Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Walking on "The Arch Way"

I had once started down the Arch path before. Back then the intent was to revive old Fujitsu Tablets. As soon as the Live image fired up I abandoned it. It was then I realized that Live CD doesn't mean Live CD with X. Yesterday I found myself research Arch in my quest to find a lean Linux distribution that was on a rolling release. Arch was the answer and it had the latest versions of all software that I needed current.

Having used Linux for over six years, I was still intimidated by Arch because of what I read about it. GUI installers are against "The Arch Way". There was this whole text-file-based configuration editing step that I had read about and was not too fond of. However, the part that scared me the most about the non-GUI installer was the disk partioning. I have 100GB of data on my home partition that I wasn't going to sort through before installing Arch. Also, I was not too thrilled by the idea of running a back up of that data over USB either. Frankly, I felt that "The Arch Way" was frankly getting in my way. But sticking with Kubuntu was no longer the option and I couldn't find any other Linux distribution to be a viable alternative either. I decided to read through the beginner's guide on the ArchWiki and fire up a virtual machine to get a feel for the installation process and to see what the final product might look like.

To my surprise, the installation was not nearly what I had expected. It was very straight forward and methodical. Having already read the beginner's guide also made it a lot easier to follow through. I made sure I familiarized myself with the partitioning utility during the installation. Besides the computer's host name, I did not have to change any of the defaults in the configuration editing step. The defaults were quite sufficient. I was able to follow the steps from the beginner's guide and setup X and KDE and was able to boot into KDE session on the new Arch VM. To be certain, I tried this routine one more time and made some mental notes.

Since I was going to install Arch on my laptop, I decided to not hook up the ethernet cable for Internet and rather do the post installation updates over WiFi. I already had my wpa_supplication configuration file in my home directory. I would come in handy during post installation. I made note of the UID of my user account under Ubuntu. This would surely come in handy once Arch is installed.

During the installation:
1. On partitioning section, I made sure that I didn't reformat my home partition.
2. On the configuration editing step, I changed the HOSTNAME to what I had previously had under Ubuntu.
3. I skipped editing the network configuration as that was needed only for ethernet based Internet updates.
4. On the package selection step, I selected sudo and all the network and wireless related packages.
After the installation, after reboot, I checked to see if my home partition was still intact. And it was. I created a new user for my login and used the UID that I got when I was still running Ubuntu. I fired up the WiFi with the following command:

wpa_supplicant -Dwext -i wlan0 -cwpa.conf -B

I was connected to Internet through WiFi which I validated by issing a ping to I modified the /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist file to uncomment the mirrors for my updates. After that I ran the pacman update command:

pacman -Syu

This updated the pacman database and started the initial update process. Once the update was done, I followed the instructions from the beginner's guide to install X and then KDE. I followed the KDE guide on the Wiki to setup kdm as the display manager. Once KDE was installed, I rebooted. After the reboot, I was presented a graphical login screen. Once inside KDE session, I had to restart wpa_supplicant for WiFi. I also realized that the network daemon was slowing the boot process. I disabled it from the rc.conf file.

The Wiki mentioned about graphical tools for package management and KPackageKit/Apper was one of them. Since I had used Apper with Kubuntu and was familiar with its functionality, I decided to install it. Installation of Apper was probably the trickiest thing to figure out during this entire exercise. But I was able to install it from AUR. Once Apper was installed, installing other software became a piece of cake. I installed all the plasma widgets and plasmoids. This enabled me to use the Network Management plasma widget that I was accustomed to under Kubuntu. Since it needed NetworkManager to function, I installed NetworkManager daemon and enabled it in rc.conf file. On the next reboot, I had networking and I could get on the WiFi using KDE's network management settings.

I did realize that while I had my home folder from previous setup, my desktop and KDE settings had disappeared. Since I knew that Kubuntu stored user level configuration under ~/.kde/share, I decided to take a look. I did find that there was a ~/.kde4 folder under home along with ~/.kde. This was it. Arch was using the ~/.kde4 folder instead of ~/.kde which was why my previous settings had not taken effect in the new setup. I copied the share folder from .kde to .kde4 folder and logged out. After loggin back in, I was in a familar workspace.

With all my software installed under the ArchLinux and with my original KDE settings restored, it feels like I never switched distributions.

One of the things that I had forgotten to do was to create a group by the same name as the user as Kubuntu did. That caused a temporary permissions issue which I was able to resolve without much difficulty.

I hope this information will be helpful to those who are considering to move to a different distribution but my be intimidated by what they might have read about it.

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