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Trying Arch

Thanks to all who gave helpful suggestions about running VMs in Gentoo. The main reason I wanted a VM was to play around with some other distros and see what I liked.

But then I got to thinking, and I realized that I have over 250 GB of free hard drive space sitting around. So I made a new little partition and per Noah's suggestion, threw Arch Linux on there.

I'm fairly impressed so far. The install was easy. In contrast to the enormous Gentoo handbook, the whole Arch install guide fits on one page of the official Arch wiki. Why doesn't Gentoo have an official wiki? I know there are concerns over the quality of something anyone can edit, but in practice is it a big a deal? Is it worth the price of sending users elsewhere, to potentially even WORSE places, when the Gentoo docs don't cover everything we need? The quality of the unofficial Gentoo wiki is often very good but sometimes hit-or-miss, and it also sort of crashes and loses all data without backups every once in a while.

The Arch installer is a commandline app using ncurses for basic menus and such, which is more than sufficient and a good compromise between commandline-only and full-blown X-run Gnome bloat. The install itself went fine, other than my own mistakes. I'm sharing /boot and /home between Gentoo and Arch so I can switch between them easily. During the install Arch tried to create some GRUB files, but they already existed care of Gentoo, so the install bombed without much notification and I didn't notice until 3 steps later. No big deal to fix, but I'd have liked a louder error message right away when it happened. The base install took about 45 minutes.

Another nice thing is that the Arch install CD has vi on it. I didn't have to resort to freaking nano or remember to install vim first thing. A mild annoyance to be sure, but it bugged me every time I installed Gentoo.

After boot, installing apps via pacman is simple enough. KDE 4.2 installed in about 15 minutes, as you'd expect from a distro with binary packages. I found a mirror with 1.5 Mb/sec downloads, which is awfully nice. Syncing the package tree takes less than 2 seconds, which is also nice compared to Portage's 5-minute rsync and eix update times. Searching the tree via regex is also somehow instantaneous in Arch.

Oddly, KDE didn't seem to pull in Xorg as a dependency, but other dependencies worked fine so far. Time will tell how well this all holds up. Most package managers do fine on the normal cases but the real test is the funky little obscure apps. pacman -S gvim resulted in a Vim with working rubydo and perldo, which means Arch passed the Ubuntu stink test.

Another nice thing is that KDE4 actually works. My Gentoo install is years old and possibly crufted beyond repair, or something else was wrong, but I have yet to get KDE4 working in Gentoo without massive breakage. Possibly if I wiped Gentoo and tried KDE4 without legacy KDE3 stuff everywhere it'd also be smooth.

Regardless, it all works in Arch. NVidia drivers and Twinview settings were copy/pasted from Gentoo, and compositing all works fine. No performance problems in KDE with resizing or dragging windows, no Plasma crashes (yet), no missing icons or invisible notification area. QtCurve works in Qt3, Qt4 and GTK just fine. My sound card worked without any manual configuration at all. My mouse worked without tweaking, including the thumb buttons. Same with networking, the install prompted me for my IP and gateway etc. and then it worked, no effort.

I've mentioned before, but one nice thing about Linux is that if you have /home in its own partition, it's no big deal at all to share it between distros. With no effort at all I'm now using all my old files and settings in Arch, and I can switch back and forth between this and Gentoo without any troubles.

So we'll see how this goes. So far so good though. Arch seems very streamlined and its goal is minimalism, which is nice. Gentoo has not felt minimalistic to me in a while. Again, may be due to the age of my install, cruft and bit-rot.

This post is related to Gentoo VMWare Fail
March 31, 2009 @ 5:52 PM PDT
Cateogory: Linux
Tags: KDE, Gentoo, Linux, Arch

11 Comments

Gert
Quoth Gert on March 31, 2009 @ 9:55 PM PDT

I've done the exact same thing with my laptop. Installed Arch Linux next to my Gentoo and shared /home and /boot folders. After the very easy Arch install, I thought to myself: "I'll just switch back and forth between Arch and Gentoo." The thing is, I've never booted that Gentoo again. Everything works, some hardware I had troubles with configuring just work now...

Have fun with your Arch Linux! You won't regret it.

Jason
Quoth Jason on April 01, 2009 @ 4:56 AM PDT

It's been a while since I've used Arch, so who knows what's changed since then, but the biggest "problems" I personally had were:

  • There wasn't an official tool for merging configuration files. Sure, I can do it manually, but having a convenient tool was nice. There was an unofficial one available in the AUR, but who knows what it was named now.
  • I like to obsessively manage what's marked as automatically installed and what's not, in order to keep unneeded dependencies from hanging around. In Gentoo, this is as simple as managing the world file. In Ubuntu, it's trivial to manage this using aptitude (though I find it randomly marks certain packages as manually installed, even if they weren't). In Arch, I know this information is stored, but I haven't found an easy way to either manipulate it or remove unneeded dependencies.
  • Certain packages I wanted were either unavailable or only in the AUR.

But again, it's been a year or three, so there's a good chance that some of this has changed for the better.

Brian
Quoth Brian on April 01, 2009 @ 7:13 AM PDT

I'm not entirely worried about uninstalling unused deps, partly because disk space is so cheap nowadays. I've been good about keeping Gentoo clean but at this point after two years my Gentoo install is full of cruft anyways, I don't know how that happened. In two years Portage went through massive updates, major versions of KDE were released, new kernels come out every couple months etc. I don't think it's really possible to stay clean when stuff changes so much and you're trying to keep up.

