PCLinuxOS 2007 — simple and elegant

[ Friday, 20 July 2007, wiezyr ]


PCLinuxOS (PCLOS) is one of many GNU/Linux systems belonging to the family of Desktop distributions. Its aim is to be a friendly and simple to use operating system. It was forked from Mandrake Linux (Mandriva at present) in 2003. It’s now a fully independent distro, although it does take advantage of a few of Mandriva’s technologies.

LiveCD

PCLinuxOS is distributed in LiveCD form but can also be installed to your hard disk drive (HDD). Thanks to these options one can get familiarized with the system without any interference to one’s existing systems. PCLinuxOS is available in an English only version at present, but a DVD release with multilingual support is being planned. The CD comprises nearly 2 GB of compressed software, including among others the KDE graphical environment, the OpenOffice.org suite, Firefox web browser, Thunderbird e-mail client, K3B CD/DVD burner application, Frostwire, Ktorrent, Amarok audio player, Digikam photo manager, Flash, Java, Beryl 3D, and a lot of other software. Fortunately PCLOS is not overloaded with superfluous applications. A sound rule was adopted: that for one task there should be only one application.

One piece of information may be of more value to Polish (and also French) users, PCLinuxOS LiveCD contains Sagem800 drivers for E2T version. So there should be no problems putting the modem into operation with ADSL telecom services that use this modem.

PCLinuxOS Desktop after installation
PCLinuxOS Desktop after installation

Installation

You can install the LiveCD onto HDD through very simple steps. There’s an extra Installation Guide in which the steps are described and illustrated with screenshots. The chief task in performing the installation is to select a partition for the Linux system. You can use the whole disk, choose one partition from pre-prepared ones, or select a simple partition manager (diskdrake) and make partitions for your new system on a do-it-yourself basis. After formatting the selected partition the whole content of the LiveCD goes to hard disk. All that is left to do now is to configure a boot manager, create password for root and make users’ accounts. The whole operation should take no more than 20-30 min. Then you must restart your computer. Do not forget to pull out CD from CD drive. Now you can entertain yourself with your new system.

Configuration

All configuration tasks concerning hardware and software are done with the help of PCLinuxOS Control Center. It is actually Mandriva’s Drakconf application which was adapted to PCLOS – simple to use, but with a wealth of advanced configuration options.

PCLinuxOS Control Center
PCLinuxOS Control Center

I started Drakconf. All hardware was detected and configured correctly. My USB keyboard, USB mouse, a printer, and a TV card were ready to use immediately after the configuration process. In the case of the last item I did have to download additional packages. They were automatically grabbed and installed, and the only thing I had to do then was to configure the TVTime application.

Proprietary drivers for graphics card are treated differently. However they can be easily installed with Synaptic package manager. In the case of nVidia drivers you should choose one of them corresponding to which graphics card you have. With the selected driver the “dkms” package will be installed as well. This will make all the necessary changes to your configuration files. If you change or update the kernel “dkms” will automatically readjust and rebuild the drivers for the new kernel version. It suffices to restart the X Window System now to have your system use the new driver and allow you to explore its potential in full.

Desktop Effects

3D Desktop Configuration
3D Desktop Configuration

Now, as your system has 3D acceleration support installed you can proceed to embellish your Desktop with Beryl or Compiz.
To configure the programs you have to start PCLinuxOS Control Center first. Then choose the Hardware tab, select the Configure 3D Desktop Effects option, and Full 3D desktop effects. Now you have to make up your mind whether to bring into play AIGLX or XGL technology. You have to tick off whichever window manager you have chosen as well. It is possible to run Beryl or Compiz configuration tools to have your desktop effects adjusted to your fancy in minute detail. When you accept your settings you’ll have to restart X Window System. When you log-in you’ll be able to explore your impressive, new Desktop.

Localization

This is written from a Polish perspective but should apply for other languages as well. A few applications like OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Thunderbird have Polish versions or they have localized add-ons available. The additional packages can be found on official PCLinuxOS repositories. But using “user_fx” repo would be more beneficial. You can make use of it in the two ways:

  1. add to /etc/apt/sources.list file the following entry:
    rpm http://www.linuxfx.bighost.pl/linux pclos/2007 pclos
  2. add the repo using Synaptic
    • open Synaptic, from “Settings” menu choose the “Repositories” option
    • click the “New” button and fill out these entry fields:
      1. URI: http://www.linuxfx.bighost.pl/linux/
      2. Distribution: pclos/2007
      3. Section/System: pclos

After that you need to click the “Reload” button then you’ll have to wait while information about the new repo and its packages are updated. Then find “pclinuxos-pl” package and tick it off for installation (“Mark for installation”). Some dependencies comprised of a few additional localization packages will be marked automatically. But not all, so you will have to select some manually. I’ve done that for Mozilla packages (Firefox and Thunderbird) and OpenOffice.org suite and national dictionaries. When you mark all the packages you need to click the “Apply” button. The packages will be downloaded and installed. After that localedrake will be started. Of course, you need to give your nationality here — in our case Polish — and then in the next window the name of your country. In this way you’ll set your local language to UTF-8 encoding. You need to logout now and to login again to have the new settings work.

