Distro Review: Arch Linux 2009.02

Arch logo

Arch logo

After many broken promises and much procrastination, I finally made it onto Arch Linux and that’s where I’ve been for the past couple of weeks now. I had a failed attempt at Arch last year when my hard drive died; not Arch’s fault in any way, but since then I haven’t really had a chance to get back to it. It’s a distro a lot of people tell me about. The Arch fans are always really passionate and enthusiastic in describing it to me; so I figured it was high time I found out for myself what all this fuss was about…

Vital Stats:
*Remember Arch is a rolling release so these just the versions I had at the time*
Distro base – None. It’s a custom distro
Packaging – .pkg.tar.gz (Managed by Pacman)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.28-ARCH
Default Desktop – Doesn’t exactly have one. I installed Gnome 2.26

Pre-amble:

A Lot Of Paper

A Lot Of Paper

My Arch journey began by printing out a huge raft of documentation from the official wiki. I followed their beginners guide and wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without it. Some folks have complained that I harp on too much about how distros will fair with new users, the beginners to Linux. I think it’s important to let people know these things up front and not take an elitist attitude. So let’s get one thing straight and then we can forget about it for the rest of the article. If you’re new to Linux this is not the distro to begin with, not in my opinion. You should try something easier first, then graduate onto Arch later by all means. It’s a distribution for the experienced Linux user as it requires you to set up everything manually in a terminal. It’s a definite learning experience but if you’ve used Linux for a while you don’t need to be scared. Read the documentation, make sure you have plenty of backups and go for it. If I can get it working then the skill barrier can’t be very high, the documentation is the key. Slackware fans will be quick to point out that I gave their distro a pretty hefty booting for similar things a couple of years ago. This is a fair cop, I wasn’t at all prepared for Slackware at the time and I knew nothing about it. I said it was good for learning how Linux really works under the hood and I still think that’s true of both these distros.

Core Installation:

The Arch Wiki

The Arch Wiki

Armed with my wedge of papers and a USB stick loaded with the Arch 2009.02 core install image, I was ready to go. Although I’ve listed this as a review of Arch 2009.02 the version numbering is largely irrelevant when it comes to Arch. It’s a rolling release, which means all the latest software is constantly added and updated. These periodic snapshots are only made so you can install it without having to download 2 years worth of updates. You install the core and then build up the system manually from there with tools like Pacman, the Arch package manager, not the little yellow fella. It’s similar to a base Debian install in some ways. I booted up with the USB stick and started the live system, bringing up a terminal login prompt. As a quick aside, I enjoyed the amusing little lines about installing on a “kerosene powered cheese grater”, at least whoever made this has a sense of humour. There are instructions on the screen for logging in if you don’t have the documentation handy, but I’d recommend you follow the guide; you really won’t get anywhere without it unless you’ve used Arch before. The guide told me the commands I needed to set the right keyboard layout and console font by switching between multiple terminal sessions, ALT+F1 F2 F3 and so on. You can even open the basic documentation in another session if, unlike me, you care about the trees and don’t fancy printing out 75 pages.

Next you type the command “arch/setup” to launch the installer. It will prompt you for most things such as hard drive paritioning, base packages to install and other assorted settings. It’s not too hard to follow and looks very similar to the basic Slackware or Debian installers to me. This is my partitioning scheme:

sda1 = / (root partition), 12gb
sda2 = /home (home partition), 140gb
sda3 = swap, about 4gb

Partitioning Options

Partitioning Options

I formatted the root and swap partitions but left the data intact on my home partition. This is where all my music, videos, documents and assorted gubbins lives. It’s usually 90% full at any given time. I just remove the hidden settings folders starting with “.” before hopping, so as not to muddy the waters. I did of course have full backups of all partitions before starting; that’s vital for any serious distro hopper. Next I decided to install the base and base-devel package groups. The core install was lightening fast with Pacman, it might be because it was from USB flash memory but I was really impressed, a couple of minutes max. When it came to networking I knew I could get my wireless card up during the install, there’s even instructions in the guide, but I figured I’d just plug in an Ethernet cable for now. The next stage of setup is to use a text editor to examine the config files and set the right values. I used Nano for this and while some Vim or Emacs experts may scoff at that, I find it does the job perfectly well. I read through each of the files and followed the instructions in the guide, setting locale to en_GB.utf8 and many other things in “rc.conf”. This is the main config file in Arch and learning how to use it is essential. I would be revisiting the file a lot in the next few days. Although I spent a very long time reading the docs at this stage and also the config files, I’m not 100% sure how much of it I understood. As I commented on the podcast recently, with my ext4 brain most of things will be lost in a week sadly.

Finally, after what must have been an hour or two I was ready to install the GRUB bootloader onto sda, the main internal hard disk in this laptop. It was very straightforward. This might be the end of the installation story with some distros but with Arch it was just beginning. I had a long way to go to reach a working GUI environment.

