PCLinuxOS 2007– Ready for Average Joes?

It’s a shiny little desktop; very crisp and tight. Firefox is a sweet browser and Synaptic is a great package manager. Sure enough if things don’t look like they work.

But now the bad news for PCLinuxOS 2007:

Weird Behavior: Running from the CD, it there’s a lag between creating new files and having them show up in the GUI. I haven’t reduced this to a set of repeatable steps and I wonder if this is even some sort of Twilight Zone thing or something, but there’s something non-intuitive going on here.

Base: Hey… Open Office has a clone of Access! But going in and creating a table, defining some columns… and hey… how do I set a primary key? Hmmm… can’t. Close the table to save it and I get prompted to add one… it adds a totally new field without giving me a chance to select the field I wanted to be the primary key. Open the table and start entering some rows… and the autonumber field seems to go haywire. Why is this program taking up space on the install??

Stupid question: Why doesn’t the CD Rom drive show up so that I can explore it and tinker with it?

Installation to USB drive is dodgy: The installation wizard seems to be wacked. You start off with an option to install to hard drive or to USB drive. If you select USB, you still see your hard drive on later screens of the wizard. This is particularly frightening on the partitioning screen. Your primary hard drive is the default drive being doctored even if you’ve already told the wizard that you’re doing a USB install.

The install wizard does its thing and then stops without giving a success message or new instructions. This is very confusing. I just have no idea if I’m done or if the wizard crashed or anything.

“Persistent Home” should work by default: After using the system, enjoying it, and setting up a bunch of packages, I shut down the system expecting it to all be there when I come back in. And of course… it’s not there! There appears to be a way to use KPackage and Kusbhome to keep your stuff from boot-up to boot-up, but you apparently have to download and install those packages– and log out and log back in!– in order to get this feature. Even then, installing the functionality is nontrivial and seems to require some special partitions to be set up on your USB drive. (And you seem to have to do this every time you boot up.)  None of the software gives you any obvious assistance in identifying the fitness of your USB drive for these purposes. In my case, I could persist my own files, but I could not figure out a way to persist my installations of Clisp and Emacs from session to session. This stinks all the more when such a feature should work automatically or at least be painless to implement.

IMHO: On logging out or shutting down, I should get a message warning me that I’m about to lose my work… and there should be an easy way to save stuff offered. On boot up I should have an option to use the persisted files in setting up the session.

Conclusion: I gave up on the Persistent Home scenario after wasting hours of time and risking sudden death to my hard drive via an accidental mouse click. I tried to go back and install the OS to the USB drive. Again, it’s not clear if 1 gig is enough space to store the installation and given the poorly designed Wizard, I can’t trust it to tell me such pertinent tidbits.

On my final attempt to make the installation work, I used the Installation Wizard’s partitioning tool to set up three partitions: a 470 MB / partition, a 94 MB Swap partition, and a 415 MB /home partition. The Wizard chugs away briefly on my USB drive and then stops.

I then fire up the Installation Wizard again (after rebooting, I think) and set the install to go to the USB drive to the existing partitions. It then copies files for about 15 minutes or so and then… it just stops. Looking at the drive, there’s boot, home, lib, usr, and root directories on the /home partition. And there’s just a couple files left over from my “Persistent Home” attempts over on the / drive.  Shutting down kicks me to an all-text log-in screen and I have to look up a Unix command to manually shut down the system.  Booting to windows log-in screen and then shutting down strangely leads to the crashing of some random file or memory address.  This is starting to get scary.

I went into the BIOS and moved _USB HDD, USB FDD, and USB CD options to the top three positions of the boot order. There’s a message there saying that “USB BIOS support must be enabled for USB boot” but I don’t know where to go to affect that change on my IBM ThinkPad. Booting up without a DVD in the drive and with the USB stick plugged in leads to a message saying, “Invalid system disk, replace the disk and press any key.”

This is altogether a very frustrating experience. This OS is just slick enough that I want to move to it and use it as much as possible. But I don’t trust the software and fear that I will inadvertently fry my machine with an accidental mouse click. I can only conclude that the USB install is not the default approach that most people use with this platform… and that most people using it tend to set aside a half dozen gig on their hard drive and install there instead.

I’m rooting for this distro and would very much like to be a satisfied non-customer… but at this point I’d have to say that the Wizards and the documentation for the install process are very poor.  Other people seem to have had a good experience with it, but I’m not there yet. From my perspective, I’d have to say that we’re still a ways from having Granny install and use this thing on her own….

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5 Responses to “PCLinuxOS 2007– Ready for Average Joes?”

