Ubuntu 7.10 to PCLinuxOS 2008

I started a new project at a client’s office a month or so ago. On the first day I turned up, and managed to work for about an hour, before my laptop died. Somewhat embarassing. I tried for about an hour to resuscitate it, but couldn’t get it to boot at all: it just died and froze before the KDE login screen. It seemed to be some sort of graphical mishap, and no amount of fiddling with xorg.conf from rescue mode would fix it.

I excused myself, went back home and after some more fiddling, decided to backup and re-install. Having made this decision I was looking through my pile of install CDs, and I came across PCLinuxOS 2008, which I’d downloaded a few weeks previously, and I’d been meaning to try out. “So why not try it out on this laptop?” said the evil part of my brain — the same part which forces me to spend time on Facebook instead of working.

I decided to go ahead with this monstrous plan, partly due to the inexplicable freezing above, and partly because there were a couple of issues I’d never managed to resolve with Ubuntu 7.10, namely:

  • Truecrypt wouldn’t work
  • Wireless didn’t work very well. It had taken me a couple of days to get it working initially, and it still doesn’t fully work – sometimes dropping the connection.
  • One part of my filesystem was mounted twice. I forget which part now, and it was not causing any problems, but it was irritating me.
  • Probably some more things as well …

OK, so time to try something new then. I’m not going to dwell on the details, but here’s the shortened version of the process.

  1. Backup existing partitions to an external USB hard disk, using Gparted Live CD. These were a two ext3 partitions, mounted on / and /home, and a VFAT32 partition containing some bits of data, and storage.
  2. Run the PCLinuxOS installer. What I was trying to do was to leave the /home and VFAT partitions intact, and replace the / partition. However the installer was somewhat clumsy in this respect, and actually reformatted the whole disk. I wasn’t sure whether or not this was due to me misunderstanding the installer or due to a bug. Anyway, good job I backed up.
  3. Restore the /home and VFAT partitions from the backup using Gparted CD again. Awesome tool.
  4. Replace the existing /home directory with the newly restored partition. eg.
    • Booting in single mode, rename /home to /oldhome.
    • edit fstab to mount the new partition as /home
    • Restart
    • Check permissions. Need to change ownership of files within my user directory.
    • Some applications don’t work. Remove preference directories from /home/user directory and replace them a few at a time. Replace the .gnome directory with the corresponding one from /oldhome.
                /dev/hda6       /home   ext3    user,exec,rw,auto       0 0

That was actually pretty easy. Now the good stuff.

  • Wireless worked immediately with WPA2, something I’d never been able to get running on Ubuntu.
  • The fonts on the screen were a good size. I’d always found Ubuntu fonts a bit large, but the ones on PClinux OS were much better suited to my 1024×768 display.
  • Sound and video worked fine out of the box. I’d had to fiddle with Ubuntu to get them going. I still needed to use the noapic boot trick though, which I was anticipating anyway.

Now to install some software. PClinuxOS doesn’t come with as much pre-installed as Ubuntu, so I added the following applications. Oddly, PClinuxOS is an rpm based distro, but it still uses apt-get.

  • su -l  (N.B. PClinuxOS uses a root login rather than sudo)
  • apt-get install nano, openoffice, filezilla, keepass, wine, skype, kopete, k3b, bind-utils
  • apt-get remove ephiphany, gnumeric, abiword

Then I installed my favourite windows apps under wine: treepad and notepad++

I wasn’t able to install vmware server from apt-get, so I installed it by downloading from the vmware site, which entailed also getting a new serial number.

Truecrypt wasn’t in the original list of available applications in Synaptic. However I updated the repositories to a different one, and it appeared. Great! I installed it, and it worked perfectly immediately. This was a major coup, as it wouldn’t work under Ubuntu 7.10.

That was pretty much it. The initial setup had taken me around 4 hours, which I could have easily spent tinkering with config files, trying to get the old, troubled install of Ubuntu to work. I installed more applications as I needed them over the next few weeks, but the initial install was good enough to get me up and running again.