Adding Your Desktop:

Gnome Desktop

Gnome Desktop

At this stage I was able to boot into my core system and use a terminal session with wired networking. I added a user account, configured Sudo and set up Pacman by editing the mirror list. As the name suggests, the core really is basic so you’ll need to add everything else to make your desktop work. Not just a desktop environment like KDE or Gnome but also Xorg, ALSA and much more. Installing the latest Nvidia driver for my freedom hating graphics card was easy with Pacman, the instructions for setting up your display in the wiki are invaluable. While testing the X server setup with Xterm though I found I had no keyboard or mouse input at all. I tried everything I could think of but in the end had to physically power the machine off to get out of xterm. I did this a few times with different xorg.conf settings before realising I had to setup HAL if I wanted some input. All of this is part of learning curve with Arch but you do feel sometimes like you’re making your own distro. Once I enabled HAL and added it to the end of my rc.conf file (told you it would be back), I was able to use an external USB mouse but not the touchpad on the laptop. This would be enough for now while I installed and set up Gnome, my favoured choice of desktop. This is all covered in the last section of the Beginner’s Guide which I was still following. After installing all the Gnome packages with Pacman – a simple couple of commands by the way – I was able to tell Xorg to fire up a Gnome session on boot. Once I installed GDM to login with I was ready to try my new desktop. I hit a bit of snag however. Every time I tried to log in I was greeted with an error message “System has no Xclients”. It took some head and beard scratching but I fixed it in the end by selecting “Gnome Session” on the GDM session type options. After about 3 hours – maybe 4, I lost track of time – I could log into Gnome from boot up, success!

Pacman Is No Slouch:

Pacman at work

Pacman at work

I’d like to take minute to highlight Pacman. I installed a lot of software with it and it’s a really fast, effective, package manager. Everyone knows I’m a Debian fan and I love Apt but Pacman compares more than favourably. The software repositories for Arch are really deep and I could install almost anything I wanted with a quick command. I installed Skype, Pidgin, Firefox, Rhythmbox, Audacity, Checkgmail and much much more. Installing or updating a package basically involves typing this command:

sudo pacman -S packagename
Still working

Still working

Pacman will then resolve all the dependencies, tell you how big the download is and ask for confirmation before proceeding. You can also completely update your whole system at any time with the following command:

sudo pacman -Syu

The software in the repos is updated daily and new stuff never takes very long to find it’s way into Arch, the admins do a great job of this.

To Gwib Or Not To Gwib?

Gwibber working

Gwibber working

There was one program I couldn’t find in the repos, Gwibber. The bain of my life. I love it and I hate it all at the same time. It’s buggy as hell, crashes on a whim and is constantly under development, but I’m an addicted microblogger and I need my fix. To install this I had to look into the Arch User Repository (AUR). I installed a tool called Yaourt to automate the process of searching and compiling software from AUR, it creates packages for you and then installs them with Pacman. It took a very long time and a lot of reading but I finally got Gwibber 1.0.1 working by installing an older version of pylibwebkit, and then telling Pacman to ignore updates for that package. I was given some great help with this by friends on Identi.ca, one of them even ended up sending me his compiled package for the webkit, thanks Marshall!! Also big thanks to Ken Simeon AKA ScriptMunkee for his great article on installing Gwibber in Arch. It wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped but I had the same problem under Debian. It does show the nature of the Arch community though, they’re so helpful and friendly. At least in my experience. For documentation and community I really can’t fault Arch in any way. I will stop saying “community” now before Jono Bacon sues me.

Finishing Touches:

Running Gconf

Running Gconf

After more than a few hours of fiddling and tweaking, I had my desktop almost perfect. I say “almost perfect” because my keyboard layout was still wrong, the touchpad didn’t work and I didn’t have wireless. Apart from that as I say, perfect. I had follow a guide on the wiki to alter some settings in HAL (it’s back, the revenge); this got my keyboard on UK layout and also enable scrolling with the touchpad. Whilst looking for solutions on the Arch Wiki I did find an article entirely dedicated to my laptop, the Dell m1330, you can’t say fairer than that. Setting up wireless wasn’t too hard. I installed Network Manager with Pacman and edited rc.conf (again) to start the service on boot. Within no time I had wireless up and I was mobile. The finishing touch for me was enabling the Gnome Do 3D dock (docky), it requires you to have compositing graphics enabled. I had some issues with Compiz and disappearing window decorators, an problem I’ve seen and fixed before on other distros but I decided to just enable Gnome compositing instead. To switch on Gnome compositing you need to use the Gconf Editor tool.

