Wednesday, November 15, 2006

PCLinuxOS 0.93a Junior and MiniMe - Two reviews for the price of one

So a couple of people have told me so far in my first week of this, that the one distro I need to take a look at is PCLinuxOS. I can say that I tried this distro once on referral and loaded the Live disk which is its trade mark, saw that it was basically a repackaged Mandrake distro and stopped. This is a personal issue I have, with anything resembling Mandrake. A bit of history between myself and their customer dis-service has put me against them almost as much as I hate MS. Why? Well to be fair it has to do with how I see them running their business. They offer these memberships where you pay a boat load for say a Silver level so you can have better access, then they change and offer everything to the world so there really is no benefit of being a member. If you sign up for a year, you are their pawn for that year. My fault for not paying the over $100 up front, but I like their product then as it was a good 64 bit version and I wanted to support them. But that is my issue and it affected my opinion of PCLinuxOS, that was until this week when I loaded up MiniMe and Junior and saw that these guys really get things done where Mandrake has failed.

I love Live CDs and that is first and foremost. Being able to try before I buy, which in our case is try before I wipe out some other distro on my PC in order to test something and be pained by its performance only then to re-install is sure silliness these days. Live installers should be the default and not the exception. Not only does PCLinuxOS have a Live version, they have a Live version that simply flies. I could hardly tell I was in Live mode, except for the install option icon on my desktop. This is mainly due to their skinny package, being only 300 Meg for MiniMe and 484 Meg for Junior. This is by far the best Live distro, except for the lack of wireless support that was quickly fixed with ndiswrapper and some work. My resolution was also a bit low, but I am used to that (see Freespire review).

So I then installed this onto my eMachines laptop and set out to see if I was wrong not to play with this long ago. Lets check it out, shall we???


Download Here
Kernel -
Desktop - KDE 3.5.3 with lots of nice default settings right in the Live version that carry over
FAQs -
Cost - FREE!!! But there is a link to order disks through for $4.99 which helps support the project
Special Features - Live installer, minimal size that expands well and codecs included for Media except DVD

Nitty Gritty:

Installation (

All I have to say is WOW!!!! I just don't know a better way that is easier or more understandable than what Tex and gang have come up with. I even love the simple names of Junior and MiniMe, as they truly describe what these packages are intended to do. There really is little difference between the install of MiniMe and Junior, so this discussion covers both.

This simple Grub window allows many options including copying fully to memory which improves the performance of the Live boot, if you have ample RAM. I went the more traditional route to emulate what many PC users might have instead, but I love that there is that option.

Good simple graphics on the Splash is a nice detail and lets me know that they care about the little things.

The welcome screen provides not only the options for Guest or Root, but also in the slpash tells you what their password is. This is a great addition for those times when this is either in the boot lines or on the website, which of course at this point we wouldn't have access to. Kudos on this minor but critical detail. I installed via Guest on my system as I try to never do anything logged in as Root.

Amazing isn't it? Tex and gang took the really cool transparancy aspects of KDE to rival what MS is touting in Vista. When people see this on my laptop they are always impress and it just gives you that feeling that the desktop is bigger than it really is. MiniMe comes with a very slim package, but there is more than enough on their Synaptic to use this as a launch point. I like that this provide the user an equivalent OS to MS and then they can configure from there, rather than some of these over inflated 7 disk (or DVD) installations that are out there that put so much in the system that you end up with no memory to run anything. Junior has more and that link will take you to the listing of packages included. The list I saw seperating them for me just browsing up and down included:

  • CD/DVD Burning
  • Krusader
  • KWifi
  • Amarok
  • Kaffeine
  • Bittorrent
  • KPDF
  • KWord
  • KSpread
So once you click on the Install Icon, you are prompted for the Root password (root btw from the splash screen) and enter a very efficient and concise installer. It is detailed enough to let you know what you are doing, but not overly complex so that you could get lost.

There is an option to install either to Hard Drive or to a USB drive, which to me is so cool. Having a recover USB disc today is so critical to IT professionals. I will review that in another post, so I went for the good stuff and selected my hard drive.

You are given options to take over the world or to edit existing partitions, which again for newbies and Linux lovers alike is something that is critical. It even goes as far as to explain what is needed and a good partitioner built into the installation process. Oh, and did I forget to mention that there is an installation Help icon as well???? How intuitive is that???? I mean, I don't have to worry about network connectivity, google, books or anything and I can just click and learn???? Way too much thought went into that one.

So the nice folks here at PCLinuxOS really care if you know what you are doing and made sure to include not only an installation help but also have a link on the desktop to their Wiki, but of course this requires that you have internet in order to take full advantage of.

Once you determine the hard drive over the USB (for now), then the next step is to choose which partition selection method you would like.

You can use existing, Erase the entire disk or go into custom mode. Custom mode will allow you to manage what is already there, resize and format if needed.

Once you get all the partitions configured like you wish them to be, then the next step is to choose if you would like to format any of the existing partitions. I always recommend people to format the base partition so that they know any existing file will not corrupt what they are attempting.

