Experiment: Interview with Texstar of PCLinuxOS

Those of you who followed our experiment here at Yet Another Linux Blog followed my wife’s path as she test drove distros for their out of the box abilities. Those of you who stayed positive throughout this process also understood why some of the more popular distros did not rate well…simply because they do not have much done for you out of the box. The reason we chose rating out of the box is because most new users wont be able to install hardare and software easily without reading some documentation and those new users might become immediately frightened of the aspect of finding answers to ‘how to do this’. By having stuff done a user can gain confidence at the early and critical times of using a distro and then build on top of that. Therefore, we set out to find the best distro that came suited for a user like my wife. If you followed along, you also know that PCLinuxOS was rated the top distro. As promised, today we’ll chat with Texstar, the creator of PCLinuxOS.

Devnet: Please tell us a bit about how you got your start in Linux/Computers/Open Source…

Texstar: My first successful Linux install was Red Hat. I later found Mandrake which was nothing more than Red Hat with KDE at the time. I moved to Linux after watching Microsoft abuse their monopoly on the desktop. I formally provided unofficial 3rd party rpm updates to Mandrake users between releases until that function was taken over by Mandrakeclub.

Devnet: What type of person do you see yourself as?

Texstar: I’m kind of quiet, laid back, humerous and easy going person. I don’t take life too seriously. I look for the good in people. I enjoy chatting with fellow Linux users on our IRC channel (efnet #PCLinuxOS). What a great bunch of people…except for that Lewis guy. Just kidding Lewis! We love you, we really do 😀

Devnet: Why did you start PCLinuxOS?

Texstar: To provide an outlet for my crazy desire to package source code without having to deal with egos, arrogance and politics. I love to package. It is like a puzzle where all the pieces have to fit together or the code doesn’t work.
That is my favorite part of doing PCLOS. The other reason is I wanted something that worked out of the box, looked fabulous and didn’t require a technical degree from college to get it working.

Devnet: How did you come up with the name?

Texstar: It is Linux for your Personal Computer. I wanted something generic that people could easily relate to and the name matches our website.

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Why I Hate Mainstream

Linuxquestions.org has announced the winners of its members choice 2004 awards for Linux and open source. Upon hearing, I visited the site and slowly scrolled down the list nodding my head every so often, sometimes shaking my head where I disagree. Then I arrived at a category I actually know a little bit about…Live CD’s. Knoppix?!? Again!?!? Ok…let’s think this through. Perhaps it deserves it…afterall, X number of system admins swear by it. However, to me, this isn’t what a Live CD is about.

IMHO, a Live CD is about trying out Linux…not just rescue functions or data recovery. It’s about being able to run an entire operating system as read only from your CD-ROM. It’s about showing the power that Linux has. It’s about having an entire desktop with all the eye candy fixins in sub-5 minutes to attract new users. In a sense, it is a “try before you buy”…in this case download. It’s about detection, installation, configuration, and automation. While Knoppix does a good job on this…actually it wrote the book on it…there are those distributions out there that now PUMMEL Knoppix in detection. Two that come to mind are PCLinuxOS and MEPIS.

I figured that PCLinuxOS would be the major player at this years members choice award…mainly for the reason that it really advanced this year at distrowatch.com. In 2003, it was 44th. In 2004, it skyrocketed to 9th. That’s the fastest moving Linux distribution that is currently being tracked by Distrowatch. So, when I read Knoppix as the choice…I was surprised. Then I thought about it for a minute, isolated the real problem, and became a bit ticked off.

This isn’t about choice and it definately isn’t about a Live CD…it sure isn’t about the best. It’s about the most popular. Unfortunately, this is becoming the ‘in thing’ for open source. Linux has become chic. Well, maybe shabby chic. Nonetheless, Linux has arrived mainstream and brings entoe all of the things (good or bad) something that goes mainstream will bring with it.