Follow these steps:
1. ALT+F2 to bring up the run dialog
2. Enter gconf-editor and press return
3. Look for Metacity under the Apps directory
4. Under “General” you will see a tickbox marked “enable compositing”, tick it

Enabling Compositing

Enabling Compositing

That should do the trick. I find Gnome compositing to be very stable and effective for me, it’s not as fancy as Compiz but it works. It may have taken a long time and been a little emotional at times, but I succeeded with my Arch install, woo hoo! The desktop has been perfectly set up for over a week now. Upgrading with Pacman has been fine and so far I haven’t broken anything, touch wood. I’ve skipped over a few things in the setup because to be honest there’s so much to be said about the Arch journey; it would take me a week to explain it all in detail and you don’t want to read all that. What’s more, I don’t want to write it!

Conclusions:
Ease Of Installation: 1/5 (if you’re not up for learning new stuff forget it)
Stability: 3/5
Community & Documentation: 5/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

VLC

VLC

So what did we learn from this? Well, a hell of a lot about what goes into a Linux distro. How it all works underneath. I’ve had a good time with Arch mostly. It takes some effort and a lot of reading but the community support and in particular the documentation are second to none. I think the main draw of Arch is the rolling release cycle and the constant availability of the latest software. I didn’t find it to be noticibly faster on my hardware than most other distros but it was pretty stable. Updating your whole system with new packages all the time can break the odd thing and I’ve heard horror stories from others of constantly having to fix their Arch installs. All I can say is that I didn’t experience this myself, in my brief stay. Maybe those issues would surface more over time. If you want to learn about Linux and expand your knowledge then following the guide and installing Arch is a great way to do this. It’s certainly an adventure but you need to have a lot of spare time, you can’t do it in a rush. There are many rewards and it feels great when you’re done. I will definitely be cloning this install with Clonezilla before moving on, I invested a lot of time in it. Some people will be quick to point out there’s stuff I’ve missed like the Arch Build System and this is true. I feel there’s a lot more I could learn with Arch and 2 weeks probably isn’t enough. I must press on but no doubt I’ll be back for round 2 at some stage in the future.

Gnome Details

Gnome Details

For me personally, while I’ve enjoyed my time on Arch a lot, I’m not sure it would be my long term home. I hop around a lot anyway so that’s not saying much, but I don’t think I’d want to go through that setup every time. It would get easier each time you do it of course but I’m not sure it’s for me, maybe I’m lazy. In fact there’s no maybe about it. I’m going to try Chakra to see if it provides a version of Arch with less initial work, this is against “the arch way” I know, sorry if this offends people. Arch is a great distro and above all it’s something different, there’s a lot to be said for that in a world filled with Debian derivatives and Red Hat clones. Everyone likes to see something original now and then. If you’re reasonably experienced and/or willing to learn you should have a crack at Arch I think. Follow the docs and you’ll be fine. It’s not as scary as some people make out. It does take some time and effort but it’s rewarding and I’m glad I can say I’ve done it. Hopefully some of that hard earned knowledge sticks. Try it for yourself and let me know how you get on.

DOWNLOAD ARCH LINUX

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Up next…
I’m going to install Chakra next as I mentioned. It’s an Arch-based distro with a simplifed installer. I expect that will be a quick hop but you never know, I might stay longer. If you have any suggestions you’d like me to try out then please leave a comment, send an email, courier pigeon or shout it out of the nearest window. I’ll do my best to oblidge. I hope you’ll join me next time for another adventure…

About Dan

Hi I'm Dan, I'm the nutter who creates the content here and oversees things. You can read more about me on the biog page if you like. Thanks :)
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69 Responses to Distro Review: Arch Linux 2009.02

  1. timdor says:

    Enjoyed reading your review of Arch. I have used Arch for a little under a year and have been extremely satisfied with it. So far there have been only couple of times when I have run into any trouble with it. Last summer there were problems when there was a major upgrade to Xorg. The documentation for fixing the problem was immediately posted. I also ran into problems upgrading from KDE 4.1 to 4.2. I ran out of room on my disk. Should have removed KDE 4.1 first.

    What I have learned while using Arch is that to be careful and read the documentation before doing major updrades. Also, I usually update once each day. So far, outside of the two previous instances, Arch has given me fewer problems than any other distro. Currently I am using a custom built kernel from Aur on my Aspire One. My netbook works so well with this kernel that I almost never use any other computer.

    One other piece of advice if you choose to use Arch – install a console based browser like w3m. If something goes wrong, you should at least be able to start a console. Most likely if you can browse the Arch website, you will quickly find a solution to your problem.

    Arch may not be for everyone, but you won’t know if it is for you unless you try it. For 2 years I hopped from one distro to another. Although I check Distrowatch at least once a week, I have had no desire to try any other distribution. Why should I? With Arch, I get the latest software,custom built kernel for the hardware I use, and so far, as stable a system as any other I tried.

