Sunday, April 04, 2010

Returning to Linux, where to start? Part 1

I used to review linux, some of you may remember either knolinux or new2linux websites. Every once and a while a former reader would email and ask, "what happened?" How do you explain certain things in life? It wasn't health, family, ideological changes, or anything even close to resembling something dramatic. I simply took a new Microsoft. No, I am not a programmer, so it wasn't even remotely related to operating systems, office, or anything that makes them money. It was mobile search, so in fact the pieces I worked on actually cost them several hundreds of millions of dollars. I digress. Since I left them after my 18 months of pain, shame and learning how lame it really is to not be a programmer, I have been working ever since on getting back into my engineering discipline and my love for linux. No, I wasn't forced to stop using Linux, I simply made a decision to try to understand my company's products, as I had spent nearly a decade of trying to make sense of what came out of Redmond. I only take from my time there a learning of how not to manage products, how not to spend money going after lost causes simply to try and beat others, and that free soda just doesn't make up for the slow and steady pull of life from the lack of color in the offices. 

So my last few months have been dealing with a physical move and at the same time learning a new role, which is actually an old one. At the same time, my poor old laptop was struggling with the load of Windows 7, as it is stuck with 1 gig of RAM (odd shaped slots prevent me from upgrading). So every once and a while I would download a new Live CD of a various distro that I was used to in  order to determine what was I going to head back too. Would I be a lemming and jump onto the Ubuntu ship? Go with what I knew best with Mandriva or OpenSuse? Or should I venture to some of my favorite distro's I reviewed previously to see where they all lied?

The one thing I knew is that I still can't stand KDE and Gnome has really become more and more about others dictating form and function. My two favorites from years past had really gone in two different streams: XFCE was becoming main stream while Enlightenment was struggling. I took a quick gander on Distrowatch to see what new and uprisings were happening on the leaderboard and noticed two old KDE camps both had a XFCE distro out; Mint and PCLinuxOS. I had rather enjoyed both and actually interviewed Tex and Clem for my previous reviews, so why not head back to a reasonably comfortable place. 

Now the first thing you might notice, I am not going to be doing reviews like I had done in the past. Those were a lot of effort of VMWare to go through the loading and installation. I figure that enough time has past and most distro's now have excellent forums, so my efforts would really be a waste of time. I decided to focus instead on what I think is done right, what needs some tweaking and are the distros really worth effort of installation for others. 

The first one I installed was PCLinuxOS XFCE Phoenix Edition.

The style is quick to impress, I love the look of flames on a wallpaper. The rest, well, let's just say for a first run at an XFCE, my expectations were not over or underwhelmed. 

The installation process had a hickup, in that it couldn't understand my partitions. They are not all that confusing and no other version I played with has run into any problems. I think it might be the fact I have an extended partition in the middle, making the system choke when running a expect. This wasn't too big of a deal, minus when I tried to load the other partitions up as their own folders (easier to find files from the others) the system crashed and I had to start over. So when I went into the pretty PCLinuxOS Control Center and tried to add these via  "manage disk partitions", it failed to mount the new drives. 

So then I tried to mount as root and it told me that it cannot recognize Ext 4 partitions...huh? Have I missed something over the past 3 years? Maybe a new magic command that I just don't know about? If someone could fill me in, would greatly appreciate it.

So this really bummed me out, as now I am missing some files from this distro from previous screen shots and will have to install another distro just to gather them back. Not going too well so far. 

Other disappointment was that openoffice was not installed. I understand that this is a memory hog, however many others have found a way to install these without going over the magic 700 MB iso. I did notice in the web browser that there is now a Appstore. Like many other distros, it seems PCLinux now has a way to gather applications outside of Synaptic...why? I don't see the need to go beyond a solid method of gathering applications. One thing I did learn in developing applications at MSFT, KISS (keep it simple stupid). Why have two points of failure that are doing the same thing?

So what do you get as options? If you don't install office, wouldn't you think that office would be an option? Nope...just Opera, google chrome, Dillo, Epiphany...a couple of HTML editors, a music just don't get it. Installing the applications actually seem to take longer than download and installing command line. I get the ease, however simply instruct people how to get all applications. In fact, my favorite was when Google Chrome didn't load, and I got this error message....classic.

The rest of the package I would rate as average. Nothing really screams wow, nothing else is really lacking. With this you get a solid XFCE distro, albeit a bit fragile that is not as robust as others. If you are a fan of PCLinuxOS, the support is there, the community that is second to none and the packages are customized towards what those users are wanting to see. I love that the links are there in Firefox and I love the line "The distro-hopper-stopper" as I have always felt PCLinuxOS was one that would stick with the user a bit more than others.


