In the last couple of years I have tested many Linux distros. I was never a diehard fan of any of them, kept an open mind and was willing to simply use the one that best fit my needs. Fedora, Mandriva, OpenSuSE, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian and others have been put to the test at some point or another. PCLinuxOS was one of the few popular ones I had not tested. Being based off Mandriva, I was assuming it would be similar to the Linux Mint - Ubuntu case, so no surprises expected. After all, I had tested several Mandriva releases, so what could be that interesting about PCLinuxOS? Now, let me tell you... boy, was I wrong!
Not since I tested Ubuntu for the first time have I been so excited and pleased with any Linux distro release. That says a lot, because back then I was using Linux for the first time after years of using Windows almost exclusively, so there was a lot of being in awe due to being a "first timer". After then, no matter what distro I tried, I always felt there was something missing and that kept pulling me back to Ubuntu, which was best balanced in my opinion. After a couple days using PCLinuxOS 2010 I must say that such 1st place in the ranking may change.
The PCLinuxOS 2010 desktop.
The PCLinuxOS 2010 list of FEATURES is very impressive. Nothing surprising there, all feature lists are when any new release comes out. That's probably why testing a release after reading such lists may result in a bit of a letdown, for the end result usually never matches the expectation. This time around it was pretty much the opposite, which is very significant considering I tested Ubuntu 10.04 just days ago.
Kernel 220.127.116.11-bfs for maximum desktop performance: Right there. I installed PCLinuxOS 2010 on a pendrive, the same I had Fedora12 on, and the performance improvement is sick! I can't even notice any drag when comparing it to actual installations on proper magnetic hard drives. Quite honestly, it is the first time KDE feels as responsive as GNOME.
Full KDE4.4.2 Desktop: Awesome integration. This is by far the best implementation of the KDE desktop I have ever experienced. The developers have customized things where it matters, providing a much easier and intuitive interface.
The KDE Control Center looks great and is easier to understand
PCLinuxOS 2010 Branding: Most applications have been tweaked so they use consistent branding, which looks great and feels tight and professional. In addition, the 120dpi font resolution makes KDE look sharper than ever.
Amarok splash screen with PCLinuxOS branding
PCLinuxOS 2010 Control Center splash screen branding
Mandriva on steroids: The Mandriva control center has been revamped, focusing on what matters. For example, the software center is not included, but managed separately via Synaptic. PCLinuxOS developers have made a very good job at keeping the best features found in Mandriva, making up for those which are not that great using different tools.
Enhanced hardware support: Video, Wireless and printer support is great, with many proprietary drivers already installed. In my case, having installed on a pendrive, I can boot from several different computers. I found no hardware detection issues. (Note this does not mean all hardware is supported. As usual, make sure your hardware is recognized successfully when you boot from the LiveCD)
My Vodafone USB 3G modem working flawlessly after a couple simple steps.
Network Manager wireless list display.
Help and documentation: One element that should be highlighted is the impressive effort the developers have put into providing proper and meaningful feedback and help to the end user. I encountered several very helpful prompt messages, which I consider key for first time Linux users. On that same note, tools like AddLocale, Repository speed test and GetOpenOffice allow users to complete some of the most popular "things to do after installing..." easily and clearly, no use of the CLI required.
PCLinuxOS is one of those distros that enforce booting from the LiveCD before one can install. Once the desktop is loaded, installation may be triggered by double clicking a launcher if the user so desires. When I started using Linux I thought this was an unnecessary hassle. I liked Ubuntu's approach better, which enables installation straight from the LiveCD menu. I now believe the PCLinuxOS approach is best. By forcing the user to boot the LiveCD, there are higher chances that any potential hardware incompatibility is spotted before the installation takes place.
APPLICATIONS, CODECS & DRIVERS
The catalog of applications available by default in PCLinuxOS 2010 is great, almost feels like I chose it myself! I suppose KDE purists will not be very happy to see Firefox, Thunderbird or Pidgin as default Internet browser, email and IM client defaults, but I couldn't be happier. They just saved me a bunch of time uninstalling and installing.
Open Source advocates may also dislike the fact that PCLinuxOS 2010 includes a bunch of proprietary drivers, but for new users this is a blessing. I personally see reasons to support both approaches.
Firefox is preinstalled, sporting the latest version, 3.6.3. I was a Firefox advocate for a long time, but have lately been using Chromium more and more. In my experience, the speed difference was too significant to be romantic about it. All that said, I am amazed at how responsive and quick Firefox is under PCLinuxOS 2010. I am typing these lines from it and have no plans to install any other browser.
