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Blue Belle: Running PCLinuxOS Test 4

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PCLinuxOS is an up-and-coming distribution that recently made it into Distrowatch.com's list of Top Ten Distributions. Originally, you might have called it a fork of Mandriva Linux, but four years after its inception, it's definitely its own distribution, with its own package repositories, striking artwork, and enthusiastic user community. In my experience, one thing that stands out about PCLinuxOS is its commitment to making Linux look good. This new version is simply gorgeous. (It helps if you like the color blue.)

I installed PCLinuxOS Test 4 on a 10 GB partition (with a separate 1 GB /home partition) on an AMD Athlon 2600+ with 640 MB of RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce 6200 LE graphics card. This hardware is no great shakes nowadays, but it's plenty fast enough to run PCLinuxOS with all the bells and whistles.

By default, PCLinuxOS installs kernel v2.6.18.8.tex4, X.org v7.1.1, and KDE v3.5.6. It's an rpm-based distribution that distinguishes itself by using the Synaptic package manager (or apt-get from the command line) to install packages. It also uses a highly customized version of Mandriva's “DrakConf” tool (which itself is similar to openSUSE's “YaST”), called the PCLinuxOS Control Center, for system administration tasks such as configuring hardware, modifying network settings, partitioning your hard disk, configuring a Web server, and so on. And although PCLinuxOS comes with KDE by default, GNOME packages (as well as packages for Xfce and Mandriva's Metisse desktop) are available through Synaptic.

Installation was a simple 12-step process that took less than a half hour to complete. If you've already set up and formatted your partitions (my preferred method is to run the GParted live CD, which separates the partitioning process from the installation routine, giving me more time to think about partitioning, and allowing me to use an excellent partitioning tool), it's simply a matter of telling the installer which partitions to
use; letting it install to disk; giving it settings for the GRUB bootloader; specifying a password for the root user; and setting up a normal user account. (Unfortunately, whatever settings you may have changed, and whatever software you may have installed, in the live CD environment are not carried over to your hard drive installation. It was a bit different to have to set up my ethernet connection after installing, since it was up and running from the live CD.)

Usually, after I install any given Linux distro, I have to spend time getting KDE just the way I want it. In the case of PCLinuxOS, just about all I had to do was select a screensaver and make the fonts a notch smaller. Everything looks fantastic, right out of the box, right down to the wallpaper. (The icon set, as well as several custom application “splash screens,” were created specifically for PCLinuxOS by its “beautification team.”)

Although there's a lot available in the repositories, space constraints on a live CD mean that developers have to carefully pick which applications to include on a default installation. PCLinuxOS comes with a plethora of useful ones, including OpenOffice.org v2.2, Firefox v2.0.0.3, Java 6, GIMP v2.3.10, and Mplayer v1.0rc1. The Adobe Flash 9 plugin comes installed by default, as does the mplayer-plugin – although you'll have to install the “win32-codecs” package (for viewing Windows Media Player and QuickTime movies) and “libdvdcss2” (for viewing
commercial DVDs) yourself, through Synaptic.

Other interesting software that comes on the CD includes DeVeDe v2.11 for video DVD/CD creation; Kbudget v0.6, a personal finance app; and Nmap v4.20 (with NmapFE, a GUI “front end”) for network monitoring.

Installing proprietary video drivers and using Beryl was a point-and-click affair. The NVIDIA v100.14.xx driver was available through Synaptic. After installation, it prompted me to restart the X server by logging out and in again. Then, through the PCLinuxOS Control Center > Hardware > Configure 3d Desktop Effects, I told it to use “Full 3D desktop effects” (which enabled Beryl by default), and this prompted me to restart X once again. When I logged back in, Beryl was running.

(One small gripe is that Beryl Manager doesn't start when Beryl itself does. Beryl Manager puts an icon in your system tray, and allows you to make a bunch of choices regarding various Beryl options, including the Emerald Theme Manager. There's a button to run it in the PCLinusOS Control Center, but hiding it away there isn't terribly useful. It's easily run via the command line, though, or via a desktop icon, or even via a symlink to “/usr/bin/beryl-manager” in ~/.kde/Autostart.)

The only glitch I encountered was when trying to enable XGL on my laptop while running from the live CD. My laptop has an ATI Radeon Mobility 200M chipset. I had to configure /etc/X11/xorg.conf by hand to enable DRI (and disable the Composite extension, which the proprietary ATI “fglrx” driver doesn't support). When I enabled XGL, my laptop hung. This was, of course, way more the fault of the ATI driver than PCLinuxOS. My advice: until ATI gets its act together and supports the Composite extension with its proprietary driver, get a laptop with an NVIDIA chipset.

Something really cool about running PCLinuxOS on my laptop: using the “mount=auto,rw” cheatcode (which finds and mounts all the existing partitions on your computer's hard drive), it allowed me to choose ndiswrapper, locate and use the Windows drivers which I had saved on my home partition, and set up wireless networking, all before getting to the GUI, and all through a simple point-and-click interface. Very nice. (Although it'd be even nicer if those settings carried through to a hard drive installation!)

In conclusion, PCLinuxOS is about as easy to use as you could hope for, and its artwork is simply stunning. Highly recommended.

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Thumbs up

Thanks for taking the time to review this good distribution.

Sorry, I'm disenchanted...

