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.

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