Firefox performs much better than expected under PCLinuxOS 2010.
Thunderbird is also preinstalled in its latest version. I have not used this new version much myself, but it probably is more current and powerful than Evolution or Kmail. With email clients, though, it mainly goes down to personal preference, so I won't go on about it.
YES! Dropbox is installed by default. This was a BIG plus for me, as I had been unable to find a convenient way to install it under KDE. It is a breeze under PCLinuxOS, just need to enter the username and password, no exiting the session or anything like that required.
Dropbox perfectly integrated in KDE!
Adobe Flash plugin, MP3, DVD playback, Most popular video codecs, JAVA and Compiz effects are all setup and ready to use and enjoy from the get go. In addition, KTorrent, K3B, Amarok or GIMP are examples of some other pre-installed applications available under PCLinuxOS 2010. All of them are at their latest or very up to date versions.
Dolphin is no exception, faster than ever before!
TAKE IT EASY
I want to take a bit of time to talk about a number of tools that I feel are great in making life easy for end users: Repository Speed Test, Add Locale and GetOpenOffice.
Repository Speed Test runs a check on all the repository servers available and recommends the optimum setup. If the end user agrees, the application automatically applies the corresponding changes to the sources list file. When done, it starts Synaptic so software can be downloaded. I particularly liked the information messages provided throughout. They were clearly explaining what was happening as a backup copy of sources.list was automatically taken before actually committing the changes.
Repository Speed Test makes managing software sources a piece of cake.
Similarly, Add Locale easily makes all the necessary adjustments to add and setup languages. In fact, I often had issues installing Spanish language in KDE implemenations from Fedora, OpenSuSE and even Mandriva. It was doable, of course, but not as straightforward as in GNOME distros like Ubuntu. Even when I managed to get it to work, not all applications would display the right language settings. With Add Locale it was a breeze and once again the information messages were spot on.
AddLocale in action.
Finaly, GetOpenOffice is nothing short of amazing. When you run it for the first time, the tool asks for the language you want to install, then downloads and installs the packages and menus automatically. If run again, the application detects there is a previous installation and prompts the user if s/he wants to reinstall or uninstall. Nitpicking a bit, I would say I liked how progress is shown through a terminal like interface, but I guess standard users couldn't care less. I think it would look even better if a GUI progress bar was displayed, allowing for such minute detail monitoring as an optional feature.
GetOpenOffice rocks. If there is an existing installation, it displays the options available.
NOTE: I am aware not all these tools have been developed by/for PCLinuxOS, but it is how well they have been selected and integrated that made a very positive impression on me.
All in all, I think all three applications are a very nice step forward towards making the Linux desktop experience accessible to anybody. In fact, to be completely honest, PCLinuxOS 2010 is the first distro that I feel is ready for "The year of the Linux desktop" challenge. It is powerful yet clear and simple. There are some areas that could use some polishing, but it is a huge step in the right direction. Provided the hardware is fully supported, as has been the case on all five machines I have tested it on, I really feel anyone can enjoy PCLinuxOS 2010!
NETWORKING & SECURITY
PCLinuxOS 2010 also provides a very clear and comprehensive GUI interface to setup the firewall. As expected, iptables policies are set to accept by default, but no ports are listening. In the GUI interface this translates to showing the firewall as disabled (the actual option displays "no firewall"). Enabling the firewall is as simply as un-ticking that option.
Firewall setup doesn't get any easier than this.
The network manager is the same used in Mandriva, not awfully fast, but quite solid. Once again, it provides a friendly interface, which among other things, allows for wireless scan refresh (one of the main weaknesses in the GNOME network manager applet as of today). On top of that, I was very pleased to see that my Vodafone HUAWEI USB 3G modem was recognised on the fly, successfully setup in a couple steps and working right away (screenshots under the FEATURES section above)
WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?
As you probably expect at this point, I absolutely recommend PCLinuxOS 2010. I have been using it for only a couple days, but I have the feeling that it is the best Linux release I have tested in years.
PCLinuxOS 2010 is excellent for any kind of user, but probably most recommended for new comers. It brings down the need for CLI typing to almost zero. In my case, I actually have only opened Konsole because I like it, not because there was no other choice.
Don't take my word for it, DOWNLOAD it and give it a try! You will not be disappointed.