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Archlinux review

 

As promised, here is the review of Arch. It is – again – my very own view of things and I bet that many will see things differently than I do. If you disagree with me here or there, then there is nothing wrong with that. Different users – different views.

 

 

About Archlinux.

 

Arch describes itself as a distro for experienced users and I agree with them. I will explain in the next few paragraphs why I share this view. Arch is an i686 optimized distro. The goal: Let the user build the distro he likes and make it fast. Distros like Arch lay a lot of emphasis on the „fact“ that they are fast, faster, the fastest. In reality we should keep in mind that the speed differences between the most widely used distros are at most some three to five seconds when running a desktop. The kernel/booting is another story.

 

Installation.

 

Day one: I had several options. Download the base CD, the ftp-install CD or the „full“ CD. I chose the latter one (although I grabbed almost everything from the ftp mirrors).

 

Iphitus said that their installer „sucks“ and they know it. My impression is: It is not that bad. If you have installed Slackware before, it ain't hard. Only some things are really frustrating: If you do a mistake somewhere and want to go back, there is no problem. But once you have finished all changes, the installer gets confused sometimes and refuses to do anything as it still has the first configuration stored somewhere. And no, you don't get an error message. Instead, start from scratch again. Okay, five minutes lost.

 

The second thing that is far from ideal is that the installer has almost no documentation at all included. Thus, in order to install Arch, you will have to use a second computer and check the online documentation while installing Arch on the first computer. How ridiculous is that?

 

Once the base system is installed, you reboot and get: to a basic system. No X, no nothing enabled by default. I am only greeted by a console prompt. I looked at the login prompt and thought: Well, let's see how I get into the machine. No explanation anywhere. I type by intuitition „root“ and am instantly logged in. No root password? Stupid idea!. I set up a root password and feel comfortable. Now I download X and the gnome packages and wait some minutes.

 

Now came some configuration stuff. First thing: X. I hack the xorg.conf file with nano, not a big problem for me, but if you don't know your hardware specs, you can likely fry your monitor. :D I set up the sis graphic driver and check with startx the graphical environment and - nada. Luckily I was on IRC and iphitus told me that I need to install the sis module in the new modular Xorg and the module name at once (way faster than googling the right module). Installed, done. Startx works. But everything is in english. No problem I thought, so let's set up the locale the next day. My head feels dead by now.

 

Day two: Basically setting up a locale is not so problematic. Download the locale packages and off you go. Not here. I had to run a locale generator as arch lacks locale packages (yeah, tell me that it is because of glibc, I don't care. I want my proper locales at once!). Not a big problem but not intuitive at all. Now I set up the locale and (Beware of typos! One typo resulted in me fanatically trying to fix a locale problem for a full day.) get a working Gnome desktop. I set up gdm and start adding a user, permissions, groups and so forth from the command line. Everything works except my sound. lspci gave me only vague hints which sound module I need to install. I promptly grabbed the wrong one. :P Off to bed, frustrated.

 

Day three: I found the right module and installed it. Done. Sound works. But Gnome always muted my sound. Okay, time for scripts. I found a script for fixing that problem in the wiki, added it to my box and it finally works. I also fixed the last weird thing: multiple device entries I had. Tyme gave me the tip to remove the fstab entries as the new udev does not require entries in fstab for cds/dvds. Nice. But why does the system add fstab entries for those devices at all if they are not needed anymore? That's outright stupid.

 

Behaviour/Impressions:

 

I am running Gnome. It is very quick, no crashes so far. Only annoyances: Firefox and Openoffice still have english menu entries. The rest is a standard Gnome as I know it from Debian, Fedora and other distros. So I won't add any comment about Gnome. What I will talk about now is: pacman packages and man pages.

 

All those who complain about yum being slow should know: Pacman is just as slow. For me, it is not that important, as I value the quality of the work done over the speed, but I thought I should mention it nonetheless. And using pacman is unintuitive. If you have used apt-get, urpmi, pkginstall, yum and other packagers, would you instantly thing that pacman -S installs packages? Nope. Whoever thought of the shortcuts: He did a bad job. Luckily, there is always the --help function available from the command line. But what do I get?

 

 

usage:  pacman {-h --help}
	pacman {-V --version}
	pacman {-A --add}	 [options] <file>
	pacman {-R --remove}  [options] <package>
	pacman {-U --upgrade} [options] <file>
	pacman {-F --freshen} [options] <file>
	pacman {-Q --query}   [options] [package]
	pacman {-S --sync}	[options] [package]

use 'pacman --help' with other options for more syntax

 

With other options? Which other options do they mean??? Let's check the man page. I type „man pacman“ and get: „No manual page available for pacman.“ Huh? Okay, I check other man pages. Nothing installed. Aha. So let's install man pages with pacman. Nice idea, but it doesn't work unless you have set up some extra repos. I grab the latest package from the mirrors and retry. Still no entry for „man pacman“. This must be a joke. Really.

