Distro Test Drive: Don’t Go Skydiving, Just Install Arch Linux…
This is pretty much a full on test drive. From start to finish, of my current distro I am using actively as on my main desktop. Let me tell you right now, Arch Linux is a huge learning experience. You will get mad. You will get frustrated, and trust me you WILL want to give up…several times. This goes for those in the intermediate skill level, such as myself, but obviously the beginners as well. Arch is not to be trifled with. It takes no prisoners, no mercy, and hears no cries of “FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU” or the more popular, “IMPOSSIBRU!!”
With that out of the way, let’s get down to looking at what it takes to get a FULL Arch Linux system working:
Back in 2008 when I first installed this distro, installation was bit different. There was a text based script installer, which only really called certain files that you still edit today (well, most of them today). Sure, a few processes are different, but the general setup remains the same, aside from systemd. As soon as you start the “installation,” you are sitting at a blank command line. Is that it? What do I do? This is why man created the Arch Linux Beginner’s Guide.
Following the guide is not hard at all, just do it carefully, and pause at each major step to review what you are doing. It is most certainly possible to install Arch Linux without even knowing much Linux at all. When you have an issue here and there, is where critical thinking comes into play. For instance, Gnome3 does not currently work for me, crashing on starting X server, and I may try to fix it, although I am quite happy using the traditional MATE desktop. The beauty of Arch, is that you install and use what you want, not what someone else wants.
After the “install” you are left with a blank CLI prompt. Near the end of the install doc you are presented with some options to install a desktop environment. I highly suggest either Gnome or KDE for a newer user, and a nice high five to Cinnamon. The MATE desktop is a nice traditional layout, if that floats your boat. Again, follow instructions very* carefully. Pay careful* attention at the end of the install on “adding a new user.” You will want to make sure you add your user to all the groups you wish to use. That is one of the most important parts I stress to people.
First time use:
When you first get your desktop it will be quite bare. This is intentional. Bloat is bad! Well not every distro has “bloat.” Here are some package installs that will get you some useful programs off the bat. Install all with the Terminal application, prefixed with “sudo pacman -S package_name” : (Packge Database). Some of these are available through the AUR.
- Codecs (https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Codecs)
- libdvdread, libdvdcss, libdvdnav (DVD codecs)
- vlc : a rich media player
- xscreensaver (a tried and true screensaver)
- xchat (IRC chat for getting help on this system)
- docky (mac like OS X dock)
- deluge (closest you’ll get to utorrent, natively)
- steam (video game platform)
- libreoffice (make sure to install libreoffice-en-US if you are in the US, default is Russian?)
- gimp (full featured image editor/viewer)
- brasero (CD/DVD burning software)
- audacity (the king of audio capture/manipulation)
- gparted (disk editor/manipulation)
- wine (run windows software under Linux)
- keepass (manage your passwords safely)
- pidgin (IM client)
There are many more packages, but this is a small list to get some things on your system. Once you have your system up and running and a set of software installed. You’ll want to check for system updates since you last used the disc (some don’t always have the latest release from the Arch website), with :
sudo pacman -Syu
Now you have a fully functioning Arch system, at least I hope so! This post is more meant to just give you an overview, not how to install it.
Arch is a learning experience. I cannot* stress this enough. You will* get frustrated, many times over. The payoff is immense, as you will be able to take this knowledge on to other distros and help many more users, rather than things just working automatically. It is the reason I started using Linux in the first place, to learn and keep my mind interested. There is no problem in using a distro such as Ubuntu if you wish for things to just work, but if you are in for a nice challenge and a rewarding payoff with a fast, bleeding edge system, this is for you.
Using the system is about the same as any other distro, on the surface that is. Underneath, most areas of the Linux file system are similar to what you would see on other distros, with the exception of areas in /etc/ specific to Arch itself. As stated before, Arch is a bare system, so if you install a program that does not inform you of dependencies, be prepared to figure out how to get it working, which is often greatly helped by the amazing* BBS Arch Linux Forum . Some packages will have services you will have to start and enable with the systemctl command to get them loaded as a daemon on startup, and in your current session.
Fixing Arch when it breaks is another matter. That is why it is very important to backup you system, especially /etc/ with great tools like rnsapshot or rsync. There are others, and even GUI applications, but those two are very fast and highly customizeable. Thankfully, if something major breaks, or a major software package, chances are the BBS boards will be flooded with questions and answers, so it often is not difficult to fix your issue. The community for Arch is really top notch. Hats off to those really smart guys out there 🙂
Arch Linux is one mean distro, but it really makes you feel good when you get it up and running. You feel like a man running Arch (or a WOman, not to be sexist 🙂 On top of that, the pacman command line package installer is one of the best I have ever used. AUR (arch linux user repository) helpers such as cower make installing from the AUR very easy. Yaourt is another AUR helper that is very popular, but cower will also grab dependencies, and makes things a bit easier.
The philosophy of Arch’s KISS (keep it simple stupid) system, makes the system very fast and modular. The rolling release model works very well and is further helped by the amazing community that is out there to help and build packages. I sometimes wish to give up on Arch when I feel stupid getting simple things like samba working properly on my network, but when you do* figure it out, you’ll wonder why you were ever worried in the first place 🙂
I will likely be staying with Arch going forward, and using VM’s for other distros. Arch is the only distro that I can think of that is truly addicting to use. I literally spend an entire* morning into the afternoon configuring my system (I did take breaks of course, and it was a Saturday 🙂 Also, it is one of the few that stands out on its own, not dependent on any “mothership” distro such as Debian (i.e. Mint, Ubuntu). If you are out for a rewarding challenge and want to really know the Linux file system, Arch is right up your alley…plus, you don’t have to compile 1000 times a day (Gentoo!!! haha)