Saturday, July 28, 2012

PCLinuxOS: A surprise addition to our family computers

We have 5 computers in our household. My dad, my wife, and I have a laptop each, and my mom uses a desktop that sits in my parents' bedroom. There is also a laptop that sits connected to our living room television. With the exception of this computer, we run Linux on all our computers. My mom and my wife use Kubuntu on their computers, while my dad and I have ArchLinux/KDE. The day before yesterday I realized that I hadn't run updates on my dad's laptop in a while so in haste, I issue the following at the terminal:
$sudo pacman -Syu
I had forgotten about a recent advisory issued at the ArchLinux Wiki about including "--ignore glibc" for the upgrade and to upgrade glibc only after the system upgrade is complete. Now I am not sure if that was the reason or if it was something else, but it rendered the laptop in a non-upgradable state. Passing "--ignore glibc" now was causing other dependency issues. I figured it was time to give another more beginner friendly Linux distribution a try for my dad's computer. I am very happy with ArchLinux on my computer, however, for my dad's computer, I wanted something that would be easier for my dad to manage. The first distribution that came to my mind was Zorin OS. Screen shots and features made it look very promising. Zorin OS appears to be very polished distribution and I had also started the download only to notice a 1.4 GB iso that would take a very long time download because of the limited number of mirror sites published on their site. Also, I didn't have a blank DVD available that would be needed in order to make the iso usable on my dad's computer.

Spending some time on Distro Watch revealed some familiar distributions, but one stood out: PCLinuxOS. I recalled that REGLUE (formerly HeliOS Project) use PCLinuxOS on the computers that they setup for disadvantaged kids in Austin, TX area. I had also read few articles in the past on the E-Magazine that PCLinuxOS publishes regularly and was generally impressed by the content they generated. So I decided to give PCLinuxOS/KDE a try. I read the details about the software included on the iso on their download page. Some software were slightly older that what I had gotten used to on my Arch. However, I chose Arch for my laptop for exactly that reason. Moreover, since my dad only needed a laptop to check his emails, create and review documents and spreadsheets, and use the Internet, I was not going to let a few slightly older versions of software prevent me from giving PCLinuxOS a try.

I downloaded the iso, burnt it to a blank CD, slapped it in the laptop, and fired up the LiveCD. While I was not very impressed with what I was looking at, I was not disappointed either. I did notice that the built-in wireless adapter that was not functioning correctly under ArchLinux, was now working perfectly fine. This was an excuse enough for me to do a full install, and I proceeded with that in mind.

During the install, I was presented with the option to use existing partitions to setup PCLinuxOS. I decided to preserve the /home partition, and reformat the / and /boot partitions, a feature I had come to depend on for quiet some time now. With the /home partition intact, my dad would continue to have access to all his documents, audio files, as well as application settings. Once the install was complete, after the first boot, I was asked to set the default timezone and create my first user account. I setup my user account as the first user just like it was before. I was now presented with a login splash screen. It was the same login splash that I had setup for my account when the laptop still had ArchLinux on it. I then setup my dad's account so he could login and begin using the laptop.

From a very brief glance at the different configuration utilities that were available to me when I logged in were firewall setup, network setup, video setup etc, which I found to be very easy to use. I also noticed that root user was also listed in the user selection at the login screen. I decided to login using that account. I was presented with a popup greeting that reminded me of something that I had forgotten. PCLinuxOS is a rolling release distribution just like ArchLinux. The popup also instructed me to run a system update using Synaptic Package Manager. I followed the instructions and did a full system upgrade, and I restarted the computer after the upgrade. Once the system was upgraded with the latest packages, I was pleasantly surprised to see a more visually pleasing desktop than what I saw prior to the restart. The system looks much more polished now and setting up applications that my dad had gotten familiar with over the months was a piece of cake.

I can now say with much confidence that we'll be using PCLinuxOS on at least this computer as a permanent distrubution. It is now the number one Linux distribution that I will recommend to people as a first distribution to try.