Review: Arch Linux

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.

Arch Linux LiveCD

Arch Linux 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.

Arch Linux Installation Begins

Arch Linux Installation Begins

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.

Arch Linux dies if the repo doesn't have the base-devel option

Arch Linux dies if the repo doesn't have the base-devel option

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.

Arch Linux installation begins

Arch Linux installation begins

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 ….

Arch Linux post-installation

Arch Linux post-installation

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!

Arch Linux GDM

Arch Linux GDM

And I login.  And there we go, the LASTEST Gnome.

Arch Linux Gnome 2.28

Arch Linux Gnome 2.28

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.

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46 thoughts on “Review: Arch Linux

  1. I have to disagree with you that Arch is way, way harder than Slackware. I found the opposite, it took me days to configure Slackware and in the end I couldn’t figure out how to update Slackware. Whereas Arch, I was up and running in a few hours.

    I also found that the Arch documentation was much superior to that of Slackware and Arch’s forums was easier and friendlier than that of Slackware, but as the saying goes, evrybodys milage may vary.

    Nice write up though :)

    Cheers

    AD

  2. I have to agree with you Eric about “Arch Linux is not for those in countries without broadband”. It would be a big step forward if dev’s would provide Xorg on the installation cd (or perhaps a DVD?) and a ligth wm like openbox (i know … i’m dreaming, but it would be nice), and in the same time would make the install process easyier (shorter).

    Frugalware is a nice and stable distro. You should try it! it comes with the entire repo on 11 cds (if i remember corectly) and it uses a fork of pacman (developed by the fw dev team)
    it has some of the arch’s atributes and it gives you a fully capable desktop.

    Returning to Arch, IMO you can’t compare arch and slack on which is harder. every one has strong and weak points

    Cheers

  3. Werewolf,

    antiX-base tries to bridge the gap between control and easy starting point for a new(ish) user. Debian Testing with a bit of MEPIS magic.

    Maybe a better starting point for adventurous noobs? :)

  4. Arch is easy to install use the beginners guide drop the attitude that you know what you are doing and it takes 20mins to get to a working limited desk top using root startx, Then you can start thinking of Gnome/Kde what ever and remember you only need to set up Arch once. I’m dyslexic so if I can do it anybody can.

    1. Sorry to say that I used the installation documentation and the “first time users faq” and none of them explained the X issue. If I didn’t know anything about Linux I wouldn’t have been able to get that working. I’m glad it worked for you, but it was not straightforward for me.

      You do make a good point about only needing to setup Arch once. I’m just saying that one time process is much harder than in Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu, Slackware, Debian, …

  5. Completely agree with mandog. The beginner’s guide is very intuitive, and if you want KDE right away, you can always go for Chakra. It has a graphical installer and all.

  6. Arch is hard, but it is next to impossible to write a descent review with just two hours of playing around. I am tired of all this crappy reviews which unfortunately are unfair to the distro (or any distro, unless it’s set-up in 10 minutes) and bias readers.

    1. Fair enough. Dan at Linux Outlaws looks at how Linux distros are after a few days. My focus is mostly on installation, what programs are available, and how hard it is to get to a working desktop. But you do make a valid criticism and it is one I have heard before. (Although only when I say something critical about a distro…)

  7. I hope you did not take offence at my 1st post I was not directing it at you.
    The attitude thing is in us all we skip through the wiki and guides thinking we know what we are doing.
    Then when we cock it up we blame anything and any one but our own stupidity, Arch is really very simple to set up I could not run Arch with out the Wiki thats is a fact As I really on copy/paste so much. By the way I also run Parsix and that is the best all done for you Distro it all just works.

  8. I have been trying for weeks now to get Arch installed with the latest KDE. I get to the X part in no time at all, very simple and didn’t need the guide for much of it. First the rank mirrors keeps giving me erros, I think there has to be a typo in the guide or something because I do it exactly like they say. The only thing that it does is erase all of the info on the mirror file. Then I have to copy the mirror.backup to the mirror again. I skip that step and just use one mirror to do the updates. But once I get to the X section, the guide is vague, following exactly like they say does not work. I finally got it working with KDE but with a bunch of errors and I get stuck there every time. I’m doing it with an eeePC 1000H and the eee PC wiki’s are pretty horrible and lacking a lot of info.

