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Monday, 3 October 2011

One Year of Rolling with Arch/Bang

It's just a little over a year now that I first installed ArchBang with 2010.09 that had just been released. In comments to my following review a poster expressed the opinion it would be interesting to see how this would develop and if it would still be working in a year from then. So here we are. I've tweaked the install and kept it updated at my leisure, and it is still working fine. Over time the ArchBang base I started out with has turned into Arch Linux, as you would expect it to when pointing at Arch repositories.

Apparently there are some misgivings in the Arch community about the existence of ArchBang. Basically that section of the community feels ArchBang might attract a more Ubuntu-like crowd of users that is not willing to learn and configure their system the way you would have to do with Arch Linux, people looking for the easy way in. People on the Arch Linux forum professing to run ArchBang are, apparently, directed to go away and use the appropriate forum.
I can't say that I would absolutely disagree with this approach because ArchBang is a different project and has its own infrastructure and forums. However, a little civility and lending a hand from one Linux user to another can go a long way, as long as the question is not too specific to the live CD/USB. At the end of the day it's almost the same system, with ArchBang just being a customized image. I would also raise the point that ArchBang does by no means give you a full install the way Ubuntu does and there are still plenty of things left to set up the same you do in Arch, for example pacman configuration, modules to load, wireless and networking, inserting a hook to enable hibernation to work and recompiling initrd, and other things.

None of this has affected me and are purely my personal thoughts on the subject when I read about it. I don't even have an account on the Arch Linux forum and only registered on the ArchBang forum but never posted. There simply was no need to, everything worked fine and is running stable and rock-solid to this day, and all the questions one could have are already answered on the Arch Wiki, which is all a person should ever need to configure an Arch-based system. It is well known and no exaggeration to say that the documentation in Arch Linux is great. Any prospective user only needs to search the wiki and will find their answer. Looking to install GNOME or KDE on top of Openbox in ArchBang? There are step by step guides on how to do this in Arch for these and others, and they apply to ArchBang just the same.

So, were there any serious problems I ran into over the last year? Not at all, a couple of issues arose but I would not call them problems.
1.) The Broadcom wireless driver from AUR had to be recompiled after every major kernel upgrade, that is going from 2.6.35 to 2.6.36 to 2.6.37 and so on. No need for this with minor upgrades in version numbers. This is pretty much the same with all other distributions as well, unless you are using dkms, and that is not always doing it all for you either. In Fedora and Scientific Linux it still required manual intervention from me.
2.) Trying to install the Chromium browser gave a libpng error for a while. Later releases of ArchBang switched to Chromium by default, but 2010.09 still came with Namoroka/Firefox. They obviously came with the right library that wasn't yet present in Arch and was outdated in the Arch User Repository. This is now resolved in main line Arch and I installed Chromium without difficulties around two months ago.
3.) Upgrading Wicd in late April landed me with the error described here. It got resolved just as suggested there. A good example of why it is a good idea not to apply every update straight away. Let others take the plunge, and there will already be a solution to your problem if things go wrong.
4.) On a multi-boot system new installations of other distributions often like to format swap, in which case the UUID changes every time and your Arch system becomes unable to find the swap partition due to changed ID so hibernate stops working. Best to enter an old fashioned /dev/sdaX in fstab instead.

And that's it. As you can see, no breakage at all for a year, no serious problems, not even problems to speak of. Some of this may be attributed to not using one of the major desktop environments, thereby keeping it simple and keeping dependencies to a minimum. And it got even faster over time, using ~10 MB resources less now on startup.
I added Xfce and Window Maker to this Openbox base. At the time of the great switch over from Gtk2 to Gtk3 I removed most GNOME dependent applications like Galculator (or was it Gnome Calculator tool?) and replaced it with Speedcrunch and Evince with ePDFviewer. Now there are only two GNOME applications on my system, one of them Palimpsest disk tool, which strictly speaking are not needed because some of their functionality is duplicated elsewhere. These are exempted from upgrading in pacman.conf, simply because they then look better integrated with the other Gtk2 applications. This is purely a visual preference.

Openbox, Tint2 panel and the Tilda drop down terminal running htop

Currently I'm fully updated to before the 3.0 kernel hit. It's quite important to stress that you don't have to update as soon as something new is in the repositories. As an administrator of your computer it is your choice to shape your system, and you can exempt applications and libraries from upgrading or not upgrade/update at all for a while if happy with the status quo. Arch Linux does not offer security advisories because supposedly this is already taken care of with the rolling release model providing new packages on a more or less constant basis. Therefor if you choose not to do a full update for a while it's a good idea to keep track of vulnerabilities in older packages. However, as I'm not running a server and only a desktop system with no network services and no open ports the risk of not keeping fully up to date at all times is quite low. And on a rolling system like Arch most packages are not issued to close security holes, but are simply a new version of the package which often introduce new bugs. Thus a full update may close as many bugs as it creates new ones. It's up to you as administrator to make that choice.

Some concerns voiced about Arch Linux often relate to package signing, or lack thereof in the repositories. Everybody who wanted to but so far felt they cannot use Arch due to lack of perceived security and the possibility of packages being tampered with will be happy to know that package AND repository signing will be implemented with pacman-4.0.

Rolling with Arch Linux can provide you with a full, up-to-date and even cutting edge system if you so wish, and ArchBang as a base install can be a shortcut to quickly getting a usable system with a relatively minimal graphical environment upon which you can then build like you would otherwise. There is not much point using it over the Arch install images if having Openbox as window manager is not your cup of tea, but at least it would give you X and a workable desktop to continue from. I happen to like the Openbox implementation and look in earlier releases, so ArchBang for me is a great choice.
Paired with the latest stable Slackware for the occasions where you just want to be sure that nothing important is going to change this has got to be the perfect combination for a dual boot linux setup.