Merging config files manually might suck. What if you put /etc into a git repo? It'd show you what's updated and also let you diff and merge pretty easily. I think I read about someone doing something like that before.

So far I think Arch has as many or more packages than Gentoo, for certain things I care about, like Haskell. Arch even has a Clojure package, which surprised me. I don't think Gentoo has been bleeding-edge in some of those areas for a good while, unless you're happy hunting down the devs' overlays left and right.

@Gert: That's cool. I wouldn't mind if I turned out the same and stuck with Arch. Whatever works best will be fine by me.

Gen2ly
Quoth Gen2ly on April 02, 2009 @ 7:15 AM PDT

Lol, i tried adding kDE without adding xorg and thought that was odd too. I've still found plasma unstable with a few widgets so I've only added my Desktop folder to the Desktop. Jason, does have a good point about merging configuration files. I haven't done it yet but I've looked about people tell to find the configuration file, it gets added to the directory it's supposed to install as something like "conffile.001" and then they tell to manually add it. And it's true thatArch doesn't have a world-file. Itcan be created though and removing unneeded-dependencies isn't too bad either.

Also, what a macho man name of a post, lol.

Dieter_be
Quoth Dieter_be on April 03, 2009 @ 10:19 PM PDT

Hi Brian (and other commenters), I'm glad you like our distro. As ex-gentoo user myself (and now Arch developer) the main point you should know is that we value simplicity very high. We do not offer things like use flags, slotting and many of Gentoo's fancy things. Instead we just have binary packages, their "source packages", a very simple build system (ABS) etc. The community also plays a bigger role in the Arch ecosystem. (see the AUR and the various scripts and tools people are posting to the forums). Personally I like this approach because it makes all the things in your system (including package manager, installation script etc) very "accessible" (to understanding/hacking) without being overwhelming and without feeling like you miss anything.

Feel free to report the issue you had with grub on our releng butracker (http://bugs.archlinux.org/proj6 )

About the config management thing. I think there is still no official tool for this, but personally I just have bash alias that does "updatedb && locate pacsave && locate pacnew", I diff and merge. Like Jason said, there are a few community contributed tools to make this process easier, using vimdiff etc. (comparable to etc-update on Gentoo). This is a good thing, one should leverage the community, and not try to avoid it. Personally I also keep my /etc in svn. When I'm done merging/updating/discarding I just commit the changes. I don't really see the problem.

For the orphans thing, it's easy to get a list of orphans, see man pacman.

Note about the vim package: there are actually some things that are not good and we are in the process of fixing. See http://www.mail-archive.com/aur-general@archlinux.org/msg02861.html

Dieter.

Brian
Quoth Brian on April 04, 2009 @ 5:44 AM PDT

@Dieter_be Thanks for the info. I'm reading through the Vim issue now. Glad to hear people are working on it. I haven't hit any snags due to the double-runtime issue, thankfully.

I have already thrown together a PKGBUILD, and it was pretty simple, a bit easier than an ebuild. I'll have to see whether simplicity trumps configurability. Arch is going well so far though.

I do like that the community has a bigger role in the distro. I like the spectrum of devs, trusted users and users. I like that it's so easy to adopt a orphaned packages. I think it's a good solution to the ever-present dev shortages that plague all distros. Gentoo has never tapped its user community as well as it could.

wintermute
Quoth wintermute on May 29, 2009 @ 1:59 PM PDT

So have you stuck with Arch? I'm a current Gentoo user and interested in whether Arch is a viable alternative.

Brian
Quoth Brian on June 04, 2009 @ 3:35 AM PDT

Yeah, I'm still using Arch for the most part. It's been working OK so far but I haven't really pushed it too far yet. I don't feel the need to tweak as much as I used to. I'm still using KDE4, it's fairly stable.

wintermute
Quoth wintermute on June 13, 2009 @ 2:17 PM PDT

What have been your experiences with the AUR? Is it as useful/easy to use as overlays are in Gentoo?

Brian
Quoth Brian on June 16, 2009 @ 2:32 PM PDT

AUR is extremely easy to use. Almost too easy. It does very little sanity checking of the build scripts (in fact it strongly warns you to read each build file yourself before it lets you run them, just in case the build file rm -rfs your drive I guess). AUR doesn't like to be run as root, for this reason. Overlays in Gentoo seem to be more closely vetted and are probably "safer" to run.

On the other hand, AUR scripts seem to be written insanely quickly by non-dev users. There's often just a couple days of turnaround before you'll find a script for a new crazy alpha version of Google Chrome or some other bleeding-edge package. If you don't mind taking the risk, it can be a good thing.

I always find overlays in Gentoo to be an enormous pain, personally. Keeping them in sync, setting up the local directories, and pointing Portage at them, making sure they don't conflict with the offical tree, etc. I haven't hit any of those kinds of nuisances in Arch. On the other hand the rigorousness of Gentoo probably catches a few edge cases that break things in Arch (though I haven't found any yet).

wintermute
Quoth wintermute on June 17, 2009 @ 3:28 AM PDT

Sounds good, I guess I'll give Arch a shot. My laptop spent damn near the whole day a few days back compiling KDE 3.5.10, and it's starting to feel more and more pointless. I also noticed that Arch is more up-to-date than Gentoo, which was the origin of my interest in it.