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The Saga continues…PCLinuxOS 8

PCLinuxOS 8 was installed yesterday on my spare drive.  First impressions are…this is an excellent distro…but only once you get it installed.  They really messed up the install process.  Allow me to explain.
I booted up off the CD and found myself greeted to a plethora of options and programs to run.  I really dig the fact that it retains the Mandrake Control Center but has made it better.  I find the organization of the menu’s FANTASTIC…just as I found the Mandrake 10.1 menu’s well organized.  Thus far, only MEPIS has lacked in this area.  So, I decided to go for the installation to hard disk.  Much improved over version 7 is the shortcut link on the desktop that allows you to not have to search around in the menu’s.  This is a very solid distro…don’t get me wrong.  I’d say that this is actually the most well put together distro I’ve seen thus far.  There is a reason why THIS distro is the fastest moving on distrowatch.  It moved to where it is this year from #44 in 2003 to #9 in 2004.
So I click the install to disk icon and it brings up an interactive menu.  Now, for desktop distros…I choose automatically install for each one.  The main reason being, that is what a common user would do.  They won’t partition like you used to do with Linux.  However, with this interactive menu, it assumes you 1) know what a partition is 2) know what Linux is supposed to have.  I would really like to see if having a blank disk without swap and partitions would detect correctly for PCLinuxOS 8.  It detected my swap and first partition and assigned it with some drop down menu’s.  From there, you are supposed to find /home /usr /var yourself and/or make them yourself.  I immediately stopped the install and formatted the drive as a large ext3.
I called up a friend who knows nothing about partitions and had him attempt the install.  He gave up trying to partition the drive.  This needs to change!  MEPIS installs in 7 clicks from a LIVECD.  There is no reason that this should be any different.  I suggest that they have 2 different menu systems…one for common users and one for advanced.  Something needs to change…they tout this distro for new users.  I know about 2 new users that could even get this installed…and they’re windows guru’s.  Partition creation and management is something that most common users don’t even think about or address.
Overall though, this distro is solid.  Good upgradeability with synaptic.  Great programs installed.  Great organization.  Great menu’s and icons.  Everything is very nice looking.  This distro truly shows Linux in it’s splendor.  That’s it on first impressions.  We’ll press on in a few days with the next on the list.  After finishing all distros and first impressions, my wife will take front stage and give the new users’ perspective.

The Point is Click Linux; a managed theme…

I’ve decided to adapt a central theme for the distros category in this blog. I’m going to cycle through the 5 biggest ‘Point and Click’ distros and am going to do a quick 2 day assessment on each. After I get through all the distros, I am going to do a fresh install starting with the first one (whatever that may be) and I am going to have my wife, who is new to Linux, check out what she can do with each and which distro she feels is truly the most ‘Point and Click’ distro out there. Remember that it doesn’t matter what distro of Linux is used to most new users…they just want something that WORKS. They want to be able to browse the web, listen to music, and check email and if something is broke from the get go…they abandon it and go back to something that does work. So…we’ll be looking specifically at distros that work out of the box on a standard hardware and hard disk setup.

Here’s the list of distros I’ll be posting w/ screens on:

  1. Mandrake 10.1
  2. Libranet 2.8.1
  3. PCLinuxOS Preview 7
  4. SimplyMEPIS 2004.04
  5. Fedora Core 3

Some of you might be wondering why I don’t have ‘X’ distro listed in there. The reason is that I’m looking for the following criteria: 1. Full version is free 2. Noted by the Linux as very new user friendly 3. the distro’s not Ubuntu (REVISED: Ubuntu is now in the mix due to reader response).

As a past user of Ubuntu, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold a candle overall to any of the distros I’ll be investigating and will therefore NOT be included into this group. If you need Ubuntu snapshots and reviews…go google it and you’ll come up with at least 500 misguided ones. I suppose if there is any feedback about Ubuntu here I can probably give my two cents on it.

As I posted earlier, I recently installed Mandrake Linux 10.1. I was quite impressed with the default install and how it appeared. Now that I’ve had about a week to analyze it I can share some observations.

