Arch is hard to replace

There’s a good reason I stayed with Arch for so long: it was simple, easy, behaved exactly as it should and it didn’t break. Until now.

The random plasma crashes are probably because of the recent upgrade to KDE 4.4, and I’m reasonably sure it would be solved if I delete the .kde dir or, in the worst case scenario, reinstall. In fact, I’m pretty sure the plasmoids I have installed from the AUR are the problem…

But the network problems baffle me. I don’t have these in other Linux distributions, but I don’t use them as much as I use Arch. The problem is only with the wired connection, my wireless LinkSys USB wireless thingamajammy could always connect (up until it fell and broke :/). I’m beginning to think the cable might be too long…grasping at straws here.

In any case, I started looking at possible replacements. Over the last couple of days, I tried quite a few:

I didn’t try out OpenSuse KDE, because I was curious about the GNOME version, there’s no Ubuntu because I already had Linux Mint, and I didn’t include Fedora although I wanted to, because I’m a bit worried about my download limit.

My requirements aren’t very hard, I believe.

  1. Relatively easy way to install/configure the nvidia drivers.
  2. I prefer KDE over GNOME, but will use both.
  3. List of preferred applications: nano, Pidgin, Chromium, Amarok/Rhythmbox, Transmission, audacious, k3b/Brasero, Comix, emelfm2 (or Krusader as an alternative), Yakuake/Guake.
  4. If KDE, I prefer the Smooth-Tasks plasmoid over the normal taskbar, and since I dislike the cashew, the I-hate-the-cashew plasmoid is a bonus too.
  5. Multimedia out of the box or easy to install/configure.
  6. No show-stopping bugs, crashes, or other unpleasantries.

So, let’s see what the various distributions are up against.

Arch:

  1. pacman -S nvidia && nvidia-xsettings. Okay, it’s command line, but for me, it’s as easy as that. Never fails.
  2. Arch only installs a base system, so both KDE and GNOME (and everything else) are easily installed. Arch’s packages are split, so you can pacman -S kde for the whole shebang, or pick and choose.
  3. Of those list, nano is installed by default. Everything else is in the official repositories.
  4. Both plasmoids are available in the AUR, so they’re “packaged” by volunteers. You need to be careful with these, but they’re easily installed.
  5. Many options. pacman -S gstreamer0.10-plugins && pacman -S flashplayer will be enough for most people.
  6. I guess the black screens after the latest KDE install and network problems fall in this category.

Now it’s time to have a look at the contenders:

Debian:

  1. Oh dear. While there’s plenty of documentation available, building the nvidia kernel module always failed for me without any helpful errors. I’ve tried this twice, but it just didn’t work. What I didn’t try is installing the drivers from the nvidia website…I didn’t feel like repeating that every time a new kernel came out.
  2. Debian’s repositories are absolutely huge, so both KDE and GNOME are available. The default CD1 installs GNOME, but KDE and XFCE editions are available.
  3. Everything I needed was either already installed or easy to install. Concerning Chromium/Chrome, Google provides a .deb package, but I heard these add their own repository to your sources.list, so use at your own risk.
  4. Not tested
  5. Not tested
  6. Not tested

OpenSuse:

  1. Easy One Click install is available. It’s not very fast, but it works well.
  2. I tried out the GNOME version based on this review.  Of course, KDE is available too.
  3. Again, huge repositories where I found everything I needed. Not all repositories were enabled by default, so this page was a big help. It searches for and installs software in a way familiar to Windows, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  4. Not tested, since I used GNOME. However, smooth tasks is in the repositories. The cashew plasmoid isn’t, but in OpenSuse you can hide it by default
  5. Multimedia codecs aren’t installed by default, but can be easily installed here.
  6. OpenSuse was a bit of a surprise. I liked the looks very much, and it was faster then I remembered, especially Yast. However, I couldn’t get compiz to work. It would start, and I’d have wobbly windows for one second, then it would switch back. This happened on two separate installs.

