Tried Arch Linux after 2 years: hummmmm

I used Arch Linux from 2004 to 2006 with pleasure, with my company we also founded the Arch Linux Italian Community (managed by us ’till 2007, now it’s managed by the community itself) because we really loved this distro. In 2006 I decided to switch to Ubuntu because I switched to a laptop and I needed an easy wireless configuration and an easier printer configuration ’cause I was moving from office to office every day… but that’s another story.

Today I decided to give Arch a try to see what’s happened in these 2 years (actually I’m not in love with Ubuntu anymore, I can’t understand why but it’s far to be “stable” on my machines…) and also because I always liked the rolling release philosophy but AFAIK there’s no big distro using that (Arch apart).

1 – installation
The ISOs available on arch’s website are quite old, the latest is 2007.08-2, I think it’s time for an update. Anyway that’s not a big problem because I downloaded the FTP installer thus every package is downloaded from the Internet.

Here come the first real pain: the FTP installer ISO can’t install because of an annoying bug due to the updated pacman formats (actually it was easy to fix but they really need to release a working ISO).

2 – installing a graphic environment
I’m a gnome addicted thus I went into the newly installed system and typed the “pacman -Sy xorg xf86-video-ati gnome gdm”, waited a bit and then tried to configure X following the arch’s guide (note: I think that guide is definitively too long but let’s go ahead). None of the methods in the guide worked completely, hwd (which seems something old to me but maybe I’m wrong) printed out a bunch of errord, “X -configure” did not detect my resolution (1280×800, quite default on laptops), xf86config is terrible and I don’t want to see it ’till the end of the days.

The result is that I had to configure some things manually editing the xorg.conf…

3 – sound
Logging into gnome I found that sound wasn’t working (the volume applet was throwing an error about no devices found) thus I installed the whole gnome-extras metapackage which contains the gnome-audio. Anyway nothing. Ok, I didn’t take time to read a guide about audio while I should.

4 – wi-fi
I really need wi-fi, I saw that arch’s NetworkManager package was quite old so I decided to try wicd, installed it but nothing, it keep saying that I’ve no wireless card. Again, I didn’t take time to read a guide about wi-fi while I should.

5 – fonts
On my laptop the gnome’s fonts were horrible thus I looked for documentation and I found this arch’s fonts guide but… when I saw that I had to remove packages and install other ones from AUR I quit.

6 – conclusion
Arch needs more time and love than what I could give her today but it seemed to me that it has not evolved too much in the latest years and it should definitively be easier to setup, let me say KISS also for users and not only for the distro itself :-)

I’m sure the distro is great but I can’t take all that effort to configure it to have a decent desktop, I’m really sorry to say that and I don’t know no one to be offended by my words.

Did someone ever created a newbie friendly auto-configuring live-cd based on arch? I think it would rock! (I’m so sorry I really have no time to work on that)

23 thoughts on “Tried Arch Linux after 2 years: hummmmm

  1. eldarion

    The ISOs available on arch’s website are quite old, the latest is 2007.08-2, I think it’s time for an update

    Yes, that’s because you have chosen an older release. The current ISO is 2008.04-rc.

    Again, I didn’t take time to read a guide about wi-fi while I should

    Basically you didn’t have time to try Arch. So, why have you installed it in the first place? And why do you have time to post your “experience” with Arch here and didn’t have time to read Arch documentation to install it properly?

  2. habtool

    Arch is a nice niche distro, but like you say one needs time to play :)

    PClinixOS has 7000 packages is a rolling release, but the polished version is KDE.

    Maybe you can look at Debian Lenny, soon to be stable, ie 4th 1/4 2008’sh.
    Then have a mixed repo, stable, testing and unstable, with apt-pining to ensure it does not explode :)
    (that will make a rolling release, sort of, with you as the release manager :) )

    Stay Well

    And don’t worry about offending the Arch guys, at least you tried it again and will again in the future. Having a opinion is fair play

  3. Oz

    Rolling releaes,

    You should give debian testing a try. Many people think debian is very outdated. While this me occaisionally true on the stable release, this is not the case with the testing.
    I find the testing release rock stable for the average user. And that’s because the real critical testing is done one the experimental branch. Thus, if you keep your repos connected to ‘testing’ and not ‘lenny’ you’ll enjoy a rolling release constantly.

