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Followup On The Big Move

UPDATE (March 2011): Since writing the material below, I discovered a serious flaw in Arch Linux which tempers my recommendation of it, especially for those who desire a reasonable level of security. My full review of Arch Linux is also available.


A few months ago I reported on My Big Move To Arch from Kubuntu, wherein I stated that I switched to Arch Linux and Openbox.

I’ve had a very easy ride with Arch and Openbox. Things are ‘just working’, which I like. Arch’s rolling release system is considered less stable by some, but I’ve experienced far fewer problems running Arch than I did Kubuntu. Only one update, a CUPS update back in December, caused breakage. It gave me a printer margin problem. It’s not really an Arch bug, just something that I believe was introduced by the CUPS people, though they did not act on my bug report. That is the only bug report I have filed so far, and it wasn’t even in Arch itself. Anyway I found a workaround for the printer problem so I didn’t need to downgrade.

The good news of the rolling release system is that the updates to software are available fast! I also maintain a Kubuntu Karmic system, and its interesting to see the difference in the updates. Arch is always ahead, which to me means faster bug fixes, updated features, and updated hardware support.

My only gripe with Arch is the dependencies for packages, which IMO are overdone (no more so than Ubuntu – about the same). The packagers probably follow the recommendations of KDE and others, but I have found that many packages supposedly required to run kmail, for example, are simply not needed. There was no good solution for removing them, so I wrote blackpac, which was also my first experience with submitting and maintaining an AUR unsupported community package. AUR is a pretty neat system. On that subject, the yaourt tool is a must have. It is a wrapper for pacman which automates installation of AUR packages. For example, anyone with yaourt installed can now install my blackpac tool by typing “yaourt -S blackpac”. Simple as that.

A few updated comments on software:

Openbox has proved to be just what I wanted – simple and extendable. I also setup Arch on my EeePC with the LXDE desktop, which was amazingly painless and the system runs so much faster!

In addition to KDE’s Ark, I’m also using XArchiver and File Roller, which are pretty much equivalent. Not sure which one I’ll stick with – probably XArchiver.

I’m trying to gradually drop as many KDE apps as possible. Eventually I’d like to run my system without any KDE components, which I no longer trust or like. But I haven’t found a replacement for KMail yet, although Claws, Sylpheed, and Thunderbird have been recommended to me. And Krusader is still the most capable file manager I’ve found. I’m still using k3b for burning, but I think I will find a good replacement for that once I look – I actually don’t like the KDE4 version of k3b. And I still like Kate, though I haven’t seriously tried any alternatives yet.

I discovered Zim, which is a great personal wiki. I’ve converted all my computer notes to it and love it. It’s so much faster than maintaining individual files in an editor. I had a few problems with links in it, but since it’s Perl I just hacked it. And the author tells me that he’s working on a rewrite in Python.

For a BitTorrent client I moved from KTorrent to Deluge, which is so much better! It has more options and user control, and IMO does things much more sensibly. I tried a few others but Deluge impressed me the most.

I might add that all of the above programs were in Arch’s repositories – I haven’t had much need to use the AUR or compile things. I still use pacman directly for package management – haven’t tried any GUI front-ends. I did add some aliases to my ~/.bashrc file to make life easier:

alias pms='pacman -Ss'    # search for a package
alias pmq='pacman -Q'     # see info on a package
alias pmqi='pacman -Qi'   # see detailed info on a package
alias pmql='pacman -Ql'   # see files installed by a package
alias pmi='sudo pacman --needed -Sy'  # install a package
alias pmr='sudo pacman -Rs'           # remove a package, including unneeded deps
alias pmc='sudo pacman -Sy && pacman -Qu'  # check for updates
alias pmu='sudo pacman -Sy && sudo pacman -Su'  # update system

That way, for example, I can just type “pmu” to update my system, or “pmi kmail” to install kmail.

When I setup my netbook, I got to see the LXDE desktop. Very nice lightweight tools, such as the lxpanel taskbar (which I also use on my Openbox system), leafpad text editor, simple image viewer, etc. I also installed wicd for a network manager, which is excellent.

I think that’s about it. Mostly Arch has stayed out of the way and done its job reliably, instead of constantly crying for attention. The Arch Forums, while not as robust and irreverent as the Ubuntu forums, have some experienced and helpful people on them, and the Arch Wiki is an amazing resource.

From what I’ve been told, Arch has been experiencing another wave of new users, so if it interests you, catch the wave.

January 18, 2010 - Posted by | Tips

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