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The Net Takeaway: PCLinuxOS: Finally a usable Linux...


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PCLinuxOS: Finally a usable Linux... · 01/24/2007 01:31 PM, Tech

There are lots of Linux distros out there, and lots of derivations. First, you pick which “family” you want:

Each distro family has different ways of organizing parts of the operating system, and then each specific distro chooses to include or exclude parts of the GUI, different installers, etc. There is also this KDE vs. Gnome thing for the GUI, but KDE is rapidly becoming the standard in most cases. Don’t worry too much about that.

Then there are offshoots, such as GenToo (which lets you customize as you install, for experts only) and DamnSmallLinux which runs on a memory stick. If you are curious to see how many distros there are, DistroWatch is the main central area for keeping up with new and updated distributions.

But after playing with a few via the beauty of a LiveCD (you boot from the CD, and it gives you a ready to run Linux on your PC; your hard drive is not touched. Most major distros have a LiveCD version now for testing), I’ve found that the best distro for windows users who want an easy experience is…


Freespire was a close second; there’s a lot to like there as well with corporate support via a paid version called Linspire, but they take FOREVER to release updates. Mepis had lots of good comments, but I haven’t tried it yet. (UPDATE: I tried it. Its pretty good, but it doesn’t look like windows, so its a new learning curve. Lots of “cutesy” touches show that someone put some effort into this one. ) Ubuntu is the darling of the moment among Linuxes, and is pretty nice, but it still felt too techie to me as a Linux novice (but they are making huge improvements with every release, so keep an eye on it.) So, PCLinuxOS is the winner for the moment, but in the world of Open Source Linux, a front runner can collapse and a trailer can become the best in a matter of months, so any of these will be a good choice. Also, Freespire, which was originally building directly from the Debian foundation, recently announced that it would be building its distribution based on Ubuntu’s improvements, which makes these more similar than different.

Now, don’t feel you have to give up Windows. You can use the LiveCD version of almost any distro and a memory stick to store settings or even allow the LiveCD to store data on your HD; just remove the CD and reboot and there is Windows, safe and sound. You can also do what I do, which is to download the free VirtualPC from Microsoft (or the faster but harder to use VMWare Server, also free) and use that for testing.

There is the issue of many Linux versions thinking that everyone has 24 bits per pixel for color (lots of colors) while VirtualPC only emulates 16 bpp, so you may need to play with how the LiveCDs load up… but most give you some options to play with this (-xbpp=16 for PCLinuxOS, for example; the Ubuntu Wiki gives some good hints around this). Also, sound doesn’t always work well because VirtualPC emulates a SoundBlaster 16, such an old sound card that you have to manually configure this inside Linux.

PCLinuxOS is based on Mandrake/Mandriva, so it shares some things with RedHat/Fedora, but has some of its own extensions either custom written or adopted from other families.

You may want to go with a distro which has a larger popularity (meaning it is more likely to stay around) such as Freespire or Ubuntu… but if you aren’t looking to replace your day-to-day operating system and just want to dabble, the less commercial offerings like PCLinuxOS may be just what you need. Besides the forums, they actually put out a not-so-bad magazine monthly or so at

So, Windows XP is not going anywhere on my box (except when I go to Vista), but the ability to experiment with a clean and well thought out Linux system (even running in an emulator) is a great opportunity. If you have the urge to try Linux, download and burn the LiveCD version of PCLinuxOS and I think you will be surprised at how easy Linux can be.

PS: If you still can’t get ubuntu to work in Virtual PC, try this:
Here is a different way to do it that ensures you only modify one thing:
1. Choose Start or Install Ubuntu
2. Once in the messed up screen enter ctrl + alt + F1 to get in the shell
3. type: “sudo nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf”
4. find the line that says “default depth: 24” and change it to 16
5. press ctrl o (letter not number) and then ctrl x
6. ctrl alt F7, then ctrl alt backspace

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