Looking for purity in Arch Linux
In my previous installment, I decided to go for an Arch derivative, and the pseudo-scientific rating gave ArcoLinux as the winner. But is there any “purer” Arch, something with as few as possible additions and customizations, so I could only add what I want, being it from a 3rd-party repo such as Chaotic-AUR?
Tough question, to which I tried to find an answer. I always try any distro on the bare metal only, never in any kind of virtual machine; this way, I can spot the bugs related to imperfect hardware support, and the suitability to the laptop I wanted such a distro for. All Arch derivatives are built with Archiso, which is why they’re incompatible with Ventoy and must be
dd‘ed on a dedicated USB flash drive. CORRECTION: Much older versions of Ventoy didn’t support some of the Archiso images, but the latest Ventoy can use them.
First things first: why not Arch itself? After all, Debian can be installed quite easily, there’s no objective need to use a derivative. People do use derivatives (they also do it for Ubuntu), but they could as well do without. There’s a problem though.
Debian has such a nice text-based installer since 2005:
Slackware too has a colored ncurses-based installer since 1994:
Arch has… nothing. Installing is a manual process. It’s difficult to find something more unpleasant than that. OpenBSD? NetBSD? DragonFlyBSD?
OK, starting with the April 2021 ISO, Arch Linux comes with a guided installer, and I’ll talk about it later. But it’s like Arch has always been trying to scare people away. By design. Just like the tax system is designed: people should be able to fill their tax forms by themselves, but most of them are using tax advisers for that; the tax system is specially made to ensure a huge number of accountants have their raison d’être. The average German recovers about €900 per year from the Finanzamt, but not before paying €300 to a Steuerberater for that. The State is encouraging the parasitic guild of accountants, instead of making sure anyone can easily recover taxes for kids, house repairs, education and other partially deductible expenses. Is Arch doing the same? Why not having a proper installer for their distro? This is reminiscent of the so many other Linux distros or BSD flavors that still require a crazy amount of post-install fiddling before being fully usable.
2. THE CHOICES
This is what I’ve tried:
- archlinux-gui-2021.04-x86_64.iso, archlinux-gui-minimal-2021.04-x86_64.iso, archlinux-gui-pure-2021.04-x86_64.iso
- archlinux-2021.04.01-x86_64.iso (the official one!)
Not much, eh? I didn’t try Archfi and Archdi, which are scripts to be used after you have booted on the official Arch Linux ISO. I couldn’t get impressed by the two videos I watched: How to install Arch Linux with the Archfi Script; and Anarchy vs Archfi – The best Arch Linux Installer. The latter somehow decided the order in which I tried the “purer” Arch installing options.
Yeah, sure. It works if you’re a stupid American using the “Next, Next…” approach: the idiot has used the autopartitioning option, which doesn’t qualify as proper testing.
I tried all the disk partitioning tools offered by Anarchy, to no avail: I could not make it accept the EFI partition! Then I read it’s a known issue: EFI not editable in manual partitioning.
Anarchy 1.3.1 has issues with partition mounting. Try using the older versions. 1.3.0 is OK with manual partitioning.
Then why isn’t version 1.3.1 retired, if 1.3.0 is fine, until 1.3.2 or 220.127.116.11 is prepared? But then…
In 1.3.0 you sometimes have to insist on the update installer to pass the refresh keys. But it works. Tested.
However, should the refreshing of the keys fail, the install would fail. So 1.3.0 isn’t reliable either.
It’s a fucking script that’s being developed since August 15, 2019, and they couldn’t fix its known issues without adding new bugs! Version 1.3.1 has been released on Nov. 14, 2020, and four months later, his creator and maintainer still couldn’t be bothered to fix the partitioning issue that wasn’t present in past releases!
This is absolutely a no-go.
4. Arch Linux GUI
Arch Linux GUI is offering three different bootable ISOs featuring KDE Plasma. It also claims to be… or not to be: “ALG is not a distribution. With that been said, it is not an Arch Linux based distribution either. It is Arch Linux itself, ready to use.” Whatever.
ALG (The Flagship): archlinux-gui-2021.04-x86_64.iso = 1.9 GB (1.75 GiB)
It comes with the following:
– Overall Dark Theme with familliar icons.
– Firefox Web Browser with Dark Theme enabled by default
– Office Suite, with MS fonts & simillar look to Office Online (now known as Office 365)
– VLC Media Player
– Zoom Video Conferencing Application
– A GUI software center
– Basic Utilities such as screenshot taker, Image Viewer, PDF Viewer, Calculator, File Archiver (for uncompressing tar and zip files)
Other technical applications include the base-devel meta package for building AUR packages, and yay, another AUR helper.
Wow, it sounds bloated. And yet, only 902 packages!
So, I’m sorry, but this “flagship” edition is a distro, and it is an Arch derivative!