  9. Heh, this was funny: “This should NOT be your first Linux system unless you are a computer prodigy.”
    Simply because Arch WAS my first distro to use, and the one I used for years on my 631MHz Slit1 P3.
    I do find it sad that your taking Dan & Fab’s: Arch is for elitists, they can’t handle it so only the select super few can; attitude. Arch is quite a simplistic system in almost all respects, and there are easier arch based distros like Chakra which is a good entry point into the feel of an arch’s target system, regardless of “The Arch Way” its an excellent system to really dive into why linux has so much potential, unlike other distros which feed you or treat you like an idiot, so I commend you attempt but you should have switched for 3 months and then make a decision about what you truly do and don’t like about it, and I’m sure you’d really enjoy experiencing the evolution of an arch install for core system components.
    So my tips:
    1) Don’t rush things, do it right by taking your time
    2) Just try to be familiar with most of what resides within /etc
    3) Explore what the AUR(arch user repository) can offer you.
    4) Find a tool called yaourt and see how it can help with the AUR I mentioned.
    5) Always try EVERYTHING on your own, (continue as you seem to have been doing) and make use of the wiki first, the manpages second, and then the irc chan as the final option when your in a little trouble.

    Enjoy any future experience you have with arch and hope the points I listed may be of use to you, aim to become an “archer”. :)

    1. I definitely understand that point of view – there’s nothing wrong with jumping head-first into something tough. But I just don’t want to recommend it to someone who is just hearing about this Linux thing and may come away thinking all Linux is like that. I think we’re better off with people first seeing the easy ones and then, if they are computer savy, moving on to the other ones.

      Also, it’s not just being computer savy. I was far more tolerant of this type of stuff when I was in high school and college. Now I’m just too busy to deal with this type of stuff on a daily basis.

  10. I entirely agree with all that HeavensRevenge has said but we must acknowledge that the author has been quite contrite in response to his critics.
    However I do think that the Installation Guide does miss out a lot of important stuff which can be found in the Beginners Guide. In particular look at Sections 3 and 4 regarding setting up sound and the X system.
    Perhaps ArchLinux should add some cross reference links to other parts of their documentation

    1. I agree…Setting up X could be better explained. It was so easy until I got there. I’ll probably try again in a couple of weeks…already took to much of my time the last week.

  11. It’s true, that Arch is not as easy as Ubuntu or Mint. I was using it for about a year. The reason I stopped are rolling updates. Rolling updates are just grate, this is the future of arch that I like and hate. Unfortunately, after one upgrade, my xorg and nivida divers were upgraded and I could not start x server any more! This is problem with arch, sometimes upgrade brakes existing settings or dependencies and you have a problem!

    1. To be fair, I’ve actually had that happen to me with my main distro, Fedora. Basically, if it’s not a security update, you shouldn’t update if it’s working well.

  12. Arch is a great distro!!! If you take the time to install it using the BEGINER”S GUIDE (not the general guide) it will only take you 20 minutes to have a working xorg to which you can install any DE available out there.

    The most important aspect of Arch’s installation is that once those 20 minutes have passed, you would have lerned more about Linux and your system in general than you would ever learn with a fast-food like distro in years!!!

    As for as using it on a daily basis, Arch has been proven to be rock-solid, ultra light and super fast when you set it up right….and you can set it up right because EVERYTHING you’ll ever need is inside its Wiki.

    You should not be afraid of its rolling release development system….that is what makes it so great. You ‘ll always have the latest versions of favorite software available for your desktop and stability is not an issue provided that you keep an eye once in a while on their bug tracking section of their site. Even if an update brakes something you can always go back to the previous version of your package easily.

    No more waiting around for 6 months to get the latest technology, plus , no need to worry about installing a new distro every 6 months.

    I don’t say that Arch is perfect, but for me, having past through ubuntu, mint, debian, fedora, freebsd,(in chronological order) Arch is as close to perfection as it gets…im totally addicted to it!!!