After having used it for a month or so, one frustrating element of PClinuxOS is that there is a limited selection of software available for it. There are dire warnings and threats in the user forum about compiling your own software, for which you forego any chance of support. They have a point of course, but the’re definitely a bit less friendly than Ubuntu.

By the time I got around to writing this, of course Ubuntu 8.10 is out. I may switch back to it next time I have to re-install, but the point that this exercise has demonstrated to me, is that switching OSes, linux to linux is a lot easier than going cross platform, and can easily be done inside a day. Food for thought.

24 thoughts on “Ubuntu 7.10 to PCLinuxOS 2008

  1. Have you looked at Ubuntu 8.04 ? More than likely, your problems have been resolved in the new version.

  2. Hi,
    Yes I’m trying out 8.04 on my spare laptop now. It wasn’t available at the time when I had the crash, which was actually around mid April. But then I had BlogApathy, and didn’t write it up.

    The 8.04 is doing OK. Not visually very different from the previous version, which surprised me, but I guess that’s good. Wireless seemed to work out of the box (although it doesn’t seem to tell me if its connected or not), and there were no APIC issues on boot, but then there never were on that spare laptop. I’ll have to install it on this main one before I’m convinced. Haven’t tried out truecrypt on it yet. PClinuxOS will do me for now though.

    Thanks for the comments!

  3. How are you liking KDE in PCLOS vs the Gnome that Ubuntu uses? I am a big KDE fan, which makes it hard for me to find a truly great distro with a lot of packages and community; eventually I have settled on Debian Testing, which has a good default KDE, a ton of packages, and rolling release updates.

  4. i actually use an encrypted home partition/encrypted usb disks under cryptsetup which works very well

  5. Lefty: Actually I grabbed the Gnome version of PCLinuxOS. In fact that was an accident! I meant to grab “the one that Ubuntu doesn’t use”, so I could try something different, but things got mixed up in my head and I got it wrong! Ah well. Maybe I’ll try the Kbuntu edition of 8.04 to see how that differs.
    What is it that you like about KDE over Gnome? Is it the selection of apps, the look and feel, or just the way its put together. Just curious.

  6. Max: I hadn’t heard about cryptsetup – I’ll check it out. I was using truecrypt under windows previously, so when I switched to Linux, that was the obvious choice: the containers could just be mounted in Linux without any changes. Truecrypt was command line only at that point, but it worked fine.
    The problems started when Truecrypt moved to version 5. They’d re-written it from the ground up, so it wasn’t tied to any particular kernel, which is a great idea. However the implementation wasn’t perfect, and it caused a lot of problems — just read the forums and you’ll see a lot of unhappy people in there.
    When I had problems with Truecrypt, I tried out Scramdisk 4 Linux for a while. That worked fine in fact, but it needs to be re-installed every time there is a kernel update, which is a bit fiddly.
    Anyway, back on track now …

  7. > What is it that you like about KDE over Gnome?
    > Is it the selection of apps, the look and
    > feel, or just the way its put together.

    Its hard to pinpoint, but overall I feel it is much more comprehensive with what software can do; i feel KDE’s open/save/print dialogs are a lot easier to use and navigate; I really like the way the configuration works (kcontrol) vs. Gnome’s list of Configure apps in a menu; i love the advanced settings in KWin, the window manager… there is a lot to like, I feel, and the apps that come with KDE are top-notch.

    I would recommend looking into a KDE-based distro if you like distro-hopping. Kubuntu limits KDE a bit but its still good, just not great. PCLOS is the one I hear to try out, but I am afraid of the RPM package management 😀 but if you just want a feel for KDE, maybe start there? (I’ve never tried it).

  8. A gut feeling is always hard to pinpoint! I’ll try it out in the future when I have some spare time, for sure. I think the two Window Managers will continue to borrow the good ideas from each other and ditch the bad ideas, as user feedback steers them.