    • Dan says:

      @Timdor – Thanks for reading. That’s really good advice about installing a console browser to look up documentation if you get stuck. I tend to use Lynx but any console browser would do. I didn’t think of advising that but it makes perfect sense, well said. Glad you’re happy on Arch too :)

  2. Andy says:

    That was a really good read Dan, thanks. I have been using Arch for about 8 months or so now and been a fan for about 6. Reason is for the first 2 months or so I just couldn’t get the thing working properly, having said that I had only been using linux for 6 months before that and had no real experience of the command line, which brings me to the Arch Wiki. I believe all distros should take a look at the Arch Wiki and follow suit, the information held there is stunning, and the forum is exactly how you described, really helpful and willing to help, they all have a passion for the distro which makes you actually feel you’re part of something.

    Gnome is my favourite too, saying that though I have on occasion got a little tiresome of it and had wanted to try another wm/de, again reading the Arch Wiki you can easily install any of the major ones aswell as the not so major ones, but it’s the ease at which this can be done and with a simple command can all be cleaned out again.

    I will lastly touch on Pacman. I never got to use Debain much as nothing played right with my system but did enjoy the simplicity and power of apt-get but I have to say that in my opinion Pacman is level if not better than apt-get.

    Thanks again for the article, maybe see you back with Arch again someday.

    • Dan says:

      @Andy – You moved to Arch after only using Linux a few months and had no real experience of the command line? Wow, that’s impressive. You must be a natural :) As I said I find the community around Arch is fantastic and their wiki is certainly the best I’ve seen. I agree that other distributions could learn a few things from it.

  3. Shawn says:

    Nice review, I also had the same experiences a few years ago when I did my first Arch install. It took me about 2 weeks to decide and to finally replace Arch with the newest Ubuntu (8.04) and I still have mixed feelings about it to this day, so the CloneZilla theory is a good recommendation! On the positive side, though, as you mentioned, Chakra is something I’ve used over the past 2 weeks. While the Arch philosophy does get passed over by doing a GUI install, when all is said and done, it’s still Arch that’s running the system so having some key knowledge of Pacman and how to use it will still be necessary.

    Chakra’s installer is awesome, it’s comparable in looks and functionality to openSUSE and Sabayon as far as I’m concerned. While it’s still in an Alpha 2 stage, it works more often than not from my browsing and hearing experiences of it. Chakra will defintely help you save time as you’ll have all the repositories you need already set up and ready to roll as far as installing new programs and updating. Anyways, before this reply turns into a review of Chakra, I’ll let you do it and will await your take on it! Solid review!

  4. Mike says:

    Nice review, though it’s actually the “Arch Build System”.

    I keep meaning to reinstall Arch on my desktop computer simply to get a look at the new installer. I feel left out because there were no kerosene-powered cheese graters mentioned when I last installed Arch :(

    • Dan says:

      @Mike – Doh, thanks for pointing that out I’ll update the ABS bit now. I did chuckle a little at the cheese grater line, it was very good :)

  5. KimTjik says:

    As usual you do a good and honest review. Personally I’m an Archer and have been for a couple of years and since I started I’ve lost interest in distro hopping.

    “Ease of installation” would have been a 2/5 when I made my first attempt, but as time goes by while doing several more installations on new computers, for the workplace, as a replacement computer to my mother-in-law and so on, it soon enough becomes a 5/5. Furthermore it’s among the easiest systems I’ve dealt with when you want to do make a custom system, be it some kind of server solution, multimedia system or something else.

    That things break might be true, but very seldom without specific information from the pacman output or from the community about how to fix it. This seldom has anything to do with Arch, but since we in a rolling system live through all overhauls in packages like Xorg we at times have to adjust accordingly. Personally I hope this clean approach of not messing systems by automated scripts, even though it at times, very few in my two years of use, means extra work.

    As it is today Arch fill a niche between Slackware and Gentoo (my ruff description), and it looks like quite many Linux users look for just such a distribution.

    Good luck with your continuing work!

    • Dan says:

      @KimTjik – That’s a good description I’d say “the niche between Slackware and Gentoo”, it fits pretty well. I haven’t had a proper go at Gentoo and it’s been a while since I tried Slackware but I’d say I prefer Arch right now. Thanks for reading, much appreciated

  6. Faemir says:

    Just to let you know, you didn’t have to print out that guide, it’s actually on the install cd so you could have read it on a different TTY :P

    • Dan says:

      @Faemir – Yep, I commented on it in the early section of the article when I said if you cared about trees you could use the docs from the disc. Thanks for pointing it out though, I didn’t make it massively clear in the text. I like to have the printed docs in some cases because I’m old school. It would save a lot of paper though you’re right :D

  7. dan says:

    Awesome review, great read as always.

    >I think it’s important to let
    >people know these things up front and not take an >elitist attitude.

    This one made my heart sing. 100% ACK ^^

    dan

    • Dan says:

      @Dan – Thanks mate, glad you enjoyed it. It’s hard to guage the audience for an article sometimes but I wouldn’t want a brand new Linux user to read this and think Arch is for them so best to get it out of the way first.

