Open Source

PCLinuxOS: Definitely "Radically Simple"

In his quest to find the simplest Linux distribution, Jack Wallen makes a stop at PCLinuxOS and may have found the holy grail of simple operating systems. Read Jack's take on PCLinuxOS and decide for yourself if PCLinuxOS is your "go-to" Linux distribution.

The slogan for PCLinuxOS is "Radically Simple" and, as far as I can tell, it might be one of the most fitting operating system slogans I have seen. But does it apply across the board? From start to finish? I decided it had been too long since I had tried this distribution so I went about giving it a go. I have to say I was certainly impressed.

With some distributions, along with the claim of being the easiest, comes the stigma of being overly simple, or "dumbed down." Some of these distributions come with "helpful" widgets and graphics that look as if they were targeting an elementary school class. Not PCLinuxOS. PCLinuxOS retains a professional look and feel while remaining one of the easiest to use Linux distributions available. Let's take a look at what PCLinuxOS offers.

Based upon...

PCLinuxOS is based upon Mandriva and uses the Mandriva control center and Draklive installer. Along with Mandriva technology, PCLinuxOS is bolstered by patches from OpenSuSE, Gentoo, Fedora, Ubuntu, and Debian. Let's think about this one. You have available a distribution that benefits from all of the other outstanding distributions. So from the very beginning PCLinuxOS holds much promise.

On top of a strong foundation PCLinuxOS offers KDE 3.5.6 which is one of the more stable and user-friendly of the larger desktop environments.

But it's not what's installed that makes PCLinuxOS so "radically simple." No. What makes PCLinuxOS so radically simple is how it keeps the user from having to do tasks they aren't used to doing. Let's take a look.

Installation

I tested the PCLinuxOS installation on a number of machines (including a laptop). Each machine was comprised of varied hardware and none of the machines were similar. Everything from antiquated video to newly released wireless cards were a part of the equation, and not once did PCLinuxOS falter. The distribution found, and used, everything. Even with the laptop, where I have found some Live CDs to work fine only to have the fully-installed distribution flake out, PCLinuxOS was a hit. The only improvement I could offer would be the inclusion of WICD for wireless connectivity.

Now one possible "gotcha" was that, during the installation, PCLinuxOS allows you to have the root user without a password. I found this a little off putting because (1) Does this mean there will be no root password and "sudo" will be used or (2) Does this mean the root user uses no password? If it's the former I can live with that (because I am a Ubuntu user and am used to sudo). If it is the latter - I can not live with that because that would make for one very unsafe system.

Usage

As I said before, KDE 3.5.6 is installed, so usage is very simple. But PCLinuxOS goes well beyond that. It seems all of their tools were selected for simplicity of use. From the Synaptic package installation system to the SuperKaramba widget system (we have to keep up with OS X after all) every package installed is not only simple to use, but an outstanding addition to any Linux installation.

Bells and whistles

The default desktop is very clean looking. Fortunately PCLinuxOS is shying away (currently) from KDE 4 and KDE 3.5.6 can be (and is, out of the box) set up so that the user is instantly familiar with every aspect of the desktop. Mostly the KDE 3.5.6 desktop isn't terribly flashy. About the only added flash is the aforementioned SuperKaramba. SK adds widgets (of various types) to the desktop. Most of the widgets available for SK are monitor-type widgets which, to be honest, aren't terribly useful to the end user. But there are multimedia controller widgets, dock widgets, application controller widgets (the OpenOffice bar is one of my favs), and calendar widgets. So the desktop can be changed from new-user to power-user pretty quickly.

So Who is PCLinuxOS For?

PCLinuxOS might be one of those distributions that can easily be for everyone. From the new user who has never touched Linux before to the guru, anyone would be hard-pressed to find something to seriously complain about with this distribution.

Final thoughts

What impressed me the most about PCLinuxOS is its lack of pretension. The creators of PCLinuxOS know their audience is a wide cross section and know how to present their wares to that audience without being insulting or coming across as "better than the rest." PCLinuxOS is a simple-to-use operating system that makes the user forget that it's there. And isn't that the whole point of an operating system - to bridge the gap between the user and the hardware and make the work seamless? Well that's exactly what PCLinuxOS does best: Seamless.

I highly recommend this distribution to pretty much anyone. If you have people you're hoping to win over to Linux this might be your go-to OS. If you have hardware that other distributions don't seem to like, again, this might be your OS. Give PCLinuxOS a try. It really is "radically simple."

