Looking at PCLinuxOS as a Corporate Desktop
In a post I made a while back, the Linux distro PCLinuxOS showed up in the comments. When I stuck my foot into it in a reply, the creator of the distro, Texstar jumped in to set me straight. My mistake was to say the PCLinuxOS was now based on Debian. Another poster pointed out I needed to do my research better. Too true. I had two data points.
I had read someplace on the Internet of a forum that PCLinuxOS was now Debian based, and
I had looked at PCLinuxOS briefly when I was trying to decide what Distro to use for my last LinuxWorld lab, saw that it used Synaptic, forget that there was an RPM version of that tool, and moved on.
It is even worse than that though: The article I read that gave me this idea in the first place is lost to history, but I saw a post at Desktop Linux that reinforced it:
“Once installed, more than 5,000 additional packages are available through PCLinuxOS's Synaptic software manager and file repositories. This works essentially in the same way as Debian and Ubuntu's update system. “
I stopped reading there. Had I just finished the paragraph, the very next sentence was:
“However, instead of using deb packages, it uses RPM. Thus, PCLinuxOS users must use their distribution's own repository -- it is not interchangeable with the Debian or Ubuntu program libraries.
Well fine. Just fine. IRNIdjut. I normally do actually research stuff better than that. Really. I should have know better: A few years back, I used an early release of PCLinuxOS in the Linuxworld lab as the class boot-able LiveCD. I only stopped using it because a newer version of PCLinuxOS dropped Evolution for space on the LiveCD disk reasons. I needed Evolution for the lab.
Even worse: I used to be a [RPM based] Mandrake user! I used Mandrake for years. Texstar used to package up all sorts of things to make Mandrake better, and was one of the, if not the most popular packagers for Mandrake “back in the day.” [Mandrake is called Mandriva now] Worse: Texstar even lives in the same city I work! I should know his stuff better that this. Argg!!! This is just embarrassing, to say the least.
I Have No Choice. I Must Do Research.
Having stepped into this royally, the only way to be able to look in the mirror is to test PCLinuxOS 2007. One of the comments to my post about PCLinuxOS asserted that PCLinuxOS is 100 times better than Mint. I am surrounded by Mint systems. Mint is based off of Ubuntu, and there is an article in the PCLinuxOS Magazine September 2007 Issue 13 is titled "Ubuntu's Hype is Misleading".
I am always open to change. Starting back in the post "Most Popular Linux Desktop?" post, I wondered what the hype around Ubuntu was all about and set about testing it. I ended up using Mint as my primary Linux desktop ever since.
I decided to use the Dell D620 that I posted about inLinux Mint 3.0 and the Single Dell". Mint had been on the unit for about a month. Everything was working more or less in a well known way. Evolution was the main pain point, since it crashed fairly often, at least until I figured out a new way to set it up (I pointed it at the OWA web server rather than the MS Exchange server for the WebDAV connection. That made it run much better. No idea why yet.). The other, slight lessor issue was that the wiggle stick and the track pad used different mouse acceleration profiles. I could not get them synced to save my life. The wiggle stick fast. The trackpad slow and therefore mostly useless. The computer itself is speedy fast, what with its T7200 Core 2 Duo.
Mint on the D620 grabbed the CD image from a mirror on the net, burned it, and then moved out of the way on the hard drive to make room for PCLOS (PCLinuxOS's official abbreviation). Aside: Interesting that there is no LiveDVD version of PCLOS. There is clearly a large number of packages in the repository that they could put on by default if they had a LiveDVD version. From my last LinuxWorld lab I learned most everyone was able to boot a DVD these days. That would be nice, because then they could put Evolution back on the install media, and I would have another option of the lab!
LiveCDs are the Best-est
Any Linux Distro that does not have a LiveCD/LiveDVD version is missing the boat. It is so nice to be able to test the distro *from* the CD, to be sure there are not major issues before you roll the Distro down. As easy as Linux is to install these days, I still spend a fair amount of my after-hours life doing these types of things, and the LiveCD is just too nice to not use. Even Fedora 7 is on board with a LiveCD you can install from! PCLinuxOS booted, asked a few questions about the network, and I was up.
