I’ve been wanting to try Arch Linux for quite some time now. They seem to have a similar aesthetic to Gentoo in that the main mission of Arch is to build your operating system from the ground up. You only add the things you need. So you don’t have any cruft on your system based on what some other people think you should have. So let’s pop this CD in and see what happens! (I’m also following the directions on http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Official_Arch_Linux_Install_Guide) The disc is the 2009.08 snapshot. I booted into the LiveCD.
This is not what I expected for a LiveCD (not in a bad way, I just thought it would be a graphical desktop like most LiveCDs are) After looking at the documentation I decide to do an interactive install, so I login as root and get going.
Since I’m following the instructions online, I will only comment here on whatever I find interesting or difficult. I went with all the defaults on everything up to when it came time to select the file system and I selected ext4. After I partitioned, it died when I tried to select packages.
After that it refused to partition again and kept erroring out. Very, very b ad. Right now if I’m trying to install this on my main machine I’m thinking that Arch Linux sucks. I’ll try a reboot and see if that fixes the problem. Before rebooting I go in there and mess with all the stuff. Eventually it gets rolled back and we can finally create some partitions again. Again I get the same installation error. This is annoying. It looks like it may have been a problem with the repo. Still something they should be careful with. On my third go-around I select the CD for my source instead of the net and I get past that error.
Installation was REALLY quick! All I did for configuration was set the root password. Stayed with all the defaults. And then it’s eventually done and ….
that’s all you get. So I login and take a look around. It’s a pretty bare install. So let’s get some programs! I decide to sync up the packages. It fails, so I check to see if the mirror list is all commented up. Sure enough, that was the problem. I should have looked at that during the installation. OK…. no big deal. Not their fault – it’s my fault. I decide to install emacs because nano is annoying. Some weird thing was conflicting and keeping me from doing that. Whatever. I’ll follow the instructions on getting Gnome. The same package conflicted with this, too. Grr…. I did a system upgrade and that ran. So maybe that was part of the problem. So I wait for that to finish up. Yes! It works now! So I install emacs. Next will be Gnome. As Gnome installed, I realized – Arch Linux is not for those in countries without broadband. I think in the last 45 minutes I’ve downloaded over a gigabyte worth of packages. Then Gnome extras. Finally got it all installed a couple hours later, created a new user, and rebooted. I logged in and hit startx. It didn’t work and neither did gnome-session. It fails out with “cannot open display”. I decide to give it a shot with root. Didn’t work there either. I had to change my /etc/inittab to runlevel 5 and gdm instead of xdm. Rebooted. Hmm….still got some weird error. Now what? I had to install xorg-xinit….That didn’t work. So I installed some more xorg packages. FINALLY!!! Woohoo!
And I login. And there we go, the LASTEST Gnome.
So, it has all the Gnome games, Epiphany, Empathy, and all the official Gnome packages. So, after a few hours I have Gnome up and running and things are good. I think the installation information could be a little better organized on how to get X running, but it’s not too bad. Usually in my Linux reviews I talk about which programs are installed by default. In some ways it’s not important because you can get tons of packages online (well, it depends on how busy system maintainers for your chosen distro are), but in other ways it can be important. For example, users with slow internet connections may be dependent upon whatever comes installed on the disc. Also, a good distro will usually have done the most quality assurance on the packages on the disc. They don’t want the user to have a bad experience out of the gate. But with Arch Linux it doesn’t make sense to talk about this because nothing (other than a bare bones system) is installed by default. It’s up to you to add what you want. So, to wrap things up I’m going to search the repositories for some programs I use every day: Gwibber, gPodder, liferea, and Blender. First up is gwibber. Gwibber was not in the repositories. Blender 2.49, liferea 1.6.1 and gPodder 2.1 were in the repositories. So, of the programs I use every day, only one wasn’t in there, not too bad. Virtualbox open source and closed source editions appeared to be available.
So, it’s conclusion time. What do I have to say about Arch Linux? Arch Linux is hard. It’s way, way harder than Slackware (which LO says is for those who like to bring the pain). Arch Linux is for the user who wants complete and total control over his or her system. (And this is indeed what they claim on their website) While there were some little glitches here and there with the installation and with the documentation w.r.t. getting X up and running, I really don’t have anything to fault Arch Linux about. What you need to know is that it’s hard, it’s time consuming, you need broadband (or a LOT of patience), and you should have a lot of Linux know-how. This should NOT be your first Linux system unless you are a computer prodigy. You should probably even try Slackware before you try Arch. But if you’re all about controlling exactly which bits of which programs are installed on your system, I think Arch Linux is definitely the place for you.