PCLinuxOS may sport a horrible name, but that hasn’t deterred people from choosing it – over the years, it’s picked up quite a following. It’s a fork of Mandriva, and on its website, describes itself as the “free, easy to use Linux-based operating system”.
From an installation perspective, this claim has some basis in truth. It’s available as a compact live DVD, so you can try it out first. The download for the KDE default install (reviewed here) is a relatively lightweight 1.3GB ISO, and there are plenty of alternative ISOs available for those whose tastes in desktop managers lie elsewhere.
At the time of writing, you’ll find lightweight LXDE and Xfce live distributions, a “MiniMe” version of the KDE distribution with no apps installed, plus a 3.9GB “Full Monty” KDE-based desktop with all sorts of fancy customisations, including six themed desktops targeted at different activities and a host of preloaded applications.
Installation is executed directly from the live disc, and it was commendably straightforward. With PCLinuxOS installed, we found the desktop pretty easy to get to grips with. There’s a simple application launcher and system tray at the bottom of the screen, and a handful of shortcuts to important items on the left-hand side of the desktop. Other neat touches include the ability to snap windows to the sides of the desktop at either full-height or half-height, enabling four windows to be neatly arranged onscreen in a matter of seconds.
Software installs are handled via RPM packages using the Synaptic Package Manager, but since there’s plenty preinstalled, you shouldn’t need to use it right away. Not surprisingly, the browser is Firefox, but there’s also Dropbox, The GIMP, Gwenview and digiKam for image viewing, editing and management, Thunderbird for email, Pidgin for IM, and Clementine for music playback. We found it a doddle to connect to Windows shares and network printers, and the system was extremely responsive.
The “easy to use” tagline begins to break down, however, once you begin to use the system in earnest. Nothing major is amiss in this respect, but there’s a clutch of small, irritating issues. There’s a search facility, but it’s hidden under the obscure “Run command” menu item.
The OS doesn’t map the Windows key to the main application launcher menu (and setting up a custom shortcut to do so is tricky). The multitouch touchpad on the test laptop didn’t work on first install, leaving us reaching for our wireless mouse.
Oddly, given the large library of preinstalled software elsewhere on the distro, there’s no office software to be found anywhere in the launcher menu. Instead, there’s a link on the desktop to a LibreOffice Manager application, which downloads and installs the latest version for you. This isn’t a huge pain, but the small niggles all add up.
In many respects, we liked PCLinuxOS – it’s certainly more user-friendly than Debian – but alas we didn’t like it enough to recommend it over other, more accomplished distributions. If you want an easy-to-use distro that will work straight away with less fiddling, then give Mint, Ubuntu or Fedora a try first.
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