 

I use the Wiki once more. (One word about the wiki: If you wonder why people ever developed search-tools, go to the Arch Wiki and you know why. It is pretty unorganized and the only way to find something useful really fast is through the search-tool.) There I do find a manual with all options displayed. Why the hell is that one not included in the normal man package? Unbelievable.

 

Now I know most commands of pacman and start using it. But the query tool is a joke. Search for a package with it and you find nothing. Instead you need to use pacman -Ss <term>. Unintuitive, stupid, grade F. Now I type e.g. pacman -Ss alsa and get such incredible results like.

 

extra/gnome-alsamixer 0.9.6-1
Gnome ALSA mixer

 

It is an alsa mixer for Gnome. Wow. I would have never thought of that! And can I have more information on the package please?

 

[root@scipio fabian]# pacman -Si gnome-alsamixer
config: line 8: bad server location
Repository		: extra
Name			  : gnome-alsamixer
Version		   : 0.9.6-1
Groups			: None
Provides		  : None
Depends On		: alsa-lib libart-lgpl libgnomeui
Conflicts With	: None
Replaces		  : None
Size (compressed) : 22435
Description	   : Gnome ALSA mixer
MD5 Sum		   : 5107a1c3d156641ef8b4a958c7e964c7

 

Nope, it only tells me again that it is the Gnome ALSA mixer. Stupid again. Other package manager provide more information. And if you want to install a package, it can be that it sometimes simply quits because of dependencies. But it doesn't tell you about it all the time, so you have to check dependencies again with -Si and install the parent package first. Maybe it is only me being overly critical, but pacman is, based on the options and usability that it offers, perhaps the worst packagemanager I have ever encountered. If you know your way around in the linux world, you can survive with it. If not, it is a pain.

 

As pointed out in my other post already, Mandriva has a lower RAM usage than Arch, for whatever reason. This really disappoints me, as I expected this to be just the opposite way around. The boot-speed is almost identical to Debian, Gentoo and Mandriva 2007 (in cooker phase), the Desktop is as fast as in Slackware/Slax, Fedora, Gentoo or Yoper. So the final question is:

 

What and for whom is this distro good for?

 

My honest answer: If you are keen on the command line and setting up everything yourself without spending hours on compiling software as with Gentoo (but then spending hours on configuring everything from the cli), then Arch is definitely the right distro for you. It is also quite okay if you want to build a very unique box. But apart from that, I see absolutely no reason why anyone wants to run Arch. Sorry, Arch fanboys. This distro is imho not leaner than other distros, nor is it faster. And without proper documentation it is a pain in the #$*§%!!! Even Slackware (that always did things in its very own way) is more logical than Arch and is way better documented. Anyone who dislikes the command line is really encouraged not to install this distro. Anyone who is rather new to Linux is encouraged not to install this distro. I am no geek and this distro is imho a geek toy. Nothing more, nothing less.

 

Now... will I keep Arch on my box?

 

Yes. Now you wonder perhaps if I am mad and ask yourself why I don't trash it again. :huh: Simple answer: It works for me now :thumbs: and I want to enjoy at least for some weeks the many, many hours of configuration work that i have put into this distro. And who knows, maybe I will love this baby in a few weeks. Apart from the few illnesses that I pointed out above, it is not that bad ... if you are not afraid of the command line. :rolleyes:

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great review. I was gonna put arch on my win2k box as a dual-boot, to learn more linux on.... but you have changed my mind...

 

I've got to pick another "learning" distro now.. something in between "mandriva" and "arch"...

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Great review Arctic, at least for me.

I never tried Arch, but I'm still in doubt whether to try it or not. It looks like a distro I would feel comfortable with. But I think I still need some convincing, I think.

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great review. I was gonna put arch on my win2k box as a dual-boot, to learn more linux on.... but you have changed my mind...

 

I've got to pick another "learning" distro now.. something in between "mandriva" and "arch"...

 

 

I tried Kanotix a few weeks back but abandoned it because at that time python was a mess and I needed python. It was very fast however. It was also not as new as I had though, they had just switched to xorg7.0.

 

Nice review btw arctic, I don't think arch is for me either...

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Well, if you want to learn something about linux, grab a book and start reading it. As I said many times before: You can learn practically everything with every distro. If you want to learn a bit more, Null, then start builing e.g. a completely customised Mandriva distro. Go to advanced package management in the installer, install only the minimal stuff and work from there. Other nice option for learning a bit about Linux by not using any graphical configuration tools: Slackware.

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I'm adding to the kudos for your great review and detailed experiences with installing Arch. :thumbs:

 

Like many have expressed, I was thinking of installing it when I had some time, but I don't think so now, at least not until they bring their documentation up to an acceptable level.