The LiveCD gives you the option of "root" or "guest" to log in as. I go in as 'guest', password 'guest', and a normal looking KDE desktop with some distro specific artwork appears. There is an icon on the task bar to start downloading updates (Synaptic, but labeled "package manager")... which is odd in a way. I'm running off a LiveCD. My read/write space is limited by the ramdisk. No way I could put new packages on this while it is running LiveCD. Next to Synaptic icon on the taskbar is something that anyone that has ever used Mandrake knows: the DrakConf utility. I'll need to use both of these once I am running PCLOS installed off the hard drive, so I note their presence and move on.
The trackpad and wiggle stick are accelerated the same. Nice.
Finding no issues running PCLinuxOS from the LiveCD, I clicked on the installer icon, reworked the disk layout to preserve my /home, and watched the D620 CD drain the LiveCD onto the harddrive in short order. Screaming fast install. Here's the disk layout:
Disk /dev/sda: 80.0 GB, 80026361856 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9729 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sda1 * 1 1824 14651248+ 7 HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda2 1825 3040 9767520 83 Linux
/dev/sda3 3041 3283 1951897+ 82 Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda4 3284 9729 51777495 83 Linux
On the Dell D620, sda1 is the BMC corporate MS WinXP image. sda2 is "/". sda4 is "/home". I formatted sda2 and sda3 (swap). As a first challenge to PCLOS, I was going to leave all my files from Mint laying about my home directory. Mint was set up with both Gnome and KDE, so all the config files from a months use were there. There was no issue at all with anything. KDE (the default GUI of PCLOS) fired up, went in, and everything was great. Well. Mostly.
Intel Graphics Chip
Like Ubuntu, but not like Fedora or Mint, PCLOS did *not* set up the Intel graphics chip correctly at first. Worse, the Drakconf utility that lets you fix this was nowhere to be found on the desktop anymore. It was there on the taskbat when it was booted on the LiveCD: now it was gone. It actually took me a few moments to dig up what the config utility is called (been a while since I used Mandrake), and fire it up from command line. *Now* it noticed I needed to install the "915Resolution" package to deal with the hardware. I said it could. Download. Install.
Logged out, restarted X, back in. Still 1024x768. Another trip into Drakconf, and I reset the panel type from 1024x768 to 1280x800.
Log out. Restart X. Still whacked. Back into Drakconf. Go into "Screen Resolution". 1280x800 not an option. 1280x960 is. At the bottom are the words "Other". I pick that, and now it redraws the menu with all sorts of resolutions, including the one I need.
Exit, out. In. Now the fonts look like crud. KDE control center can fix that: Turn on anti-aliasing, force the DPI to 96, save, exit.
Come back in, and now it looks right.
This is not better than Mint so far. But after this it gets better...
Building the Perfect Corporate Linux
Launching Synaptic, running update installing north of 200 updates (about the same ball park in terms of number of packages as the first time I fired up Mint), rebooting, going into Synaptic again, start tweaking this out as a corporate desktop. I noted along the way that the Synaptic update has Firefox moved from 188.8.131.52 to 184.108.40.206: that is goodness. I was afraid I was going to have to override the default browser install.
The PCLOS kernel is oddly old, at 2.6.18. That kernel version was released last September, 2006. Mint on my Acer is at kernel 2.6.20, Fedora on my Dell C400 is at 2.6.22, and kernel.org is at 2.6.22 as well. This only matters of course if I turn out to need one of the new features of the later kernels. So far, on the D620, that does not appear to be the case, other than possibly ACPI.
If you have to work with MS Exchange mail servers and do cross calendaring with MS Windows users , then you have pretty much only one choice for email client: Evolution. Two, if you count Outlook Web Access and your favorite browser.
Evolution is not installed by default. PCLOS dropped it in favor of Thunderbird a while back. But it is still in the PCLOS apt repositories, and Synaptic can pull it down. Even though the kernel is "backlevel", the Evolution groupware suite is the same release (more or less) as Mint's: 2.10. Normally when I change out the OS level on Linux, I move all the Evolution dot files into backups, and create all new, since Evolution has a history of not dealing well with upgrades. I took a flyer, brought Evolution up as is, and it happily accessed the .evolution, and other .gnomeish files and worked like a champ. Out of the box. No issues so far. That might be a first.
I need other things: Avahi, HFS+, Quanta, Bluefish, NVU (yes... I know. I like to mess around with different HTML generation utilities, even though I almost always just fall back to Google Docs in the end.). I need Planner, and it is available.
