Something has gone south in the recent developments of the Linux operating system. My old linux rig IBM Think T41 is experiencing significant slow downs with very latest revisions of Ubuntu, and other major distributions. This is most apparent in web browsing which suffers of notable slowdowns on web pages that have higher than average complexity – it feels almost like using a Vista! So what happens when you throw in a distribution that comes with out-of-date kernel, Xorg, and desktop environment? The damn thing works like a charm again. The PCLinux 2009.2 is like going back to the 2007 again.
The PCLinuxOS is an interesting story altogether. The Mandriva forked distribution came up with a excellent out-of-the-box experience few years back, and started gaining a notable hype even in it’s preview versions. The final stable release 2007 really hit the jackpot being the most desktop ready and “Windows user friendly” Linux distribution at the time. In 2008 they released equally excellent 2008 MiniMe edition of the operating system, but then things started going rapidly downhill. Updates were less frequent, no new major stable release was achieved, main developer was off duty for quite some time, and all kinds of personal drama was stirring in the community. The 2009.1 release was more like a “2007.1″ release and didn’t impress anyone. Personally I was more than ready to dumb PCLinuxOS to the distro grave yard. But then came the 2009.2 with an announcement that it was in fact a quarterly update. Would a solid release schedule be able to blow some fresh air into the once great distribution?
What sets PCLinuxOS apart from Ubuntu and others is still the choice of not to include the very latest versions of certain core components. The desktp enviroment is the classic KDE 3.5.10, the Linux kernel is at 126.96.36.199, and the Xorg the 1.4. Key applications are however quite well updated to recent, or at least quite recent versions.
The resulting user experience is quite interesting – the system is very responsive, performance is good, and user experience out-of-the-box is damn near perfect. My basic installation consumed about 30% less memory than a similar configuration with Ubuntu 9.04 (180MB vs 120MB footprint)Using KDE3.5 makes you wonder once again that what the hell were the KDE4 devs thinking. All this comes wrapped in a rather pleasing blue theme and everything nice configured and ready for daily use. And if you don’t everything to be ready for you and you want to build your desktop from ground up, there is a new 2009 MiniMe edition available as well.
But there are also few areas where PCLOS should improve in the near future. First of all is the installation procedure which starts with a rather unique step 1 – the un-installation of video drivers, which could be confusing for a first time Linux user. The K-menu structure should also be reconsidered, as it contains sub-levels that do nothing but add complexity to the hierarchy. Some file associations did not seem to be in place in Firefox, which was an immediate annoyance. And I also found a bug that sometimes pressing a key on my Thinkpad T41 resulted about 10 key presses on the application. This was a rare issue but I have never seem anything like it on any other distro.
While PCLOS still is very similar than it was back in 2007 and it doesn’t have the bleeding edge core components, it still has the potential to be a very good Linux desktop environment for new Linux users and especially if your hardware is slightly aged. What the project now needs to do is to rebuild the confidence by showing that they can provide a steady flow of updates to the repositories and that they can stick to their new quarterly schedule, while focusing on quality control and implementation. It will be interesting to see how the year goes for them, and I certainly wish them all the best.
Grap your copy at http://www.pclinuxos.com