    PCLOS is RPM based, but it still uses apt-get, so its not a whole world different. The only downside is that the number of packages available is limited, so if you want to install mtr for example (a neat traceroute app I’m fond of), you just can’t do it, unless you want to incur the wrath of the PCLOS support demons …

    Guess I could just install KDE as well as Gnome, and switch between the two …

  9. May I suggest mandriva 2008.1 ?

    I have been a long-time mandriva user. Having hopped distros years ago, I have settled on this distro. Unlike many other linux ‘users’, I actually use it daily, both at home ( exclusively except for taxes once a year) and at work. Mandriva is a good compromise of performance, stability, RPM compatibility and extensibility.

    I had tried pclinuxOS in 2007 and I faced the same issue. Missing s/w caused problems. On the forums, people railed against me for trying to install ‘outside’ s/w ( even compiling OSS s/w) ! What is the bloody point of running linux ?

    Right now, on one laptop I am running opensuse 11 RC1 (KDE4), updated to kde4.1 and I am quite satisfied and frankly surprised by its stability. I think that by release time, KDE 4.1 will be as stable as kde 3.5.x, even though this is its first point release. Of course, KDE 4.0 is awful. KDE 4 is certainly easy on the eyes although the app support and configurability are still playing catch up. I don’t care for many of the features first intro’ed in compiz ( but now build into KDE without installing xorg hacks or window managers) but the ones I find very useful are a) magnify/zoom b) transparency c) darkening of inactive windows.

  10. PCLinux 2008?? I thought PCLinuxOS 2007 was the latest available…

    My experience with PCLinux 2007, I had to reinstall kubuntu at several times (including upgrading from 6.0x to 7.10 to 8.04, for some reason or other, whereas PCLOS (I agree, PCLOS2007 is there for a long time) is so far the original installation on a different partition on the same hard drive of my desktop.

    The recent aptitude upgrade/dist-upgrade even installed a variant of KDE Menu, which looks similar to openSUSE’s kdemod. Also I got the newest version of perl (5.10). The posts on perl 5.10 in ubuntu forums makes me scary to even try it on kubuntu.

  11. If you are comfortable installing from source you should be fine in PCLinuxOS. Installing RPMs from outside the repository is another matter, although I have done it a few times (such as with the VMware RPM) and have come out unscathed. You can suggest packages for inclusion in the repos at this forum:

    http://www.pclinuxos.com/forum/index.php?board=21.0

  12. I switched from Ubuntu to PCLinuxOS about a year ago, but switched back only because PCL has such smaller repositories. I install a lot of less popular programs, so a large repository is actually the most important feature of a distro for me.

    I found PCL to be, quite surprisingly, more polished and much easier to work with than Ubuntu (which has so many more people and finances behind it). Kde is certainly more “empowering” than Gnome, but with a little experience one can overcome that aspect of Gnome fairly easily, which is maybe the intention of Gnome hiding those things from new users.

    If PCL could somehow use Ubuntu repositories, I’d switch back in a minute. Ubuntu is a great distro and I’m happy with it, but I know from my experience with PCL that it’s possible for a small group of talented folks to come up with something just as good or better. Maintaining a huge repository however, I guess is another matter.

  13. Yet another example that makes me ask why are so many people so excited about Ubuntu (Aside from it having backing of a billionaire who can buy lots of PR)? Ubuntu’s about where Mandriva was a couple of years ago in usability, and in many ways PCLOS is a better Mandriva (which I believe was its objective, at least initially). The only thing that keeps drawing me away from PCLOS and back into my love/hate relationship with Mandriva is the comparatively limited set of available packages.

    Before you go back to Ubuntu, give Mandriva 2008 Spring a try (though if you wait another month or two it will be even better – Mandriva releases always need a couple of months to stabilize before they show their true potential).

