Thursday, July 7, 2011

PCLinuxOS 2011.6 Review

It's been a while since I published my last article on PCLinuxOS. Those of you who have read previous reviews know that it is one of my favorite distros, certainly a favorite among KDE contenders. I decided to use the opportunity provided by the recent release of PCLinuxOS 2011.6 to go ahead and revisit it, find out what's new and how it has evolved in the last year or so.

For those who don't know, PCLinuxOS is rolling distro that originated from several other distros, Mandrake/Mandriva probably being the most influencial. It incorporates stuff from others as well, though, as well as its own software. Its goal is to provide a smooth user experience, which it achieves through very thorough hardware support, lightning fast performance and a wide range of applications, most of which are constantly updated to their latest stable versions.

A LOOK AT 2011.6

As usual, PCLinuxOS 2011.6 is provided in a LIVECD format, which has both pros and cons. I personally love the smaller size, specially because lately I spend more time uninstalling preinstalled applications than installing new ones. What can I say, I can live with a fairly small selection of software!

Booting from the LiveCD is a cool experience, I particularly liked the new branding, which has changed significantly since the last time I saw it. Overall, it is more consistent transitioning from splash screen to KDM and then to the desktop, as well as more attractive with that brushed metal outfit. Unfortunately, the default desktop in the LiveCD is not that visually appealing.


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Simply changing a couple things already makes things look better, so that's not really big deal by any means. The LiveCD session is what one would expect, always recommended to understand whether your hardware is correctly supported, but it should be a short stop before installation.

INSTALLATION AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

As was the case when I first tried it, installation of PCLinuxOS went by pretty quickly this time around. Perhaps I am bit biased from recent installations, which involved heavy LiveDVD configurations, but PCLinuxOS seemed to get installed almost too quickly.

Booting for the first time provides an introduction to the new branding, starting with a new splash screen showing the PCLinuxOS Logo and a progress bar at the bottom. In my opinion, both look poor and dated, and the same applies to the default KDM theme, unfortunately. This is a shame, specially because the default installation brings better looking alternatives with it, such as the Textar KDE KDM theme.

As I mentioned already, the default desktop is not that good looking, but changing the Workspace theme already makes a big difference.


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All in all, PCLinuxOS 2011.6 is an even more refined version of the great KDE distro I tested about a year ago for the first time. Let's dive a little deeper into it.

FEATURES

From the distrowatch.com announcement:

"PCLinuxOS KDE 2011.6 for 32-bit and 64-bit computers is now available for download. The Linux kernel was updated to version 2.6.38.8. Additional kernels are available from our repositories such as a PAE kernel for computers with more than 4 GB of memory. A BFS kernel for maximum desktop performance and a standard kernel with group scheduling enabled. X.Org Server was updated to version 1.10.2. Mesa updated to 7.10.3 and libdrm to version 2.4.26. These updates bring enhancements to the PCLinuxOS desktop including speed, 3D desktop support for most Intel, NVIDIA and AMD/ATI video cards, better font rendering, black screen fixes for most NVIDIA cards, better Flash playback and more."

Aside from that list of features, one thing that is easily noticeable after installing PCLinuxOS is that it is very fast and responsive. In fact, it kind of makes one wonder how there can be such a difference in performance when comparing it with other distros that sport KDE as the default desktop manager. This proves that some of the claims raised against KDE (heavy, slow, bloated, resource eater, etc.) may actually be down to the distro it sits on top of.


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As can be seen from the screenshot above, resource consumption is fairly low. More on this on the screenshot below, the KDE system monitor, which demonstrates reasonable CPU and Memory use, even with KTorrent, Chromium and the system monitor itself open.


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On top of that superb performance and tight KDE integration I just mentioned, PCLinuxOS has some other interesting features of its own. Its Control Center, one of the most obvious Mandriva influences, is a great tool to manage all things system, from Hardware to User accounts. As such, KDE's own network manager is nowhere to be found, users have to deal with PCLinuxOS own network manager.


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Now, is this mix of KDE and PCLinuxOS features good or bad? On the one hand, I see advantages in that the Control Center is easy to use, powerful and probably easier to grasp for users with a Windows background. Along those lines, the PCLinuxOS Network Manager is similarly easy to use, supports 3G connections out of the box and based on my testing so far, is both quick to connect and reliable (no connection drops). On the other hand, splitting some of those system management tasks can sometimes get confusing, and some of KDE's features don't seem to get along well with PCLinuxOS's own. For instance, many Plasma widgets that rely on a network connection (weather and RSS, to name a couple) often fail to fetch information or refresh it, which is something I have seen work perfectly in other, more "purist" KDE implementations.

GOOD TO GO

One of PCLinuxOS best things, specially from an end user perspective, is that everything is perfectly setup and ready to go out of the box. Codecs, drivers, fonts... Anything you can think of "simply works", and that is quite an achievement.

Starting with fonts, PCLinuxOS 2011.6 sports Ubuntu's own by default. Perhaps a weird choice for some, I personally believe they look great in a KDE context, perhaps even more so than in GNOME... If they are rendered correctly, that is.

As it turns out, PCLinuxOS manages to make them look better and more consistent than even Kubuntu itself, which in my experience always seemed to lose correct rendering after a couple sessions. In any case, correct font rendering is not that common in KDE distros, so that makes PCLinuxOS even more special in that sense.