Mandriva 2010:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers has been a problem before for me, but this time they were already available after the installation. I didn’t have to do anything. Pleasant surprise.
  2. Both GNOME and KDE are available, I tried KDE.
  3. Mandriva is the only one of the distributions I tried which didn’t have nano installed by default. Considering how small this console editor is, I see no reason not to include it, but there you are. Chromium I found by enabling the backport repositories, and everything else was available too.
  4. Again a pleasant surprise: both plasmoids were available.
  5. In a way similar to Ubuntu, Mandriva detects if you want to play media which is restricted by copyright issues, and offers to install the necessary packages.
  6. There really isn’t much that isn’t to like in Mandriva. There were only two small issues: I found fonts didn’t look as nice on my monitor as they do in the other distributions, and the locale outside of X wasn’t configured properly: I still had a qwerty keyboard. Definitely a contender.

Sidux 2009.04:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers is not very simple, but it works well. The documentation can be found here.
  2. Sidux comes with KDE as the default. XFCE is available too.
  3. When it came to software, the only problem was finding a Chromium package, but adding a repository rather amusingly called frickelplatz solved that issue.
  4. The cashew plasmoid couldn’t be found, but adding another repository named xadras made Smooth tasks available.
  5. As far as I could see, sidux played multimedia out of the box. I didn’t rest this rigorously.
  6. Some problems here. I installed sidux twice, and the first time everything seemed okay. The second time however problems arose. One boot everything would be okay, the second one the locale would be wrong and I’d end up with a qwerty keyboard. Also, the system didn’t register the first two keystrokes after switching virtual desktop. Extremely odd.

Linux Mint:

  1. Mint’s based on Ubuntu, so it detects automatically if you have hardware which needs restricted drivers, and offers to installs them. Never fails.
  2. Mint’s default is GNOME, but a KDE version is available too. I didn’t test this, because this version  is mainly the standard edition with KDE slapped on top, which makes it a 1,1 GB download.
  3. Everything I needed was already installed, except for Guake and Chromium. Guake was in the repotories, for Chromium I needed to add this PPA to the software sources, which was easily done.
  4. Not tested (GNOME)
  5. Mint prides itself on playing everything out of the box.
  6. I had high hopes for Mint: it provides everything I want, looks fantastic, and never failed me before. However, this time it did. I had no problems in the LiveCD, or right after install, but after the necessary updates, it no longer auto-mounted my USB stick. I installed Mint twice just to be sure, with the same result. I could see the USB stick when I opened “My Computer”, but had to double-click it to mount it. Installing gnome-volume-manager temporarily solved it, but then it reappeared. All in all, disappointing.

And the winner is:

Arch.

That may not be a surprise. There’s nothing much wrong with Mandriva, and I probably would have kept Mint if it didn’t have that USB stick bug, but after testing all those I simply installed Arch again. It took me 25 minutes all in all, KDE 4.4 is behaving now, and the network problems haven’t returned so far. Arch really is radically simple, there’s no substitute for /etc/rc.conf, for pacman, and for the stability that comes with a policy of not patching anything unless there’s absolutely no other way.

Granted, the rolling release model means that things occasionally break. Regular checks of the homepage are required before any major updates, to stay informed of possible issues. But in my experience, no distribution is entirely bug free. Non of them however, comes as close as Arch.

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

San

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17 Responses to Arch is hard to replace

  1. Peter says:

    I really enjoyed reading this meaty post!

  2. wolfric says:

    Yay for Arch. My distro hopping stopped when I found Arch. 🙂

  3. truzicic says:

    Pacman is evil… Just install Slackware, set it up to suit your needs, and forget about reinstall for next 10 years…
    Dedicated to perfection — Slackware Linux
    Sorry for bad English XD

  4. miles says:

    Greetings – thanks for your thoughts. Love to try Arch but haven’t yet worked up the courage.
    Interesting choice for your Arch desktop backround.
    Photo taken from a not common angle.
    Does it mean you have visited that country?

  5. FreeBooteR says:

    Pacman is king and the ABS rocks the house. I can’t imagine going to another distribution now.

  6. Guilherme de Sousa says:

    I’m happy youre back to arch again;) its true that the rolling distro system can sometimes break your system, but its also true that its also easy to get everything right again by downgrading.. or just wait a week after a major update is realeased.

    from my experience I’ve learned that rolling distros with some precautions are more rock solid than the others.. ubuntu and other distros always bring big problems when you dist upgrade, and those kinds of problems are almost only solved with a fresh install..

    Arch is not perfect, but from what I’ve seen is the most similar distro to that(:

    best regards!

