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A Review of Arch Linux 2008.06

with 5 comments

Given my concerns with the current state of Gentoo, coupled with the number of users I’ve seen mention Arch Linux in various channels on freenode, I decided to do a little research on the distro. I checked it out at, and it seemed to be what I was looking for. I had also been considering moving to 64-bit Linux, as I have a 64-bit machine running 32-bit Linux currently. This seemed like a good opportunity.

Some things that turned me on to the distro:

  • Rolling release cycle – This one is pretty much a must for me.  It’s nice to always be using the most current release of the distro, without having to go through a brittle “upgrade” process or re-installation.
  • No bloat – The base system includes virtually nothing.  You install only what you want to install.
  • Highly configurable – Through well documented configuration scripts.
  • Competent package management system – The only missing feature I saw was command line search of available packages. This can be done from the web, but I’d rather not have to use a browser to do it.
  • Optimized packages – Because, well, it just makes sense.

So I downloaded an install image (which was only ~300 MB!), and created a new vm in VMware server so I could evaluate the distro before making the switch. I made sure to have the beginner’s guide handy, and got to work. If you want a decent resolution for the installer (say 1024×768), you’ll have to manually edit the grub configuration, otherwise the default size should get the job done.  After booting the install CD and starting the installer, you’ll find yourself at this screen:

Now, the install process might be a bit intimidating to some less seasoned Linux users. It is definitely not recommended for beginners.  Some intermediate users might even have a bit of trouble, but it’s much less scary than a Gentoo install.

There’s nothing too crazy going on here.  Walking through each screen, referencing the documentation when needed, leads to a pretty straightforward install.  I’ve installed Arch on a few different systems now with no issues. Once you are finished, reboot and you will find yourself at a non-graphical login prompt.

My first inclination at this point is to run a system update, and then proceed to install the packages I want. I read through the docs for pacman (the Arch package manager – yeah, real creative name ; ), and proceeded with my update. This is when a ran into my first issue. Updating klibc required some manual intervention. No big deal, googling the problem quickly revealed the answer, which was quite simple:

“rm /usr/lib/klibc/include/asm”

I am a KDE user, so I of course opted to install the KDE 4.1 desktop. There were no issues here. After a bit of waiting and a bit of configuration, kdm was up and running and I had a bright, shiny new graphical login:

Yay. Here is a screenshot of the default KDE 4.1 desktop environment:

Oo, pretty. At this point I was pretty impressed with the distro. I was unable to get VMware tools installed and running correctly, but no big deal, this wasn’t a permanent solution anyway. Other than that, no real problems.

Then I wanted to install Surround SCM, which is of course my source code management tool of choice. When I tried to run it, I kept getting an error. Ldd didn’t seem to recognize it as a valid, dynamically linked executable. Well, the Surround client is a 32-bit application. Arch 64 is “pure” 64-bit environment, which means no 32-bit support.

And this, folks, is what we call a show stopper.

This is the first 64-bit distro I had encountered w/o support for 32-bit apps. Of course, I could have went with the 32-bit version, but the main reason for switching distros was to go 64-bit. So, at the end of the day, I am still using Gentoo. If lack of 32-bit support in a 64-bit OS is not a problem for you, then I would recommend Arch. It seemed like a pretty solid distro, otherwise.


Written by Kris Wong

October 31, 2008 at 4:55 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Hey, nice blog my friend. I am new to Linux and have been using Ubuntu for my distro. I am not yet up to speed on the in and outs of Linux, so using Ubuntu is perfect for me. One day I hope to be able to run a distro a little lighter than Ubuntu and see what kinda trouble I can get into.
    I use my Linux laptop to do light web developing. It isn’t anything with flash or java, but a solid CSS site. I love the fact that I can download any software I want from inside the OS without having to look for it on the internet. If it can be found in the OS, then it is guaranteed to run on my computer. In my book, that RAWKS! Did I mention my laptop is a PIII 800 w/ 256 MB RAM, integrated video, and a 30 GB 5400 RPM hard drive. I have a desk top with a PIII 600 w/ 384 MB ram and an 64MB ATI video card that is running Ubuntu also. I think it is faster than my laptop… LOL


    October 31, 2008 at 11:44 pm

  2. Two things:
    1) I know people who know people that have the source for Surround SCM…maybe you could make it 64-bit yourself ;-)
    2) Ubuntu seems to be a pretty solid, popular Linux distro, why not do that?


    November 1, 2008 at 8:59 am

  3. 1) I don’t know about you, but I’m not signing up for that particular task. ; )
    2) See the bulletted list in the beginning of the post. It does not have, or conform to, any of those items.

    Kris Wong

    November 4, 2008 at 8:08 am

  4. Actually it’s not that difficult to get 32 bit support in a 64 bit arch system.

    Check the wiki for clear instructions.


    November 30, 2008 at 11:49 am

  5. Yes, I’ve seen the wiki. Not difficult to pull off, but certainly annoying. Also annoying to use and maintain. Certainly not something I want to deal with in my day-to-day distro. Thanks for the tip, though.

    Kris Wong

    December 1, 2008 at 8:45 am

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