On switching to Arch Linux

On switching to Arch Linux

So you’re thinking about switching to Arch. Here are some things you should probably know first.

(I’m assuming you already know all the great things about Arch — otherwise, you wouldn’t be thinking about switching — so I’ll skip that part).

Potential downsides to Arch

First of all, nothing works out of the box.

You will have to manually set up the driver for your video card, support for your sound card (which can be a little difficult if you use USB headphones), wifi support, Xorg, your desktop environment and/or window manager of choice, etc. If this sounds horrible to you, then Arch probably isn’t for you.

You also have to make lots of choices yourself. You start with nothing and build your way up according to your own preferences, so if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t enjoy tweaking or researching and would rather just go with the flow and use whatever your distro installs for you, then Arch isn’t a good fit.

Finally, a downside of Arch pushing software updates to the repos so quickly is the potential for stability issues. I personally haven’t had any issues in the months that I’ve been running Arch, but you see some reports of issues related to running cutting edge software (often related to the wrong versions of dependencies). Note, however, that reading the Arch news on the homepage often gives you advanced warning of things to watch for.

Tips on installation

If you’ve finally decided you’re going to try it, then read on — there are some things to keep in mind when installing Arch.

Before the install

Before you start the install, make sure you’re installing it next to a 2nd computer with internet access. This way you can follow the install directions in the wiki and you can also Google any random issues that come up.

Also, go ahead and research/decide on which desktop environment and/or window manager you want to use. Arch supports pretty much all of them, so the choice is yours, and you want to have your mind made up before the install so you don’t have to stop in the middle of it to decide.

Note that the typical first-time Arch install takes somewhere around 2 hours to get everything working (maybe more if you run into issues) so make sure you have some free time.

Make sure that the computer you’re installing Arch on is hooked up to the internet via a wired connection, so you don’t have to mess with setting up wifi before the installer can begin.

Finally, Google your hardware to make sure there aren’t compatibility issues. This means everything — sound card, video card, headphones, printer, etc. There’s nothing worse than getting a working install and then realizing that your sound card isn’t supported.

During the install

Use the Beginner’s Guide like your life depends on it. It leads you through the install step by step and you do NOT want to try installing without it. Don’t skip any parts, and don’t do anything you’re unsure of; if the Beginner’s Guide doesn’t answer a question, then Google it before just guessing.

When the time comes in the install process where it asks you which packages you want installed, I recommend not installing anything at this point. Eventually, you’ll want to install and configure Xorg along with your DE or WM of choice, but that can easily be done after the install rather than during, and that way you’re taking it one step at a time. Save any apps you want installed for last.

After the install

Once the install is complete, you’ll first want to set up Xorg and make sure that’s working (the Beginner’s Guide also covers this). Then you’ll want to install your DE and WM of choice. Then you’ll want to get sound and wifi and other misc hardware working (there are usually wiki pages for whatever you’re working on). Finally, go ahead and install the apps you want and start tweaking.

Getting help

If at any point you run into issues, spend time researching and Googling before you resort to asking on the Arch forums or in IRC. The Arch community as a whole focuses on self-service and solving your own problems, and if it’s obvious that you haven’t tried, then they proably won’t be too friendly about helping you out.

written by mikethecoder


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