    Have fun,

  4. Shamil

    I am always excited by arch linux. And i have tried to install it twice unsuccessfully. I’m a very knowledgeable linux user who can build their own system package by package. But, arch’s KISS really kicks my ass every time. It’s too complicated. As far as i was concerned, arch was supposed to be fun and similar to building your own install like a pure debian net-install. Instead,arch is over complicated compared to debian net-install.

    In the mean time check out the archie livecd arch distro. It’s still in beta. I want to use arch because it’s very fast. But, i think with the not so good wireless support of arch currently, i’ll stick with debian testing still as tried and true.

  5. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Oz: yep deb is always there in my mind, I use it an all my company’ servers but i don’t use it on a desktop since 4 years, definitively time to try it again :-) but… when testing will become stable, unstable will become testing right? so for a while testing will be fair unstable?

    @habtool: thank you for your comment, I didn’t know about apt-pinning, I’m reading some doc right now!

    @eldarion: I’m sorry but the current ISO is not 2008.04-rc because it’s not linked on the neither on the arch’s home page. I did take time to install arch but the point is that I am what can be called a power user (my work in uck, ubuntu italian iso and minibuntu, more info here in the blog) gave me experience (and also because i used arch for 2 years and, founding the italian community, I wrote/translated a lot of do, and anyway I use linux as a workstation since at ’99) but there are some tasks that should not need to read a guide IMHO (sound, the wifi it another thing because of the licenses, also if i’ve all intel hardware). I posted my new experience here to see if maybe some arch developers could be interested in “not a newbie” review to make arch become better.

  6. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Shamil: I used archie a lot of time ago, I talked a lot of times with z4ziggy (the author) because I was using archie to build an arch linux derivative (ufficiozero, for italian newbiews, later switched to ubuntu) anyway archie has been dead for ages, now it seems that z4ziggy is working again on archie thus I’m keeping an eye on that. Instead I saw that the larc project ( has been working a lot during all the time… very very interesting.

  7. Shamil

    You need to get more familiar with the debian repository labelling. Sid/unstable…everything in there is not specifically unstable, it’s just bleeding edge, and using may incur instability (from my experience just stay away from sid). Testing…everything in there is relatively new programs, not the newest, when a new distro of ubuntu comes out, the versions of programs you find composed of ubuntu is usually the same versions of programs you’ll find in debian testing, testing is also pretty damn ubuntu binary compatible, testing is great to use for a desktop machine, it’s stable as all hell.

    And then of course comes stable…stable is only for servers and nothing else. I hate distros that are based upon stable. The software that always composes of stable is always too old to do what you need it to do. Just use a debian testing net-install and give a test drive on a computer. Plus, debian has access to over 20,000 packages, not some mere 7,000. Make sure to download specifically the debian testing net-install cd (most people download the stable net-install by mistake).

  8. Shamil

    It’s all good. It took me a couple of years to realize what the actual meanings of each debian repository actually meant and entitled. Before that i thought the latest greatest and stable debian base was only ubuntu. Not true i found out one day when i wanted to find out what the whole debian testing repository was all about. Anyway, i hope arch gets better because i still want to use it. Taking a look at larch right now.

  9. Ambleston Dack

    I am both an Arch and Debian user and while I agree with some of your points with Arch, I do feel you didn’t give her the best attention she deserved. True it can take days to set it up properly, and reading the guides is only part of the deal, the forums are the next place. If you had the time, you would have had a great distro on your lappy, but as you did point out you needed something easy as you had no time to tweak, I would suggest Debian too.

    I have Arch on an old Samsung P20 and like you have never managed to get the wifi working 100%, and on my main desktop PC I have Debian Testing (not Lenny, just testing, Lenny will soon move to stable and then you have to rename the repo’s in sources.list which is a pain). Not much configuring to do and I also managed to get my wifi working 100%.

    Don’t give up on Ubuntu, the latest version sure stinks as a LTS, but I have never had any issues with any of the versions I have installed for people over the years.

