Archive for April, 2009

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PCLinuxOS 2009

April 22, 2009

I’m not trying to grab a headline or an audience, but I do feel an obligation to at least blog this distro. PCLOS 2007 had totally won my household over when we tried it. Since that time, it became the main distro of the family computer as well as the linux that my wife (a total Linux nOOb) put on her machine. Every machine in the house (my laptop, the family desktop, my wife’s laptop) is dual booted between a Linux and Windows XP. XP still is the main gaming machine and still does the heavy video and graphic work. Linux is mainly surfing the net with a few odd applications thrown in. I really like Open Office for 90% of my office applications but still have to go into my old office XP program for a few specialized templates.

I was totally amped up and waiting for PCLOS to come out with the new version. While 2007 was working fine, it seemed like a lot of the packages needed updating and I was looking forward to some new functionality which other distros were already starting to incorporate. Then one day, it was time. I went for the Big Update. PCLOS is supposed to be a rolling release, which means it sort of updates as it goes along. However very few updates have been issued over the past 6 months and then finally came the Big One. And it was huge, being nearly 500 mb in size. I patiently waited for this thing to download on the old desktop and then it installed. Then it promptly would not allow me to log in. I got to the Grub bootloader, selected PCLOS and it went to the login screen. I selected my icon or typed in my name, then tried the password. the password would not type in after the 2nd or 3rd character and the whole thing froze. It was done.

My initial assumption was that this update overwhelmed my machine, as it was a bit long in the tooth. But I read reviews of other people who were successfully running it on less that what I had, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe the update was munged. So I downloaded and tried a live CD and had the exact same problem. It still froze on the password login. This was odd, but I chalked it up to some sort of hardware thing.

I then decided to try to update my wife’s laptop, which is a lot newer and more powerful. This time I was able to run a good update. The splash screen is very attractive. However, the first glitch was that it totally lost the wireless connection and no amount of cajoling from me (albeit limited) would bring it back. This was a major disappointment for me. And for my wife, who was just really warming up to to Linux. She actually took it a bit better than I did by simply deciding that she would just go back to using Windows XP. Her tolerance for fiddling is lower than mine, but she’s more agnostic about OS’s.

It was at this point when I ran my little comparison where Mandriva 2009 became the distro of choice on the family desktop. But the damage is done because I’m the only one who really uses it. My wife and kids are back to using Windows XP. Mandriva has its share of flaws that I’ll share later, but this release of PCLOS turned out to be less than spectacular for our family. I did briefly visit the the forums and there were many complaints, even so far as one thread comparing PCLOS 2009 to Vista. It’s difficult to argue about that since it did result in our family mostly going back to XP, which Vista has done for a lot of people. But the forums seemed to consist of someone complaining about an issue (somewhat snarkily) and then replies would be:

  1. Give me more specifics so we can help you work it out

  2. We’re a very small development team and can’t configure to every hardware variant

  3. Report your specific problem and hardware configuration

  4. I don’t know why it doesn’t work for you because it works great for me.

  5. I have problems with it too.

  6. I can’t be bothered with it and have moved on to [insert another distro here].

I’m not going to niggle about the responses or which is right or better, especially since I didn’t bother with the support forum at all, but am just blogging it instead and optioning #6. But unlike PCLOS 2007, PCLOS 2009 is not climbing the distrowatch charts. The 2007 version actually dethroned the mighty Ubuntu for several weeks and is the only distro in the past few years to have come as close to really competing in numbers of hits per day, being in excess of 2,000 for several days and weeks. But PCLOS 2009 has never even approached that level of competitiveness even though it remains (barely) in the top 10. In fact, it appears to have gotten less hits per day since the new release came out than the old version! So I know I am not the only one who has found this release disappointing.

I think if the development team had stuck with incremental updates, as they had originally intended, they might have avoided the avalanche of problems. But by going for a Big Update, they invited Big Headaches. Instead of a steady trickle of small adjustments and problems, they ran into a deluge of problems and a large population of formerly happy people who were no longer happy. A 6 month release cycle does seem pretty frequent, but other distros probably figured out that this caused less headaches in the long run and I think the PCLOS team probably are also figuring this out as is Microsoft with a (relatively) speedy Windows 7 release after the Vista debacle.

Is there a way to downgrade back to PCLOS 2007?

So now I’m again searching for a family Linux. As it stands, my laptop is running Mandriva 2008, which is okay. It seems easier for me to work with than Mandriva 2009 at the moment. The 2009 version is also running on a lower powered machine so I’m thinking about considering a lighter distro and Antix might be the answer there. And my wife still has the crippled PCLOS 2009 on it but is totally XP at the moment.

What I liked about PCLOS 2007:

  1. Everything seemed to work out of the box even with older hardware

  2. Lots of useful programs included

  3. Deep repositories (even if some packages were a bit old)

  4. Very easy to set up and maintain

  5. Easily worked with key hardware: wireless and printer. Mandriva 2009 can not deal with our Epson CX7800 printer (let alone the scanner portion of the all-in-one)

  6. KDE interface

  7. Played nice with Google Apps (Google docs, Google Earth, Picasa)

It’s tough watching such a favorite fall from grace, but this is a very key feature of why I like Linux so well. Unlike the proprietary OS’s, Linux offers a ton of options. When Vista sucked, users were left with the sole option of “downgrading” to XP. Like other people, I chose to stick with XP on my laptop rather than hassle with Vista issues. Oddly enough, I’m probably better prepared for a new MS OS after having gotten used to using open source programs than I was a year ago. Even Apple, whose OS X is seen a bulletproof is burdened with getting everything perfect every time. One screw up can be deadly. While PCLOS might hurt as a distro, Linux as a whole remains on a robust trajectory of improvement. No one has to please all of the people all of the time because there are plenty of choices. And I plan on trying s few and look forward to reviewing them here.

D.D.