So how would I fix pieces? It really doesn't need a lot. Understanding a bit more on the installation issues would be a good start and finding a way to put a script to allow users to install some sort of office script would also be a solid step to help people get what they need with a system. Video playback on websites was solid, media is well represented. Like the Phoenix in the wallpaper, this is a nice picture, just not a whole lot of extra color.  I will keep it around for a while and that usually says that I don't hate the distro, I have hope, and patience so time will tell how long it stays.

So there you have it folks, my first review after a few years off trying to figure out how not to lose millions :) Let me know what you think and please offer suggestions of how to improve, what would be a good next distro to review or anything else on your mind. 

Cheers! KLG


Anonymous said...

How about Mint in Xfce or LXDE.

KnoWirelessGuy said...

That is my next distro I am playing with, so stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

Ext4 is a relatively new file system whose support is only just now making its way into PCLinuxOS.
I'm not sure what exactly happened, but it seemed that the PCLOS app store died on takeoff. They showed up with a few apps with nice descriptions and a nice one-click install, but it really hasn't moved in quite a while.
PCLinuxOS is currently in beta-release mode, getting ready to release the 2010 versions with the main distro switching to KDE4.4, and community distros for Gnome, XFCE, E17 and a few other environments to follow shortly after the main release.

Elder Geek said...

First of all, welcome back to the collective. Your cubical is waiting.

A lot of it has to do with philosophy. Big full featured DE's like GNOME and KDE don't mind being pigs, including the kitchen sink and have everything available. Thus it is expected you will have OpenOffice along with several other office apps installed.

Then the middle of the road DE's like enlightnement or XFCE are often put together as "lite" desktops and try to stick with smaller apps or apps that run well on older computers. Some include OpenOffice because it is so standard, others avoid it and make it an act of God to get it installed.

Then the webcentric lite desktops use LXDE or ICEWM and expect you to use google docs, gogole mail, etc to get your work done. Some use prism so these web apps act more like desktop apps. Jolicloud has hakced Google chrome so it now works like prism for running web apps.

I myself will play with GNOME, KDE, Enlightenment, XFCE, LXDE, et al. But I always keep going back to Fluxbox as my desktop of choice. Ubuntu/Mint makes it very easy to get started. I keep grumbling at the changes Ubuntu makes and swear any day now I will go to Debian or Arch or back to Slackware.

twickline said...

Welcome back, I have bookmarked your blog and will keep a eye out for your next review.

My Suggestion is to review Gentoo or FreeBSD 8 :)



KnoWirelessGuy said...

Thanks Tom, I used to love Gentoo, but that was back when you had to compile your own kernel. It probably taught me more about Linux than anything else. Will have to give it a go. As for FreeBSD, it reminds me a bit too much of Apple :) but maybe. Just never been a huge fan of BSD. To me it was just a more transparent attempt at being Unix. Don't get me wrong, working with Unix on engineering tools is what started my love of Linux, but just like I don't like KDE for being too much like windows, BSD just was too forceful at being Unix.


Sproggy said...

As the creator of Phoenix ... then by all means why not try the latest beta ...

The version your using is nearly 18 months old ... any software or updates applied will not work on that version ... and that repo is in a frozen state ...

Try the Beta and then rewrite this ...

Kori (aka Sproggy)

Neal said...

PCLinuxOS has a script to install Open Office. It is called, "getopenoffice." Try looking for it in the menus under "Office."

Look further, and you will encounter "addlocale" in "More Applications" > "Configuration." This script localizes the system into a user's native language.

KnoWirelessGuy said...

Thanks nb, I did find that link and ran it, it failed and told me I would have to install via Synaptics. It also isn't under the menu the stable version, however in my trials with the beta it is located in a more logical and discoverable location there. It is under utilities along with some tweaks and other PCLinuxOS tools.

KnoWirelessGuy said...

Thanks Kori, don't get me wrong, I truly enjoy the version and generally I don't pan many beta builds, as I typically harp on known bugs and people should really be focused on LTS or final releases, unless they are just playing around.

I have downloaded the e17 beta for PCLinuxOS, as enlightenment is a past favorite of mine, so after I give it a go and review it, I will take a look at the XFCE version.

I applaud your work however and keep it up. I am sure with 18 months of feedback and the solid community behind PCLOS, your new one will hopefully rock.


Sproggy said...

just a small p.s before doin a full update ... update the zlib package in synaptic ... then update everything else


Unknown said...

Welcome back!

I suggest E17 on Debian. Enlightenment is very fast and attractive. The stability of Debian is legendary : )

KnoWirelessGuy said...

I do like Debian, and getting e17 would be interesting on that. Do you have a recommended distro for this, or a method that is easy to follow? Ping me if you do and I can write up a method/procedure here.


Anonymous said...

KnoLinuxGuy I'm a user of PCLinuxOS e17, just remember that you downloaded a beta, is stable enough but has some issues, if you wait a little you will have a final release.


KnoWirelessGuy said...

Thanks Crow...unstable is a bit of an understatement...:)