Saturday, December 31, 2016

Adventures in Arch Linux

I just installed Arch Linux on my 4th machine. It has been fun and painful. Painfully fun? I have learned a lot and that is always fun. There.

I have loved using Ubuntu over the last several (eight, I think) years. Ubuntu is easy to install and most things Just Work. It's easy to find packages for most software I want to run, and there is lots of help on the internet for accomplishing whatever you want to accomplish with Ubuntu. My frustrations have been that even though you can find instructions for getting whatever software you want to run, it's not always a simple apt-get install. Sometimes it's configuring a PPA source and sometimes it's compiling from source. Sometimes a PPA works and serves you well for years and then suddenly it disappears. Another frustration is out of date packages, and full system upgrades in general. Keeping up with the latest emacs was a chore. Going from one release of Ubuntu to another works surprisingly well, but it's a big enough chore that I keep putting it off. One of my desktop machines at home was still running 12.04 up until yesterday. That's 5 and a half years old now!

These concerns led me to Arch. It seems to be addressing them beautifully. Every package I have wanted is either in the main repositories and I can install it with a simple pacman command, or it's in the AUR and I can install it with a simple yaourt command. There are no releases of Arch, they just continually update the packages that are in the repositories. Staying up to date is always the same pacman command to upgrade your installed packages. There are times where you have to take some manual steps to fix an interaction between two packages, or to switch from a package that has been made obsolete by another newer package, but that's fairly rare, well documented, and you just deal with it a little at a time when the situations come up. With Ubuntu dist-upgrades you had to deal with many of those scenarios all at once, every 6 months if you were keeping fully up to date. With Arch, keeping up with the latest emacs happens without me even realizing it.

Where Arch is not as nice as Ubuntu is in the installation. With Arch it's all manual. What you should do is pretty well documented, but you have to type all the commands yourself and make decisions about alternative ways of doing various things. It's a fun learning experience as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but not a process that I really enjoyed repeating over and over. This is really where Ubuntu made it's name. The nice package system and repositories were straight from Debian originally, but the installer and default configurations are what made Ubuntu so accessible. There was a joke in the early Ubuntu days that Ubuntu was an African word meaning, "can't install Debian."

It turns out that there's a distribution with a name meaning, "can't install Arch." It's Antergos. It really is just a graphical installer on top of Arch. Once it's done you are running Arch with some Antergos chosen configuration, which is exactly what I wanted. It does feel like it's still early days for this project. On one laptop I tried Antergos on it didn't have the wifi drivers I needed. I had to go back to plain arch and figure out how to load the driver by hand in order to complete the installation (that should be a blog post of its own). On another machine once the Antergos install was done the display manager would crash with a webkitwebprocess coredump. The antergos forums told me how to switch to lxdm and that fixed my problem (probably should be another blog post). I don't think a linux beginner would have enjoyed that process, but overall Antergos looks promising. Mostly I'm looking forward to never needing to do a fresh install on any of those machines ever again.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Manjaro?

Bryan said...

I haven't tried it. For some reason I was under the impression that it wasn't a rolling release distribution and did the use the arch repositories, but since reading your comment I've done a little more research and it looks like I was wrong. I'll have to try it out.