  14. lefty.crupps Says:
    June 3rd, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    How are you liking KDE in PCLOS vs the Gnome that Ubuntu uses? I am a big KDE fan, which makes it hard for me to find a truly great distro with a lot of packages and community; eventually I have settled on Debian Testing, which has a good default KDE, a ton of packages, and rolling release updates.

    Lefty, just in case you are looking for other distros that use KDE with Debian, here are several: sidux (2008-02 development snapshot released today, 2008-01 is the supported version available. It is a rolling release, and with a broadband network, you can be VERY current with your KDE software.

    SimplyMEPIS 7.0: this one is aging, but it is still newer than PCLinuxOS 2007. It is extremely stable and it works very well. A somewhat newer offshoot of this is AntiX M7.2. It uses either Fluxbox or IceWM by default, but you can download a KDE-lite implementation if you prefer. Very light, very fast. SimplyMEPIS is the model of stability and simplicity; AntiX is the model of lightness and speed.

    Xandros: Older than PCLinuxOS or SimplyMEPIS in its standard version; seems to be going the OEM route with the EEE PC projects. Extremely easy to set up and use, especially when already included as the OEM OS on small computers. Very good interoperability with Windows. Recommended for people used to using Windows.

    Kubuntu 8.04: you can get this either with the latest stable KDE, 3.5.9, or you can get it with a KDE 4.0.3 update or with the latest KDE 4 snapshot. Very easy to install and easy to use.

    PCLinuxOS is very similar in operation to these systems. It is most similar to Xandros and SimplyMEPIS in being simple to set up, configure, and use. Does not provide the latest software, it tends to lag in this, but what it provides always works well. PCLinuxOS gets most of its packages downstream from Mandriva, which may partially explain the lag in getting the latest software. It uses Debian-originated apt-get packaging tools retrofitted to work with RPM packages. The synaptic tool is used as the graphical implementation on top of apt-get and this makes for a very easy to manage system.

  15. This issue of available applications will plague and cripple Linux until the applications are decoupled from the operating systems, i.e. the end of the centralised repository and the need to have hundreds of slightly different versions of the same software across Linux distros and even Linux distro versions.
    Of course this is unlikely to happen any time soon since removing the applications from the OS kills the concept of the “distro” and the whole idiotic distro industry collapses (which I think is a really good thing).
    What we need is Linux the OS, not Linux the distro.

  16. Great Stuff! Thanks for all your comments, and sorry I wasn’t around to approve them all – gotta sleep sometimes …

    VM: Sounds like I’ll have to give Mandriva a try as well. I only used it once a couple of years ago when it was installed on a client’s server, but a lot can happen in two years! Interesting comments on KDE.
    I sympathise with your experiences in the PCLOS forum. I understand that they can’t support the distibution once you’ve made changes “outside the box”, but they do seem a bit strident about it.

    SRhedge: PCLinuxOS is indeed on version 2007. However I used the Gnome edition which is tagged as 2008, (http://www.linuxgator.org/Gnome/gnome_page/gnome.html) Sorry for the confusion. However that does now explain why its using the PCLOS 2007 repositories, which was confusing me!

    Lorrain: Looks as though it could be useful to any Turkish users out there …

    RM: Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

    Tim: Sounds like this is the problem. You need resources to run a big repository, and while Ubuntu can afford them, PCLOS is a small operation. Anyone know how many people are involved in it? Is it just the one guy? Tex whatsit?

    Shocky: Ubuntu definitely has better marketing (thanks to its greater resources, as noted above). And it may well be that Mandriva is way ahead. However one thing we should all be thankful for, is that the halo effect from Ubuntu’s marketing efforts has brought _all_ linux distros into the limelight. People are now aware there is an alternative. Manufacturers like Asus, Dell, HP are offering their home PCs with Linux on. Its all going in the right direction. And yes, I’ll try Mandriva.

    Brian: Great round up of distros there. Thanks for the information. I was wondering if anyone was going to mention Xandros, as it was the distro which featured on the Asus EEE PC.