ALG Minimal: archlinux-gui-minimal-2021.04-x86_64.iso = 1.4 GB (1.28 GiB)
This ISO is really minimalist in the sense that it only contains, 4 user-level software. These are
– A Terminal Emulator
– A File Browser
– An Advanced Text Editor &
– Screenshot Utility
This ISO contains no there user-level software other than those mentioned above, there is no browser, no office suite, no media player, etc. It however comes with a splash screen and DARK THEME by default.
Well, that’s really minimalistic! Go figure, no browser, no GUI for software management… rather pure, eh? 795 packages, and huge Konsole fonts:
But Calamares is still with us. Let’s see how much “purer” we can get.
ALG Pure: archlinux-gui-pure-2021.04-x86_64.iso = 1.4 GB (1.28 GiB)
The pure ISO differs from the Minimal ISO in the sense that it doesn’t contain any theming or custom splash screen. It is good to say that is just stock KDE plasma. Something you would expect after manually installing the Plasma desktop in a standard Arch Linux TTY install. To some the pure ISO, it is
– Stock KDE plasma
– No themes, whatsoever
– Very little, essential user-level software
– Built, keeping users with some Linux experience in mind.
The same 795 packages though, only with defaults:
And, obviously, the almost unavoidable Calamares:
With each of these ISOs being released at the beginning of every month, ALG might be a good contender to the official Arch ISOs. Then why don’t I feel the urge to use it?
First reason: Calamares crashed on me in ALG Pure:
I suspect it has to do with the size of the
/tmp: I tried to install something in the live session, and this might have impacted the installer. But this never happened in more mature Arch derivatives, so it means this project is still immature. I could have rebooted and tried again, but I didn’t.
Then, maybe it’s the constant presence of various typos that I corrected in the above quotes (“it” for “is”; “experiance” etc.). Also, while two out of three ISOs are vanilla enough, they all are Arch derivatives, no matter what the author says.
Finally, there’s a lack of transparency: if they’re not distros, the maintainer should have said something like “ALG Pure is the official Arch ISO with Calamares and
plasma-desktop added”; as long as this is not the case, I keep being cautious, and I’ll stay away of this young project.
Now, EZARCH is a bit confusing: on the one hand, it offers a Calamares-based install…
…yet on the other hand there’s a script-based installation (
ezarch.uefi), plus a maintenance script:
I’m not sure I’d use such minimalistic scripts based on menus that remind me of SMS-based configuring of cell phone services! It would really take ages just to partition the disk and set the mounting points:
OK, there’s also Calamares, and there are several ISO flavors: KDE, XFCE, MATE, LQxt, Cinnamon. I tried the KDE one, the Calamares way, and everything went just fine… but I forgot to keep screenshots. I even played with adding extra repos from RebornOS–but more about it later.
The guy behind Ezarcher also made eznixOS, an XFCE Debian derivative (respin) that only has a script-based installer. I didn’t try it.
Trying to understand the way this guy thinks, I watched Linux Distros To Follow, Ignore, and Investigate Further In 2021, to learn that I only partially agree with him:
- He likes them, and I don’t: MX Linux, Sparky, Q4OS, Devuan, EndeavourOS, ArchLabs, Artix, peux-os, Void, OpenSUSE.
- He likes it, and I do too: Salient OS (see the corresponding segment).
- He likes them, but I don’t have a definitive opinion: Solus (I never managed to like it, despite their efforts being laudable); Absolute Linux (compare www.absolutelinux.org to absolutelinux.org).
- He dislikes them, and I partially disagree: Garuda, ArcoLinux, RebornOS, Calam-Arch (competition, much?).
- He dislikes them, and I agree: Manjaro, Bluestar, Archman, Anarchy.
- He dislikes them: everything Ubuntu and respins, derivatives, etc, except for Mint. Hey, there would be no Mint if it weren’t Ubuntu!
OK, we’re not judging the guy. Ezarcher is fine.
This time, OTB is right: this is a worthwhile way of installing Arch! In many regards, it’s like EndeavourOS: the live ISO is XFCE-only and a bit ugly, but the installer allows you to select one or more of seven DE (XFCE, GNOME, KDE Plasma, Lxde, Lxqt, MATE, Deepin), plus i3 and Openbox.
Actually, someone on the EndeavourOS even cried that they’ve been copied! OK, maybe it’s a sort of cloning, forking or deriving from EndeavourOS… minus the community!
Ermanno Ferrari has another detailed video review of the Calam Arch Installer. While I had WiFi and the corresponding applet, EF only had wired Internet, so he said he needed to manually activate the connection. But couldn’t he have used the tray icon that covers all kinds of connections?
I thought I won’t install it, judging that it can’t surpass EndeavourOS, which is the work of a team of 34, not a single person’s project. But (see my previous article) EndeavourOS was pretty lame when installing a Plasma desktop with a non-functional (and initially not installed, yet pinned to the taskbar!) Discover and no Pamac, so I finally gave Calam-Arch-Installer a try.
