Adventures in Arch Linux

Been an Ubuntu fan for over three years, but have always tried out the other distros. Until now I was not ready to try out Arch, it looked to geeky and to difficult, but Ubuntu/Xubuntu was starting to get to bulky and bloated, and I had started to lean towards lightweight installations, and console programs as a resource.

So Arch it had to be. I downloaded the latest release for hard drive installation, the core version from here, created a spare partition on my hard drive and set to..

I am not going to go through all the installation and configuration, just those points that I had to work at. For full details read and follow the Arch Beginners Guide.

The installation process was fairly painless, for an empty HD you just choose the defaults, but if you need to install in a mulit-boot environment you need to know where your partitions are but you only need one install partition and a swap partition (which you can share with other distros) to install. It’s quick, and before you know it you are installed and rebooting to a command line.

You need to create a non root user and install a few “get you going” packages. The package system, pacman is straight forward once you have the main commands under your belt. So as the root user I installed sudo, in order to be able to easily run root commands. Before you start you might need to sort out your network. For me it was a simple case of pointing to dhcp but the main config file /etc/rc.conf gives good instructions on what to do for your setup.

Creating a user, and adding to various useful groups:

useradd  -m -G lp wheel, video, audio, optical, floppy, storage, power -s /bin/bash <yourusername>

install sudo

pacman -S sudo

Once sudo is installed you need to edit the sudoers file (only do this with visudo). I use nano as my editor:

EDITOR=nano visudo

then add this down the bottom of the file somewhere:

yourusername   ALL=(ALL)  ALL

So simple pacman commands:

to install a package:

pacman -S <name of package>

to search for a package in the repos:

pacman -Ss <search term>

to remove a package:

pacman -R <name of package>

to update the repos info:

pacman -Su

to update and upgrade:

pacman -Syu

It pays to keep a track of your history; I save it out to a file every so often:

history | grep “pacman -S ” > history.txt

You should also edit your repos mirrors to get one closer to home, trying to use the main ftp is fatal as it is throttled and very slow . /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist is the place to look to edit for your nearest mirror. Updates might be a day or two behind those reported as released depending on which mirror you choose.

I put vga=794 in my menu.lst kernel entry for a nice sharp framebuffer setting

Next configure your sound as per the Beginners Guide .

I then installed openbox as a lightweight window manager.

pacman -S openbox

Then came X. This wasn’t as clever as I was expecting, and created a few problems (some of my own too!) Again following the Beginners Guide. Running startx provided me with a poor resolution and fuzzy screen, so I installed the correct nvidia driver for my Geoforce 6200 (nvidia-173xx) and ran the configuration tool. you can also run nvidia-settings if you need the graphical view. It took me several goes to get things right, and I had to add my LCD monitor’s native resolution by hand. I inadvertently put “uk” in as my keybaord layout, which messed things up for a while… keybaord worked OK apart from being able to kill X (CTRL+ALT+BACKSPACE) or switch to virtual consoles (CTRL+ALT+F2 etc). Putting in “gb” sorted that out.

Now I had my basic framework, I set about installing all the packages I needed. The pacman cache is currently set at 408 packages installed equalling 700mb, with the total install equalling 3.4gb, just to get me to what I have in my Xubuntu 8.10 setup. I also had to install 3 or 4 unsupported packages, this is done through what is called the AUR. Loads of good Arch users have created a packaging file for the source of programs not in the repos. you just download this, untar it, get the right source package and run makepkg -s. This creates an Arch friendly package you can install with pacman:

pacman -U </full/path/to/name of package>

This all took four evenings, and I was updating and upgrading as I went. The xorg-server upgrade to 1.6 refused to install and required a pacman command to get things going.

USB drives wouldn’t mount, so the PolicyKit edit was brought into force:

<match user=”root”>
<return result=”yes”/>
</match>
<match action=”org.freedesktop.hal.storage.mount-removable”>
<match user=”bimma”>
<return result=”yes”/>
</match>
</match>
<match action=”org.freedesktop.hal.storage.mount-fixed”>
<match user=”bimma”>
<return result=”yes”/>
</match>
</match>
<match action=”org.freedesktop.hal.storage.*”>
<match user=”bimma”>
<return result=”yes”/>
</match>

I added tint2 and wbar to give me panel access to time and date, running programs and start up icons. To get wbar working properly I needed to write a short script to run it, with a bit of sleep time, then point to the script from autostart.sh. If you don’t do this you get graphical glitches.

I changed from fam to gamin in the hope that thunar would update more readily to file system changes

On the whole, Arch is very quick. The boot process is speedy, only slowed by my networking and network file system setup. Under X, programs open up almost immediately, and the pacman system is easy to use (there are GUI frontends available) and the installation of packages is unbelievably fast. And everyting is there. As I said above, out of over 400 packages I needed to install only three were not in the repos, but were in AUR. I have not yet had to compile one package from source.  I also installed the “non-free” VirtualBox. The ose is in the repos, but i prefer the non free version. Had to download the generic “.run” installer, which worked flawlessly.

If you are happy at the command line, and want to build the system you want, then Arch is for you. It might take you a few goes, but it is worth it for the speed, simplicity and  ease.

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