Why Arch Linux?
When the life goes smooth, we get bored. When everything goes smooth we need some challenge to face and conquer. This is applicable for Linux distribution world also. After started admiring with Ubuntu, I did not want to be locked with it. I test a distribution only if it is having some unique feature in it. Zenwalk is one such promising. Here is my review on it. I came to know about Arch, which is optimized for i686 processors, so it is meant for recent generation of processors. So I downloaded base Arch Linux CD. My workstation is bit old with PIII/192MB/Intel-82815-Graphics which is suitable for this i686 optimized system.
It is NOT Live CD. Once you boot with base installation CD, you will get a quick and clean shell prompt with basic instruction for installation displayed on console. It is evident that installation is only for power user, not for click and go kind of people. You have to run “/arch/setup”, which is a installation tool. Here is the step by step installation:
1. Selecting installation source between CDROM and network
2. Partitioning of hard disk using cfdisk.
3. Installing base packages from CD (Since mine is just base installation CD)
4. Configuring the system – Here the power user comes. You will be shown /etc/rc.conf, /etc/hosts, /etc/fstab, /etc/mkinitrd.conf, /etc/modprobe.conf, /etc/modules.conf and /etc/resolv.conf files are presented to you through editor. You can apply your real knowledge in linux in this step. No wizard configuration. If you don’t have enough linux experience, it is difficult to understand this step. I did configure /etc/rc.conf, /etc/hosts and /etc/fstab files only which is enough for my system.
6. Kernel selection – I selected 2.6.X kernel
7. GRUB/LILO bootloader selection and you have to manually edit the /boot/grub/menu.lst or /etc/lilo.conf and install.
Here the package manager is called pacman, which is definitely a apt-get competing tool. Very simple command line options makes it usable by any one. The first thing I did was reading man pacman as directed by installation guide. I updated my system with repository using command pacman -Syu. It updated my kernel, so rebooted. Then installed GNOME desktop. To find out the exact package name, I used pacman -Ss <keyword> which is dead easy. pacman -S <pkg-name> installes package and pacman -R <pkg-name> removes the package. All dependencies are taken care while installing. A few times I faced problem of missing dependenices which I have not faced so far in apt-get in debian/ubuntu. It is rare case, but pacman is really wonderful to use. Though GUI front end for pacman are available, I find pacman command line tool itself more comfortable than any GUI version of pacman.
Since I have installed base CD, no bloated applications and services at startup. After reboot I found Arch Linux rocks. No other distribution in my workstation responds to applications as fast as Arch. I can feel the difference very much. I have tried Ubuntu with i686 kernel, but it is not as fast as Arch. In Arch, all applications are also built for i686. There the performance plays. I get this advantage without having the hassles of building from source.
After update I got all latest and greatest applications with the bonus of stability. Though I have latest GNOME 2.16, Firefox 2.0.1, Thunderbird 18.104.22.168, Brasero 0.4.4 (Disk burning), F-Spot 0.2.2, GNumeric 1.6.3, OpenOffice.org 2.0.4, etc. I have not faced any crash in last 2 months of testing period (Yes, I did a lot of work on Arch Linux for 2 months before writing this review). It is rock stable. Click the below thumbnail to see my GNOME 2.16 desktop.
/etc/rc.conf is the master file for system configuration. Here you can configure locale, time zone, key map, module loading and black listing, hostname, network configuration, daemons startup, etc. in this one single file. This BSD kind of startup is really nice.
makepkg tool is also found which takes care of installation from source. It does dependencies check (both runtime and compile time), downloading source package, building and creating <package>-<version>.pkg.tar.gz file. Once it is created you can install it with pacman -A <package>-<version>.pkg.tar.gz command.
A great community is awaiting for you to help for Arch Linux. It has wonderful Wiki page, forum, community repository, etc. Wiki page needs more organized way of compiling the wonderful articles.
After 2 months of testing and feeling its terrific performance I have moved my production home directory to Arch Linux. Hope that is the right way to appreciate a distro. Great distro has come from great people. Keep it up, Arch guys. You people are doing a wonderful job. Arch Linux is for every one except installation which is only for power user.