So, I've been using Arch Linux the past few days, after reading Sirupsen's post on it. He was quite positive of it, and he'd pointed out Vim to me, so I was prepared to take his advice again. Besides, what with the upgrades, downgrades, beta versions, etc, my Ubuntu installation was pretty much a wreck at this stage, and needed to be reinstalled anyway. And the last x64 disc I had was for 8.10. Which would mean upgrading three times in the space of a week, which I wasn't very inclined to do.
And that brings me on the the first issue with Ubuntu - the whole updates system. The fact that you have to reinstall your system every few months, or get stuck with old versions of software like Firefox and Wine, is a major nuisance, especially on a 1 meg connection, where a system update is 5 hours just for the download. (On that subject, I'm finally getting a 3 meg connection sometime in the next 2 weeks. Yay!). This unsurprisingly defeats the point of a package manager, and has led to me to forgo it altogether for certain software like Firefox, and Eclipse with their own updating systems outside it's control. So, hearing one of Arch's main goals of having a rolling release with the latest programs constantly sounded like a pleasant escape.
Another point that Ubuntu has always given me a problem with, is that of bloat. A default install of Ubuntu contains GIMP, OO.o, Firefox, Evolution, Empathy, Ubuntu One, Orca, etc., etc. Evolution, Firefox and Empathy all get instantly uninstalled in favour of other programs, GIMP is a good example of horrendous UI, and OO.o, while not bad, certainly could be improved. But Arch and I have very different ideas of bloat. I consider those bloat. Arch considers things like automated wifi config bloat. So while I'd like a minimalistic Linux, Arch goes too far and is completely spartan. To put it another way, Ubuntu is like a rented house full of furniture, some of it rather dated, my ideal would be an empty house, and Arch is a pile of bricks.
But then there is installation. A fresh install of Ubuntu, provided you have the latest ISO, is a 20 minute process. Most of it is relatively automatic, and it _usually_ just works. Unless you do something stupid like sudo apt-get remove evolution-*, which somehow removes GNOME, but hey, you can remove the wrong package on any distro. Arch on the other hand, is a much more involved process, requiring manual editing of at least 10 config files, requiring you to seemingly psychically know details about modules, and which kernel version has what for which device. The one in the downloads page would not work for me because I need to install over wifi. Turns out, I need drivers which aren't there. They are there in kernel 2.6.32, which is in the version of arch with the download link on the forums, not the download page. Oh, and on top of that, I need firmware, which is not on the disk, instead I have to stick it on a USB stick and copy it over before installation.
Part of this is the reality of what Arch is. It's a geeks for geeks distro, much like Linux as a whole used to be. Nothing wrong with that, except it's at a level beyond what I'm able to deal with. For example, I was trying to set my resolution the other day. The advice I got was "Read man xorg.conf". As I remarked on Twitter the other day:
man xorg.conf makes the rather amusing assumption that you already know loads about both X.org and the internal workings of your monitor...
Or, at least it's amusing until it means you are stuck looking at a display that looks like crap because it's stuck at 1152 x 864, when it's native resolution is 1440x900. Further asking only get the advice "Look under Modes". Well, here is the an excerpt section of Modes in man xorg.conf:
Mode "name"This is an optional multi-line entry that can be used to providedefinitions for video modes for the monitor. In most cases thisisn't necessary because the built-in set of VESA standard modeswill be sufficient. The Mode keyword indicates the start of amulti-line video mode description. The mode description is ter-minated with the EndMode keyword. The mode description consistsof the following entries:DotClock clockis the dot (pixel) clock rate to be used for the mode.HTimings hdisp hsyncstart hsyncend htotalspecifies the horizontal timings for the mode.VTimings vdisp vsyncstart vsyncend vtotalspecifies the vertical timings for the mode.Flags "flag" ...specifies an optional set of mode flags, each of which is aseparate string in double quotes. "Interlace" indicatesthat the mode is interlaced. "DoubleScan" indicates a mode
Mode "name" This is an optional multi-line entry that can be used to provide definitions for video modes for the monitor. In most cases this isn't necessary because the built-in set of VESA standard modes will be sufficient. The Mode keyword indicates the start of a multi-line video mode description. The mode description is ter- minated with the EndMode keyword. The mode description consists of the following entries:
DotClock clock is the dot (pixel) clock rate to be used for the mode.
HTimings hdisp hsyncstart hsyncend htotal specifies the horizontal timings for the mode.
VTimings vdisp vsyncstart vsyncend vtotal specifies the vertical timings for the mode.
Flags "flag" ... specifies an optional set of mode flags, each of which is a separate string in double quotes. "Interlace" indicates that the mode is interlaced. "DoubleScan" indicates a mode
This is not helpful! horizontal timings? dot clocks? All I want to do is change the resolution. man pages are for advanced technical details, not basic user information. And the wiki, their other reference, is in varying parts as unashamedly complex as these man pages, or only covers the optimal scenario, lacking any middle ground. On the other hand, Ubuntu provides this page, which explained far, far more. Also, while doing this process, I was informed I shouldn't use GNOME because it's a bloated, buggy, desktop environment, in the opinion of several members of #archlinux . Despite working fine for me for the last while. I'm looking for help, not conversion! I wonder what they think of KDE or Windows then...
On the subject of not helpful, here is the recommended way to install a package not in the default repos for pacman in Arch, and believe me, that is a lot of packages.
- Go to aur.archlinux.org
- Download the PKGBUILD
- Possibly make changes to the PKGBUILD
- Open a terminal to the folder containing the PKGBUILD
- Run makepkg -i
Does this sound tedious and repetitive to you? Certainly does to me, so many members of the Arch community have built helpers to automate this, such as Clyde, as mentioned by Sirupsen the other day. But apparently this isn't the Arch way. So to install wine, I use sudo clyde -S bin32-wine. But, the AUR has the wrong version of one it's dependencies. Here's what #archlinux thinks of those.
Macha, you should really read about abs and aur and stop using any aur helper
Another area where I want a simple solution, and they go for the most spartan one possible. Ok, not the most spartan, I could compile it and place it in the directories myself, but really, a 5 step process for EVERY package, and each of it's dependencies? As opposed to sudo apt-get install foo, or sudo clyde -S foo. Why is this better?
I want to like Arch. I admire it's aims of being up to date, and simple. But I just can't. It's not for me, and on the final release of Ubuntu 10.04, I will be going back to Ubuntu on this laptop. I hear they've dropped GIMP now, and worked on getting it to boot up faster, too...