At this point, I am noticing another thing. The package repositories are actually pretty fast. One of the reasons I stopped using Mandrake was that their repositories seemed to get slower and more painful to use every release. In fact, the Mandrake package manager was no great shakes back then (No idea now: I put up Mandriva 2006 last year, but on hardware so slow that I could not evaluate how fast anything was), so I can see why Texstar opted to use Synaptic instead when he forked Mandrake/Mandriva to create PCLinuxOS. These PCLOS repositories are on par with Mints in terms of download times. Mint, being on top of Ubuntu, which is on top of Debian means that there are well over 20,000 packages available. PCLOS has less than that, at 6882. Does that matter? Not so far. Everything I have looked for was out there as an installable. Whatever is not there, it is so far not something I use.
OpenOffice is nice and current at 2.2.1. Even better, on the KDE menu, I can invoke the "Web Writer" mode separately from the "Writer" mode. This is the way it should be IMHO: OpenOffice acts differently in those two modes, and the Web Writer not only lets me edit the HTML directly, it tends to generate far cleaner HTML than OpenOffice Writer, doing a "Save as HTML". That latter mode puts in all sorts of extra text layout directives that try and make the doc look exactly the same on the web as it does on the printed page. That means the HTML pretty much sucks rocks. It may be 100% standards compliant, but it is a mess to work with. Better than MS Word doing a "Save as HTML", I will give you that. That really is not saying much though, as MS Word is well known for creating bad HTML. Not sure about the new 2007 version. Never seen it. I suppose it is possible it got better there: the new version of Frontpage was supposed to be getting fixed in terms of its standards compliance. Maybe the same HTML engine? I digress....
On Screen Mr Sulu.
When I press the tiny, dedicated volume up, down, or mute buttons on the D620 (special keys above the keyboard) when it was running Mint, an on screen display popped up, showing me what I was doing, and thye keys worked. PCLOS does not appear to know how to deal with those keys. I don't really care that much. Kmix is easy to click on and tweak, but on the other hand, it is another thing Mint does that PCLOS doesn't. I poked around in Synaptic looking for a package that might not be installed, but nothing was apparent. Keywords like 'laptop' and 'Acer' and 'Dell' turned up nothing when searching in Synaptic. I was looking for Acer because there is a new project to make Acers special keys work, similar to the IBM laptop package like "tpb".
Install as Root
I do not like to log into root. Its a security thing. I do it when I have to: Single user mode, FSCK, etc. But mostly I like to work from my userid and leverage sudo to power me through the additional software package installs from my userid. Perhaps the missing DrakConf is not installed in my pedestrian accounts taskbar by default but available on Roots.. Maybe it is buried on a menu someplace. I tried to "switch user" over to root, but the screen flashes brightly and I can't get in to look. I did not try logging out and then back in as root. The key point was that Drakconf was hiding, not that I might be able to find it on an extended search.
/etc/sudoers is not pre-configured by the install to include my account, so I fixed that, and I also added an icon button for Drakconf to the KDE task bar. I think it is pretty elegant the Ubuntu / Mint add the first user defined *automatically* to /etc/sudoers.
I supposed this is a schism point for Linux: how separate do you keep root? How powerful do you make the default user account? On one end, some distros just let you into root and are done with it. Ubuntu/Mint hides root altogether, but sets up sudo cleverly so that by entering your password you can install things. PCLOS is more on the "Use two accounts to do separate things" end of the spectrum.
I don't really know which one is better. In PCLOS, I made my userid able to do rootish things via sudo authentication. On Mint, I set roots password, and configure so I can log into it *if I want to*. These are all personal preference things, and as long as the distro lets me set it up how I like, I guess it does not matter much.
ACPI out to lunch
There is a little KDE app called Kima the PCLOS includes. Kima reads stuff out of ACPI and displays it on the task bar. Actually, I set up a second task bar. I moved the KDE default one to the top of the screen, added a new panel, and put Kima and the active tasks on the new bottom bar.
Kima or ACPI or both have lost their minds. Where Mint displayed sane fan speeds, cpu frequencies, and whatnot with its gnome apps for such things, Kima says that the CPU's never drop off 2 Ghz, and that the fan is running at 7974 - 8016 rpm. If the fan was running that fast, it would be a banshee of supersonic screaming, and the D620 laptop would be hovering. In fact, something is lying, because when I put hand at the back, left hand side of the computer where the Core 2 Duo heat sink is, there is only a tiny whisper of a breeze coming out of it. I assume that this is an effect of the back-level kernel. It is not serious, but it is annoying.
