The Linux Merry-Go-Round Has Stopped

It is a bit of a shift, given my history with Linux and various distributions, to realize that the distro-hopping merry-go-round that characterizes my usage has slowed to a stop.

… or at least slowed so much that to those riding it, it appears to have stopped.

Since the time I jumped into the Linux waters for some of my computers at home and at work, I’ve done a significant amount of hopping between distributions. In the beginning, many of those jumps were simply out of curiosity to see what the different distros were bringing to the table and to get a better feel for the extent to which they easily supported my hardware. After the first couple years, the hopping took on a different purpose and became a bit more intermittent: I was looking for a distro that worked for me, not just on my hardware but for me personally (as well as for those who also used those same computers). I have a stack of CDs and DVDs of distros that I have tried to varying extents; that stack is approaching 8 inches in height (and it clearly doesn’t include all of the distros I’ve tried via bootable USB sticks or as a VM over the past couple years).

Arch Linux logoSo it is a bit of a shift, in many ways, for me to realize the merry-go-round has slowed, possibly stopped. I think I’ve found it. I’ve been running Arch Linux on my Asus netbook for ¬†several months and it fits well: very good support for the hardware and for me personally. It has the packages I want, and I love the rolling release model that keeps packages current continuously as software projects release both major and minor updates (something that always bothered me to the point of kludging work-arounds in other distributions).¬†Over the Christmas break, I moved my older Gateway desktop to Arch, as well. That is still a work in progress, as I am wrestling with a couple of items there but I have a fairly high degree of confidence I will resolve those. (And that’s a very different box with a very different usage profile than my netbook in terms of how I use it and how frequently.)

For now, I’m happy and don’t foresee any hopping in the near future. I absolutely do not miss the periodic upgrade-or-reinstall dance from the other distros I’ve primarily used in the past (Mint and Ubuntu being the two distros I spend the majority of the past 5 years living in/with). I like the pace at which new software versions, once release, make their way through the package management process. The package manager itself does everything I need it to in a very straightforward manner (even in situations where I’ve had to ignore updates to things like video drivers for my desktop’s antiquated graphics adapter). The software I want to use is present. The resulting systems, particularly given their older and/or low-end hardware, are stable and are far more responsive under Arch than any of the other distros I’ve had installed on them. The distro has an active and supportive community, along with a very usable and useful wiki.

Arch probably isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. (And it is the underlying aspect of this — having the availability of a broad spectrum of variations on a given OS, each with different strengths and philosophies to choose from — that makes me truly appreciate Linux, but that’s possibly the topic of a future ramble.)

Discuss.

Busy Couple Weeks in Open Source Land

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with new releases (and pre-releases) of several key software packages, and the benefits of using a rolling-release distribution of Linux like Arch Linux are again pronounced.

It has been a pretty busy couple of weeks in the land of open source software:

  • OpenOffice.org‘s new version 3 made it into the regular repositories in Arch Linux last week. One of the aspects of a rolling release distribution like Arch is how quickly stuff like this becomes available particularly in light of the recent announcement by the Ubuntu team that they will stay on version 2.4.1 in their next upcoming release. Both my Arch boxes have been updated, and I’m impressed with the changes and the speed improvements.
  • Firefox’s beta 1 of version 3.1 was released up, too, and I’m running it on 3 of my boxes, including my Mac at work. It feels much faster — even without turning on the disabled-by-default new JavaScript engine which is still reportedly pretty buggy — and some of the UI changes are pretty nice.
  • Mozilla Messaging release an alpha 3 of the next release of Thunderbird, and I’m running that as my primary mail client on my Mac at work. It has picked up some nice Mac UI changes, provides integration with the Mac address book, and the re-tooled IMAP support is noticably better that the current stable version 2 branch of Thunderbird. And how could you not like a mail client named “Shredder”?
  • GNOME‘s latest release — version 2.24 — made it into the stable repositories earlier this week, and both of my Arch boxes are now running it. Most of the changes aren’t all that obvious at this point, but it is noticably faster and feels more responsvive. The upgrade was painless (aside from the big download) and seems to have gone flawlessly on both boxes.
  • Finally, WordPress released a minor point release to fix a security hole.

