Sunday, July 25, 2010

Myths Surrounding PCLinuxOS 2010

I had some good time with Red Hat. Then the KDE side of the world looked more appealing, and I had some off-and-on relationship with Mandrake (Mandriva) and Mepis. It was PCLinuxOS who finally won my heart; since 2005 it always sits on one of my PCs. I still do a lot of distro-hopping but never use my PCLinuxOS partition for that purpose. It feels home.

It was a pioneer desktop distribution in its early years, of course there was Mepis (Mepis still is my second choice for its out-of-box usability and Debian stability). Later many desktop wanna-be's merged in the Linux Desktop (Ubuntu and its clan, Fedora, OpenSuse, Sabayon and lot lot more) leading to great divisions in mindshare. Also came along thousands of OSS blogs, forums and websites that regularly register news, events and releases related to linux distributions. Now every average Joe wants to be a Susan Linton and posts his/her linux experience. It's become a kind of fashion to blog Linux/OSS, which, though helpful in promoting linux among the masses, sometimes spreads myths surrounding some distributions. Here's an honest attempt to clear the myths surrounding PCLinuxOS, my fav distro.

#1 PCLinuxOS is a Mandriva Spinoff

It was started with a Mandriva base, but over the years it has grown to a different personality. Except for the beloved Control Center none of the components are borrowed from Mandy. PCLinuxOS 2010 is built from the grounds up using the home grown repository. Tex and PCLOS devs have taken bits and pieces from Fedora, OpenSuse and Mandriva, even some of the patches used are from Debian, PLD and Chakra. Would you call it a respin of all these distros?

The greatness of a modern linux desktop distribution lies in how well you integrate components (no matter from where they are taken) and how well you take decisions regarding choosing/upgrading the critical components and introducing new technologies. In this regards, PCLinuxOS is a tightly integrated, well-put-together, stable and out-of-the-box usable distribution. It's a respin of none!

#2 PCLinuxOS Lacks Roadmap

Yes, it lacks one, if rediscovering itself every six months and pushing untested packages forward is what you mean by a roadmap. Still, it's refreshingly modern, always (the latest release has KDE 4.4.5). Most often your hardware will love the latest PCLinxOS and the repository keeps refreshing the most popular packages. What's more, the new quarterly ISO releases bring you the latest in pclos pool - no need to upgrade hundreds of packages just after installation! It follows rolling-release, a philosophy. You may call it a roadmap.

#3 It's a KDE-Centric Distribution

To some extent it's KDE-centric. But it's not a KDE-only distribution. It has easy-installation options for several other desktop environments. The term "KDE-Centric" gives a feel of "KDE-only" to some newbies, which is bad. The community releases gnome, xfce, enlightenment, lxde and openbox flavours. These are also well-tested and modern.

#4 It Lacks a 64-Bit Version

We know modern PC hardware is 64-Bit-Ready. However, that doesn't mean software-world is also ready for the change. 64-Bit still doesn't make much of a sense for desktops (servers have a different story). Many of the productivity and web software are still 32-bit. Even in many other cases the performance difference between 32- and 64-bit is so negligible that you can't perceive it. 32-Bit is still the main-stay and there's no compelling reason to make the move. If at all you want to use more than 4Gb memory you can pull in a PAE kernel. The good news is pclos people have planned for a 64-bit version, and I am sure they will bring it out at the right time.

#5 One Man Calls the Shots, Undemocratic Decisions, Uncultured Community

It's an absolute myth. PCLinuxOS is driven by community. Tex and the devs listen keenly to its users and work carefully towards fulfilling their demands and wishes. Moving to KDE4 is one such example where Tex and the devs made a smart decision where they took the users' responses and waited long till it became feature-complete and stable to stand up to pclos standards. I am not sure, but pclos forum is the most friendly one. Some forum posts and threads might sound authoritative (not uncultured) because the person helping you is most often a pclos developer (at times Tex himself), and is confident of what he/she says. PCLinuxOS community is full with mature and wise people who provide real help. It's not like noob-helping-a-noob. In my early days with pclinuxos I've even got some apps packaged and sent to my mail by some generous forum members. Where else you'll expect this much help? As for leading the community and making crucial decisions (based on community mandate), I believe, Tex is the best man. Have you ever seen 100 captains sailing one ship or 5 presidents representing one country?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Red Hat Ignores Desktops - Consumer or Enterprise Whatsoever