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Java comes installed and correctly configured, so downloading YouTube videos from keepvid.com was just a couple clicks away. Similarly, all kinds of Audio and Video Codecs come preinstalled, which enabled me to watch trailers from Apple's website without any extra configuration.


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Hardware support is superb, thanks to a wide range of preinstalled drivers. Except for Zorin 5 OS, no other distro managed to configure all hardware successfully on my HP 2740p out of the box as well as PCLinuxOS 2011.6 did. It even detected its infamous Broadcom wireless card, also perfectly configuring video and audio devices, including its webcam.


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APPLICATIONS

PCLinuxOS 2011.6 includes many of KDE's best applications, such as digikam and Clementine, a photo manager and music player respectively.


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Digikam version is 1.9.0 and it has as many features as one could imagine, perhaps too many, but I guess that's the only way to appeal to both experts and novices in photo management.


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Clementine is on 0.71 and seems to be taking the KDE Audio player World by storm. At first, I was surprised to see several KDE distros drop Amarok in favor of it, something most seem to have done by now, but after using it for a while, I understood why. Clementine is a fabulous player, much lighter than Amarok, which includes the most relevant features in an easy and intuitive interface. It also gets the best from Amarok, such as the cover manager, leaving bloat aside.

All in all, I always felt like KDE had less options in terms of Audio players, certainly lacking something as cool as Banshee, but Clementine proved to be a perfect candidate to fill that gap.

Other application favorites include Firefox 5.0 (default browser of choice).


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Chromium 12 is available from the repositories.


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VLC is the default Media player.


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SHINING KDE

As I mentioned already, KDE shines in PCLinuxOS 2011.6. Not only does it feel solid and quick, but it also put me in a different mood, more willing to appreciate its strengths, given that its weaknesses were only partially showing. In all fairness, one has to wonder which one is the real KDE, the slow and heavy desktop manager that we see in many distros or the light, fast and responsive one we see in PCLinuxOS.


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All in all, I must admit I enjoyed this mature version of KDE 4.6, it is more flexible and less cumbersome than others I tried to this date. I still think it leans too much towards a desktop paradigm that originated in the 90s, but it's hard to challenge its strengths.

KDE users enjoy features that GNOME users only recently attained, or that require extra configuration, applications or plugins. A good example is the KDE panel, which incorporates features that GNOME users can only enjoy through the use of DockBarX. Similarly, mouse gestures that allow window maximize or split actions are native to recent KDE, while only recently present in GNOME Shell or Unity. Kwin effects, activities and semantic search are other relevant examples of KDE's great features.

My main thing against KDE is, as I have mentioned several times already, its unnecessary complexity and unintuitive aproach to certain pieces of functionality. Unfortunately, all of it returns unchanged release after release since KDE 4 series started, so I am starting to lose hope that it will ever improve.

Aside from what I just mentioned, some things are downright strange when compared with GNOME. For example, the use of conky requires some quirky fixes to get transparency to work.


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...But then again, it doesn't get along well with Plasma widgets!


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To be completely honest, though, I was pleasantly surprised with KDE 4.6.4 under PCLinuxOS.

RECOMMENDED TO ALL

PCLinuxOS 2011.6 is a natural evolution of all the great things that made PCLinuxOS 2010 the awesome release it was. I think it is a great Linux distro for any kind of user and the best way I know to experiment KDE in all its glory.

Download, install and enjoy!

EDIT (July 19th): Five days ago, PCLinuxOS released its 2011.7 MiniMe version, an interesting option for advanced users looking for a barebones KDE setup to customize at will. Highly recommended!

7 comments:

  1. I really like your reviews. Was Zorin OS the only distro that detectet all your hardware correctly or did PCLinuxOS 2011.6 also that? Keep up your good work. I am waiting your next review.

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  2. Thanks!

    Both Zorin 5 OS and PCLinuxOS 2011.6 managed to pass my hardware recognition test with flying colors, both found and configured all peripherals perfectly.

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  3. Hey again Chema!

    Thanks for your quik reply. I agree both Zorin OS 5 Core and PCLinuxOS 2011.6 is really good when it comes to hardware recognition. Zorin OS the best Ubuntu based distro out there and PCLinux OS the best none-Ubuntu/Debian distro in my opinion.

    If you like KDE take a look on Zeven OS KDE edition based on debian. It is light. Nice that you are starting to write reviews more frequent now days. I have always followed your blog, even if it is my second reply.

    Have nice time!

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  4. Thanks, appreciate the support!

    I will look into Zeven, thanks for the heads up. I am also interested in Chakra, mostly because of the Arch foundation.

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  5. I wanted to ask, since you are more familiar with this distro. I tried it once, but what held me back was the 64bit thing, and I really don't want to change kernels or things like that. Does this version finally comes in 64 bit??

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  6. @ Jorge
    I believe Texstar, the man behind PCLinuxOS, is working on a 64-bit version. As usual, it will be ready when it's ready ;)

    In the meantime the PAE kernel will be available (maybe even preloaded) when installed on a machine with more than 4 GB memory. On a 64-bit machine with less than 4 GB memory I don't think you'll miss out on anything if you install a 32-bit distro (but don't quote me on that ;) )

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  7. pclinuxos kde ver 11 works plainly samba works easyhttp://www.pclinuxos.com/forum/index.php?topic=93375.0

    ReplyDelete