Random Thoughts on PCLinuxOS

PCLinuxOS is my first rolling-release distro. That’s a little scary for a newbie coming from the Ubuntu-LTS-based world. What really ticks me off about the Ubuntu-based distros lately is their long-standing habit of sneaking Beta software into updates – even updates of their LTS versions which are supposed to be more stable. Making unwitting Beta-testers out of Linux novices is just unforgivable. Only Linux Mint users and Linux Lite users who take advantage of a modified updater created for Linux Lite (but not officially supported by the distro) avoid most of the issues because of the brilliant Mint Updater.

I have had absolutely no update issues with with my very minimal PCLOS/Xfce mixture, but I must admit, reading the forums lately has me a little spooked. It’s probably normal when there are huge, major, fundamental changes to a major component of the system, like the changes from KDE4 to KDE5. KDE is the default, flagship edition of PCLinuxOS, and it’s going through some maaaaaaajor changes with the big KDE updates to Plasma 5.

It’s got a lot of fancy stuff in it! And a lot of dependencies that I don’t have in my minimalistic, super-simple Xfce mixture. Like PulseAudio, for example. Firefox users have to put up with PA because Firefox now depends on PulseAudio, but I don’t (yay for Midori and Seamonkey!). PulseAudio was Beta when it first got pushed on Ubuntu-based distros aimed at Linux novices, and for as long as I could, I removed it from my Xubuntu and relied on good ol’ ALSA, until it was no longer possible to avoid. Nowadays it’s Grub2 (beta) being pushed on Linux newbies from Ubuntu. Unforflippingivable. In PCLinuxOS Grub 2 is only being used by testers, and updates will not impose it on the rest of us until it has proven itself safe.

I do hafta say, though, if the big changes in KDE are somehow getting past even the PCLOS testers and causing so many “broken after update” issues – again probably to be expected with such a major release of such a major component – maybe new users should stick to the Xfce or Mate community editions of PCLinuxOS until things settle down with KDE.

It’s Still PCLinuxOS – But Xfce!

My exploration of KDE is over on PCLinuxOS. To be fair, the KDE-miniME installation disk is a minimal KDE intended for “advanced users,” but I explored for a week and found a few things far too resource hungry by the time I had it configured the way I like. It sure was visually pleasing and easy (easy but not simple – for a KDE newbie like me anyway) to use, but it did become slower with the added stuff I liked. I’m all pure Xfce now on PCLinuxOS, and it increased my speed as well as the simplicity I became accustomed to in Xubuntu.

Green is my favorite color, so I chose a simple green digital wallpaper. The icon set is Faenza (downloaded from PCLOS’s repositories along with the task-xfce4 and task-xfce4-plugins metapackages). Enable composting, make the panel invisible to show only the icons, add my favorite li’l Xfce goodies. It looks as good as Docky in my opinion, it it’s super-simple for a simple sidekick.

Now About Linux…

A conversation in one of the Linux forums I read was started by an Ubuntu user who expressed frustration at the problems he has had getting Ubuntu to work on his computer. Someone suggested that he buy a computer with Ubuntu pre-installed, that way all those bugs are worked out. Yeah, great solution – for about 6 months. Maybe three to five years if he gets one of their long-term-support versions and doesn’t mind doing without the newest versions of software.

Suddenly this rolling-release idea is a little less terrifying for me.I can’t blame anyone for being skittish about rolling release Linux, especially the all-or-nothing approach used by PCLinuxOS. But long-time users swear by it, and this distro enjoys fierce user loyalty that gives further credibility to its reliability. They have a testing team that does very thorough work, and when they do find a problem, they address it in the repositories very quickly. Stuff breaking after updating is the single greatest fear that I used to have about rolling release distros, but I’m feeling brave and school hasn’t started yet, so if I break anything there’s time to fix it in time for school.



My First Rolling Linux

I’ve always been scared of rolling-release Linux distributions. Perhaps because I’ve seen updates break things in other “distros” (geek shorthand for “distributions”). But re-installing the operating system every 6 months is out of the question, and even Ubuntu’s “long term support” versions require re-installation at intervals. I like the idea of a install-and-forget operating system that is maintained in a few simple mouse clicks. Here’s the one I’m testing today, just for grins while I have a half a day of free time.

The Mini KDE desktop with analog clock and weather widget
The Mini KDE desktop with analog clock and weather widget

When I first installed PCLinuxOS I decided ahead of time that KDE would be far too resource-hungry for this modest, aging hardware. I used the “mini” CD to install a minimal KDE version of PCLinuxOS, and figured I’d just tie Xfce on and go with what was not only familiar but proven to run superbly on my computer.

But before I did so, I thought I’d explore this KDE desktop a little just for grins. It wasn’t slow! Maybe adding all the goodies and extras would slow it down, but this “mini” version is quite speedy. KMail is broken (not even installed – I added it, tried it, tried to make it do something, then deleted it after reading a “don’t bother with KMail” post in their forums), but Konquorer is plenty fast, and doubles as a file manager! Not that Dolphin, the default file manager in KDE, is anything to sneeze at. Seems as simple as Thunar and just as fast.

Installation of PCLinuxOS mini is a snap. Once installed, it needs to be updated straight away before adding any new software. Open Synaptic Package Manager, Refresh, Mark All Upgrades, and Apply. That’s basically all the user does to maintain the operating system, presumably for years! It’s an all-or-nothing approach which is kinda scary to a noob like me who fears the “broken after update” scenario more than even having to reinstall. But I’ll explore this KDE desktop a little further and who knows – if it keeps behaving the way it has thus far in PCLinuxOS, maybe I’ll just keep it! PCLOS has some sweet configuration tools that make it simple enough for a sidekick.

My hopes are:

  • That KDE won’t become a resource hog before I’ve had a chance to plumb its depths and learn a little,
  • that this all-or-nothing update maintenance approach doesn’t prove to be as dangerous as I fear, and
  • that even if KDE disappoints me, Xfce will work as reliably on PCLOS as it always did in Xubuntu.

I don’t know what’s going on the “Ubuntu community” lately, but reading their forums one gets the idea that the community is feeling abandoned by the company behind the most popular Linux distro. There’s never been any such corporate shenanigans in the PCLOS community. Us ordinary folks can find the Supreme Developer hanging out in the forums and mailing lists, and the community is vibrant, friendly, and enthusiastic. Most are “ordinary end users” like me, several help develop this sweet distro (also frequently found in the forums), and all are equally enthusiastic about the distro and it’s users.