    1. Stinks that I somehow missed the Beginner’s Guide, I guess. Perhaps the Arch community needs to make the link to that guide a little more obvious? But I didn’t mean to say that Arch wasn’t a great distro once it was setup. The setup was just a PITA vs Slackware.

      1. Eric,

        you’re absolutely right, in that the Beginner’s guide is not easy to find at all. I’ve been using Arch for a couple months now, and when I first installed Arch, I did not use the beginner’s guide at all. Its not that I knew all that stuff already — it’s that the beginners’ guide is not prominently displayed on either their homepage or the Official Install Guide page.

        I enjoy using Arch, myself. I love the efficiency, I’ve learned a lot about how a computer system comes together, and it can be just plain fun building your system from scratch. But, oh man, the pain. It was a painful start.

  13. People do miss it although its right in front of them the main reason is in my 1st post its called attitude i’ve used a+b+c Distros i’m no beginner? so we miss Beginners guide as we don’t need it O but we do to install X server etc!. As for the rolling release in 3 + years I have only had minor problems with Arch Linux.
    No major breaks update every day keep an eye on the main Arch page, read the Pacman output when upgrading, don’t use symbolic links as they break things down the line, and don’t use testing.
    its called K.I.S.S.

  14. Just like the guys said before – use the installation guide along with beginners guide and you will have your linux in 30 minutes as well as huge knowledge about your system.
    What is more Arch Linux has the best documentation I have ever seen. Even if I work on other machine with other distro I often use Arch Wiki to check some details.

  15. I’m a former Slackware user but I switched to Arch Linux recently. I wish I found this distribution sooner because there’s many annoyance that I had to deal with on Slackware and now that I use arch, those problems are gone. Pacman is truly a great package manager and it’s very fast.

  16. 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.

    1. This post is full of all kinds of ironic generalizations. For the sake of arguing with actual quantitative data though… With Ubuntu 10.04 running on my computer I am utilizing 1.7G of RAM; with Arch running the same exact programs (all the differences existing under the hood i.e: alsa in Arch instead of Pulse in Ubuntu) I am utilizing 364M of RAM.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love Ubuntu and when I install Linux on other people’s computers, I almost always install Ubuntu; however, I find it hard pressed to believe that Ubuntu ran better for you than Arch, the only thing I can believe that would even account for that would be something like the wrong video driver in Arch, for instance: using the catalyst driver in Ubuntu and the radeon-hd driver in Arch.

      1. ” With Ubuntu 10.04 running on my computer I am utilizing 1.7G of RAM; with Arch running the same exact programs (all the differences existing under the hood i.e: alsa in Arch instead of Pulse in Ubuntu) I am utilizing 364M”

        1.7G of RAM compared to 364M? there is clearly something wrong with your Ubuntu installation that needs fixing.

  17. Ok, I just gave Arch Linux much more time even though I put some bad things about it above. It has been stable and fast and I like it… no wonder it has so many fanboys I have to admit it’s real good though.

  18. How could you miss the beginners/installation media? Wow…

    + Poorly written & and a review that was obviously made in haste.

    Mediocre blogging at best

  19. In several years, I’ve never had a successful run with Arch Linux. I’ll wait until they’ve ironed out their bugs. I’ve also never had any problems with Slackware.

  20. Against popular belief, I would not say Arch Linux is hard. Of course, it is not the distro for newbies. However, Arch is good. You don’t need to be cli-friendly; you just should not be scared of it. The package manager, pacman, is nice. Arch linux is nice on performance. You can look up its performance against ubuntu on phoronix.

    However, as it says on their site, Arch is actually bleeding edge. I have tried 2.6.34 – 2.6.36 kernel versions as soon as they are out on Arch and I have reported a bug for each. Those have not been reported yet. However, I had also found a bug in firefox and valgrind and both of them were fixed the very next day. So, the experience is fine. The IRC channel is not as friendly as #gentoo (most friendly linux channel).

    I do not support the view that Arch is for those who want complete control over their system. Yes, it gives fine-grained control over packages; however that is all there is to it. For complete control you need to experience Gentoo.

