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arch linux

I've been using Linux since the early Redhat days. My friend's brother was working at Intel as an intern, and was given Redhat 4 on CD(s) to take home and learn about. After hearing about this new thing called "Linux", I wanted to mess around with it. My friend's brother let me borrow his discs, and I promptly installed Redhat 4 on my old Gateway 2000 80486DX-33 w/12MB RAM and 300MB HDD. It sucked. X wouldn't initialize correctly on my 1MB Cirrus Logic video device. Sound didn't work. When I finally managed to get X working, I couldn't get it to modeset my display at a higher resolution than 640x480.

After a few weeks of tinkering with it, and realizing that it had really limited utility for a lot of reasons (including the ones I mentioned, as well as others like..my modem not working, etc.) I gave up on it as a desktop OS. It was a good learning experience, but that's it.

That trend of frustration with desktop Linux has followed me around for a long time.

Every so often, usually a couple times per year, I'll snag a handful of Linux distro ISOs and I'll try them out on my notebook. I usually grab the newest Ubuntu release, Fedora (yuck) and some other wildcard distro (SuSE, Linux Mint, something random). Invariably, I'm disappointed. Power management is still terrible on mobile machines. In some cases, the OSS GPU drivers for my notebook won't work reliably, losing display, exhibiting corruption that requires me to disable hardware acceleration, etc. It's gotten better, but still not good enough for me to ditch Windows or OSX as desktop/mobile PC OS'.

At the beginning of June, I grabbed Ubuntu 13.04, installed it over my old Ubuntu 11.04 install on my laptop and fired it up. Display corruption in X. The same bugs I had observed since 2010 were still present. Launchpad (the Ubuntu bug tracker platform) had comments indicating it had been resolved by an update in late 2012, however, despite running newer versions of all of the components implicated in the fixes, I still had display corruption.

Ditto with Fedora.

On a lark, I decided I'd try something new to me. I installed Arch Linux on the aforementioned laptop.

There's no installer to speak of, just straightforward Linux commands to acquire packages, write filesystems, etc. I really liked it. Part of me thinks that it's because it reminded me so much of when I was a kid, screwing around with RH4 and Caldera. Their (Arch's) approach to Linux is novel: it takes the most interesting/least insane part of Gentoo, the rolling distribution model, but instead of spending hours compiling every piece of software you want to install, you use bleeding edge packages.

It makes sense. It's not too unmanageable, if you don't mind the massive churn and frequent updates. If you pay attention to Arch's forums, mailing list or even /r/archlinux on reddit, you'll be aware of any situations that might cause you headaches. The upside is that you're constantly getting new, improved applications and services. The downshot is that with new stuff comes new bugs. Another upshot is that you'll get upstream bugfixes faster. Downshot again is that you'll probably need them (the bugfixes, I mean).

So, back to the install: I deployed the base environment on the laptop. I installed X, Fluxbox, GPU drivers, some network utilities and wicd. It all worked exactly as I'd expect it to. No display corruption, no weird quirks. Boots to login in 15 seconds. I removed my windows partition from this particular machine because I was so impressed with Arch.

It won't likely be replacing my server distro(s) of choice (Ubuntu LTS, Debian stable), but so far, I don't think I have any issues using it as a desktop OS. My cynical side keeps telling me that I'll probably end up getting frustrated and removing it, but I'm going to try and give it a fair shake.

arch linux
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