That being said, here is another subjective observation to place into the pipe and smoke a bit: PCLOS seems faster than Mint. I have not measured anything, but it just feels crisper. That is not something I would have expected from a 2.6.18 kernel, since for one thing a number of the enhancements up the road have to do with laptops, ACPI, and the scheduler.
Suspend is a real hit or miss affair. This also worked better on Mint. I am thinking it is the new kernel again.
IMHO Beryl is fun if not utterly useful. Ubuntu has announced that Beryl's soul-mate Compiz will be enabled by default in their next release [7.10, or "Gutsy Gibbon"]. PCLOS ships Beryl and Compiz installed, and either can be enabled from the KDE Control Center. This is a very nicely integrated bit of work. I wish all the DrakConf functionality was in the KDE control center too. Or KDE Control center was tossed and all it's functions put into DrakConf. Having two apps for system config is really not intuitively obvious. I digress: Beryl / Compiz is the point here.... I enabled Beryl.
Beryl runs well, is fast, is stable, and all the effects do not seem to slow the computer in the slightest. Mint was/is good in this regard as well.
When I installed PCLOS, I defined the wired interface. It was late at night, I was at the office still. No wireless. Just Cat5. When I took it home to continue the testing, PCLOS did not automatically decide that it should switch to the wireless interface instead. Mint does. Ubuntu does. DrakConf brings up the interface easily, sees the access point, and connects to it no problem. The Intel wifi hardware is no issue (unlike Fedora).
I do not know if I had started by defining the wireless interface first if PCLOS would do better here. Clearly all the parts are in place. The hardware is located, defined to the OS. There just is not a process that looks to see which interface has a valid connection available. My iPhone can do that, switching between Edge and Wifi, and preferring Wifi when it is available.
It might have occurred that this is hardly a great comparison: Mint versus PCLOS is a Gnome interfaced Distro (by default: KDE can be installed, and like Ubuntu, there is a KDE version of Mint ) versus a KDE default interfaced version (and while I did not do it, it looked like I could install Gnome onto PCLOS with Synaptic). If someone says that PCLOS is better than Mint, what I can not tell is whether they are at least in part saying that KDE is better than Gnome. This is part of why I mostly focused on things that underlie the GUI. I have no GUI axes to grind. I can use KDE or Gnome. I like them both. I know most folks have a strong preference for one over the other. My only statement of opinion in this regard is that I think people with MS Windows backgrounds will be more comfortable with KDE to start.
I am also not sure looking at PCLOS as a corporate desktop is a valid thing to do, any more than when I looked at Fedora for the same thing. The home page of PCLOS contains a history of PCLinuxOS, and that has the following line in it: "Since Mandrake was a trademarked name myself and others decided to name the livecd after our news site and forum pclinuxonline thus PCLinuxOS". The news site and forum has no history, mission statement, why we are here kind of thing that I can find, so I am going to make a supposition. The PC of PCLinuxOS is from the same machine most people use to run OS's, I.E. PC = Personal Computer. There is no server edition. There no paid-for support option (The home page link "About Us" in fact says :
If you need customer support, please visit our friendly forums .
Nothing about central management tools (although plenty third party stuff is out there for Linux that would probably work with PCLOS).
My point is I just wrote an article about using a community supported personal computing Linux version running KDE and compared it to a completely different kind of version of Linux. They both have that chewy Linux goodness inside, but they are not really valid comparisons in any other meaningful way. My one constraint: That I was looking at it as a Corporate Desktop should have set alarms bells ringing.
Oddly, that initial criteria worked in PCLOS's favor here. Not having wireless at the office, the way wireless must be manually set up every time is no big deal most of the time. For me.
Go back through "Adventures", and in posts too numerous to link here you will probably get the idea of why my thinking is on what the killer application is for a Linux corporate desktop. Well, two of them: OpenOffice is a given. The other is Evolution. If you are an MS Exchange shop, and you don't want to live with a web browser interface to email and calendar, then Evolution is a must. PCLOS's version of Evolution (even though it was not on the default install) has so far been more stable than Mints, and that means I'll keep PCLOS on the Dell D620 for now.
At least until Mint 3.1 ships.