My Perfect Desktop Day 1 – The Base System

arch-linux-logoSo today is the day I start building my perfect system. Before getting going,  I had a good think about which distro to use for the base install. I’ve been using Ubuntu for about 2 years now and love the ease of package management with apt and aptitude. I had a bit of a play around with Ubuntu Karmic yesterday and I must say it looks fantastic, and with Lucid Lynx only a few weeks away it might come as a bit of a surprise to discover that my choice is a distro I’ve never used before: Arch.

Why Arch?

There are three main reasons I’ve picked Arch over Ubuntu, or even Debian.

  1. I really like the idea of Arch’s rolling release system. My laptop is currently running Jaunty and in order to get the latest packages I would have to upgrade to Karmic. With Arch this is less of an issue.
  2. As mentioned in my initial post, the base system should be small, quick and light. With Arch you can pick and choose exactly what you want at installation time, keeping it bloat free.
  3. Finally, Arch will be something new to play with!

After downloading and burning a Net Install ISO I followed the excellent installation guide in the Arch Wiki.

Installation was relatively painless, the only two slight issues being:

I chose Auto prepare for partitioning, but I didn’t really know what filesystem to choose. Eventually I opted for Ext4, with so far, no ill effects.

During Boot Device Selection, again I wasn’t really sure what to do, but after some Googling I found this page, whose advice I followed, but just pressing enter.

I restarted and was greeted with a shell prompt. I quickly pinged Google and my network was still up and running through the ethernet on DHCP.

The next step up a non-root user and X. Again, the Arch documentation is excellent.

Setting up X was relatively simple. I originally decided to not opt for hotplugging, which was a mistake because I only have a USB keyboard and mouse, neither of which I could use in X (muppet of the day award goes to me). After turning off the machine and setting up hotplugging, all was fine!

I have been using the Awesome window manager for about a month now. Awesome is a tiling window manager which is heavily geared towards being keyboard friendly, and as it’s name suggests, it is pretty awesome.

Unlike Jaunty, installing the latest stable version of Awesome was a breeze, I simply ran:

# pacman -S awesome

and edited my ~/.xinitrc file adding:

exec awesome

at the bottom. When I started X again, Awesome was there without any problem.

Sound was equally as simple to install, which was a nice surprise.

So my base system is now setup, with my window manager of choice in place and sound ready and waiting for my music collection. And all this running under 100MB of RAM!

After my first foray into the world of Arch I’m pretty impressed. Pacman is very straight forward to use, after a bit of tweaking here and there it has just worked.

Next time, file management tools.