 

You probably learned a lot in the process though, so that's good, I guess. But your experience with Arch makes me appreciate Mandriva all the more.

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I have to say that I've always found the documentation to be excellent. It's true that you need to print out the docs for the install (or have another PC there), but that was my experience with gentoo as well...

 

It's hardly a hardship...

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yep I know you can learn almost everything with almost any distro. However, as everyone knows, and as you previously made a clever metaphor about (your "kick you in the butt" metaphor), I want to play around with another distro that kicks me in the butt a little more than mandriva.

 

Based on your review, and that you know 10 times more than me about linux, I have the feeling that I would be instantly "turned off" with questions/problems right from the get-go. You know - first impressions are important... I am older and more impatient and more grouchy than alot of people here...

 

anyway, great review. I like the "real world' reviews you guys do here. I read a few arch "reviews" on various linux sites, but they are usually just a light-weight "arch is nice, I like it better than other distros, give it a try". I prefer reading about real-world step-by-step opinions - such as your review...

Edited by null

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And if you want to install a package, it can be that it sometimes simply quits because of dependencies. But it doesn't tell you about it all the time, so you have to check dependencies again with -Si and install the parent package first.

This should not be happening. pacman should be resolving all dependencies for you - you shouldn't have to do it manually. how are you installing packages?

 

I personally think your review is a little harsh. But that's just MHO. Their documentation has always been excellent as far as I'm concerned. But they aren't going to hold your hand through everything. One thing you really should have read, if you didn't, was the installation guide. It explains quite thoroughly how to use pacman. And it's linked to right there on the arch front page ;). If you didn't read that, then it's no surprised you think the documentation isn't any good.

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I never used the documentation for installing arch. The on-screen prompts were enough to get the basic install done.

 

Then I had to learn to use pacman to pull the rest from the internet for kde, etc.

 

I used it for a few weeks before I reverted back to Mandriva. Main reason was my wireless failed after a while and wouldn't work with the update, and the other was Lotus Notes wouldn't run under wine in arch, but would in Mandy.

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This should not be happening. pacman should be resolving all dependencies for you - you shouldn't have to do it manually. how are you installing packages?
I am installing packages as explained in the installation guide, section "Packages"

( http://archlinux.org/static/docs/arch-inst...e.html#packages ).

I personally think your review is a little harsh.
As said, I have written my review from a normal users point of view. I could have written it with the attitude: "I know that this is an expert distro and I install Slackware with closed eyes and I am supposed to solve puzzles now and then and it is not a problem for me." I also think that you know that I tried to fix the problems by NOT asking a lot around in IRC and I never even registered at the Arch forums in order to ask questions. I tried to solve the problems myself and mostly got it done. It was a fun experience although I cursed Arch now and then. But if I were a normal user, I would have ditched Arch after the first day.
Their documentation has always been excellent as far as I'm concerned.
The online documentation is very good - once you have found the thing you need. But if you look at the config files in Slackware and in Arch, you will see that the config files in Slack do include a documentation that is, I guess, unmatched by any distro. The only thing that really is a no-go in Arch is imho the lack of a man page for pacman, let alone the availability of the man packages in the normal repos. That is simply unacceptable for any system.

 

I do like Arch now that I have set it up, but my point is still valid: The installation process along with several small issues is something that will scare off people.

 

My review is a bit harsh. But remember that other distros also got flamed by me. My reviews are not made for pleasing anyone but for pointing out what are strong and weak points in a distro. ;)

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This should not be happening. pacman should be resolving all dependencies for you - you shouldn't have to do it manually. how are you installing packages?

I am installing packages as explained in the installation guide, section "Packages"

( http://archlinux.org/static/docs/arch-inst...e.html#packages ).

let me rephrase my question, are you using:

pacman -A package

or

pacman -S package

The first won't solve dependencies. It's not meant to get packages from repositories - it's meant to be used to install one package. The second gets the package from a repository, and will solve dependencies.

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I was using pacman -S and pacman -Sy. I am not that unintelligent. :P

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I'm just about to reinstall (!) Arch after more than two years of usage of the same installation. Reason? After a little bit of experimentation lately, firing any GTK app (including Firefox) eats system resources like peanuts. And it seems that not only gtk/gnome apps are affected.

What caused that? I simply don't know... and I would like to keep that two-and-a-half year old installation. But the problem is that all log files do NOT show any obvious fault!- factly, they are almost clean of evil messages...

For the moment, I am still able to use the system (either KDE or Fluxbox), but I have to use Opera for browsing (Firefox just busts the system physical RAM), and tolerate a couple of regressions.

If I only knew why this is happening- but alas, I do not!

 

PS: It seems that I will live with this old installation for sometime more. Problem solved by 1. fixing a couple of broken fonts, and 2. downgrading Cairo. Now my GTK apps work fine again... :D

Edited by scarecrow

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