Since the HP laptop used for this test only has a 30 gigabyte disk, I split the space used by Fedora 13 between PCLinuxOS Xfce and PCLinuxOS LXDE. With only 512 megabytes of memory, lighter weight desktops are a plus. Besides, this was a chance to compare Xfce and LXDE from one Linux community. This is my first round with PCLinuxOS, so my comments do not reference any previous versions.
I installed version 2010.07 of PCLinuxOS Xfce from a Live/Install CD. The install script provides very few configuration options outside of configuring the disk and creating a root password. It does use Legacy Grub. To avoid wiping out my Grub2 on the MBR, I installed the Legacy Grub on the root partition for the distro. When I rebooted the system, I went into Linux Mint 9 and ran update-grub2. It found PSLinuxOS and created a new menu. There were only two issues:
- When selecting PCLinuxOS from the boot menu, the boot failed. The initrd line for PCLinuxOS was initrd (hd0,4)/boot/initrd.img, which confused Grub2. I manually edited the Grub2 menu to remove the (hd0,4) reference, and then the boot worked.
- The titles for the PCLinuxOS are a bit spartan, to say the least. They are Linux, nonfb and failsafe. It would not have taken much more time to write descriptive titles.
After booting into PCLinuxOS Xfce, I finished the install, which essentially meant creating a user account. Before doing any exploring, I changed the /boot/grub/menu.txt file to fix the errors, and made the titles more descriptive. I then rebooted back into Linux Mint 9 to build a new Grub menu. The boot menu now looks good and works.
For older machines, the burning question is “Does Xfce require less memory?” Under Linux Mint 9 with the Gnome desktop, the free command shows 77,980 KiB of free memory. The amount of free memory jumps to 301,144 KiB, when adding in reclaimable caches and buffers. The same values of PCLinuxOS XFCE are 179,068 KiB and 320,516 KiB. Subject to usual caveats, Xfce is the clear winner in raw free memory, and edges out Gnome in available memory. Stealing memory from buffers and caches generally hurts system performance. While somewhat over simplified, the Linux kernel prefers to hang onto buffers and caches rather than re-reading the information from a disk. For example, the kernel holds onto the i-node information from a directory on the assumption that some process may read another file from the same directory. When an application needs more memory, the kernel can release the information held in this cache to fulfill the request. While it is not an exact measure, Xfce does have the advantage on memory usage, when compared to Gnome.
As for applications, the LiveCD contains a minimal set of applications, which does not include OpenOffice. Before you can add or update applications, you need to select a repository, as the Synaptic Package Manager defaults to the install CD. Unless you plan on having the install CD in the drive, you need to remove it as a repository. Once you select a repository, you can check for updates and install additional software. The PCLinuxOS repository is RPM based and has a smaller set of packages than the major repositories. I was particularly disappointed in the small number of ham radio applications available from the repository.
The default graphic viewer is Shutter, which is a not terribly exciting Perl program. I installed Eye of Gnome as an alternative. I had no problems with the install, and it installed into the correct menu location. The video viewer is Gxine. In some quick tests, it worked correctly with .wmv and .mp4 files. However, it failed on one .flv files, but played the other.
The Network Manager suffers from schizophrenia. When making a wireless connection, the Network Manager tells you that the connection failed, but the icon on the top bar shows the connection as successful. The icon applet is correct. If the network connection drops, there is no easy way to connect again without going through the Network Manager.
My overall opinion of PCLinuxOS Xfce is that it works, but has a lot of rough edges. I would not call it a polished release by any stretch of the imaginatioon. At the moment, I rate XUbuntu as a better distro for Xfce. I am not through testing, and am looking forward to testing Linux Mint 9 Xfce, and openSUSE 11.3 with Xfce as the default desktop. Fedora 13 already failed the test, as I could not login with Xfce as the only desktop installed. I am looking for other suggestions.