This is a Linux distribution; i.e., an operating system for your computer. Scratch that -- a free operating system for your computer. I have mentioned this Linux distro a couple of times now. I even have a link to the website under the 'Links' heading on the main page. I like this distro. I mean, I really like it. Let me explain how I got into messing around with Linux and why I settled on PCLOS in particular.

My passion for Linux actually started with my Apple iBook (which Apple replaced with the MacBook). You see, Apple's operating system (OS) is Mac OS X (that's 'ten', btw) and it is based on Unix. That is, the core of the OS, it's foundation, is Unix. Linux is a free OS based on Unix as well. Since I liked my Mac so much, I thought I would try and see if Linux would be just a good on my Dell (the office computer I was using). I had seen Linux about six years earlier when I was in tech school and it was awful. Not user friendly in the least. It was all command line driven. To even get something similar to what Microsoft had with Windows and Apple had with Mac OS X was a task in itself. One that the average user would not even attempt.

But not any more. In the last six years Linux has come along way. The 'latest' thing is what is called a 'LiveCD'. That is, the entire OS and a ton of apps can be on just one CD. You turn your computer on and if it's set to look for the OS on the CD, it will run the Linux OS. Then you can check and see how it reacts with your hardware. You can check things like the video, audio, hard drives, network cards, wireless cards, etc. If all looks good, you can then install Linux to your hard drive right from the LiveCD. Really. It's that darn easy.

So, for about a year now I have worked at a non-profit organization. As you can guess we have limited funds -- especially for an organization of our size. Since I'm the 'IT guy', I started looking for low cost alternatives to Microsoft Windows and that meant re-examining Linux. In my search I stumbled across Distrowatch. There you can read about new releases and find links to reviews. From this web site I looked into various Linux distros -- Mepis, Xandros, Linspire, FoxLinux, Unbuntu, Mandriva, SUSE, Fedora Core, etc. I have tried all of those I listed and could list a dozen more. There were a couple of distros that I liked -- Linspire, Xandros -- and they seemed to work well within our network. My biggest concern was a replacement for Office (which I already knew existed for Windows) and email. Like a lot of companies we use Microsoft Office for our documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and email. Our server is a Microsoft 2000 server with Microsoft Exchange handling our email. As I stated earlier, I knew of an Office replacement in the Windows world but didn't know about Linux. Well, sure enough, there it was... OpenOffice.org. If you have not tried this office suite, click on this link or on the one main page of this blog. There are a couple of things about OpenOffice that I want to just mention.

OpenOffice can open Microsoft's docs, spreadsheets, and presentations without much trouble at all. And it can save documents that you create back to those formats! Furthermore, the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) just adopted a universal document format called Open Document Format or ODF. And guess what? That is the native format for OpenOffice! The kicker is that a lot of organizations (like mine) look to the ISO for standardizations of office documents. Don't be surprised if you get an email with a doc attached in this format. It will be spreading all over the place. (Incidentally, our database app, IBM's Lotus Notes, released a statement stating that their next version would include ODF.) Oh, and did I mention that OpenOffice is free too? I didn't? Well, now you know.

The next thing I went looking for was an email client that would communicate with MSExchange. And, sure enough, there is one for Linux called Evolution. I just point it to my server with my network credentials and I can receive all of my email and notes and calendar events. It worked great.

. . . But. . .

There was 'always somethin' that didn't work with those distors. Almost every one of them made me crazy! For example, there was no sound in SUSE (I found that there was a problem with my sound card and SUSE). Evolution would work with Linspire but not in Xandros. There had to be some distro out there that worked with all of this. Surely.

It wasn't until I was reading about some new tech stuff that I spotted an ad for PCLinuxOS. The ad simple stated, 'PCLinuxOS - Radically Simple'. Well, I've tried other 'simple' and 'Windows friendly' distros before and they left a bad taste in my mouth. But, I decided to check it out and see.

When I went to the web site I discovered that there were several different 'versions' of PCLOS -- there was the standard one; there was one for nVidia cards and another one for Ati cards; etc. I just downloaded the standard iso and burned the CD. I restarted my system and booted to the LiveCD. I was shocked. PCLOS found all of my hardware with out any problems at all. The sound worked. The video worked. Even the USB WIFI card worked! So, I took the plunge and installed it to my hard drive. The cool thing was that I could partition my drive (divide it up in to different sections) and keep Windows for various office tasks. It also has very easy installation of additional software and updates to existing software through just a couple of mouse clicks. I downloaded OpenOffice and Evolution and configured them. I can access my WindowsXP drive from the file manager and I even copied my fonts over and installed them. The office printers work without any issues what so ever and I even installed a remote desktop client so I can check on the servers whenever I need to.

For a network situation, the reason I like PCLOS is the security (I actually like this for home use too). In Linux there is an administrator account known as 'root'. This account can be used as an average user but is highly discouraged. The average person can do everything they need to do without ever going into 'root'. In fact, one of the reasons Linux is so secure is that whenever you need to make system wide changes (like simple installing fonts) you are prompted for the root password. This keeps viruses and spyware from attacking your computer. Yes, that's right. Like Apple computers running Mac OS X, PCLinuxOS is virus and spyware free.

And speaking of customization (I did mention installing new fonts), you can make your computer look like just about anything you want. PCLOS comes with a lot of different 'styles' and 'windows decorations' from which you can choose. As you can see in the screen shot, my version looks similar to the Mac OS. For more images of PCLOS, you can go here.

What about support? Glad you asked! The web site has a community forum that can handle just about every kind of question you can think of. They are very helpful and supportive -- especially to the new Linux user.

Now, while I really like this OS, it is not for everyone. Some people are so 'into Windows' that any other OS will seem like foreign territory. And that's true. However, this is one of the easiest, most well thought out OSes I have ever used. With just a little time a person can be using it just like they did Windows and all the while not worry about getting a virus or having their system hacked.

Lastly, the other great thing about PCLinuxOS is that it has worked on 'older' hardware. Used to, old computers had to be handed down or donated when they were just a few years old. But not when you are using Linux! PCLOS runs very well on five year old hardware. In other words, you won't need to shell out more money when a new OS comes out (like I had to do with Windows). You can keep your computer hardware for longer periods of time.

I have enjoyed this OS so much that I have installed it on a few other computers at the office, a few friend's computers, and even my Dad's laptop. All without a hitch.

I think they have finally made an OS for everyone. I encourage you to give it a try.

May mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance.



Anonymous said…
great post about a great OS. I will be sending some of my Non profit friends to this post since you outline a very compelling argument for all np's to take a look at pclos. MY NP clients humor me when I show it to them because I believe they think I am trying to sell them somthing, when I'm not considering I'm there fixing their window virus or malfunction most of the time for free. Good to see that some NP orgs are looking at open source solutions.
Odysseus said…
Thanks kde2k! At my office, it wasn't a real hard sell. I just explained it from a couple of points: 1) security; and 2) cost. When you explain that the software on one Windows box about six hundred and can go into the thousands (Adobe suite alone is a grand), a legally FREE OS and apps looks very appealing.
Jim_H said…
I couldn't agree more with your article. After using PCLOS for several weeks now, I'm in the process of working out how to get rid of my Windows install in favour of this amazing distro.
I have had *no* problems with hardware detection or confusing configuration problems on three different PC's, with a fourth on the way. It's the best distro going and has a great community to boot. Tex and the rest of the team have done Linux a great service with all their hard work.

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