  1. jose cuervo Says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by GUI. Do you mean things aren’t showing up in apps like file managers (which is where the “user interface” part of it is usually relevant), in KDE/desktop/menu (the default window manager/desktop environment), or something else?

    To answer your “stupid question” (your terminology), there’s no need for you to “explore” it if you’re already running from it: everything you see contains your filesystem/CDROM.

    Re: “Base,” Open Office isn’t considered “base” in BSD/Unix terminology, it’s considered optional. I understand it’s included with the distro and some people consider Open Office a necessity, but it’s easy enough to remove it if you do a proper (real hard drive) install.

    As far as installing to a USB drive goes, I hope you don’t mean a flash drive. The constant write cycles of running an OS from your flash drive will significantly reduce its usable service life. I know there are people who will disagree with me. I hope they wouldn’t disagree with me about setting up swap on USB. Ugh. No wonder your installation halts!

    Persistency on a USB device: hmmmm, are you running an ISO/CDROM as a *read-only* system with just /home on USB? If so, are you compiling applications so they’re prefixed so they save to your /home? Or are you just downloading RPMs from PCLOS via Synaptic? HINT: those RPMs are standard system-prefixed, meaning they install in /usr (/usr/bin, /usr/lib, etc.). If you do install by compiling source yourself, its default is usually /usr/local (/usr/local/bin, /usr/local/lib, etc.). If you’re using the CD or if the PCLOS USB installation is ISO-based, both of those prefixes are *read-only* in ramdisk. That means whatever you “add” while running doesn’t get written so it’s not there. That’s another reason why you should consider a real install, or if you want to carry this on you’ll need a persistent /home on your USB you can mkdir ~/bin (you should probably also include it in your $PATH) and compile — does PCLOS come with GCC? — with a prefix to that directory (–prefix=/home/myaccount/bin). That would solve your issue, but it would mean not using Synaptic (which is TOTALLY useless unless you have a standard installation on hard drive!).

    That’s not the fault of PCLOS. You need to understand how these systems work before you get in over your head. I don’t know if you’re up for compiling your own apps yet, but the method above would allow you to keep doing what you’re doing and how you’re doing it (since you said the rest of your settings carry over) on USB.

    If I were in your place I would go ahead and set aside a couple partitions so you have a real swap and a real installation. And save your USB devices for safer and better uses. An alternative would be to remaster (the PCLOS wiki has a step-by-step guide) with what you want — emacs, clisp, etc. I think it involves installing.

    I have a CD like that (emacs, mit scheme and scheme48, guile), but it’s not PCLOS-based and it doesn’t have X.

  2. lispy Says:

    A remastered CD would probably suit my needs better at this point.

    “You need to understand how these systems work before you get in over your head.” Exactly. I’ve learned a bit about the filesystem, but it’s clear I need to know more about what’s really happening in order to deal with all of this.

  3. jose cuervo Says:

    I’d offer mine but it doesn’t have CLisp (though it could be re-remastered with it) or any eye candy. Everything has been compiled –without-x, stripped of icons and other nonsense. Strictly console, window “management” courtesy of gnu screen. And you would still have to add your own .emacs.

    Have you considered getting a spare hard drive — nothing big, preferably someone else’s “junk” — and using separate hard drives for Windows and Linux until you feel comfortable installing it either alongside or in place of Windows? Or how about getting the emacs 22 Windows binary (it works great in XP; it lacks an installer so just put it where you want it and delete it if you don’t want to keep it)? Or any of the other Windows-based Lisp tools like Lispbox (emacs bundled with clisp so it “just works”), DrScheme, etc.? These sound like appropriate options for you if Linux is getting in the way of learning Lisp.
    http://www.gigamonkeys.com/lispbox/

    There’s no shame in using Windows (I have to use it for work), especially if you’re more comfortable with it and your goal is to learn Lisp (and emacs). You can always learn Linux some other time or as you have time.

  4. lispy Says:

    Oh no…. There’s shame. 🙂

    Yeah, I should be content with Emacs on Windows. I thought I was ready to dive into Linux, but apparently I don’t have enough hair on my chest yet. (Tinkering with Cygwin/Lisp/Emacs on Windows gave me a false sense of competance, I realize now.)

  5. manmath sahu Says:

    Well, that’s at all not a fault with PCLinuxOS 2007, may be you have a lot of Windows hangover. No wonder, many have.
    I went through all your issues. Shed a little sweat, customize it as per your need. You (and of course, others) will have a great time with PCLinuxOS. Again, PCLinuxOS is the best suitable one for average joe in comparison to the hundreds of desktop wannabe linux flavors.

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