Progress with Arch Linux

It has been several weeks since I started playing with Arch Linux. I’ve two of my three systems running under this distro and figured it was worth posting at least a short blurb on my impressions and experience…

It has been several weeks since I started playing with Arch Linux. I’ve two of my three systems running under this distro and figured it was worth posting at least a short blurb on my impressions and experience…

Both (impressions and experience) have been very positive. I’m running it on two older laptops right now, but have not yet migrated my primary system over yet, and won’t for a bit. The installation experience is very different than Linux Mint (my preferred distro to this point) in several ways: it’s text-based (which in and of itself is not a bad thing, particularly within the context of the Arch philosophy) and because the installation itself really does just install a basic core system, getting to the point where you have a fully-populated desktop environment along with the other needed tools installed, configured, and running takes quite a bit longer. My slow progress really doesn’t have as much to do with the installation process itself as it does with the fact that I am working through it in chunks of about 15-20 minutes each day.

At this point, the two systems in question are probably 90-plus percent “finished” in terms of getting everything I know I need or want for an initial system. Having said that, however, that 90% is a fully functional box with everything I need to access the ‘net, use the system on day-to-day basis to do what I need to do, supports multimedia, deals with removable media (including my camera), and has a working LAMP stack with my blog running locally.

Keeping the system updated and installing additional packages so far has been a non-issue, and I’m impressed with pacman, Arch’s package manager. No complaints or issues there to date. In fact, the only real issue I’ve had at all is an occasional and very intermittent hang on booting at a particular point in the startup process. It’s very intermittent and requires a hard reset, but once past that point in the startup, the system has proven to be rock solid. That particular little nasty is the subject of an on-going thread on the distro’s forums, and others are occasionally seeing it, as well…

Speaking of the forums, the distro’s wiki and forums are definitely two of the distro’s strong points. Both are active, and the documentation on the wiki is excellent both in its coverage and its quality.

The biggest difference for me with this distro is speed. Startup on both of these systems is well under 30 seconds from power on to login under gdm. Shutdown on both is under 10 seconds. What’s the difference? Clearly there are far fewer services running here than on a stock Ubuntu or Mint installation, since the only stuff running is what I’ve installed and configured. It makes me wonder what all that other stuff is doing for me on previous distros because I haven’t missed any of it yet…

In short: so far, so good. At some point, unless I step into a massive hole somewhere along the lines, I will probably move my last (and primary) box over to Arch.

Geek Shorts

A few miscellaneous geek blurbs, in no particular order of importance… and Happy Birthday, Ian!

A few miscellaneous short geek items:

  • I’ve been looking at Arch Linux lately as a possible distro to try for a bit, and took the plunge last night on an older Dell Latitude laptop. I’m still partway through the installation even as I write this (in the middle of installing the GNOME desktop, actually). The basic OS install went smoothly, but I got stuck for a bit trying to get the nVidia video drivers configured; got past that hump and it’s plugging away at this point. More to come on that… if it looks like it will be worth hanging on to. It’s a bleeding edge rolling release distribution, meaning they don’t release new versions every x months with no updates to new versions of the applications (generally only minor patches and security updates are made available) between releases; their model feeds updates to apps as they become available, as as long as one periodically updates stuff, they are always current and there’s no need to re-install a version of the OS every six months or so. Maybe better, maybe not, but different. Part of what has impressed me is the level of polish on the documentation available for the distro, particularly for someone looking at it as a potential new user (see their beginner’s guide as a good example).
  • Being restricted to the touchpad on a laptop is slow and painful; my mouse is dangling off the back of the in-progress Arch box at the moment. Note to self: buy a second USB mouse to have hanging around for times like these.
  • Speaking of Linux, Wednesday’s xkcd Web comic strip struck a chord with me, having watched Ian over the past few years. See for yourself.
  • Speaking of Ian and geek stuff, today marks his 16th birthday. Happy Birthday, Ian!
  • I finished re-reading William Gibson’s Count Zero a week or so ago and I’m part way through Neuromancer right now; I keep forgetting how much I like his writing. And having gone back and started rereading these two classics of the cyberpunk genre, I am amazed at how often I find references to things from them.