Arch + XFCE: The perfect Desktop (for now)

July 24, 2010

In the past week I’ve used Ubuntu 10.04, Mint 9, and Arch + GNOME, but Arch + XFCE seems to beat all of those.

While Ubuntu and Mint are both excellent, and very user-friendly, they both had a problem with Rhythmbox import errors. Basically every song with a strange character in the name (e.g. Alizée – A quoi rève une jeune fille) gave an import error, even though it was imported correctly. Switching to Banshee didn’t help much: it only found 214 songs out of close to 7000. Mint, being Ubuntu based, did the exact same thing.

Banshee in Arch found my collection just fine, but with GNOME startup took way too long. There’s still some kind of issue there, because I’ve had the same problem since 2.26. Arch with XFCE proved to be the winner though, being fast, functional and beautiful, all at the same time. Some things take a bit more time to configure, like multimedia keyboard button shortcuts, which should have worked out of the box with banshee, but didn’t, things like that. Nothing major.

Pacman has had a recent upgrade, and now seems to be even faster, and there are some improvements when you want to install a local package. Definitely still the best package manager out there. Chromium, Banshee, Emelfm2, Comix, Audacious, Transmission and Brasero were quickly installed, which only left a good twitter client. I enjoyed using Gwibber in Ubuntu, but in Arch it isn’t available in the official repositories. It’s in the AUR, but required a 100+MB download and…left me with a blank screen. I enjoy using Tweetdeck in Windows, but while it worked fine in Ubuntu, it doesn’t in Arch. Again, it’s only available via the AUR, and for me, it simply didn’t work. Pino came to the rescue, but again, it’s not available in the official repositories. All in all, I don’t get the impression that the Arch devs and packagers are big twitter fans 🙂

I’ve also grown fond of Docky lately. For some reason, I always resisted using a dock, probably because my few experiences with Mac OSX weren’t that positive. However, I realised that what I like about Windows 7’s taskbar are it’s dock-like abilities, so I tried out Docky. Now I don’t know how to live without it. It does require compositing to be on (not a problem these days, easily switched on in XFCE, GNOME and KDE), in order to have some eye candy, but things remain discreet and tasteful. On IntelliHide it provides a bit more screen estate, which is nice.

Configuring GDM’s layout and background isn’t that easy these days, and the Arch Wiki article didn’t work for me, so I switched it for LXDM. I read on the forums it may be unstable, but it has been working like a dream on my Lubuntu netbook, so I wasn’t nervous about giving it a try here. Big plus: the configuration file is plain text, so changing the background and GTK theme was very easy.

It’s in my nature to keep changing my desktop, because I get bored easily and can’t resist shiny new software. But I’m very happy with this. For now.

Obligatory screenshots:

San


Arch is hard to replace

February 15, 2010

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


Arch is failing me!

February 10, 2010

I’ve been posting less and less here, simply because I’ve been very happy with my system as it was. My distribution of choice is Arch, my DE of choice is KDE, and my applications of choice are Pidgin, Chromium, Amarok (yes, it’s back), and Transmission. I don’t need more, and I was happy.

However.

I’ve mentioned my network woes before. In short: sometimes, when I boot, I have no network. When I don’t log in to KDE immediately, this happens even more. A reboot may solve the issue, but almost never does. When I run “dhcpcd eth0” it just hangs at “Waiting for carrier…” and then times out. I don’t have these problems in other Linux distributions (live-cd or installed), but I then again, I haven’t used them as primary OS either. Whenever I load a livecd though, find the network, then reboot, the problem’s gone in Arch. For a while.
I’m not sure what to blame. Arch? KDE? dhcpcd? Network card failure? Network cable too long? In any case, I’ve been putting off really solving this issue.

However.

Yesterday saw the release of KDE 4.4, and as mentioned on the Archlinux website, Arch users could upgrade almost immediately. I followed the procedure mentioned on the homepage, restarted KDE, and marveled at the beauty that was KDE 4.4. For two seconds, and then the screen went black. I could still hit Ctrl Alt Del, and reboot. Same thing happened.

I must say that at this point I really didn’t want to try and solve the issue, or reinstall Arch (which probably would have solved the issue),  so I now run Mint, my second favourite distribution, with GNOME. While I thing Metacity and Compiz are infinitely inferior to KWin, this works for now.

Unless I have this bug, because right before I left home today I noticed my USB stick didn’t show up. I might be okay…I have problems with pendrives all the time. If not…well, I can always try out OpenSuse I guess…

Sigh. I’m getting too old for this shit 😉

San