    Good luck

  10. Fabrizio Balliano Post author

    @Ambleston Dack: I already have hardy as my workstation (also because I’ve to create minibuntu, ubuntu italian iso and do some work on ubuntu customization kit) anyway I don’t like all the crashes I’ve to deal with every day… About arch I’d only like to say that some tasks should not be so painful, let me say, arch is not truly server oriented (I never saw a server running arch neither I would install one) so if it’s desktop oriented, having good looking fonts should not require reading a veeeeeery long guides like these: and Arch is beautiful and has beatuful concepts behind but I think that needs more love also from developers :-)

  11. sylvain cavagna

    I use Arch Linux for already more than a year on several computers (Laptop and Workstations).

    Actually, you do need a little bit of effort to configure your system but it is worthwhile.

    I find Arch Linux stable, very fast and extremely easy to maintain.
    Furthermore, they have a great community.

    If you commonly use Linux, you really should give it a try.

  12. LAS

    I run both Arch and Ubuntu and find they both have their strong points. In Arch I feel a little more inclined to the CLI, and in Ubuntu I get the polished desktop feeling. I believe Linux types both are very much needed. Debian testing sounds good also. BTW I hear Ubuntu is providing patches for Debian.

  13. Jorge

    “Did someone ever created a newbie friendly auto-configuring live-cd based on arch? I think it would rock!”

    You may want to look into FaunOS, I’ve never used it, but it is based on Arch and from what I hear is really nice.

    Also, I do kinda agree with the first comment a little bit, Arch requires a good bit of time to set up properly. However, this gets offset by the fact that once you set it up, you really do not have to mess with it to keep it up and running. And also, config files can be saved off and reused for additional installs.

  14. Shamil

    Downloading faunos. I think that’ll make me more understand and use to arch by messing around with a prebuilt arch system.

  15. ikaruga

    Yeah, I agree with @eldarion, this was pretty much a worthless article.

    You missed the whole point — arch is really not a newbie distro, nor is it meant to be easy to set up. That’s the whole “fun” and why enthusiasts like it :-)

    @Shamil – after being weaned on Ubuntu, I made the plunge to Arch and was able to install it on a Dell C600 following the Beginner’s Guide and researching various topics like ACPI…

    Note: a C600 is an 8-year old machine and arch is zippy on it! It runs only what I want and what I need — this is the other reason why we love it!

  16. Dave

    Debian is an OK rolling release if you ignore their ideas (my read: excuses) about “stability” and use sid/unstable branch.

    A good basis is grml linux:

    Grml is desktop-agnostic Debian sid with a custom kernel; lots of laptop/hardware support. It’s a great “linux from scratch” without the pain. Easy installation scripts. Nice live CD build system. Daily builds. 3 sizes in 2 arches. Just add the desktop you like and you’re done.

    Sidux is another choice, but there you have less agnosticism. I don’t think their scripts are quite as nice as grml’s, but they are an ok group.

    Ubuntu is also based upon Debian sid (unstable) but are horrible slow making packages.

    Desktop-wise, everyone goes sid/unstable except Debian. Debian is stuck in mud over its stable server model.

    Ubuntu would be far nicer if they packaged more frequently and thoroughly. I remember years ago waiting forever for misc. hardware upgrades. And minor kernel fixups that all they had to do was ship a +1 bump kernel package to stop hundreds of complaints. But people over there just could not be bothered.

    Noticing your “minibuntu” effort you might consider vectoring from Debian sid instead.

  17. Kepa Sakolegi

    I honestly think Arch Linux is crap. I have been using it for a year and it has broken exactly three times after an upgrade. Just this week the upgrade to kernel 2.6.28 left me with no sound. Nobody seem to have any idea on how to fix that.

    Apart from that, it has many minor issues that I have never seen in other distros. One is localisation. After hours trying to change my locale to EN_GB it still doesn’t work correctly and that makes some applications to detect the wrong encoding of text.

    Honestly, I had good expectations on this distro after hearing everybody say how excellent it is. But I just do not see how Arch Linux can get close to distros such as Debian or Ubuntu.

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