Updated: April 7, 2012
Once upon a time, PCLinuxOS used to be one of my favorite candidates for permanent desktop use, but it was back in 2009, with a truly magnificent Gnome release. Such is the trouble with great success, sequels cannot match the original. In the three years since, my experience with the distro has steadily declined. But now, there's a fresh new release, and this means fresh new hope.
All right, I'd like to invite you to read my PCLinuxOS 2012.02 review, graced with a KDE desktop. On paper, it looks promising. But can it truly turn around the tide? Anyhow, I will be subjecting the distro to a pleasant torture session on my T60p box, 32-bit and whatnot, with all the usual stuff that we always check, from Wireless and Samba to apps, desktop effects, stability, and other crucial things. Follow me.
Live session - A pea under your mattress plus mines
PCLinuxOS asks a single question before you're logged in, and that's the choice of your language. This step completed, the live session comes up. In my case, it came up weird, with the resolution set to 1024x768px, similar to PC-BSD. A disappointment, straight away. I fixed this manually, but it's not a good sign of things to come.
The desktop has a familiar, somewhat somber look, with a predominant dark gray color and a somewhat archaic KDE4 theme designed to infuse the distro with a trans-generational look, somewhere between KDE3 and the latest flavor.
This is also evident in the system tray, the system menu, as well as the sprinkling of icons on the desktop, all of which feel a bit cluttered and not quite so productive as you would expect. The biggest issue is the linear menu with no search.
There were no problems, although a separate windows pops up when you try to configure your Wireless, quite similar to what I've shown you way back with Knoppix Adriane. This works, but it's less streamlined. Bluetooth and Samba sharing worked fine, too.
Both Flash and MP3 did their duty. No crashes this time, but then I didn't try to rickroll my browser, so that might explain it. I did not test some of the fancier stuff, like Apple trailers or MMS this time.
They partially didn't work in the autumn edition, and now they do not work at all. I was not able to start them at all, which aligns with the resolution fiasco at the beginning of the live session. I suspect that PCLinuxOS simply does not support this laptop model anymore, which is a little disappointing since many other distribution do, including the latest betas of Ubuntu 12.04, arguably an even newer and younger edition of Linux. Well at least the system apologized.
Installation - Woe me, a flashback
The installation setups seems almost identical to the previous version. You're asked some five or six times whether you wish to format your partitions, even when none are selected. Overall, the multitude of safety mechanisms produces just the opposite effect, one of slight apprehension, confusion and paranoia, as you're not quite sure when and where your partitions are being molested.
The user drama revolves around two major issues. One, the installer partition wizard is black and white, so you have no visual clue what partitions are there or how they might be used. You don't get any labels, either. In the expert mode, you can format partitions right away, choose a different file system, which will also format them, or skip forward, but still be asked which partitions you want to format. And even if you deselect all of them, you will still be warned that the partitions are being formatted, including a spelling error that reads partition/s instead of partitions.
After that, a rather uneventful installation happens. This time, the laptop no longer harbors a dual-boot configuration, as I've destroyed Windows 8 Consumer Preview failure that was installed. Following the first reboot, you setup the root password, your own user, and some other details.
Using PCLinuxOS 2012.02
The installed system came up with the right resolution. It also retained the Wireless settings. However, the system panel was now centered and not fully expanded, which stands against what we saw earlier. Desktop effects still didn't work.
All in all, PCLinuxOS 2012.02 comes with a rich repertoire, but some of it seems completely unnecessary and raises the question why some other, more popular programs were not included instead, like LibreOffice. But more about that shortly.
You do get a decent bunch, including Firefox, Thunderbird, digiKam, VLC, GIMP, Pidgin, Okular, plus several helper utilities. The video & sound category is a little lean, which stands against the stellar performance record of the 2009 release.
Oh yes, I also wanted to setup LibreOffice, but PCLinuxOS would not let me. First, it asked me to fully update the system, which sounds like a reasonable prerequisite, although most other distributions do not do that. However, the popup message is not really useful for non-geeks, and having to go to /tmp for consultation is a bit crass.
Some of the less obvious choices include Midnight Commander, as well as the 3G mobile network setup thingie, which did not work, just like six months ago.
This time, it worked just fine. I didn't get very high throughput, but there were no errors or conflicts with the repository, which is more important. For the first time ever, I'd hazard to say that the package management & update component in this distro are finally as they should be.
System resources, stability
On the very positive side, PCLinuxOS was very stable, with nary a crash, KDE or otherwise. It was also fairly fast and responsive, with a decent memory consumption and more importantly a quiet CPU behavior. On idle, the distro tolled around 350MB, which is a very neat figure for KDE, but that's with no ATI card support. Suspend & resume worked fine.
Some other problems
There were a few other glitches and bugs. Using the laptop Fn buttons for volume produced the desired effect, but the icon in the system area did not have its bars change. Likewise, trying to add programs to favorites from the menu did nothing of the sort. Lastly, trying to change the wallpaper using the right-click option in Firefox yielded no desired result. However, I did eventually tweak PCLinuxOS 2012.02 to my liking:
I hinted most vaguely in the title at the direction this review was taking. I hope you survived through all the TL;DR and some funny jokes. Anyhow, the big question is, can this winter release restore hope, not so much to the Linux world, but to the distro itself?
The simple answer is - I do not know. Compared to PCLinuxOS 2011, this one is a tad better. It seems more refined, more rounded. But some of the obstinate, old bugs and errors are still there, stubbornly clinging to the underside of the user experience ship. And without a good reason. All in all, PCLinuxOS comes across as a somewhat confusing mix of brand new and brand old. The UI might benefit from some refreshening. Take away some of the silly utilities, plug in a proper office suite, get the effects all sorted out, remove programs that throw errors first, ask questions later.
PCLinuxOS is holding steady now. The decline seems to have been reversed. But only the coming years will tell whether it can become anything more than a niche product for a small select group of people mostly driven by taste and habit. If we must grade, then PCLinuxOS 2012.02 gets about 7.5/10. Not the best for sure, but decent enough. However, the magic of 2009 seems to be gone or hiding. All right, the quest continues. Ta-dam.