I originally intended this post to be a review of 2007 Final for PCLinuxOS. However, after finishing it up, I realized that posting a review wouldn’t have the desired effect of truly showing off PCLinuxOS to everyone. It would just be a “business as usual” type of post. So, I decided to do a analysis on what I feel sets PCLinuxOS apart from many Linux distributions.
I often see people steer new Linux users to other distros such as OpenSuse, Ubuntu, and SimplyMEPIS…even Sabayon in a few instances. This is fine…they’re good, solid distros. However, out of those distros, I’d recommend only one…OpenSuse. Why? Because of YAST. A New user needs to feel comfortable with system configuration tasks. Not everyone is ready to drop to the shell when coming in from that other operating system. Not every 65 year old grandmother is ready to crack a Konsole and vi their way to .conf bliss. Ubuntu’s control panel is continually getting better but YAST still leads the pack in putting new users or even seasoned ones at ease with system configuration.
I regularly used SimplyMEPIS from 2003 until 2005 and continue to recommend it for new users despite it not having a YAST Like tool. It now has inherited many things from Ubuntu so it has a greatly improved way of doing things. The added tools also make common tasks easier like emptying out logs, installing graphics drivers, and setting up your monitor/resolution. It’s getting there quickly.
That brings me to OpenSuse. YAST is a fantastic and powerful tool. Still, when I use OpenSuse, I often find that I’m not up to date with applications and I find the repositories move much slower than I’d like. I have to rely on third party repos which isn’t a bad thing but often gets me into trouble with dependencies. So I was on a search for a cutting edge distro that was solid, up to date with the latest packages, and had a YAST-like utility for it. Of course, Mandriva (Mandrake at the time) was a good fit but I found PCLinuxOS even better.
So, today I’ll talk about what I feel sets PCLinuxOS apart from other freely available distros.
The tool PCLinuxOS has that is comparative to YAST is called the PCLinuxOS Control Center. Now I know that many of you will be saying…”PCLinuxOS is a direct rip-off of Mandriva! It has the Mandriva Control Center repackaged!” and you’d be halfway right. It is true that PCLinuxOS pulls the control center from Mandriva…but it’s also true that they maintain those packages themselves AND make them better. Please take a look at a side by side comparison of Mandriva 2007 and PCLinuxOS TR3 2007:
As you can see, there are more categories in PCLinuxOS 2007 than there are present in Mandriva. This is because the PCLinuxOS developers have spent time and effort on making sure that a new user can actually configure and use their computer and the operating system to the nth degree. Thanks to Tuxmachines.org for use of the Mandriva 2007 screenshot.
Rather than focusing on where Mandriva falls short and where PCLinuxOS picks up the slack or vice versa, I’ll be continuing on with the various functions and features of the PCLinuxOS Control Center. By the end of the article, I’m sure you’ll see why I zealously support PCLinuxOS for new Linux converts.
Looking at the screenshot above for PCLinuxOS, you can see that the sharing category has three options: A) Set up a file and print server for workstations running Linux and non-Linux systems B) Manage, create special share, create public/user share C) Set up a web server. Let’s look at A first.
Electing to setup a file and print server for workstations…etc allows us to completely configure Samba as either a PDC, BDC, or standalone system. Standalone is the default choice and should be used unless you are part of a domain. The great part about this option is the fact that if a package isn’t present, the PCC will understand this and locate the package and install it for you all without leaving the control center. This section of the PCC makes setting up a Samba Server a simple and trivial task.
Next up we have item B, manage, create special share, create public/user share. In this section we find the ability to manage all Samba shares for the Samba Server we just configured previously. You can configure which users have read or write access on these shares or even configure a public share so you can have access to those files on other PC’s in your house. You have an option (expert) for granular control as well.
Last, we have item C, set up a web server. Can it really be as easy as the two previous? When I went to configure this item, I was prompted for a few packages (because I don’t have them installed) and after they install I’m given the opportunity to create an intranet (internal) or internet (external) webserver. After a few extra screens, I have a fully functional internal webserver. The default values were all I needed to get a fully functional Apache webserver up and running.
There’s only one sub-category under this section…Configure the Internet Mail Services. This allows you to successfully configure postfix using a handy wizard. Once again you are prompted to install this package if you haven’t already done so.
I remember the first time I configured a postfix mail server. It took many tries, the process of elimination, and much tweaking to get it right. I also learned quite a bit about mail servers back then (like not being able to send and receive mail to certain servers unless my ISP gave me a static IP). Will a new user need to install a mail server? Most likely not. But in case that user wants to try, PCLinuxOS gives them a helping hand to do so.
In this category, one can configure remote desktop connections. Need to connect to a Windows client using terminal services? Easy. Want your mother-in-law who is new to Linux to allow you access to her system? This is done as well in this section. Need to connect to another Linux machine? Simple. The PCC makes it a snap to do all of these tasks.
I’ve found this tool to be the most valuable for anyone who is new to using Linux. It helps out greatly with the remote assistance from someone more accustomed to doing things in this environment.
