Beginning Arch Linux

Posted on August 21, 2014 by Richard Goulter
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So. Last week I decided to try out Arch Linux. Some of my friends, (or, rather, many of the smart folk I’m acquainted with) use Arch Linux. And the Haskell community has a love for Arch.

Actually, part of the reason was because I screwed something or other up on my Linux Mint 17 install relating to fish + powerline + some terminal emulator. (gnome-terminal probably). Some issue or other to do with encoding such that powerline wasn’t working properly. Possibly because I didn’t have python3 installed. Possibly because I did a hash job of trying to install powerline optional dependenicies.

What I’ve heard of Arch Linux is the general feeling that, as a “rolling release” distribution (continuous updates rather than every-6-months), it tends to break or require maintanence. - As someone who’s only been using Arch for a week, I of course can’t say that in the long run it’s easy to maintain, since I haven’t tried. I’ll keep using it until then. (My other impression is a lot of these “things break” remarks come about from when Arch was switching to systemd, or from folk who don’t update their system frequently). That said, one of my clever classmates has stopped using Arch, now in favour of Linux Mint, for the reason that he didn’t want to bother with Arch maintenance.

Well. Setting Arch up wasn’t so difficult as I’d heard. And the Arch Wiki is absolutely fantastic. So, while setting up Arch has been quite an educational experience, that’s not entirely a euphemism for “painful”. Some pain, quite a bit of gain.

Literally not being given anything without asking for it .. is quite in line with an Arch philosophy, as is apparent without having to read the Wiki’s FAQ about “The Arch Way”. Oh. Yeah. AUR. (Arch User Repository. Unofficial packages). Some quite cool packages aren’t available from Arch’s main repository, because reasons. So you’ve to download an unofficial package manager (yaourt) in order to be able to more easily download unofficial packages.

Having been using OSX for the majority of the last 3 months, it’s a joy to again be on a Linux. (No, OSX, being a Unix isn’t enough for a programmer if you lack a proper package manager). And one of the things I want to try out is incorporating an X Window Manager into my workflow. (If you’re aware of my casual interest in Haskell, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear I want to try xmonad).

That said, I can’t bash OSX so much; I’ve setup Docky, and am trying Launchy/Gnome-Do, which very much mimick OSX’s dock and spotlight/Alfred. I’ve decided it’s a good idea to keep a mail client open for the notifications, which was a workflow I learned from OSX. From OSX I liked the notion of meta-C, meta-V, etc. as ways of cutting/pasting from the terminal in a way which wasn’t awkward. (Or maybe I just need to learn proper techniques for how to do this using a keyboard). I like OSX’s ‘workspaces’ more than the Cinnamon workspaces I have, for being able to arrange them and have ‘fullscreen’ apps as a workspace. The touchpad on a MacBook is also top notch, and I’ve decided “natural scrolling” isn’t so bad.

OSX isn’t amazing, either. I still don’t think there’s an easy way to cut and paste from one folder to another, as an example of a basic OS task a user might hope, and its window-management sucks (what does pressing ‘maximize’ do?) without installing applications which tend to cost money. And that’s off the top of my head. But still.

As of yet, I’m not particularly informed as to argue what’s a “best linux”. Use what you like and don’t let others beat you about for it. My first taste of Linux was Fedora on the school lab computers. On my own computer, it was Linux Mint, because I’d heard that was a simple and popular distribution, and it wasn’t Ubuntu (as such). So I opted for Linux Mint for being ‘noob-friendly’ (although, as mentioned above, it’s not only for the clueless). Arch Linux sounds like something fun to try.

Would a novice be able to use Arch Linux? I came to Arch with enough familiarity with how to navigate around a terminal, and some awareness as to (basic) things about Linux. I think because the Arch Wiki is so fantastic, it would be possible for a determined novice to be able to use Arch, so long as they had access to the wiki alongside their computer. I’d think it’d be a baptism of fire for anyone new to Linux/Unix, though.

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