Thursday, September 29, 2005

PCLOS Lost me

One of the best computer help forums that I frequent (I'm Linuxdude32 there) has a popular Linux help area. One of the popular distributions (distros) talked about there is PC Linux OS, affectionatedly referred to as PCLOS. I finally got a chance to try it out and came away from the experience mildly annoyed.

PCLOS is a Live CD Linux distro that you can download for free. By Live CD, I mean that it runs entirely from the CD-R (or CD-RW) that you burn it to and then boot directly from. That gives you a chance to try it out before you commit to installing it to the hard drive. Or you can just continue running it like that. My experience was with the Preview .91 release.

PC Linux OS is a beautiful distro with friendly, if a little cartoonish, startup screens and seems to be targetted at beginners. Like SimplyMEPIS, PCLOS comes with video codecs for playing Windows Media, Quicktime and MP3 files. All Linux distros are capable of this but most have had these codecs removed because of legal reasons (and financial reasons since they'd have to arrange licensing if they wanted to avoid lawsuits). So the upside to PCLOS is that it's media ready. Other Linux distros like Mandriva, SUSE and Fedora require you to go and download these codecs seperately.

PCLOS is based on Mandriva code so it has excellent configuration tools similar to, though not as extensive or detailed as those of SUSE. Or at least that's what I thought.

Here's my situation. I have a home network that connects to a Linksys router which then connects to an Alcatel DSL modem. The router handles all the DSL stuff and gives an IP address to any computer that needs one at boot. However, I prefer to use a static IP because I use certain programs that need certain ports opened (like Azureus, a Bittorrent client).

PCLOS, as would most distros looked for a server to get a dynamic IP address and got one. No problem, I'll just use the PCLOS Control Center to go in and change it to a static IP. I had to do the same thing with SUSE and it was a snap.

Of the network tools available, the modify existing setting seemed most appropriate but didn't allow me to add DNS info (which you need to do when using a static IP). So I exited that tool and tried to enter another. The Control Center crashed. No biggie, Mandriva used to this years ago, too.

I clicked the link on the menu to enter it again. Hourglass spun but nothing started. Went into processes, nothing resembling a control center program was there so tried again. Same thing. So I restarted the graphical interface entirely. Still didn't work. Ultimately I had to reboot for it to run again. Anybody who knows Linux knows there's no reason why this should be necessary.

I figured maybe it was an issue with running as a Live CD and maybe once I installed it an got the bugfixes downloaded things would be fine. The installer is fairly easy to use and PCLOS installs very fast (about 25 minutes on my machine). Though there was an option for removing the Guest user during the install, it didn't work.

After the install, I went into network configuration, and went into another network option this time. When I tried to go to another area of the menu to remove the guest user I received a message that something had died unexpectedly and Control Center vanished again. Restarting X as before, didn't help. This time I was able to login as root (something that is discouraged) to remove the user so I wouldn't have to reboot. Then I got the ten million updates available. I'm only slightly exaggerating; there were about 250+ packages, not patches, complete new packages. I still had weird issues with the Control Center after all that, though.

Despite my problems, I think that it's still worth people trying out PCLOS because you only need to download one CD and because its a live CD. I just don't think it's the panacea that some think it is.

Now if you don't need to change your networking setup, you'll possibly be fine (and beginners probably won't do this). However, I have grave misgivings about using this as a regular distro and perhaps that's why it's called a preview. Unfortunately, there's no "stable" version available. Hopefully, soon.


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