  21. Racists on the Arch Linux Mailing List

    I joined the Arch Linux public general mailing list and posted a free opensource FOSS font for coders to use, Rail Model font. I was accused of spamming and trolling by certain developers there. These were just excuses from them as underneath they had a racist attitude to my email address for the mailing list:
    hare_krsna_hare_krsna_krsna_krsna_hare_hare_hare_rama_hare_rama_rama_rama_hare_hare -at- …..

    Thus when I tried to defend against their accusations I was banned from there, no discussion nothing.

    1. You weren’t banned because they’re racist, you were banned for acting like a troll. The mailing list isn’t the place to upload font packages over and over again, and the reason people are knocking your email address is because it’s so damned long. I mean look, it’s so long it got cut off from this forum so it didn’t break the formatting of the page.

      Be less annoying, and you won’t be banned from places.

      1. I answered someone else twice on another website and I am pasting the response here:

        (1)

        The facts are:

        1. -ignoring- is not the correct word to describe. I requested for help as I am not a techie.

        2. -prod and probe forum members- is not correct phrase either. They were some on that Arch Linux mailing list who just could not accept my email address, hare_krsna_hare_krsna_krsna_krsna_hare_hare_hare_rama_hare_rama_rama_rama_hare_hare -at- ….. and just used racist weasel words and phrases, hounding me on and on relentlessly.

        3. -etiquette- was used by me without any foul language. Some on that list were using racist weasel words and because I have been a victim before several times I could tell, it was not new to me.

        4. -stomp- is not what I did, it was a general public mailing list and I posted an on-topic subject. I had posted the same press release on other public mailing lists and I never came across what I faced at the Arch Linux public mailing list.

        (2)

        My email address on the Arch Linux general mailing list (http://mailman.archlinux.org/pipermail/arch-general/2011-January/017988.html) was from the Mahamantra, the prayer for deliverance in this Age.

        It was a Press Release about a free FOSS opensource font. There was not any pre-indication that there would be unreasonableness to this. Some and not all on the mailing list acted unreasonably and I felt others should have details about this. I have recently noticed some Arch Linux general mailing list emails are arriving and am not sure if this is unbanning or only read only facility.

  22. Strange… Arch was the first Linux distro I tried. So long as you read the wiki and prepare for an install then there is little to be worried about.

  23. I went back to Ubuntu and find it’s way better to use. I spent days working with Arch and eventually just gave up. Sure getting it installed is easy enough, but when anything goes wrong, and with Arch something is always wrong, you have no clue how to fix it. Even something as simple as the clock being wrong, you have to google for hours how to fix and the solution ends up being “install a thousand packages, pacman -syu 50 times, run a billion commands, edit every config file in /etc, and maybe it’ll work”. Oh and then it’ll be broken again on reboot. Try getting decent looking fonts installed…yeah good luck with that (install such and such packages which require such and such packages, edit xorg.conf, edit gnome conf, run some optimizer, sacrifice a goat, etc) whereas Ubuntu looks good off the bat.

    Just use Ubuntu or any other mainstream distro. Sure it may take up 600 mb instead of 100 mb, but that’s what 2 TB hard drives are for. Arch is just for people that think running something insanely troublesome makes them superior.

    1. you are not the guy for arch linux.better you quit it earlier.its not for you.
      stick with ubuntu , no one using arch is going to judge you.

  24. To be honest, this review fully fits my experience with Arch my first time. I eventually got the hang of it, and have been using it for almost a year. That said, I used the wiki’s Beginner’s Guide and a rather well-done tutorial on Youtube to install my first working system (which still took four hours). Of course, now that I use fewer/lighter programs, and know what I want, I can set up a nice base in an hour. Even in the year I’ve been using it, there have been tools added to make it a bit easier, but there is still a lot of manual-reading involved (which is almost a hobby for me).

    Also, I found Arch much easier than Slackware, but it probably has something to do with the fact that I had been using Arch for six months before I was brave enough to try Slackware.

  25. Something quite confusing was to try dual booting arch with windows 7. I think there could have been a little more explanation on that matter about different case scenarios that one may encounter. After lots of trials I was able to do it, but I thought it was very difficult, and there was some lack of informationabout it

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