    StolenNomenclature: Your post made me think. The vast number of distros and packaging systems is indeed a problem. Maybe there is a way around this: there are cross compiling systems for software which will automatically build software for eg Linux, Mac, Windows, Windows Mobile, etc. I wonder if those could be adapted to build for all the different versions of Linux as well, or at least the major ones.
    I guess this will all resolve itself as a few distros forge ahead and become the most popular. Maybe the other distros will start to fall in line and use the same packaging systems and standardise. However in doing so, we may lose one of the things that Linux is all about — the ability for someone to say “I don’t like the way they’re doing this. I can do it better myself” and go ahead and make your own distro.

    Rambling a bit here. Maybe I should do another blog post on this later …

  17. It’s not so easy to create a unified, centralized repository for all Linux distros as you might think.

    The distros exist because all these people have different opinions on how a Linux system should work. I’d say this is a real-time experiment, a Darwinian effort to see which approach works best. This is the price of innovation. At the other end is stagnation, and I don’t think any of Linux users would like it to stagnate.

    Reasons for why it’s hard to create universal packages:
    1) Improvements/differences in GCC compiler and so called “toolchain”.
    2) Different init systems and services management.
    3) Different config files locations and syntax.
    4) Different package formats and package management systems.

    Explanations:

    1) All binary programs that constitute a working system have to be compiled (translated from human-readable form into a form suitable for CPU to execute). In case of Linux the kernel, basic GNU tools and other useful programs (be it X Window System, GNOME/KDE/XFCE/etc, Firefox, K3B, and so on), this is done by a suite of GCC compilers and a set of tools like: automake, linkers, loaders, binutils and so on.

    These tools are not set in stone, they are improved, changed, restructured over time, not to mention the occasional bugfixing. Sometimes these changes are INCOMPATIBLE, like changing the GCC from version 2.95 to 3.x line and then to 4.x series. The same is for accompanying tools. They all change as their requirements change (according to the user’s demand).

    So when a particular distro or a package developer decide to use a specific set of tools and libraries, with their specific versions and behaviour, these decisions can be a source of incompatibility across distros and package maintainers. So for example, an mplayer package from distro A may *NOT* work at all in distro B, because of so called ABI differences (Application Binary Interface). The compatibility is maintained at the source level instead. So it’s the distro maintainers that worry about this, so they just recompile a problematic package and put a new version for use.

    2) Even when the package is compatible at the binary level (which is true for most packages and distros), distro creators may have different views on how their systems work internally and how they handle system services. I mean the locations of service scripts (/etc/rc.d versus /etc/rc0.d versus /etc/init.d), their configuration files’ locations (/etc/default versus /etc/conf.d) and structure, where they place working directories of services, and so on.

    This may not apply to the end-user applications like web browser, multimedia player or CD/DVD burning application. But for things like cups (printing service) or apache (web server) it is a serious concern. Each distro may offer a unique approach here, because people disagreeing on the details. So it may happen that a specific package from distro A would not work in distro B or may even break its installation. That’s why users are advised *NOT* to install foreign packages on their own without thinking about consequences.

    Compiling a package manually under a given distro typically yields in a working package that’s tailored to this distro (and honestly it’s not so hard as one can imagine). But since then it is the user that’s responsible for maintaining such package and upgrading it when some bugs are found.

    3) Sometimes even a basic structure of config files may be radically different. From my experience the network configuration varies wildly between distros (e.g. Debian, Mandriva, RedHat and Gentoo have it completely different). Apache configuration files are also well known to be differently separated and placed in different directories and under different names in distros. Just because people have different opinions and vision on how it should be done.

    4) Package formats of DEB, RPM, TGZ, .recipe, .ebuild are different enough to be incompatible. In some packages there are little programs (maintainer scripts) that are run at the beginning of the installation or after a package is installed.

    Each package format has a different way of describing dependencies (which other packages need to be installed first before a given package would run correctly). Even RPM or DEB packages from different distros may describe dependencies incompatibly. Even packages from different releases of the same distro may be incompatible!

