In-depth

PCLinuxOS - Rolling on a river

Richard Hillesley charts the trials and tribulations of PCLinuxOS.

Linus Torvalds announced the arrival of the Linux kernel in 1991 to comp.os.minix with the news that "I'm doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won't be big and professional like GNU) for 386(486) AT clones."

Though GNU/Linux is now ubiquitous within the enterprise it is easy to forget that much of the innovation and inspiration behind free software still comes from communities of individuals for whom GNU/Linux is "just a hobby". The contributions of these communities are as important to the popularisation and development of GNU/Linux as the developers employed by IBM or Red Hat.

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The best ideas are just as likely to spring from the users and developers of Debian, Gentoo, Arch or PCLinuxOS, who are contributing for fun, to 'scratch an itch', or just because they can - as they are from the better known and better publicised distributions and sponsors.

The informality of the free software model, and its ability to allow participants to find their own level, encourages innovation and the spread of ideas. Community led distributions are just as important to the success of GNU/Linux as Ubuntu or SUSE or Red Hat.

I love to package

PCLinuxOS is a community driven distribution of GNU/Linux, which began in 2003 with the objective of creating a Linux that was radically simple, "worked out of the box, looked fabulous and didn't require a technical degree from college to get it working."

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At the time, the idea of a live CD - a version of Linux that ran from RAM and didn't need to be installed on the hard disk - was still a novelty. Klaus Knopper's Knoppix had been around since 2000, but the better-known Linux distributions had yet to pick up on the idea.

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The inspiration behind PcLinuxOS, also known as PCLOS, is Bill Reynolds, who is known to fans of PCLinuxOS as Texstar. PCLinuxOS began as an offshoot of Mandrake/Mandriva, to which Texstar had been a long time contributor of third-party packages.

The objective was to build a fast, reliable distribution of Linux, that was both a Live distribution on the model of Knoppix and a fully installable and flexible Linux desktop, driven by Reynolds' passion to make the perfect software package.

"I love to package," he explained. "It is like a puzzle where all the pieces have to fit together or the code doesn't work. That is my favourite part of doing PCLOS."

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