First and foremost, this OS is eyecandy. Everything looks and feels organized and soft. There aren’t any hard, right angled fonts, icons, or windows. You look at the desktop and get a sense of completeness. Â I can’t explain it any more than that. For appearance, Mandrake is hands down the most eye pleasing free distro available.

The second most noticeable thing is the organization of the menus. Everything has its place and there isn’t a ton of confusing menus to mess things up. For instance, with most KDE default installs on distros that don’t preconfigure them for you (i.e., slackware) you find ALL of the KDE menus intact. This means that when you go to the more applications link in the K-Menu, you find EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION INSTALLED. This makes the menu branch out and get quite confusing and frustrating. If one knows how to tweak this, it isn’t a problem. But for those that are just starting out in Linux, it’s very confusing.

I like the fact that it is very easy to configure the various aspects of your desktop and the settings. They have the menu organization down to a tee. I really think this is the way a Linux distribution should be after it is installed. It is simply KDE done right. You’d think with all of this going for it, Mandrake would rate high on my list…but remember, I’m thinking more along the lines of this distro being ready set go right out of the box. So it fell short on a few points.

The first place it falls short is package management. I realize that Mandrake is trying very hard to have a ‘package warehouse’ like that of Linspire and Xandros…but it falls very short. I tried to upgrade for any security holes numerous times without any success. Also, requiring the user to ‘register’ in order to receive said updates put me off somewhat. If I’m just installing an operating system…I want to accomplish my goals ASAP without adding my email address anywhere in order to accomplish them. So, I was a bit annoyed by this little detail. Perhaps they should make it so it asks on the 2nd update try.

The second place Mandrake falls short is configurability. I know many of you are going to hop all over me for saying this touting “It’s totally up to the individual to configure it” and you’re right…it is up to the individual. But what new user is going to know how to do this out of the box? If I were a new user, I’d be going to the Mandrake Control center for everything I needed…kinda like the Control Panel in WinDozeXP and I wouldn’t want to snoop around to find anything else. I know that this could be a ‘KDE’ or ‘Gnome’ thing depending on the OS…but you’d think that a distro that has developed as many custom menus and such for Linux would go the extra step and take ‘Y’ out of the equation…i.e. making it just one step easier to configure the look, feel, and styles of the desktop.

The last place Mandrake fell short for me was sound. I had no sound at the first boot. No probs I thought….I ran ‘alsaconf’ and pumped up the sound volume making sure it wasn’t muted. I tried the sound again with no go. So…no matter what I did, I couldn’t get the sound going without having to jump farther into the command line that I should have to with a distro such as this. Eventually I did get the sound going. It seems Mandrake detected my onboard sound as active even though it was deactivated in BIOS. Odd, because it is the only distro that has done so. However, I couldn’t ignore the fact that sound wasn’t good to go after a few intervening actions on my part.

Overall, I’d give Mandrake a thumbs up though. This is a pretty solid distro. I can’t wait to see how it fares with my wife. She is really good about checking into what programs can and can’t do and will really put these distros to the ‘new user’ test. As promised, I’ll cycle through each distro myself during the next couple of weeks and post my thoughts on it. Then at the end of this period, I’ll install one of the five listed at the beginning of this post and I’ll have a true new user come and check out each. I think sticking with a distro a week for her to test will be a good idea. That should give her enough time to truly ‘feel’ what it is like and decide for herself if it will get her stamp of approval. I consider this type of test MUCH more unbiased than one you’d read on some large new site…mainly because new users don’t do the reviews…and I’m sure you’d agree that having someone new to Linux take a look at a distro would provide some really interesting feedback.

Thanks for reading and stick with us…it looks to be very interesting.

PS: On the horizon…I’m uninstalling Mandrake 10.1 right now to look at SimplyMEPIS 2004.04. I should have initial reports back sometime in the next few days.