  8. Mike says:

    @Dan – I forgot to mention that I installed Arch in February of last year, after first moving to Linux in November the year before. I don’t think you need to be a natural at using the command line, you just have to be able to follow instructions. Though, a friend recently gave up installing Arch after finding it too difficult and moved to Debian so I could be wrong there.

  9. Mike says:

    Oh, and Arch is pretty quick to install if you do what I do and just write a script to download, install, and (partially) configure everything for you.

  10. Dan says:

    @Mike – I know a few people who’ve tried to install Arch and failed, it’s not uncommon but like you say if you follow the instructions you should be fine. Nice idea to make a script to install and configure everything for you.

  11. Hanna says:

    From a person who fails. I have tried twice now and I think last time I would have been able to do it, except that my computer died. Anyway I’m determined to get it work one day. And I will do it! (I just need little time. :P)

    Thank you for the interesting review :)

  12. Nobody Important says:

    Yet another fair assessment. I played a bit with Arch just this past Easter weekend.

    It was fun (in a I-like-to-cause-pain-to-myself sort of way), but I could never use it full time. I simply don’t have the time or the patience to maintain such a distro.

    Besides, I couldn’t get X running, after nearly five hours of hair-grabbing experimentation. For me, the difficulty was way, way too high for me to ever consider going back. The speed and customization simply isn’t worth it to me.

    Give me easy, watered down distros any day! Debian, please, take me back!

  13. Dan says:

    @Hanna – I’m sure you’ll master it one day, I had a failed attempt due to hardware aswell. It’s taken me almost a year to get back to it. Good luck next time but donn’t beat yourself up over it. It’s not meant to be a chore :)

  14. Eyes-Only says:

    Hi Dan! :)

    Just checking in and wanted to let you know, fab article and review as always! I’m REALLY glad to see you back at the helm here and testing distros once more – brings back memories of “those Good Ol’ Days”, eh mate? ;)

    Seriously though, this was a fab review and I keep coming back to read because of your open, forth-right, and honest conversational style, plus the fact that maybe too my “ext4 brain” just may retain some of this for longer than a week! We can only hope, right?

    I’ve always wanted to try Arch Dan, yet even after 4+ years of Linux I still don’t feel quite comfortable enough in doing so. However Dan, I’ve been reading A LOT lately at the Chakra site and let’s say it has me “tempted” to throw on a partition here. Needless to say I’m very fascinated to see what you have to say about that one mate! Can’t wait! :)

    Keep up the great work Dan and I hope your health is holding up there on that end.

    Amicalement/Cheers!

    Eyes-Only/”L’Peau-Rouge”

  15. Dan says:

    @Eyes-only – Thanks that’s really kind I appreciate it a lot. I’ll let you know how I get on with Chakra, it looks very interesting

  16. Shawn says:

    @Dan:

    If you think the cheese grater line is funny, wait until you see the one used in Chakra ;) You’ll find it in the graphical installer, just to give you a head’s up.

  17. Dan says:

    @shaw – Thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for that then

  18. Marshall says:

    Nice review Dan.
    It would be good to see how well pacman fairs after 12 months or so if you ever reuse your arch clonezilla image. Who knows in 12 months gwibber might even have a stable version and a package in [extra], and save you a lot of hassle.
    Sad to see you leaving the arch fold, but I supose if you don’t there won’t be any more distro reviews to read, every cloud ….

    • Dan says:

      @Marshall – Thanks, I hope you liked your mention too. I wouldn’t have gotten Gwibber working if you hadn’t sent me that package. It was a life saver. I always distro hop and don’t really stay on anything permenantly, so it’s no reflection on Arch. I’m sure I’ll be back at some stage in the future don’t worry :)

  19. cIIIz says:

    cool review, and nice timing I must say, I’m about to hop and Arch was one of the options in my mind.

    Thanks for this review Dan.

  20. John says:

    Stability: 3/5 ??

    Do you really think Arch only has average stability? I’ve been using it for 2 years and have never had any issues. Rock solid. Occasionally Firefox locks up, but that is usually dodgy javascript on crappy high advert containing sites. Nothing that killing firefox through htop hasn’t been able to fix.

    Anyways, apart from that, nice review.

    • Dan says:

      @John – Thanks for the comment. I stand by the stability score because a few things broke for me during system updates with Pacman. This is a personal score obviously and I’m only reflecting my experience. I’m glad you’ve had no stability problems in your 2 years on Arch. Every Arch user I’ve spoken too has told me about the problems they’ve had from time to time, such as the broken Xorg last year. I’m not criticising the distro and I don’t think it’s necessarily unstable, for something that installs cutting edge software constantly it’s very stable. In the overall scheme of things though, compared to something like Debian I think 3/5 for stability is a fair score based on my experience, which is all I can go on. This is only one aspect of the overall review though, it’s worth remembering that ;)

  21. Rob says:

    Great review of Arch. I’ve only been using Arch for a few months now, but I still remember what my first install was like. Was a little hit and miss and had to start over once, and it proved to be a good learning experience.

