I realize the title of this article has already set some of you into a state of confusion. How dare I suggest that anything besides Arch could be the “best” rolling release distro, right?
Well I’d counter with this: Arch is indeed awesome, it has dizzying fast performance and documentation that is second to none…however it’s modeled around the “Arch Way.” Meaning, if you want to learn more about Linux and its underpinnings, Arch is for you.
On the other hand if you simply want an operating system that you install once and it’s ready for you right out of the box, then perhaps Arch isn’t for you. This is where I believe PCLinuxOS comes in.
The installation rocks
The initial installation for PCLinuxOS KDE edition feels pretty much like any other distribution…until you get to the screen that suggestions removing unneeded packages. I liked that right away. I feel like I’m part of the installation “conversation.” Providing this in a smooth GUI format is also helpful.
From here, the installation is pretty much what your might expect. However there are more little surprises that many people will appreciate. After a little bit of time, you’re presented with a window where you can select the bootloader and the boot device. Yes, from the GUI…you can decide whether or not to use GRUB, GRUB2 or LILO. Next, you’re able to select the timeout delay before booting. Wait, it gets better. Also within the GUI, you can toggle ACPI, SMP, and APIC support. This would normally need to be entered manually with other distros, but this is available under advanced by default.
Next, you’re presented with the option of managing your boot menu. Not critical for most people, but it’s very handy when you’re running multiple distributions. After restarting your installation, the next step is selecting your time zone and then…choosing local or UTC for your time zone.
One of the really cool things about the prompt for creating your root password is that you can choose between local, LDAP, Windows Domain, NIS and Kerbos 5. It’s the little stuff like this, that really shine with PCLinuxOS.
Now that I’ve booted into the desktop environment itself, I find that I’m greeted with an alert that I need to update my system before installing new software. Obvious to you and me, incredibly valuable to the new user. The popup also includes the exact path to accomplishing this task, too.
One thing that did occur to me is this would be a lot smoother with some sort of automatic update functionality once I’ve booted for the first time. Then again, by providing the end user with the choice to update on their schedule…it means the user is in control. So I can see the value in this approach, be it not for everyone.
Downloading the updates on a brand new installation took me about eight to ten minutes on my fiber Internet connection. Considering there were over 900 updates to install, I can see why this could take awhile. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention there is an updater widget next to the clock. You can open up Synaptic from there, as long as the widget appears for you. The speed of your updates will depend on a number of factors beyond your control.
When dealing with a rolling distribution like this, if the installation media isn’t refreshed on a regular basis before being installed, sometimes you end up with a metric ton of updates. Luckily the process was quick and painless.
Settings and Apps
The settings offered by PCLinuxOS were surprisingly extensive. I expected the usual KDE offerings, but was pleasantly surprised that I could manage just about anything I’d need easily. For the most part, it felt good from a usability perspective. My favorite area (KDE-centric) was the control center’s Services and Daemons section. I love seeing what’s going on in the GUI as it’s easier for my brain to render what I’m seeing.
Sure, I might still disable or enable something from the CLI, but I like the visual contrast this provides. Newer users will enjoy being able to do this from the GUI. With the control center in general, there isn’t much you can do quickly and easily…without needing to know the specific commands.
Then there are the applications pre-installed. Man, PCLinuxOS didn’t leave anything out. It’s an interesting method of software discovery. When you launch the PC menu and begin browsing applications, chances are what you’re looking for may already be installed. I found Dropbox, Skype, Filezilla, NitroShare, Calibre, along with endless titles for science, monitors, finance and so forth…installed – ready to go!
So how up to date is the software available? Well, some applications are pretty dated. Kdenlive for example is still version 0.9.10. On my other PC, I run Kdenlive 15.12.1. Still, for those who want a stable experience vs a bleeding edge one, this is a fair trade off. And one “could,” if so inclined, locate a compatible RPM and install a newer version.
Speed and reliability
Normally I associate KDE with features, not speed. Yet I’ve found that PCLinuxOS running KDE is very responsive. Menus just pop open without delay. I can bounce through the settings quickly and without any lag whatsoever. And considering this is on an Intel Atom CPU (what I had available for testing), that’s really saying something. I also found the boot-up time to be more than acceptable. And thanks to being able to configure my boot loader choices from the start, the process was as streamlined as I wanted it to be.
I’ve used PCLinuxOS in the past, so I’m familiar with how dependable it is. With the exception of an application crashing for whatever reason, I’ve found the desktop environment quite stable. This was also true, even after 900 updates! And with this track record, you only need to tie in the reality that you won’t ever have to re-install again baring a hard drive failure. It’s a fairly attractive option when you consider this fact.
The PCLinuxOS end result
I’ve used PCLinuxOS off and on since roughly 2008-ish. If you want a stable, install once and forget it distribution – look no further. It’s also worth mentioning there are GNOME, MATE, among other flavors as well. Bundle its stability with a very strong, helpful community and I can see why it’s still kicking butt after all of these years.
My only suggestion would be to make sure that some feature rich apps like Kdenlive are kept more up to date. Not saying it has to be bleeding edge, but with the distro doing such a great job at introducing its userbase to new software, seems like a shame not to have some apps be a touch newer.
The last observation was that I couldn’t find a backup application installed by default. Seems to me, luckyBackup (available in the PCLinuxOS repos) would be a logical choice in this regard. Perhaps it’s installed in the Full Monty edition, I’m not sure.
Suggestions aside, my advice is to take PCLinuxOS for a spin. It’s not a bleeding edge Arch derivative by any stretch, but this also lends to its charm. Personally, I recommend checking it out!