If UTF-8 doesn’t suit you and you’d like to use a legacy national standard (like ISO-8859-2), start LocaleDrake once more and click the following options: Kde Menu -> System -> Configuration -> Other -> LocaleDrake (User).
Then click the Advanced button and mark Backward Compatibility Coding, leaving other options intact. The results will take effect after your next login.

To have KDE in your mother tongue you need to make changes in KDE Control Center. Look for the language settings in Regional & Accessibility and Country/Region & Language tabs.

Please keep in mind that you can find another interesting packages in the repo that we have installed, Kadu for example. Feel free to explore.

Managing Software

Synaptic
Synaptic in action – updating the system

PCLinuxOS uses APT (Advanced Packaging Tool) for software management. It is highly likely that the greater portion of users will choose Synaptic for the purpose. It is nothing more than a graphical user interface for APT. PCLOS utilizes RPM package technology, and it has in its repository about 6500 of such packages. Sure, its not as impressive a number as the those in Debian’s or Gentoo’s opulent repos, but in most cases it fulfills the needs of the common user. The full upgrade with the help of Synaptic can be boiled down to four mouseclicks. Namely:

  • Refresh – to refresh information about packages stored in repositories
  • Mark All Upgrades – mark for upgrade all packages having new versions in repositories
  • Apply – confirm selections
  • Apply – after checking a list of the packages accept changes

The selected packages will be downloaded and installed, and your system will be upgraded. The same method can be applied to install or remove a given package or a few packages but you need to mark them by yourself. Synaptic is an easy and convenient tool for package management, it is suitable for every user.

Multimedia

The support for multimedia is a strong point of PCLinuxOS. It supports all common multimedia file formats. It has no problems playing mp3, wma, ogg, mp4, avi, wmv, and mov files – I checked it myself :) . And without the need to install new codecs. All requirements for running multimedia are fulfilled by the default system. The same can be said about media carrying multimedia data like CD-AUDIO, VCD, and DVD-VIDEO. CD-AUDIO and DVD disks are recognized and play back using KsCD for CD-AUDIO, and Kaffeine for DVD, automatically when inserted into CD/DVD drives. Only VCD presented problems. Every attempt to play VCD with “Kaffeine” ended up with an error message and Kaffeine shutting down. Automatic play back with “Play DVD with MPlayer” ended in failures as well. The VCDs can be played in Mplayer invoking its VCD -> Open Disk… option.

Because PCLinuxOS is distributed with Java, Flash, and mplayerplug-in for Firefox Internet multimedia are well supported by the system. You will be able to watch movies on YouTube and trailers on Apple pages, to listen to the music that can be found on many audio services (jamendo, magnatune), or to tune in to the Internet radio (last.fm).

Shrugging off the inconsistency with VCD operation the multimedia services are simply excellent.

ATTENTION
The infamous win32-codecs package (containing proprietary codecs) and libdvdcss2 library (decoding protected DVDs) are not present in the system for legal reasons. So if you find multimedia which you can’t play back, you must download and install them and all your problems should simply vanish.

Summary

I must admit I am impressed by PCLinuxOS. And according to the distro slogan, which includes the two words “radically simple”, installation and configuration of the system is really easy, and the system is very friendly in everyday usage. Some of this “radical simplicity” should be credited to hammered out details, and the system’s elegant appearance (although this is a matter of individual taste). Regular users will find in PCLinuxOS everything they need “out of the box”. Thanks to the consistency and the possibilities to configure the system with graphical tools (e.g. PCLinuxOS Control Center) this distro is close to ideal for those starting their adventure with Linux systems and migrating from Microsoft Windows systems.

Those who treat the console environment as “the be all and end all” and those who want to have a refined system to “work with” and not to “work on” ;-) should be equally satisfied. A fair sized community is ranged around the distro (not in Poland for the present), but the popularity of PCLinuxOS is growing (it occupies second place in Distrowatch contest). I think it has great a opportunity to gain on Ubuntu or even to remove Ubuntu from the first place. I recommend it to everyone who values high comfort and simplicity in a distro.

More on PCLinuxOS

About the Author

Wiesław Rybiński

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