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

63 comments
dpresley_50201
dpresley_50201

This IS my Linux distro of choice. Texstar and the Ripper Gang worked wonders creating this OS and it's the best implementation of the KDE desktop I've used. I've used three other distros before I settled on PCLOS and I'll probably stick with it as long as its supported. The only bad thing was I couldin't get it to work with my new desktop as the Nvidia chipset was too new to find any Linux driver. It works great on my IBM A20m notebook and my AMD desktop.

penguinibros
penguinibros

My Remastered PCLOS system running on my desktop and laptop utilizing the 2.6.26.4 kernel is fantastic. Everything that I installed from the Live DVDs I created works. Which is interesting because I used the Testing Repository extensively. If people are impressed with PCLinuxOS now, I would guess that they will even be more impressed when the new version is released. Be patient. PCLOS is a 100 percent Community supported project with no paid employees. http://pclinuxisbest.com

alan.schmeelk
alan.schmeelk

I liked PCLOS2007 for the most part, but it stubbornly refuses to use my Belkin wireless G pci card. So I went back to SUSE11.0 which finds my card with no prompting from me at all. It just worked.

dave
dave

PCLinuxOS as a full distribution. But I like Puppy Linux very much as well

walrus
walrus

Definitely! I love PCLinuxOS, the only problem being the availability of software, particularly games. Where available, the choice is sometimes limited as well. I believe everyone will use Linux one day. It's so easy to set up and use, and it works beautifully.

i1-14174
i1-14174

Well, I agree mainly, but I have my slice of problem installing it on old machines. First of all if you install on 128Mb ram (although stated somewhere in the FAQ), it is difficult to succeed, with weird and unclear messages/behaviour. Second, not yet solved, the MiniME version, run on a bigger/newer machine as a testbed for a 10Gb disk, refuses to install GRUB on it. Anyway, I will continue to bang my head because, coming from Debian and Knoppix, I like this distro...!

BobK Linux Noob
BobK Linux Noob

Yup. Radically Simple. User since September 2006. Tried the rest..literally....I went through about 40 distros! Stable, friendly, good forums, worked on a PIII450 with 320M of RAM; now working on a AMD Athlon64 X2 with 2 Gig or RAM. Try it, you'll like it!

Jaqui
Jaqui

older hardware can be an issue, since PCLinuxOS requires 512 MB ram and a p3 @ 500 MHz minimum. [ some of my old hardware is to old and slow for PCLinuxOS to run. ] The no root password is a direct inheritance from Mandriva, and I beleive it's a sudo fallback by default. PCLinuxOS does have one serious flaw, from security viewpoint. With PCLinuxOS you CAN log into the X environment as root. While the livecd / innstaller this is ok, on an installed os this is a severe security issue, root should not be able to login to x in runlevel 5 [ the default ]

lastchip
lastchip

Although Debian is my main go-to Linux OS, I've used PCLinuxOS 2007 on my laptop from the first stable release and updated it since (so I guess I've got 2008 now!). The huge attraction for me, was that it recognised and configured my wireless chip without any intervention from me *and* I could use WAP-PSK out of the box - something at the time that Ubuntu/Kubuntu failed miserably at. I've been perfectly happy with it and have no reason to change, though be aware, that if you choose to use the eye candy, you may end up with a reinstall. It wasn't that stable when I tried it, though it may have improved since. Overall though, a great system.

webwalker_z
webwalker_z

I've been using Xandros since 2.0. It's what got me started on Linux. I now have 4.01 and is very stable. My next choice though is PCLinuxOS. I have it running on another desktop and works flawlessly. Now for the bad part, I tried installing it on my new Lenovo ThinkPad and it would not detect my ethernet card or my wireless. I wasn't happy about that as I really wanted to use PCLinuxOS on it. So for now I had to settle for Kubuntu 8.04. It detected all my hardware without a problem. I keep watching and try PCLinuxOS again later to see if the problems with my ethernet get addressed. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Doug Vitale
Doug Vitale

PCLinuxOS is definitely the easiest and most user-friendly distribution, but Linux Mint is a close second and might be more suitable for those who have had positive experiences with Ubuntu, since Mint is derived from that distro.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

PCLOS is surely my 'Go To' distro. When I was first trying out Linux a couple of years ago, I ran into a small article on PCLOS, at the time I tried SUSE, Fedora, and a few others. SUSE took forever to install, and I didnt like Fedora. PCLOS at first try, got me up and running quickly, quietly, and got my wireless working :) Been a fan ever since. I use SUSE for some tasks, however PCLOS is my favorite!

btidwell
btidwell

Is Ubuntu. I have PCLinux set up on a VirtualBox VM. I am impressed with PCLOS ease of setup and overall usability. Had I discovered that before Ubuntu, PCLOS might well have been the host OS with Ubuntu running on the virtual.

Editor's Picks