Updated: November 4, 2017
PCLinuxOS. Once upon a time, this was the distro. Super friendly, unique, loaded with awesome features. But then, as years went by, my experience with it became less and less successful, until I declared a big goodbye with the 2014 Full Monty release. It was a sad moment.
Recently, I achieved rather decent results with Mageia 6 on my old-new LG RD510 laptop, so I thought this could be a good opportunity to give PCLinuxOS another shot. After all, both these are based on Mandriva, both very similar in spirit and behavior, so why not. Hence, we're testing PCLinuxOS once again, the 2017.07 KDE release. Let's do it.
Started off nice. A sweet boot menu, with less flickering and text than Mageia, but the boot sequence was just as long. Turns out, PCLinuxOS was building the Nvidia driver in the background, except there was no notification about this. Fine. Then, no Nvidia splash. Then, some more loading screen time, which eventually transformed into the bull logo of the distro against a black background, and finally the desktop loaded, adorned with happy, bright colors and non-Breeze Plasma icons. And Nvidia drivers running!
There are some rather cool and impressive things to be said about PCLinuxOS. The first one is, Samba sharing - no password was required to reach the shares. This is the only distro post-SMB security nonsense that seems to have bothered changing the defaults so that users can reach shares that do not require authentication ... WITHOUT authentication! Boom.
Alas, the bliss is spoiled by there being no option to print to Samba printers. The applet did show the Wireless device, twice, listed with different connectivity options. Bluetooth also worked fine, and the network applet is very similar to the one used in Mageia. Somewhat archaic but fully functional, with an ugly, low-res icon. But at least the icon was there, which isn't the case for Mageia's live session. Wireless worked in both bands.
Another good one. PCLinuxOS 2017.07 played media from Samba shares without issues. This is a Plasma release and it did not require me to hack the SMB module so that VLC could actually play from remote shares. Very nice and thoughtful. User focused. HD video, again no sweat. It is refreshing to see that there are distro teams that actually care some people may want to use other operating systems, which after all, constitute only about 99% of the rest of the world.
Look & feel, fonts
Here, things got a little rough. I tried to make adjustments to the default layout of the bottom panel, and I got some weird artifacts, as if the panel had shifted up and left, and this would not go until the next desktop session - basically, restarting Plasma. There's also a quicklaunch area, similar to older Windows releases.
I didn't like the Wireless and audio icons, which look out of place when you change the panel size, as they seem designed for a different layout. On the positive side, there are no shadows when taking screenshots, so that's a great one. Fonts are reasonable if not the best, but you get Microsoft fonts too, if you want or need them. There's room for improvement, but PCLinuxOS definitely stands out in that it actually cares. Think Plasma with Ubuntu fonts, and some small inconsistencies. Not bad, not bad at all.
Over time, the all too bright theme can be a little eye-wearing, and you do want it ever so slightly toned down, but again, it's still ergonomically up there with some other, decent solutions, of which there are far and few in between in out bittersweet Linux world.
The Control Center is almost identical to the one in Mageia. In fact, the boot sequence, the pre-desktop timezone setup, the installation, and then the post-install user creation are all just like the other distro. The differences aren't many, and they bring about a philosophical question of whether there should be two of these. And then, let's not forget there are still more Mandriva forks, and it becomes complicated like everything else in the forkville.
Chrome is the default browser, but then it asks you to make it default. Eh?
It's very similar to Mageia, with fewer warnings around formatting and such. The partitioning step does not tell you what you have on your disk, so you need to be careful, and hitting the format button will do that right away, so be careful. It was very fast though, only about 10 minutes. No fancy slides or anything like that.
The system installed without any problems. It also had the Nvidia drivers, so much like Mageia, it offers proprietary drivers in both the live and installed session out of the box, and this is splendid. Very nice. Unlike Mageia, though, it only imported the Wireless settings and nothing else. Mageia gave us the entire data set from the live session plus configurations.
Ugh. Plasma isn't a saint. But it has become much more stable recently, with the application crash rate going down heavily. Alas, PCLinuxOS spoiled the almost pristine record with no less than FOUR Plasma crashes in about 10 minutes, making the desktop use very difficult and frustrating. Why, when Mageia was working fine on this exact hardware?
I tried Samba again, and this time, the distro refused to connect using names only IP addresses, and still without asking for any passwords. However, the inconsistency worries me, because I expect things not to change unless there's a solid reason, and this feels like a rather unnecessary little regression.
System updates ... and more problems
I fired up Synaptic - there's no auto prompt for updates, not right away - and I clicked Upgrade. Whether this is the correct operation or not, it's the only one that makes sense if you want to fully update your system after first boot. Which is what I always do with any distro.
Half way through the updates, the desktop went black and a popup jumped, telling me that the desktop cannot run because it's not OpenGL 2 compatible or something along these lines. What? I was able to start Krunner and then run konsole, and it showed the Nvidia driver was still correctly loaded into the memory. Very odd. The only thing that I can possible think of is the unused HW support step during the installation, which removes all sorts of unneeded packages - could this one have purged Nvidia or something like that? But then, the driver was correctly loaded (plus the splash) and everything, so really, it doesn't make sense.
After I rebooted, the system did not reach the GUI level - it complained about a missing X Server configuration, but then, I thought the distro was running Wayland based on the presence of the Wayland Compositor applet in the system menu. Should have been just like Mageia. All right, a snag but let's fix it.
The system DID have Internet connectivity - there was no GUI, but the Wireless network was up and running, so I tried using apt-get from the command line to try to fix the system, believing that something may have gone wrong with the previous attempt using Synaptic. The apt-get update resulted in screen after screen of warning messages that there were duplicates in the system, and that I should change my RPM config to allow for these. Trying to fix broken packages did not work. In the end, I had to finish my testing early, even though I was really happy so far, and really looking forward to doing some more explorations with this distro.
I booted into the PCLinuxOS live session to copy the remaining screenshots from my testing. This time, I was asked to authenticate against my Samba shares, and only the IP address method worked. Really odd. Very unsettling. Such a shame.
It is amazing how similar and yet how vastly different two distributions can be, even though they share so much same DNA. Mageia delivered very good results throughout. PCLinuxOS, apart from small glitches early on, was splendid. But then, as if it had developed a second personality, it went ballistic with those desktop crashes, and finally, a completely borked setup due to issues with the package manager. That's the one thing that is different between Mageia and PCLinuxOS, but then, I've never really had any issues with apt-get and/or Synaptic.
All I can say is that my PCLinuxOS 2017.07 testing delivers a bi-polar message. One, you get some really super-user-friendly stuff that surpasses anything else in the Linux world, with tons of goodies and focus on everyday stuff. You also get some idiosyncrasies, but that's Mandriva legacy, and it definitely can benefit from some modern-era refresh. Two, the series of Plasma crashes and the package management fiasco that totally ruined the good impressions. Well, I may give this another shot some day, as the early work was ultra promising. I recommend you proceed with caution, as the package management side of things looks quite dangerous. No scoring, as I have no idea why it went so badly wrong, but that's a warning of its own. Majestic and lethal. Take care.