    Since then, I’ve performed a few more install of Arch and have gotten it down to where it’s as easy for me as installing Ubuntu is.

    Nice review and I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say.

  22. Alex says:

    I wonder if Arch is the “Binary Gentoo” I’m looking for for my
    netbook? One thing I really like about Gentoo is being able to specify
    some components as stable and others as bleeding edge. However I’m not
    going to start compiling on my netbook. Arch’s rolling release concept
    sounds interesting.

    • Dan says:

      @Alex – I know a few people from our podcast forum who run Arch on their eeePC and are very happy with it. They say it’s a good fit, might be worth a try :)

  23. Gen2ly says:

    Looks like you took an out-of-the-box approach to this and makes for a good review. Just FYI i found the guys on #archlinux at freenode very very helpful with general problems like your trackpad issue.

    • Dan says:

      @Gen2ly – Yes the help from other Arch users is fantastic, I highlighted that. I found lots of information on the forum and the wiki which fixed it for me :)

  24. McMar says:

    Nice review, I loved to read it. But there is one big thing I missed in the article and the discussion. You’re right, it takes more or less time to get Arch to work perfectly. But once you have done that, you will do it (almost) never again, because the rolling release don’t force you to do it. You simply don’t need much time to maintain Arch.

    • Dan says:

      @McMar – Thanks, yes maintainence is a good point. I’ve had to fix a few things after upgrades but nothing major and it’s good to know you can find help quickly if anything does go wrong.

  25. W says:

    Nice article!
    I’ve been using Arch for about one month now on daily basis. No problems so far. I installed it on a PC, so it was little easier and faster than installing it on a notebook (i.e. no touchpad, wireless card, etc). I even upraged major packages (gnome 2.24 to 2.6, Xorg-server 1.5.3 to 1.6, kernel 2.28 to 2.29) and had no problems :-)

    • Dan says:

      @W – Installing on a desktop would save some trouble with the touchpad and wireless, but these weren’t too hard to set up. They were probably one of the easiest parts of the install to fix. Glad you’re happy on Arch, thanks for reading :)

  26. aram says:

    I installed Arch for the first time although I have done linux installation umpteen times. The most appreciable thing about is, it keeps installation straightforward and documentation very crisp and to the point. Earlier I wanted to get my hands dirty with Gentoo, but with its buggy installer, I didnt want to get my face dirtied! Like Gentoo it is a rolling distro,but smooth rolling for that matter.
    By the by, I couldnt get to install Gnome as it reported absence of Xclients, but KDE4.2 installed without any fuss if we follow the instructions carefully.
    Thank God for a good distro!

    • Dan says:

      @aram – Glad you are enjoying Arch. I mentioned that Gnome error “lack of Xclients” in the article. You just need to select your session type as Gnome the first time you log in. After that it will remember it as a preference, for some reason there’s no default session type the first time till you set one. Hope that helps a bit :)

  27. Kyle says:

    I’ve installed Arch many times now myself. I’ve only been using Linux about 3 years, but it’s part of my job so I’m pretty adept at it now.

    I’ve finally got to the point with Arch where I can get it online and configured just as quickly as my Ubuntu installs. Honestly, the only 2 distros I even bother with anymore are Arch and Ubuntu. Ubuntu I like to use simply out of curiosity as I believe that is the “best” linux for newbies, however Arch is where my heart is. Finally got around to buying the Arch “gear” if you will.

    Hopefully you try it again some day Dan. As for the gdm starting. You could’ve edited your /etc/inittab file and changed the default id to 5 instead of 3, and setup your default ‘x’ to gdm instead of xdm. It’s easily commented out/uncommented in the /etc/inittab file.

    Cheers
    Kyle

    • Dan says:

      @kyle – I’m sure I will try it again in future. I move every other week or so to do reviews, so I was never going to stay. That’s not a reflection of Arch. I distro hop on my main machine because I think it’s only way to give a proper review, when you rely on a distro and use it full time for a while. Thanks for reading :)

  28. morphix says:

    One of my previously close friends used to and still runs Arch (he has been for excess of around 4 years).

    After his suggestions i tried installing it on my hardware and at the time, support for my chipset/motherboard were quite poor and then also when i got another newer motherboard same situation which ultimately gave me a couple of days wasted time in attempts to have it do no more than install and then kernel panic.

    I may give it another whirl as i am currently using Ubuntu and find debians ways of dependencies slightly bloated not to mention i like having a nice and minimal system.

    Hopefully i can now move to another distro that works apart from my current Ubuntu :)

    I’ll advise once i have made my attempts.

