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A Review of Arch Linux 2008.06

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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