Since then, I've spend some time on and off experimenting with other Linux distros. So far, in my still very limited knowledge, I have come to 3 conclusions:
- Xubuntu is still the best for me - For my day to day usage, I continue to use Xubuntu pretty much as I set it up a year ago, with only very minor modifications.
- I would recommend Linux to pretty much anyone - It comes in so many shapes, sizes and versions, many of which are completely usable "out of the box" (i.e. without any modification) that most people will find a version that will not only meet all of their needs but also be visually appealing.
- Linux is lots of fun - For people who simply want a more functional alternative to Windows, find a good distro, and stick with it. For others, there's lots of fun to be had with trying out different desktops, modifying visuals, adapting to your needs, figuring out what's going on behind the visual facade of a monitor, etc.
As for this last point, one of my ongoing side projects after settling on Xubuntu has been fiddling around with Arch Linux.
If you've been around the Linux world for any time, you've probably heard that Arch is one of the best distos out there, with very clean code, no software clutter, no unnecessary processes eating up your computer's resources and completely customizable, so you make it exactly what you want it to be. Many experts will rate it 10/10 at the top of the Linux distos available.
As far as I can tell, all of this seems to be true.
Pacman, the program used to install new programs on the computer, is also amazing.
When I was 4 years old, I saw my two older brothers riding around on their bikes without training wheels. Before I would get onto my new bike, I insisted that my dad take the training wheels off. I returned home scraped and bruised and still wobbly on my bike, but with my pride completely in tact, knowing that I could ride a bike the way my older brothers did, without those training wheels that little kids have to use.
|With Arch, there are no training wheels ... or helmet|
Besides all the praise, anyone reading up on Arch will quickly also find the warnings that you have to know what you're doing. This is true. I read these warnings too, but in my typical fashion, I decided to jump right in, just to prove (to myself) that I could do it - and I can tell you, I've had my share of scrapes and bruises, not to mention that I am a far cry from being good at this yet.
But, as with my bike, I can now say I did it.
Starting With Arch - A Checklist
First of all, I will repeat the warnings: if you are new to Linux and looking for that ideal distro to suit your needs, don't even try Arch - for now. My prediction is that it would drive you away from Linux.
I am not the one to give advice here, since I am so new to everything, but I would suggest the following as prerequisites:
- You know how to dual boot.
- You know how to configure and fix Grub, the program that boots your operating system, at least using an online guide if necessary.
- You have another computer available at any time to look up instructions or how to fix what you've broken. (You will break things.)
- You've customized some a more user-friendly distro (Ubuntu, Mint, etc.)
- You've (successfully) fiddled around with configuration files (not the visual GUIs that make it easy, but the actual file.)
I recommend knowing how to do this as the first necessity because it allows to have your stable distro on one partition, and then have another distro "in the works" on another. This way, if your desktop is still under construction and not yet what you need it to be, or you break it (again, you will break it) your computer is still usable for day to day usage in your main distro.
You don't really have to know how to do this, but more importantly know where to find it. This is where that second computer is very important.
For dual booting, see this guide for dual booting linux and Windows. (A very similar process can be applied to dual booting Ubuntu and Arch Linux.)
This guide explains how Grub works and how to do basic repairs. This one tells you how to make Grub give you a menu after installing Windows. Generally speaking, if you add a second installation, Linux distros will set up Grub to give you a menu, but it's good to know what to do when something goes wrong.
The first time I tried dual booting, the new distro simply loaded right after the boot and I was worried I had lost my main, customized Xubuntu installation with all my files. They were backed up, but at that time, the idea of going through it all again was not very appealing. As it turned out, I just had to fix Grub.
If you are comfortable dual booting and fixing Grub, then knowing how to modify and customize is less important since it allows you to go back to your main distro at any time or scrap what you've done and start from scratch.
Finally, A Few Tips
Again, I'm far from being an expert, but sometimes tips from someone who is just going through the learning process can be more helpful than those from someone who knows it so well that they think it's easy. So, if you decide now is the right time to try Arch, do the following:
Use a How to Guide - A Necessity
When people say it's an absolute necessity to have a how-to guide to set up Arch Linux, they really mean it's a necessity, as opposed to a good option to make it easier; without the guide, you'll boot Arch, get a command line and have no idea what to do next. If you remember some terminal commands from Ubuntu, let's say, it's likely none of them will work since you haven't installed the programs yet.
Arch Linux has its own installation guide but I prefer this one from Whitson Gordon at Lifehacker. Here, you will need a second computer so you can read the guide as you install.
Have a Wired Internet Connect
Whitson recommends this, but on my first go, I decided to try using a wireless connection anyway. I spent several hours digging deeper and deeper into the Arch Linux documentation (which is excellent and exhaustive, by the way) until I finally got it working. With a wired connection the second time, it was working in 2 minutes. Once you have the installation set up, it's very easy to set up wireless.
|The ArchBang installation boot screen|
Arch Bang is a variation of Arch that comes fully usable with a visual desktop environment (Openbox) and all the basics you need to begin. For example, networks, sound and video card are all set up; in Arch you have to do these yourself. The boot disk also guides you through installation, including setting up Grub.
Once you have it installed you can try installing other desktop environments, etc.
It doesn't give you the full Arch installation experience (= more in depth knowledge of Linux and plenty of headaches) but it does give you a way to get used to installing and customizing Arch ahead of time and ease into the process. More than once, I've thrown away an unsuccessful attempt at doing what I want in Arch, and doing in Arch Bang first to get a better idea of where I'm going wrong. I later go back and try it from a new installation of Arch. You can also get used to using Pacman, Arch's superior package manager (to install new programs) and the online documentation (which is the same for Arch Linux and Arch Bang.) I suggest this is a good way to start, before trying to install Arch from scratch.
Have Fun and Try Lots of New Things
If all you want to do is install a good distro on your computer, and use it that way for the next 5 years, I would say there's little point to going to Arch. For me, that's what Xubuntu is. Yes, it's very stable, clean and fast, but I wouldn't say it's worth going through the rather longish learning process for that. It is worth it, though, for lots of experimentation and fun.
Tomorrow I'll share some of the things I've tried in Arch.