While waiting for gutsy gibbon, the next installment of Ubuntu to come through, I surfed across another popular distribution. PClinuxOS, in its 2007 version, is a distribution derived from mandrake linux and its goal is to create a good desktop alternative for Windows users.
Using KDE and 2.6 kernel, the distribution has some very interesting advantages towards Ubuntu Feisty Fawn. The creators of PCLinuxOS have tried to emulate most of the tasks that a windows user does so that he won’t feel alienated in the new environment.
One of the discouraging facts that Linux has to face is the install sequence. Since I am switching distributions, this makes me a newbie as well. In the livecd, once the bootup sequence began, it asked me of my keyboard preferences. I chose my native language, time settings (in this Ubuntu has a better interface), and network setup. Network setup is interesting, because this distro has groupped all possible -so far- network setups, for configuring on the fly. Once I had them all configured, I could play with the live cd or as I did, chose to install the distro.
The installation process takes about 10 minutes in my pc, which is a P3-550/384mb mem and cdrom drive 16x. Basically the installation loads up diskdrake, which will take care of making partitions to the system (something that is a more linux approach since it created 6 new partitions rather than 3 which is on ubuntu with the auto partitioner), copy the system files and install the bootloader. Afterwards, you have to setup a root password and a daily user for yourself (since I am still a windows user, I hate the security policy on all POSIX systems, but it’s a mandatory thing and you can have it grow on you, too) and lastly to configure bootup kernel options (i think that’s before the users but I don’t remember good). Other than that, reboot.
First Boot Up
When you first boot, you get the same screen as the LiveCD. No, I haven’t left the cd on my drive, it’s the same. You get 3 options. The normal kernel boot, the lite kernel boot and a failsafe option (similar to safe mode). Failsafe boots a single user shell that you can do some magic stuff in case of a really emergency.
After booting up the kernel, you have an option to press esc to see all the nifty linux messages (or not) that have been evolved through the years (ok that’s sentimental value for me). You get yourself to a modified KDM screen that gives you the usual suspects; root user and your daily usage user.
Believing that a linux distro would hotplug (= auto find all your hardware and install all the drivers etc on the fly), is yet another myth. One of the problems a linux user had was typing a lot and configuring a lot through text in order to have things done. PClinuxOS contains a nifty control panel, apart from KDE control panel that you can setup things through that. But first, there is a mandatory thing called update.
Most of the hardware is recognised already through hotplug. But when I booted up, I noticed something. There is no 3d accelaration. Yes, no out-of-the-box accelaration. My videocard is an Nvidia Geforce2 MX/400, one of the lowest and muddiest cards (the MX series was always a royal pain in the arse), but it still qualifies for 3d accelaration. A problem I had in Ubuntu was due to the nvidia drivers change which made a whole mess in my system and broke the sh*t out of my 3d accelaration. Actually the driver you have to have when using a card like mine, is the Nvidia 96xx as it is noted -finally-.
To install the driver, you will have to use the PCLinuxOS package installer which is none other than Synaptic. I liked the fact that they use synaptic, even though it’s not an apt-get (debian) distro. It gives a familliar sense of knowledge if you are switching distros. But as I said earlier you have to update.
Update time was a waste. There is no Greek mirror of the distribution and I had to wait a lot (that’s one point for Ubuntu’s mighty mirror range!) and considering the crappy DSL lines that we Greeks have it’s a complete waste of time. Oh well, more zelda time for me.
It took around 2 hours to download the update packages. Almost a cd (500 mb in updates most of them, and removals for some packages from the original install). I could have missed all that if they would pack an updated version for the first install, but I am fine, I got used to those updates (NTUA mirror though would have taken me around 45 minutes for those installs).
Control Panel & Rest of hardware installation
After rebooting (just in case of something that needs reboot), I went and installed the Nvidia drivers I mentioned. By installing them, I was able to have my system 3d enabled.
I went to the control panel and enabled beryl graphics with aiglx (not xgl graphical server). The system required me to do a server restart, but I chose to reboot (I am so into Microsoft Way of doing things) and it probably was a good thing. Sometimes when I was asked to just restart the KDM I got some annoying messages of DCOx could not start service/program, so I just rebooted. I hope this is something that would be fixed or is fixed for nextgen computers (p4 for example) and it’s just because of my computer.
As I was staying in the control panel, I took some time to check other things as well. They did a great job on grouping configuration tasks, making them more friendly for the Microsoft user. It’s a thing that Gnome/Ubuntu users do not honestly have.
I decided to install some usb hardware stuff. I have a creative camera, a BT-100 bluetooth host and an HP PSC1510 printer/scanner. In my former ubuntu install, of all three, I could only install the bluetooth host. I couldn’t see through my camera, or use the psc scanner, even though there was support through cups/hp control center.
PCLinuxOS easily recognized the scanner portion, the camera (it had prerecognized from the beginning of the installation, but I realized it later when I saw the extra software it installed for the camera) and the printer (even though it seems that I have a printer problem because nothing is printed — probably I need fresh ink installed). And then it came to the bluetooth.
Bluetooth for the masses
Bluetooth is a special occasion. Even though it is a USB dongle, you have to install extra drivers when you want to use it. It happened on Ubuntu and it has to happen now as well. So using the synaptic (something that it should have been mentioned somewhere and not finding it from user groups) you go and select to install bluetooth files, especially the bluetooth kde (the rest will be noted for install automatically, which are the bluez tools). Also install the kbluetooth-pin (even though I don’t know its uses yet).
After a good install and reboot (yes it needs reboot or else you get murky messages of kbluetoothd not working properly), I had bluetooth up and running. One notch for the KDE bluetooth programs, because they have a good browser for the services, and most of the software looks like it is the native usb dongle software written for windows.
It took me a total of 3 hours to do an installation. Most of the times it was because of the system’s update process and some of the reboots it required. I can say that I am impressed, since most of my hardware is «exotic» in nature. There are definetly comparisons with ubuntu. Feisty Fawn looks rather slow with compiz loaded rather than PCLinuxOS with beryl. Of course, one has Gnome and the other has KDE. I don’t know how these two compare in speed, but that will be the subject of a future post.
What does it mean for the novice user that comes from a Microsoft Family of products? For a user that wants to use his computer for web surfing, spreadsheeting, writing and listening to music and occasionally see a dvd or a movie, this is the perfect environment for him. You can do most of the tasks by having an obsolete pc like mine used for testing. So if you want to switch to something that is completely free (and you are not an avid gamer but rather a working bee / writer / someone who will use the computer as a tool) PCLinuxOS is a perfect start for novice level. If you are between distros, you can choose debian though for the packages that it provides (I checked the repository and it has some really backports compared to debian).