  29. Nik_Doof says:

    Another excellent review.

    I started on Arch around the same time as you, I really think i’ve found my home distro. Debian will always be there for my rock solid servers but Arch plays nice as a desktop distro. I’m so confident in it i’ve also got it on my EeePC.

    I’ve only got one outstanding issue with Arch which I can’t seem to solve (HAL, PolicyKit, and PowerManagement permissions), except that I’ve had a straight run.

  30. Dan says:

    @Nik_Doof Thanks, that’s sounds cool. You’ve left the Crunchbang fold then? :O Hehe :)

  31. xvedejas says:

    I think next you should try LFS, even if just because you earn the title of “leet linux hacker” if you can get it to work. In my experience, their community is nicer than the arch one, and you’ll finally get to give a “distro” (if you can call it that) a 0/5 on ease of installation. Hey, it will be fun, but beware, it could take anywhere from 4 to 12 hours to install. Still, better than gentoo.

    • Dan says:

      @xvedejas – :D LFS is quite a challenge yes but I’ll put it on the list for the future. It won’t be for a while though as I have plenty of other stuff to get through and there’s some big releases due out in the next month.

  32. Michael says:

    I’m sure thats a perfectly legal copy of family guy there Dan ;)

  33. dsfds34 says:

    got arch installed a few annoyances here [vlc freezes thunar and sometimes ffmpegthumbnailer eats all the cpu power] and there but it works well otherwise

  34. Thomas says:

    “I’m going to try Chakra to see if it provides a version of Arch with less initial work, this is against “the arch way” I know, sorry if this offends people.”

    This is not true. “The Arch Way” only says that Arch will not take away the possibility for the “simple” installation and configuration that gives the user full control.

    The core Arch team will probably not provide fancy GUI installers and such in the near future, but there is no reason why a community project shouldn’t do so. You see, the great thing about the Arch Linux community is that when the Arch developers won’t do something and it is requested often enough, some community project will provide it (famous examples are KDEmod and yaourt).

    • Dan says:

      @Thomas – The Arch community is great and I’ve said that many times, I tell everyone. When I read through the beginners guide and some of the background documentation I got the impression that learning to configure everything manually was the Arch way, and they have no intention of providing simplified installers. I thought the idea was that users should learn and educate themselves. Maybe I misunderstood that. As it turns out I haven’t made it onto Chakra yet but I will soon. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment

  35. tom says:

    well, if you ever tried to install a source-based distro you’d find that arch if way to easy and straitforward. i started with gentoo and ended up with arch. that doesn’t mean i left gentoo. but i use it mostly on servers and workstations. arch is more suitable for laptops and mainly when i don’t have time to spare for complete gentoo install :)

  36. Thomas says:

    @Dan: Yes, learning how to do it yourself is part of the Arch way and it is part of what we encourage people to do.

    I think I failed to make my main point above: Nobody is going to be offended. The contrary is the case, contribution is very important and we have a userbase with many passionate contributors. If some of them care to make a cool installer and GUI configuration tools, then why shouldn’t they? (although personally I think it’s a waste of time, someone else still might find them useful).

    I like how you enjoyed our community and maybe you’ll be back one day – after all, Arch has already ended many distro-hopping journies.

  37. Dan says:

    @Thomas – Right I get you now. I did enjoy Arch a lot but I’m afraid nothing will stop my distro hopping. I’d have nothing to write about :D

  38. jjdominguezm says:

    Save some trees and don’t print the installation manual. The manual is somehwere in /arch/doc/… I can’t remember the exact place, but I find it easily every time I install Arch

    • Dan says:

      @jjdominguezm Thanks for the tip. I did say that in the article if you look. I’m also not sure it’s the full manual that’s included, it’s only the start I think. I could be wrong but that’s what I read

  39. Sherry says:

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you for your interesting and informative review. I started out on Slackware back in the 90s, and have distro hopped to just about everything over the years. I ran Gentoo for a couple of years, but decided to try Arch after hearing you mention it on Linux Outlaws at one point. I’ve been on Arch now on my Macbook, for a couple of months, and other than a short setback when a jpeg library was updated before the packages that depend upon it, and consequently a frantic search to find the pacman log, so that I could roll back what was broken, it has worked very well for me. If I’d waited a few hours and updated again, everything would have been fixed anyway… I think it really is a nice compromise between gentoo and slackware. I like having the package manager and the speed of a binary based distro, yet the freedom to keep my system as minimalistic as I choose, and I absolutely fell in love with rolling releases when I was on Gentoo, so of course that caught my eye on Arch immediately. My son has a very similar layout using Debian Testing on his laptop, but I also found I like the way Arch sets up the rc.conf as a “one file configuration”, which Debian doesn’t give you. At least for the present, Arch has won me over. “yaourt -Syu –aur” sounds complicated, but it’s great what you can do in one simple command.