The next step is to verify you wish to do what you just selected the system to do, just in case you forgot. I know, I know, safety first. Once complete you will be prompted for the Admin window. Now here is the first mistep of the installation and one that really goes against what I feel is a sound practice.

Once complete you will be prompted for the Admin window. Now here is the first mistep of the installation and one that really goes against what I feel is a sound practice. You will see in the picture below that there is an option for "no password" for the admin. This is extremely bad practice and should not be an installation option. Sure, it makes life easy when doing su all the time, but this distro has synaptic for installation and a really good control panel, so time in command line should be minimal and this is your first line of defense against the Dark Arts.

Now that my rant is over, everything then is pretty simple. Add your user and choose your boot loader type and location. I myself like Grub while this tool defaults to Lilo, so I went with that, just so I would see what the typical newbie might get when selecting the defaults.

The bootloader did find my windows partition but not my debian distro on the machine, so in order to use that I was forced to manually load the information. Not the greatest, but becoming more common today in that these auto boot loaders just are not doing a great job in finding other Linux distros (could be a known issue that they like, but I doubt that).

The last thing that shows up is the obligatory "take out your disc and reboot" message that lets you know that it is time to move from Live on Disc to Live on system. I will say other than our little admin password issue this is one of the nicest live disc to install system processes I am used to date. Add that to the installation help page being part of the desktop and the quick link to the Wiki, and this is the closest to 5 Pennies I have seen yet. Excellent job so far Tex, but lets see how this bad boy works in the real world.

Starting ( )

A common them with Junior is that if there is a KDE package then that is what is installed. This then excludes OpenOffice, Adobe, FireFox, and Thunderbird, but again those are easily obtainable. The nice part of doing this is that you know everything works.

But right off the bat, nothing was really different from the live to the installed copy. Seemless is a good word for this, but honestly I never have had the greatest luck with these. I love the concept, but until now am always sceptical of what will happen. My wireless was still not operational, but again a quick NDISWRAPPER -i bcmwl5.inf from the drivers on my windows partition and boom, up she came. Next up was a pesky little alert that kept showing its ugly head stating "Sound Server fatal error: CPU Overload, aborting". Hmmmm, not the type of alert anyone would like to see. Since it was sound I went to the control panel and changed from Arts to OSS and rebooted. To date, the alarm has never appeared again and my sound is working fine. My favorite issue of my ATI settings of 1280x800 not being there was next, but I was able in the control center to add that resolution and restart KDE and once again back in business.

Next I tested the music player with some files from my windows partition's iTunes. These are non-DRM songs in m4a format that I use to test Amarok with each distro. I was excited as Bono started singing "Where the Streets Have No Names" in my speakers. DVD didn't work, but was quickly fixed by going to Synaptic and installing libdvdcss, which was in their default repository. Awesome, no searching for that either.

So my installation and initial configuration is complete in about 30 minutes. I have everything I need, so I install OpenOffice from Synaptic, just to test the OS handling a power hungry application. It loads with no issues and ran beautifully. My next test is always to load Wine. Why? Well, I happen to like a nice game of online poker and none of them support a Linux install, so I use Wine with my Pokerstars account. This works on all systems that support Wine, so this is my test of tests, because without Poker, I am stuck on Windows.

Wine was in the repository and installed with only one or two additional packages. I downloaded Pstars and installed with zero issues. The only issue I had there was that it didn't create a shortcut on my desktop nor did it create the typical Wine branch in the Start section. However, by heading into the .wine directory I was able to launch the program fine and the graphics looked great.

Once again I am floored by the ability of this tiny package to do everything I want with almost zero effort.

Bonus Stuff ( )

I would have to say that the bonus stuff on this distro is small, but when the package is designed to be small then one can't ask for much. The KDE stype is awesome and the proprietary codecs are great in that with minimal effort music and DVD plays. I wish that they would work harded on getting wireless cards into the kernel or some minimal efforts for the most common drivers in NDISWRAPPER, especially for the LIVE CD, as then wireless would work out of the box.

Overall ( )

This has been a real pleasure, playing with Junior and MiniMe. I can honestly say that this distro hits the head on 95% of my key issues and doesn't take too much gray matter to overcome its shortcomings. But when you consider that the download for this is 2/3 for Junior (and 1/3 for MiniMe) of the size of any other major distro in similar form, this does wonders. I have no doubt that if you were to give this a whirl, you too would be set back and wonder why this hasn't risen the list at Distrowatch even more than it has. I wish a couple of things were different, and that they might look at XGL in their Live offering, but I understand their niche market probably is outside of that package. I am sure it is in the works, and when Tex anounces it is available I will be right there downloading and enjoying a solid distro with amazing performance and rock solid support.

My hat is off to you Tex and gang. Being a former resident of the great state of Texas (and married to a Texan), I will toss a "Damn Good Job Pardners" your way. This distro will be on my machine now as my primary Linux, which for me is the ultimate testimate to how much I like what I see here. Remember, I have some serious issues with Mandrake itself, but nothing here even comes close to reminding me of them.

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