  7. atomopawn says:

    I’ve been maintaining a set of KDE-trunk PKGBUILDs originally written by Mark Constable. If you feel like trying trunk, they’re a good way to go.
    They’re on gitorios at:

    http://gitorious.org/+kde-git-pkgbuilders/kde-git-pkgbuilds/kde-git-pkgbuilds

    They are definitely unstable . . . but I use them on several production systems with only a few glitches now and then, so keep them in mind as an alternative if you’re having trouble with the KDE 4.4 stuff from the supported repositories.

  8. chessboxing says:

    “They keep crawling back to Estelle!” 😀
    I hope you found your peace. Perfection doesn’t exist… yet.

    Groeten uit Oostende!:)
    Arch user

  9. James says:

    Another one to try might be Pardus. It’s generally pretty easy to set up and uses KDE by default. I’m not sure about some of the “extras” e.g. Chromium and the special plasmoids.

    http://www.pardus.org.tr/eng

  10. qmic says:

    Sorry for flame but your comparision is kinda stupid.

    1) On every mentioned distribution installation of drivers is painless.
    But why didn`t you mention that to enter magic “pacman -S nvidia && nvidia-xsettings.” you have to spent 4 hour on configuring system? And about one hour on resolving of stupid problem that hal is not in dependency of X and it isn`t nowhere in documentation?

    2) On every mentioned distribution you can choose packages, more or less explict but you can, I don`t think you are running your arch on 500MB disk drive that you have to worry about 100MB of dependecies?
    It`s more like a psychologic problem than any other.

    3) Every mentioned distribution have these packages.

    4) ???

    5) pacman -S gstreamer0.10-plugins && pacman -S ? Bauahaa
    To be honest you forgot about a making of initrd, defining modules to load (about a one hour for a half experienced user)

    6. After three days of installation of arch on my tablet it was running stable, until the first update…

    I was using arch for a half year but after second system brake caused by update and about a half day spent on recovery I think this system is only for geeks with too much free time.

    PS. You forgot to mention installation time. 😛
    PS2. I`m now using ….., i was using such a distrubutions like
    1. …… (i wont tell 😛 ) – in this moment, most liked
    1 . Centos (servers) – 5 years
    2. Ubuntu (in home, on server) – 2 years , 1 year
    3. OpenSuse (in home, servers) – 2 years on servers, 0,5 year in home
    3. Debian (servers, in home) 2 years
    4. Gentoo – 3 years
    5. Arch Linux 0,5 year (less stable than gentoo)
    5. DreamLinux, Mint, (few months)

  11. celettu says:

    qmic:

    I’m sorry, but your comment is at best inaccurate and at worst, lies.
    1)pacman -S nvidia && nvidia-xsettings takes exactly one minute, hal IS a dependancy of x, and the documentation on it is abundant (http://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/HAL)

    2) I don’t even know what that means. The packages in Arch are dependant on exactly the same ones as in other distributions…

    5) Quite simply, no. What do modules have to do with codecs anyway?

    Installation + configuration to a complete KDE system took 20 to 25 minutes.

  12. steve says:

    I’m with you celettu. After two years of distro-hopping and finally being reasonably satisfied with fedora, I decided to give Arch a try when the 2009-08 installation cds came out. Now I would never go back to any others. It took me about an hour to install using the beginners guide and a wonderful tutorial at Raiden.net In the last six months updating nearly every day I have had only one problem and received an answer to my problem within five minutes of posting on the forums. With Arch you really can have a system just how you the user wants it.

  13. Forever Archer says:

    +1 for Pardus… it is worth trying it
    and for the Arch+Kde lovers… try chackra. It is still in alpha stag, but it is ok for me

    cheers!

  14. randy says:

    yep, I love arch too. I’m running it on my eeepc 1005HA. I ran mint on it first. Mint was ok, but I don’t like gnome. I see that mint 8 has a kde flavor now, maybe I’ll give it a try.

  15. […] else who hopes to replace Arch won’t try OpenSUSE just yet. I didn’t try out OpenSuse KDE, because I was curious about […]

  16. Dann says:

    Kubuntu is easy, but I definitely prefer arch and gentoo.

    When upgrading arch, I had an issue with the new dhcp where I could not connect to the internet. I held dhcpcd back after a reinstall and have had no issues since.

  17. xaph says:

    that’s great post that I like to read. Actually i want to ask you have you try linux mint debian edition? I think it’s one of the best distro i’ve ever used.

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