Editing a grub configuration file to add operating systems or tweak parameters can be daunting for new users as well. Most new users wouldn’t mind dropping to the shell after they’re comfortable with how things work…once they have that confidence of working with booting and boot parameters, asking them to drop to a shell is a snap. The PCLinuxOS Control Center helps them out in this instance by allowing them a handy tool for editing how their computer boots. Also contained in this menu is enabling autologin and selecting a boot screen.
Make sure that when you select Autologin, you understand the security problems that go along with it. With autologin, your desktop will appear without password/login screens. There are times when this is handy but please be aware that it can be a security problem.
One added feature to the boot menu is the “Select a graphic theme to display during boot” option. This allows you to create your own theme! Got a picture you think would be a good bootscreen? You can make your own in this menu. I’m not an expert at this but I was able to hack together a simple bootscreen in a few minutes…it looked horrible but it functioned 😀
This is the most robust category that the PCC contains. You have ultimate control over your hardware with this section. You can configure just about any piece of hardware on your system here, change your keyboard layout to another language, setup a printer/scanner, configure beryl/compiz, change resolution, configure your display settings, and even setup an uninterpretable power supply. Each option has a wizard that will run you through your installation/configuration.
Selecting “Look at and configure hardware” allows you to see a real time snapshot of what hardware is present on your system. There is also a handy button that allows you to run a configuration wizard to setup this hardare. This wizard is not present on all hardware but is there for a majority.
Selecting “Configure your Monitor” allows you to install your monitor via model/brand. This is imperative to do before you can achieve maximum resolution for your desktop. If you model/brand isn’t present, selecting a generic setting works for 99.9% of monitors out there. This is one of the most overlooked categories in the PCC.
After you’ve configured your monitor, the next icon will help you set resolution. When installing your monitor, a set of resolutions that are supported by that brand/model go into your configuration file. Using “Change the screen resolution” allows you to select one of those resolutions. This should be done after configuring your monitor. This is also one of the most overlooked categories in the PCC.
“Configure 3d desktop effects” is beryl and compiz. You can launch either management panel for beryl or compiz. This provides a one stop shopping place for those people looking to manage 3d desktop effects. This category too is often overlooked.
Need to configure your X settings? Done in the next category “Set up the graphical server”. Need to setup a TV Card? Done in “Set up TV Card”. Do you need to change your keyboard layout to support your language? Select “Set up the keyboard layout” and you’ll be in business. Touchpad? Mouse? Laser pointer? “Set up pointer device” has you covered for your mouse configuration and installation needs.
When I first installed PCLinuxOS, one of the best experiences I had was that of installing a printer. I couldn’t believe that Linux had a wizard to do this for me…and one that worked! If you have a CUPS Supported printer, you can install it with ease using the “Set up the printer(s) the print job queues, …” As you can see from the pictures below, you can setup and install a printer…even a shared printer for your other computers in home…in a matter of 3-5 clicks. Nothing gets easier than that. You can manage these printers from the exact same screen once installed.
To round out the hardware section, we have “Set up Scanner” and “Set up a UPS for power monitoring”. Setting up my scanner (PSC) showed me that it was not in the scanner database. But selecting the option in the screenshot below allowed me to get my scanner installed and working in another few clicks. I then installed my APC UPS which connects via USB cable to my PC. Can’t get much easier than that right?
I stop now while I’ve still go some of you interested. I really like the PCC and it’s ultimate control of system administration items. If you like configuring things by hand, you can do so as well…the PCC will read the same configuration files that you’ll alter. It’s handy for new users and for seasoned users…it’s something that can automate repetititve tasks you may do. It gives you an alternative to manually editing config files and for that I’m grateful. While I love dropping down to a shell and using vi to script python or bash, I’m not always in the mood to do complex tasks that the PCC can simplify me. If I’m able to save time…it’s a winner for me. Hopefully, it is for you as well 🙂
I’m going to leave the following sections for Part II: Mount Points, Network and Internet, Security, and System. I hope this look at this tool in PCLinuxOS gives you incentive to give it a try. I really think it is unparalleled currently in Linux. I find that I spend less time working on my system and more time helping out in the Linux community…something I’ve always wanted to do but never had time to do 🙂
AUTHOR NOTE: I do not attempt to hide the fact that PCLinuxOS is based on Mandriva. Nor that PCLinuxOS gets its control center from Mandriva. In order to get this tool into PCLinuxOS, code has to be changed as it doesn’t fit together with the distro in a vanilla form. We alter perl scripts inside the Mandriva Control Center and rebrand it to PCLinuxOS Control Center. Everyone understand that using the Mandriva Control Center is something ANY Linux distro can do. PCLinuxOS just happens to change things up a bit for it’s distro and I feel that added change is nice for a new user.
For those of you crying foul at this article, please understand that this article is written with the intent of showing why I feel PCLinuxOS is a great distro and why it is set apart…if you read this as saying I’m bad mouthing Mandriva, you have a problem…that’s not what this article is saying. It’s saying, hey, the PCC and MCC aren’t exactly the same. PCLinuxOS alters it and I find the alterations suitable for a new user. Bad mouthing Mandriva will not take place on this blog.