menu is the default. PCLinuxOS actually did very well in the useability comparison linked to above, and with the kickoff menu enabled I like it a lot more.
It edges closer to perfection just because of this simple switch. Very nice.
ANOTHERUPDATE: Based on feedback received here and on my five OS comparative test, I have compiled a list of review criteria. Have a look at them here. Did I miss anything?