We had been running CentOS 5.2 on dozens of our office-desktops. They were boringly stable though little obsolete. Finally I wanted to upgrade my system to the latest v.5.5 so as to use some of the updated packages including Firefox 3.5 and OpenOffice 3. Skipping as much as 2 versions to CentOS 5.5 was smooth as a trademark of the enterprise desktop. There were some minor glitches pertaining to drivers which are documented earlier (CentOS 5.5 Left Me Clueless and CentOS 5.5 USB Device Mounting Annoyance). But there is a far more critical (purely on the basis of desktop experience) bug that's some way associated with nash and mkinitrd packages.

The latest and greatest CentOS 5.5 is a pig while it comes to booting on our office desktops. It stays almost 20 sec at "Red Hat nash version 5.1.96 starting". After booting the systems are very smooth and one could see the advancements of v. 5.5 over 5.2 in terms of updated applications, kernel and other goodies.

Around 20 sec wait is a definite annoyance for any desktop user. To get a fix or workaround I browsed through CentOS and Red Hat forums and bugzilla only to end up at nowherelands. I suspected that the problem was associated with raid or selinux but the problem persisted even after disabling them both. There is a thread in CentOS forum, the poster has exactly the same problem though in CentOS 5.3. Even the bug was there in RHEL 5.3 as reflected in RH bug ID 499955. Version 5.4 (of both CentOS and RHEL) retained the bug. Even, Red Hat did not bother to fix or suggest a workaround to stop this annoyance boot delay in its latest version. From the discussion at RH bug ID 499955 it's clear that the annoyance doesn't get any priority from Red Hat developers. Seems this open source giant ignores Desktops - consumer or enterprise whatsoever. The spotlight for RH has always been server where such delay doesn't make a huge difference... Who's going to boot a dedicated server everyday!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Liquorix Squeezes the Most Out of Your Linux Desktop

Switching to Linux has many reasons - Security, Stability, Performance, and of course, Cost. Be whatever the reasons, performance becomes the eventual priority for desktop as the viruses, malwares and breakdowns don't come in the linux-users way.

How to get the most out of a Linux desktop? Well, there are so many tricks, tweaks and hacks such as using a just right, well customized kernel, removing unnecessary services, apps, packages, paralleling boot process, using a lightweight window manager and desktop environment....and a dozen others. A long time user often dabbles to do these things of which the first, and perhaps the most important is hacking the kernel fitting impeccably to his/her hardware and working requirements.

Right patches, schedulers and driver stacks readily come to the mind, when you think of compiling a custom kernel. Though this process is not that tedious, it can surely be cryptic and time-consuming. That's why some don't like to kill hours to get that small/big performance and boot enhancements. Fortunately, they can also have a good time with readily brewed performance kernels by a geek named - Damenz.

I hit Damenz's points on web at http://liquorix.net and http://zen-kernel.org in my search for readymade performance kernels. (However, as a hobby I kill my idle hours in rolling out my own kernel for sanity and speed's sake) . Both his websites are full of no-nonsense clean linux stuff where you are welcome with a "Why drive when you can fly?" slogan. I have tried Damenz's 2.6.34 kernel (2.6.34-0.dmz.17-liquorix-686) in Lucid Lynx and Debian Squeeze (testing). I am very pleased at the desktop responsiveness in both.

Damenz's Liquorix zen based kernel is built using a fine tuned desktop configuration and modified debian package scripts to retain non-free kernel blobs. Installing this kernel is very easy. All you need to do is to add:

deb http://liquorix.net/debian sid main

in /etc/apt/sources.list.d/liquorix.list

Then do apt-get update. If you get gpg errors during update install the liquorix keyring:

apt-get install '^liquorix-([^-]+-)?keyring.?'

Finally, fire up synaptic to browse and install Liquorix Damenz kernel.

You can also have fun in compiling your kernel from Damenz's kernel sources found at http://liquorix.net/sources

Also, if you are working on an rpm based distro such as Fedora or Suse, you have to compile on your own, Damenz rolls kernels only for Debian Sid and Testing which you can also install on the latest Ubuntu.

Rest assured, you will definitely have a "flying experience" if you have been using only the stock kernel of your favorite distro.

Share your thoughts