The last time we reviewed PCLinuxOS was 2014. That was enough time for many distributions to have come and gone, but PCLinuxOS still has a cult status, drawing continual devotion from its users. Originally based on Mandrake back in the early 2000s, this distro keeps chugging along regardless of outside trends. PCLinuxOS is known for doing things differently than other distros, so what makes its users so happy, and how does it stack up for the Average Joe? Check out our PCLinuxOS review below.
From the get-go, it’s apparent this is not a distro for novices. For instance, the homepage gives a terminal command to transfer the ISO image onto a USB flash drive rather than recommending a graphical program. Whatever ISO format it uses is weird and wouldn’t work properly with several USB boot creators, though Etcher got it working in the end. Once running, the installer is quite different than any Ubuntu derivatives. You may even have to reset once or twice to get through the whole process.
Thankfully, it has the kind of desktop installer most distros are now using. You can do whatever you like while the OS is installing, safe in its own window. Though unique, its brash color scheme was visually disorientating during hard drive partitioning. Unlike something from Ubuntu or Linux Mint, you may be second-guessing yourself and treading very carefully through its technicolor maze.
Unfortunately, the partitioner crashed when presented with something tricky, and we had to reboot after making our modifications. That took points off. However, there are advanced options you won’t find in most installers, and you can even tweak the bootloader settings in cool ways.
Like a Fedora system, the timezone and password setup were configured on its first boot post-installation. This may be annoying for a single computer but perfect if you are going to install this over many machines. You can install it, then leave users to define passwords and timezones on their first boot.
On subsequent boots we found loading times were fast, even from an old mechanical hard drive.
Inside the actual desktop, you’ll find KDE is highly modified to suit the tastes of the developers. PCLinuxOS keeps KDE’s single-click behavior, adds a new icon set, doesn’t enable multiple desktops, and strips back the menu to a simple Windows 9x-style interface.
The desktop theme is unique to say the least, with a dark theme and highlights that go for all-out color clash rather than tasteful minimalism. Think ’80s Doctor Who, and you’ll get the idea.
Weirdly, the main menu isn’t split into the same categories as normal, with the System and Utilities sections nowhere to be found. Instead, the menu entries are spread through other categories, with Konsole relegated to the Miscellaneous section.
Like its Mandrake ancestor, PCLinuxOS comes with its own centralized settings manager, similar to SuSE’s YaST. This sits alongside KDE’s normal System Settings application and is featured in other PCLinuxOS variants.
The desktop is extremely quick and responsive, but then again the compositor is disabled by default, so expect screen tearing. After enabling compositing, we were pleased to find the OS stayed smooth and fast. Overall, the system’s RAM footprint was around 1 GB, with the CPU sitting idle below 2%.
This was especially impressive on a machine that was sluggish when running KDE Neon – itself a fairly lean distro. Even with something as bloated as Firefox, it stayed smooth and felt substantially more responsive than the old copy of Windows 7 we still had installed. If you want to try running KDE on an old machine, this may be your best bet.
As for software, Timeshift is installed by default. Online video such as BBC News and YouTube works out of the box. The maintainers don’t seem fussy about proprietary software, with packages like Skype available in the repositories. Virtual Box comes with a quick installer in the system menu for those wanting to stay bleeding edge.
Interestingly, PCLinuxOS uses the apt package manager, something normally used by Debian/Ubuntu-based systems. On top of this is the Synaptic software manager, which will immediately exclude anyone used to something like Ubuntu’s Software Center, but will be greatly welcomed by Linux veterans. Unlike Ubuntu derivatives, PCLinuxOS doesn’t use
sudo, preferring the old-school root method.
Unfortunately, Synaptic isn’t split into categories like most distros, making navigation more tiresome. It also seems there aren’t many games on offer, not even many Linux staples. There’s also no easy way to install Steam – doubly frustrating as the website tries to provide a DEB file for this RPM-based system.
Diving into the terminal, it doesn’t bother giving an installer command when you try launching an application that isn’t installed, which is something Ubuntu variants normally provide. We also had a random problem with our sound chip in this PCLinuxOS review that didn’t affect other distros or Windows 7.
This distribution may not be for novices, but it makes no claim to be. PCLinuxOS users like things to stay just the way they are – you install it once, then forget about it. The demographic seems to lean strongly toward older computer users, and these people probably couldn’t give two hoots about the issues we describe. If you’re sick of today’s bloat and yearn for a Linux distro the way things were before Ubuntu, this may be just what you’re looking for.
Still not sure which distro is right for you? Try our list of the 9 Best Linux Distros for 2020.