"Science-fiction yesterday, fact today- obsolete tomorrow." - Otto O. Binder

PCLinuxOS 0.93a

PCLinuxOS 0.93a

Sunday 22nd October 2006

Categories: Reviews, GNU/Linux, FLOSS

Under The Bonnet

Now, remember I was talking about resolution? Well, the place I went to to fix this was the PCLinuxOS Control Center, which is, so far as I can tell, a slightly jazzed up version of the same thing in Mandriva (not that I've actually used Mandriva for any great length of time since it was called Mandrake). Regardless of who is responsible for the work, the fact remains that the Control Center is probably among the most user friendly things I've seen in a GNU/Linux distribution. Down the left hand side are the various categories of utilities, such as Mount Points, Hardware and Security. Unlike many distributions, changing the resolution is incredibly simple - just go to Hardware, and select 'Configure basic video settings such as...' and pick the right resolution. From here, you can test the resolution, and a quick reboot later, it's done! From this Control Center, many tasks are made a doddle - setting up NTP, changing display manager for logging on, changing where your CD-ROM is mounted (although, sadly, not where USB storage is mounted), configuring the services that run, and plenty more besides.

The Control Center is not perfect though. The various utilities are a little disorganised. For example, let's say we want to set up the networking of the computer. You'd think this would mean just accessing the Networking section of PCLinuxOS, which is true only some of the time. Well, first of all, I think I'll change my DNS settings. This means going to 'Configure DNS settings for your Internet connection', which is in Networking, and changing the options accordingly. Then, you must go to 'Reconfigure an existing network interface', also in Network Settings, to tell the computer not to allow DHCP to set the DNS settings if you want to keep them past a reboot. To set the hostname, you back to 'Configure DNS settings for your Internet connection', while changing the workgroup means going to the Sharing section, and selecting 'Set up a cross-platform (Samba) file print server. From here, you have to click next through some questions that many will not know the answer to along with the workgroup question. Although you can leave the answers as they are, this will be off-putting, and having a wizard sort of setup is a less user friendly solution to the normal utilities used elsewhere in the Control Center.

Then, of course, we can allow users to create their own shares without having to ask root. This is implemented rather well, since you choose none, some or all of users to be allowed to do this, although the user cannot change options such as whether the share is browsable or writable. This is enabled in the Networking section, in the utility labelled 'Configure sharing of your hard disk partitions'. If you want full control over the shares, printers and users used by Samba, then you'll want to select Samba Configuration. Personally, I think that these options are too spread apart across the utilities and sections. A possible solution would be to consolidate the existing utilities, and rethink where each utility belongs.

Every so often, a certain utility would stop working, and trying to enter would simply tell me that it had exited abnormally. Restarting the Control Center was the cure. My final criticism is that the automated installer just tells you that its trying to download and install the relevant package. There's no feedback as to what it is doing, until it's finished - a little information, such as how long until the download is complete, would be handy.

Printing is yet another aspect covered by the Control Center. When choosing 'Configure printers...', it automatically looks for new printers, and detected my HP, down to the correct model.

There are also utilities that exist outside of the Control Center. HardDrake allows you to look at your system, such as the hard drives and network card. (Note: I later realised HardDrake is also accessible from within the Control Center, it's just not called HardDrake - it's called 'Manage your system hardware'.) From here, you can just click a button to get to the relevant configuration utility for that component - for example, 'Run Config Tool' when selecting a hard drive will take you to DiskDrake, allowing you to repartition the drive as well as set the mountpoints, making it superior even to GParted. Just a single glance will tell you the size of each partition, the general filesystem, and where it is mounted.

When using QEMU to test PCLinuxOS, the addition of a sound card proved to be no problem - it was fully working as soon as I logged in. In other words, there appears to be no configuration necessary.

Synaptic is the package manager for PCLinuxOS, and it's a decent enough choice - it is powerful and relatively straightforward to use. The only slight downside is that it can be a little intimidating for some users. For example, if you want to install Abiword, there's more than one pacakge listed - which do you pick? As such, a simpler package manager wouldn't go amiss, although there isn't too much missing by default, and Synaptic only takes a short while to get to grips with.

PCLinuxOS may be aimed at the desktop, but we may as well check out how easy it is to install a web server. Well, the PCLinuxOS Control Center has a utility for setting up a web server, but this will only install Apache for you. PHP and MySQL can be fetched via Synaptic, and I'm also pleased to see phpMyAdmin putting in an appearance. Having installed all three of these, I found that they worked perfectly in harmony without any further configuration - a feat only witnessed by me before when using Debian-based systems.


As well as having a friendly forum, PCLinuxOS has its own wiki. Although neither of these are up to the level of, for example, Ubuntu, as their userbase expands, so should the usefulness of these sites.

When I first tried PCLinuxOS, I'll admit I was prepared not to like it - so far as I could tell, it didn't really bring anything new to the table. However, having now tried it firsthand, I can confidently say that PCLinuxOS's is certainly deserving of attention. Although the best parts of PCLinuxOS, Synaptic and the Control Center, might not have originated from PCLinuxOS, the point is irrelevant. What is relevant is that these various parts have been sewn together to make a highly cohesive operating system, that is the most user friendly I've yet to review. The Control Center makes a wide range of tasks extremely simple to perform, while the rest of the system is solid and reliable. While it may lack the total polish of some competitors, such as the ability to eject USB sticks, PCLinuxOS should have a bright future ahead of it. If you want a GNU/Linux distribution, but don't want to have to muck about with the command line to change settings, PCLinuxOS is certainly a dependable choice.

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