First Impressions of SolydK, Manjaro, and PCLinuxOS

Canonical's decision to embrace Mir and abandon X and Wayland has consequences for Ubuntu derivatives such as Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Linux Mint. Also, I've noticed that Canonical's development has been focused on features that mean nothing to me, such as the Unity desktop. I feel that Shuttleworth has a vision for my desktop that differs dramatically from my own. This means Ubuntu and I must part ways at some point in the future. For that reason, I've been exploring other distros in the hopes of finding one that can replace the various Ubuntu derivatives I have been using.

I evaluated Open Suse 12.3 several months ago, but Open Suse still hasn't figured out intuitive printing and a lot of other basics, which is curious. I have the impression that Open Suse doesn't really want new users. Open Suse seems to be the beta-testing sandbox for Suse Enterprise, just like Fedora is the beta-testing sandbox for Red Hat.

I tried SolydK out the other day. I was impressed that it offered to install the ATI proprietary driver for me. A most auspicious beginning! Not every distro offers that kind of service, for sure. I was very pleased seeing it download ATI's fglrx.

But then when I rebooted (as recommended), I got the black screen with nothing visible. Nothing to be done there. Pressed the power button. Second time around, I chose Recovery Mode and got the command line. I typed in "StartX" to see what happens and got the "Solyd blacK" screen again with nothing visible. I can't work without seeing what I'm doing, sorry, I'm not a Jedi Knight yet, only in training. Hit the power button. I then rebooted again in Recovery Mode and uninstalled Plymouth via "sudo apt-get remove plymouth", based on suggestions in the SolydK forum for someone who also used ATI and had a similar problem. No dice. I've now rebooted four times to a "Solyd blacK" screen. I am guessing this is a problem that only affects users with ATI graphics who choose the recommended options of installing the proprietary driver and using Plymouth.

One more thing I'll note is that early in the install process, Solyd identified my hard drives as sda and sdb, and the description for both was "Model". That would deter any Windows user right away, because it is unclear which drive the system will be installed on, and clicking "Forward" might very well begin the install process for all the user knows. As a Linux veteran, I knew to boot up Partition Editor to find out what sda was, but not every user will know to do that. Yet I noticed on several SolydK reviews, there were screenshots where the drives were clearly identified during the install process, so maybe this too is a problem that just impacts my rig.

My next experiment was Manjaro Xfce 0.87.1. With dismay I noted that it was using the same installer as Solyd. Sure enough, I got the same problem with my hard drives being identified only as sda and sdb. This time around, I opted to disable Plymouth, but install the proprietary driver. Manjaro installed, and I rebooted, but Grub spat out an error and went into recovery mode. That was the end of my experiment with Manjaro.

Next, I tried PCLinuxOS, 64-bit KDE version. I first heard of PCLinuxOS and indeed about Linux in general through Piers Anthony's excellent and entertaining blog. The fact he used Linux was a big factor in persuading me to give Linux a try, especially after Microsoft dumped Vista and then Windows 8 on an unsuspecting public. I have been pleased with Linux and glad I learned about it, and I wish with all my heart that more people used Linux.

PCLinuxOS installed without any problems. As one reviewer noted, the installer could use additional refinement, such as a Back button in addition to the Forward button, and maybe a few other little things, but it worked out well for me in the end. "Unrefined" is perfectly okay, when set in contrast with "not working at all." Possibly the most important aspect about a distro is ease of installation, because without the initial install, nothing else happens, and installation forms a strong first impression.

For me, PCLinuxOS's main charm that sets it above the Ubuntu family of distros is the premise I won't have to reinstall later, a major headache for Ubuntu users. I also like how easy it was to update and to install my network printer. Setting up the printer was a trial with OpenSuse 12.3 and influenced me to abandon Open Suse. I've been pleased with PCLinuxOS so far and appreciate some of its features, such as installing everything including the kitchen sink, which annoys some reviewers but pleases me. I can easily uninstall what I don't like, and I think it is helpful to have the apps there to play with, because otherwise I might never find them on my own. I thought the option for changing the wallpaper could have been more intuitive--I had to google for the solution--but that's a minor demerit.

In conclusion, I think that PCLinuxOS deserves to be higher on the DistroWatch list than it is at present. It is a solid, easy-to-use distribution, which is what I want and expect from a distro. As Canonical's strategic decisions continue to impact Ubuntu-based derivatives, I think more and more people are going to migrate over to PCLinuxOS in the years to come.