    Package formats also evolve, for example recently Ubuntu and Debian introduced the concept of package triggers, independently of pre-inst or post-inst scripts. Yes, this mechanism is backward compatible, but you get the idea.

    Concluding, there are incentives to minimize the differences, like the noble FHS (Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard) or LSB (Linux Standard Base). So the problems are worked on, but for now it’s really hard to create a package that would run unchanged in a number of distros. I don’t say this would not change in the future, but I hope you now understand the problems here.

  18. A scholarly article indeed, SirYes. Thanks. I guess the concept bubbling around in my head was not to produce a single repository for all Linux flavours, but for a toolkit which would compile source into _every possible combination_ of binary packages. I imagined this might work in the same way as a cross compiler which produces versions for eg. Mac, Windows, Linux.

    Maybe this is just impractical as there are too many combinations, but then again I’m nowhere near as expert as you appear to be on the matter.

  19. Why don’t u try install ubuntu in my HP Proliant ML 110? Ubuntu fanboys someday the heaven will collapse in your head, and your arrogant against other linux user will be gone forever. Sure you guys are a saint, an elder, a proffesional and a damn f***in linux hardcore, but let’s face it you guys are an ordinary human just like me. You guys are no better than flesh and blood like me.
    Realize man, were not living in Compiz Fussion Cube, but real world. There are so many people out there, not only your community. Were making friends not enemy. Treat us like human, not an snoop dog in your playground, lend us hand, give us real answer that solve our problem. I have no direct internet and somewhere in windows jungle. How can get synaptic work huh. If you can help people like me, then f*** u all.

  20. Hi Jay, sounds like you’re a little frustrated. I agree linux isn’t for everyone, and it sometimes takes a little work to get things working.

    I’m surprised that an HP box is giving you so much hassle, as HP is a supporter of Linux. However I see from a google search that a lot of people are having problems. It sounds like a hardware issue to me, and frankly Windows has those as well — if you don’t have the correct drivers, then your hardware won’t work.

    First of all I suggest you take a look at the HP page for your server. http://h18004.www1.hp.com/products/servers/linux/ml110g5-drivers-cert.html

    It seems that your best choices for running linux would be Redhat Enterprise (so you can also use the OpenSource Centos which has the same code base), and Suse, which is available as an OpenSuse distro.

    If you really must use Ubuntu for whatever reason, I’m guessing that playing about with a Live Boot CD and changing the boot options will eventually give you a CD that boots. (eg noapic acpi=off etc). Once you’ve booted the CD, you can install it from the desktop.

    If you don’t have direct internet access, then installing any operating system is going to be a challenge, as there is a great deal of help available there, and you’ll need to install patches, and perform system updates using the internet as well.

    Finally, as a general rule of thumb, if you’re asking for help from someone, its usually best if you don’t shout obscenities at them!

  21. Ubuntu lost my faith, they constrict themselves to deadlines that even if everything is not up to snuff it gets released as stable when in all actuality it is a beta release, but I would do that to if I had a paid support section.

  22. Hi Dave,

    Yes I know what you mean. Ubuntu is like a building site in which construction never finishes. I lost faith with 7.10 and then regained it with 8.04. Lets see what the next upgrade breaks. 😉 Incidentally I don’t know if you tried Kbuntu 8.04, but that was so broken it was unusable.

    I recently had a kernel upgrade for Ubuntu 8.04 which broke my wireless drivers. Luckily it wasn’t on my main laptop, but if it had been, I’d be spitting feathers by now.

    But you bring up an interesting point. Windows has a release every two or three years. Upgrading from one iteration to another is major pain. Ubuntu on the other hand commits itself to lots of small breaks on every 6 months, but no real major upgrade problems. Not sure at this point which I prefer. Maybe you’re right, a release of Ubuntu once a year would be enough. Or maybe they do that already but the .10 release is more akin to a service pack.

    Hmmm. Pontificating too much here. I’d better get on with some work.

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