My attempt to use PCLinuxOS Test 4 was not as successful, as it should be.

1. My video system is based on NVIDIA chipset, located on motherboard and emulating Geforce 6100 card. My LCD monitor has native resolution 1440x900, it is I-INC TW191D.
2. My sound system resides in the same chipset. I don't remember exactly its parameters, but, along with the video, it has PCI address, and both are Plug-and-Play devices. I understand it so, that detecting and reading parameters of both devices should not present any problems.

As of booting, the initial dialog picture was shown on my monitor in a very strange way - as if the lower right quadrant of the screen image had been moved to upper left quadrant, and the remaining 3 quadrants just were outside the visible area. I made one more attempt to boot with the default setting - result was the same. No meaningful setup dialog was possible, I saw only the "Next" button, but did not see any of the choices offered.
Next attempt was made with "Safe Video" option, this time the LiveCD booted me into 800x600 resolution and did not play any sounds. However, the initial dialog was possible, and I went through the configuration of keyboard, time zone and network.
I had logged in as root and tried to adjust the video settings. In PCLOS Control Center I went to Hardware, then I tried "Video Resolution", "Monitor" and "Adjust Graphic Server". "Monitor" offered me the choice of monitor resolutions, I chose my native 1440x900, and was instructed, that now I should logout and then login again for this setting to take effect. I did that, but upon return, "video resolution" offered me only 1280x1024, and my native resolution was nowhere in view. More than that, when I chose this resolution, I was instructed, that in order for this resolution to take effect, I must restart the computer (which obviously makes no sense in case of LiveCD - the changes would be forgotten).
I really did not touch the sound issue, there were enough show-stoppers even without it.
The only thing that worked out of the box, was the DSL-DHCP configuration, I was immediately and without any glitches connected to Internet.

I hope that these issues will be dealt with in the final release (at least partially). Please understand me correctly - I am doing some technical drafting on my computer, and it is imperative for me to have the monitor working at native resolution. Nobody wants to see distorted rectangles in place of squares, and ovals in place of circles.

Best wishes
BNK

Hi, disenchanted

You will increase the chances of a fix dramatically if you file a bug report. It's easily done: file a post in the forum thread.

You might try editing xorg.conf

...and setting your monitor's native resolution manually, then restarting X. (It's not telling you that you have to restart the computer; just that you have to log out of your X session and back in again.)

As to your sound card, try running "alsaconf" as root in a console, and if that doesn't work, post a question in the PCLinuxOS forums.

These days, Linux distros are getting very good at detecting and auto-configuring hardware, as well as having nice GUI-based wizards so that you don't have to edit configuration files by hand. But sometimes you do.

tex said

"The purpose of videosafemode is to at least get the user to a desktop so they can do an install then use the Synaptic Software manager to install the Nvidia graphics driver that matches their card to get the best possible resolution for their monitor. While sound works for most people we do provide alsaconf which can fix most sound issues."

Apparently widescreen monitors are a problem

srlinuxx just linked to a story about Ubuntu 7.04 where the author's main complaint was that Ubuntu didn't properly configure his widescreen (1920x1200) monitor until he installed the proprietary nvidia driver and edited xorg.conf by hand.

Widescreen

The hardest part of getting my friend's Mint install going was the widescreen monitor. The only distro I've seen that advertises widescreen support is DreamLinux. I've been wanting to try them out. The desktop looks really nice.

Widescreen - no problem

I have laptop based on NVIDIA chipset, located on motherboard and emulating Geforce 6100 (MSI M670) - same as moscowtime present in his update.

I try 3 distributions with it and did not have any problem at all with widescreen display:
1. PCLinuxOS TR4 (and will stay with it - just waiting for final release)
2. SimplyMEPIS 6.5
3. Kubuntu 7.04

My only issue has been installing to a VMWare image

I am absolutely amazed at how simple PCLinuxOS has made tasks that were difficult for me as a noob.

My display settings were easy to set with none of the issues I had with Ubuntu Edgy.
Apache installed easily.
I could start right away without sifting through the ads (Mandriva)

I am currently running VMware on a External USB drive. I attempted to install PCL as an image and was told I didn't have enough space to install. 8 GB wasn't enough? I will report this to the forum once I am approved for the forum but if anyone has any suggestions I would appreciate it.

PCLinuxOS 2007 final is out now

As you all probably know, PCLinuxOS 2007 final is out now. I downloaded it via BitTorrent and installed it (keeping my existing /home partition) over Test 4 and it only took about 20-25 minutes. This time, I didn't have to run the "PCLinuxOS Control Center" (aka "pclinuxos-drakconf") in order to get the network up. It did that on its own. The only thing I had to run was "alsaconf" in a terminal in order to configure my sound card.

They've put a new default repository on the list that's a lot faster than the old one, so adding packages via Synaptic/apt-get takes a lot less time.

And, as always, if you like to play around with KDE colors, styles, and window decorations, PCLinuxOS has a gazillion of them to choose from. Plus Beryl/Emerald, of course. This distro has got to be the best-looking one out there. (Now if we could get good anti-aliasing for LCD monitors... but that's more than just a PCLinuxOS issue. It's not bad, it's actually pretty good; it's just not great.)

(One little thing I learned: If you like to enable and use KDE's "save session" option, you'll want to uninstall the "kmixautostart" package, which will keep KMix from popping up every time you log in.)

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