I installed Arch Linux on my laptop. I started yesterday and finished today. That is a little long for a GNU/Linux installation nowadays, but Arch is special. Arch claims to be a simple lightweight linux distribution. And after using it for 24 hours I must say that it is.
Imagine Debian and Slackware coming together. Slackware’s simplicity in configuration and the vanilla approach and Debian’s powerful package management. Add in some Gentoo like source package management and an excellent community that provides these packages. There, you have it. That is Arch linux. Now I have my share of glitches to solve, but what I have now gives me satisfaction. I now know exactly what hardware my system has and what all drivers should go with them. I know exactly how the computer goes about from loading the kernel to the login manager. And I can manage everything on my own. No silly GUI needed . Thats not what Arch Linux stands for though. It stands for the Arch Way. A.k.a Keeping it simple
Why Arch ? Well I hated the initial partitioning scheme I had and had wanted to do something about for a long time. Since I have some time on my hands now, I was planning to re install my Mandriva One 2009 ( which by the way is an excellent OS ). Now I had a CD burned off my desktop computer ( or so I thought ) only, I found that I had forgotten to click the ‘Burn’ button, and I instead had a blank CD. This was kind of rummy. I absolutely _had_ to get a newly partitioned laptop running a fresh GNU/Linux install. I had no ISO files to burn and hence no install media. So I headed over to distrowatch.com and decided to try something different. And I picked Arch , because I had no idea how it worked and whether it was a derivative of some distro. Imagine my surprise when I found that the ISO file was just under 300MB. Anyways I downloaded it, and burned it on to the CD and had the install going.
The install process is kind of like Slackware, only here we have to do more work. It is text based and is fairly straightforward if you know what you are doing. So before starting the install, I headed over to the Arch Linux website which again is well designed and well maintained with a wiki that will guide you through anything concerning Arch. I have not had to consult any other source for documentation on Arch. The beginner’s guide posted there is excellent and is a good read even if you are not installing Arch.
The following is not a walk through for arch install. You will get a better one at the Arch wiki. This is just what I felt about Arch
Okay so I got started with the installation which was run of the mill- partition disk,choose mount points, start install. At the end you are left with a bare bones system sporting nothing other than the barest minimum of what you require. A shell to login to, an editor and the package management tools ( of course along with network management tools). Anyone installing Arch has to build the system up, according to his needs, just like Gentoo.
All configurations are handled inside a single config residing at /etc/rc.conf. You define the OS here in this config file. Very well documented with sane default values and neatly laid out. There is no fiddling with GUI’s, editing init scripts and such lot here. Just a simple little config file. After you have stopped admiring the way the system is organized, you turn your attention to package management.
Pacman is the name of the tool that takes the role of apt-get here. This guy is introduced very early on. While the initial install goes on, you can see that the packages are all just tgz files, just like Slackware, only pacman manages them. After the system is built and configured, you use pacman to install all software you want.
For installing packages
pacman -S packagename
For updating the system.
Nothing great in that. Yum, urpmi and apt-get does that. Well, the great thing comes when you need some software that’s not there in the core/extra/community repositories. That is when you head over to Arch User Community Repository. You can download packages sources from there and get build scripts to build them. Then you can just use pacman to install the generated package. If all that sounds too tedious, there is a package in AUR called yaourt that does exactly this, only you use it like pacman. I know . This build script thing sounds like Slackbuilds.
I ended up installing fluxbox first to get into a graphical system ASAP and then getting firefox. I got KDE 4 yesterday night and tonight I am all set. All of the packages are vanilla ( except the most arch specific things like yaourt and arch linux artwork ). I have most of the things i need now. Except …
- Wireless [ UPDATE : I fixed it after reading through the Wireless Setup ]
- Malayalam input [ UPDATE : I fixed it by creating an Arch package for myself. Took about half an hour.]
I haven’t yet been able to get wireless working, but I haven’t spent much time on it either. Malayalam input is a pain. They don’t seem to carry swanalekha yet. I got the m17n version of swanalekha working with scim, but it seems to be full of glitches.
I almost forgot to mention. The system is superfast ( like F10 ) and is super responsive now. I couldn’t believe it when i clicked on OOO Writer menu entry , it showed the splash screen for a moment and then Writer just appeared. Thats the fastest OOO Writer launch I have ever seen.
Overall, I don’t feel like moving away from it. This feels like Slackware done right. For someone who has been stuck to Slackware for three major versions, it is too good.