  40. davemc says:

    Hey Dan. Late read on this I know. (You just gave me the link to this from your latest review, so thanks) I installed Arch beginning of July and had an easier time of it ~because~ I did some test installs via VirtualBox on my prior Fedora 10 install (same machine). You see, I knew Arch was no easy install so I figured I would learn “the Arch way” in a test environment where I would also still have a functioning system and if things went wrong, no harm done. Surprisingly, my VirtualBox install went flawless if not overlong due to reading all the docs.

    When I installed it for real I had w3m up in a vc so I had ready access to google. Thank goodness for this because I did run into a few minor issues while getting GNOME to load (same as you)! Anyway, I am still up and running today on that same install and have had no issues, no instability, no trouble with upgrades including both kernel and revision upgrades, and two full NVIDIA driver upgrades since. The boot times are slower than Fedora 11 and alot slower than Ubuntu Karmic, BUT what is important to me is how things perform after you login, and to me, there is no question that Arch truly shines above and beyond. Apps load FAST, system resource usage is remarkably less (due to no unnecessary background processes running), and overall the system is just darn snappy! Reminds me of my Gentoo install very much although without the 2 day install.

    I would put Arch’s stability at 4/5 right at Debian Sid. Install at 3/5. Docs at 5/5. Overall user experience at 5/5 mainly because with Arch you delve into the depths of Linux in a much gentler and user friendly way than Slackware or LFS and in the end are left with a system you cant help but be very proud of.

  41. Dan says:

    @davemc – That’s a good idea learning the install process in a VM, sound advice. As you know I favour a “head first” approach to distro testing and I try not to blame the review candidates for that, it’s my choice. There’s no substitute for preparation. Glad your Arch system is still up and running. I do like the rolling release cycle. I know quite a few Arch users and there’s no doubt it teaches you a lot about Linux in general. I think you’re right in your comment, it’s a system you can be proud of when you get it all working. It feels like an achievement

  42. spoudumen says:

    touchpad ==

    pacman -S xf86-input-synaptics

    great review

  43. Tom B says:

    Nice review,
    The one thing I really wanted to point out is that you said, “I didn’t find it to be noticibly faster on my hardware than most other distros but it was pretty stable. ”
    I am sure that is true for you but I did not see in your article what you installed Arch onto? (the most important “Vital Stat” ;-)
    But, I suspect you are running it on a newer computer with a lot of RAM.
    I am running Arch with the Gnome desktop on an old pentium 3 with a 450mHz processor and 312MB of RAM that I previously had Ubuntu on it.,
    I can tell you with essentially the same software loaded on Arch as Ubuntu 9.10 that Arch is a lot faster!

    Of course if you have tons of Ram and a faster processor you are not going to notice much of a speed difference because the computer itself makes up for it, but try loading Arch on an older machine and you will be blown away with the speed difference.

    I also run Puppy linux on this machine and by way of comparison (for those familiar with how fast and good Puppy is with old hardware) I can tell you from expereince that running Arch with the Gnome desktop and the default JRE desktop in Puppy I cannot notice ANY difference with the speed of Arch VS. Puppy even when loading video and large programs like Open Office.

    I highly recommend Archlinux to anyone, not only for the speed, but just because it is the most fun I have ever had with a distro!

    Tom

    • Dan says:

      @Tom – Oh yes the hardware I was using was considerably faster and I thought I’d mentioned that in the article, I usually do in the installation bit. Looking through again now I can’t see it though. Maybe I forgot back when I wrote this. It was a long time ago. I know Arch runs well on older hardware because unlike Ubuntu which comes with the kitchen sink, you choose only the parts you actually need for your system. It makes it much more streamlined and easily tuned to suit your needs. I like Arch and I can see why it has so many enthusiastic fans. It’s a good system and I’ve recommended it to a few people who knew what they were doing, and were in a position where it could be of benefit. It’s not something I’d recommend to a novice, but that’s probably obvious. Really glad it works well for you and you’re having fun. Keep at it! :)

  44. March says:

    Most people try Arch because they think they’re being clever. All this stuff about Arch being difficult to install is just rubbish, it’s time consuming, not difficult. And after all that setting up you’ve got a system that’s no better than Ubuntu that installs in less than half an hour. I actually found Ubuntu 9.04 to boot and run quicker than Arch + Xfce4.

    One other thing, about the Arch forums…it’s a boring place….lots of people slapping themselves on the back and thinking that they’re clever because they’re using a system that needs constant repairing thanks to ‘pacman -Syu’.

    Arch is for people with more time than sense.

    Arch fanboys are worse than mac fanboys. Not only do they think that everything else is wrong and bad, but they try to convert everyone to their cause.

    • Dan says:

      @March – I have experienced over enthusiastic Arch fans who won’t leave you alone once or twice, but the majority I’ve met had been cool.

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