Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Doin' the Distro Shuffle

My three-year old love affair with Gentoo Linux has come to an end. On Sunday I emerge sync'ed and started an upgrade, only to find that a bunch of packages would not compile. By the time I had finished I couldn't even boot the thing because would not work, and no amount of emerging could coax it back. I decided it was time to say goodbye, and started looking around for a few other distros.

My first distribution (apart from tentative tries with Redhat) was Mandrake Linux, and I often miss it despite the fact that I remember it as being buggy, patronising, and having a childish set of icons (do you never forget your first distro?). So I downloaded and tried Mandriva One, which has a positively horrible orange default theme, and when I tried to install it it got 3/4 of the way through and then just stopped. I think I'm cured of my Mandrake nostalgia :-(.

The next distribution I tried was Arch Linux, and I'm writing from it right now. It's really fast - faster than my Gentoo installation - and of course installing with its binary-based package manager, pacman, is a lot faster than emerging. The first time I installed (from the 'net) I was a bit picky about what got installed, but I must have been too picky, because the second time I installed (choosing to install everything from the full CD image), fonts came up antialiased. Hurrah! It's not one for you if you hate the commandline (the installation program is a text-based ncurses interface program, it comes up in text mode by default, and there is no default graphical system configuration program - though these days the one that comes with KDE is a lot more useful than it used to be - it now understands GRUB, for example), but if you can cope with the fact that it's text based, it's actually one of the easier installs out there. It's probably not as easy as Slackware, because you have to edit rc.conf and make sure the initrd has options to install a non-us keymap and boot from raid and lvm if you need them, but it has sensible defaults so with those provisos, you should be able to fix any "mistakes" (such as not adding kdm to the list of daemons to load on boot) from a running machine.

One minor problem I did have with it was that when I set my resolution to 1280x1024, X started up with one or two inches off the right of the screen blank - easily fixed by using my monitor's controls to shift the display to the right and enlarge it a bit. (I tried using xvidtune but for some reason X would ignore the Modeline part of the config file). One thing I love about Arch is that it allowed me to install the root partition onto an LVM, just like I had with Gentoo - all I had to do was reformat /, /usr, /var, and /opt, and we're off! I have /home, and several directories under it, on separate partitions, and it's amazing seeing (almost) all your configurations come up the way you had 'em on another distro.

I have a spare hard disk on which I'm going to install Slackware 11 and/or Debian, but for now it looks like I may well stay with Arch.


Juan said...

After using Slackware by 6 years, in December I decided to prove Arch Linux. There is no doubt. Arch Linux is so fast and simple as Slackware.
I believe that finally I found a replacement for my Slackware. :)

Jeff said...

Hi Juan.

Yes, I like Slackware too!