  1. I was just about to install it on a second partition and see how it runs.

  2. @Jonas
    Cool. Hope you like it. Let me know how it panned out, thanks.

  3. Great Review.....

    I did my own Arch install with lxde migrated to just
    openbox, after I got sick of lxde constant relocations
    of main files after everyother update. Finally, tried
    archbang awhile back. Willextreme, does a great openbox setup, with many tweeks that I never imagined, than with my own Arch install and indeed has been rock solid. I have been a distro hopper, a long time and have not found anything as gratifying or as tweakable as Arch.
    I too, removed all my gtk3 dependencies and now use kde, gtk2, xfce and independent apps.
    I have two window managers, openbox3 - my rock.
    icewm- lighter, faster and finally the enlightenment desktop with all the bells and whistles.

  4. Arch is a great flavor. Archbang should be better appreciated by the arch community for bringing in new users. Arch (and linux) in general will never gain widespread acceptance as long as this elitist attitude persists. Some people just want to drive a fancy car - not build it from the ground up.

  5. Barnaby,

    Thanks so much for the great article and for sticking with ArchBang!! I posted a link to this article on the ArchBang Forums for our users to see. Hope you'll pop by the Forums occasionally just to say hi. Again, much appreciation for your great article!

    archvortex (ArchBang Wiki Admin/Forum Mod)

  6. @archvortex
    You're welcome ;) Thank you for linking and the praise.

  7. @Anonymous

    That's a flawed analogy.

    Arch isn't just a fast car. It's a fast car tailored to your driving standards. It can't perform to it's best unless you do the tailoring.

    It's like hopping into a car tailored for one driver only to find it doesn't work for you.

    Arch/Bang is tailored for someone else. The chance that it will fit you is slim. That is why Arch users prefer people to custom fit their own installation.

    Not doing so is guarantee that you completely missed the point of Arch. Why would anyone who understands that condone new users missing it altogether.

    The statement you made "Some users jsut want to drive fast cars", only proves your own nativity on the subject.

    No doubt my comment will be viewed as elitist too. But someone cannot understand what someone does not understand through shortcutting the experience that leads to that understanding.

    It's not really that difficult a concept to understand.

  8. @Anonymous

    It is a rare occasion on which I choose to reply to anyone in any comment thread. Kudos to you, your comment raised my dander enough to initiate the aforementioned rare occasion.

    Comments like yours don't just alienate potential Arch users, they drive away users of any *nix based distro.

    I understand what you are trying to convey, but the manner and form in which you chose to do so, was obnoxious at best. Better to have merely quoted Aristotle, "What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing."

    Even your grammer and apparent lack of spell checking, has placed you in the role of the antagonist in this situation. By writing, "[...] proves your own nativity [sic] [...]", you have proven your own naivete in so far as one who is attempting to foster an idea or ideology.

    On behalf of all of those who do love Arch, but despise the many users that choose beguile those who are un-initiated in the Arch way. I will ask you to reflect upon this quote from Socrates, "I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think." Please try to align yourself with such a mindset, before putting text to screen.

    If you simply cannot resist such ham handed "explanations", then I must urge you to refrain from using your keyboard for anything other than a terminal.

    Honestly, you might as well have written, "Bugger off" or "Go get a Mac." I'm not trying to say that you yourself are a bad person, or that you aren't intelligent. I am merely trying to emphasize the damage that can be done with comments written like yours. It didn't come off as elitist, it read as if you wished you were elitist.

    Oddly enough, I actually agree with the ideas in your comment.

    Be that as it may, I also agree with the comment to which you were replying. The analogy may be a bit off, but he/she has the right idea.

    Standing on the curb, or thumbing through a magazine, Arch can look like a fast car. But its not a Lamborghini, its more like a hot rod. One can only comprehend why the Arch car actually is fast, by trying to start it oneself. But that shouldn't keep anyone from test driving a friends' rice rocket. In fact, if they drive it enough, they might just want to learn how to mod up their own Arch car.

    Make sense?

  9. @Anonymous to anonymous...

    I think that was very well put. I'd like to also present two other use-cases for archbang over arch.

    1) At work, I am in charge of software deployment to over 1000 machines, all running windows xp. These are in a sensitive environment and cannot be down for any extended time, so software testing is crucial. Before my switch (at work) to archbang I would script and test the install on my machine, uninstall, and test again. Then I may use another machine (taking about 45 minutes of prep first) to do testing. This process caused bloat and would over time render it unusable. I switched to archbang and placed two xp virtual machines on that platform. One for testing and the other as my workstation. Now I can destroy xp to my hearts content and recover for the next test in a few minutes. Why archbang and not arch? --because I wanted a fast, light, graphical environment to run one application that didn't need that much tweaking. Arch/archbang are fast, and well suited for this task, but archbang got my vm up faster so i could get to work.

    2) At home I run 4 computers. 1 that i actually sit at (arch) and 3 servers (archbang). ok...so servers should be text only? um...no. Processor load isn't that high since they serve only me, and I like having the stats displayed by conky, faster file management, and the ability to see a web page if i need to. So why archbang? because the hardware on these old proliant servers doesn't play nice and, again, i want it to run a few services without taking forever to set up.

    I use arch linux on the workstation -- because it's my project. It's the one I like to tweak and do the crazy stuff with. Its hardware is compatible, I demand more speed, and I don't care how much effort goes into that. Its not that i use archbang as some kind of escape from tweaking, or some pansy shortcut, its that if archbang didn't exist I wouldn't have time to play with the one computer i want to and, quite honestly, I'd throw windows on those servers instead. If you want it to work great: arch. If you want it to just work: archbang


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