The installed Plasma system: not themed, vanilla, yet 1312 packages:
Despite only having the official repos (and AUR being disabled),
pamac-aur is present, but it’s built from AUR and can only be removed, not reinstalled (no repo offering it):
All in all, it does what it says on the tin: it installs a pretty pure Arch, with a choice of desktops and video drivers, and it does so better than the community-backed EndeavourOS. If the “out of thin air”
pamac-aur bothers you, it can be unistalled. Should 3rd-party repos be added, they might provide another build, with dependencies matching their repos.
Yay, Arch itself! The Master of… of… oh well.
The thing is called archinstall. Guided installation, they say. Have two video reviews of the new “guided installer” Arch is offering since this April: by Ermanno Ferrari and a more detailed video… by the same guy.
It’s boring. And primitive. And buggy with regards to the keyboard layout, just as Erik Dubois himself has experienced.
As I install on bare metal, I can’t show you screenshots, but I can tell you what happened: what happened is that this script is a pathetic installer. It crashes on every single error, and when restarted, one has to go through all the steps over again! At least, with the non-installer Arch, what you did wasn’t lost. This is pathetic.
So I had to use
iwctl to connect to WiFi (the good thing is that the chip was supported out of the box):
device list station wlan0 scan station wlan0 get-networks station wlan0 connect my_SSID exit
archinstall guided kind of worked. OK, it cannot search for keyboard layouts, so one has to enter the desired layout name exactly (it accepts “
de” but not “
de_CH-latin1“; believe it or not, it also crashes on “
be“!). It doesn’t support JFS, so I had to select ext4. The pre-programmed “profile names” are probably a bug in itself, especially “0” and “1”:
0: awesome 1: desktop 2: gnome 3: kde 4: kde-wayland 5: xorg
I know this is the work of a single developer, but who approved such a crap for inclusion on the official ISO?!
Additional packages: depending on your CPU, you should want either
amd-ucode. I mistakenly entered
intel-microcode, and the whole shebang crashed, so I had to repeat all the steps!
And then, after I set “/” (ext4) and “/boot/efi” (fat32), it crashed!
WTF is this joke of a script?! You shouldn’t touch this thing with a ten-foot pole!
8. ERRR… WHAT NOW?
From the above choices, I’d recommend 🏅Calam-Arch-Installer. The live session is a bit ugly, but it’s only meant as a tool to make the installation smoother. Unlike e.g. Garuda, ArcoLinux, Salient OS, RebornOS, it’s not following the model “Here’s a Live ISO with your preferred desktop and our preferred customizations, and let’s install it,” but the one that says “Here’s a Live ISO meant to test your hardware and to allow you to connect to the internet, then use Calamares to download and install the package selection of your choice“! OK, there is package customization in ArcoLinux, and it’s even too detailed, but it’s not how I’d have liked it, i.e. based on package groups and only then video drivers & stuff. Calam-Arch-Installer is simpler to use. It also helps that it’s “purer” and less buggy than EndeavourOS, whose team is a failed one IMO, especially given its size (34 listed members!).
Also, I had no issues with 🥈Ezarcher, and I even used the installed system to fiddle a bit with. It opens the possibilities to custom script-based installations, should you be a tinkerer.
This being said, I’m afraid I won’t be using any of them, or any of it. I’m too lazy to really want to start from such a bare system. If Arch had a decent official installer, then fine, I might have used it, the way I can use Debian’s ISOs (those unofficial because firmware, yet official because hosted on debian.org). But I understand those who prefer to use Neptune instead of Debian Buster, siduction instead of Debian sid, and so on. (Even Mint or Linux Lite instead of Ubuntu LTS. What I don’t understand is the way some people insist on using a
systemd-free derivative of some distro, so I reject MX Linux, Devuan, and the likes.)
For someone who’s dispassionate in fiddling unnecessarily with an OS, an easier way were to still opt for one of the more polished Arch derivatives discussed last time, and find the least troublesome one.
I have revisited some of them and the ranking changed, but let’s list the potential candidates: Manjaro, RebornOS, Garuda, ArcoLinux, Salient OS.
Manjaro uses its own build of Arch’s packages, so it’s a no-go. It’s anything but Arch.
While trying Ezarcher, I discovered an inconvenient truth about some such distros.
9. THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH
People are using an Arch derivative instead of “pure” Arch for one or more of the following reasons:
- Installer. Graphical installer. In a Live environment in which the hardware support can be tested.
- Customizations. Themes. Anything but defaults.
- Extra repos, because building from AUR is a PITA.
- Optimizations and preinstalled shit for gamers.
Of these, the third one is one of the most legitimate reasons. Why should every single user build hundreds of random packages for themselves, as long as they don’t bother to build the kernel, which is the most likely to benefit from optimizations targeting specific hardware? And even then, the gains are minimal. Gentoo is as good as dead and Arch took over for a reason. Life is too short for people to use Gentoo. Stage 1 Gentoo is as stupid as Bitcoin mining, and the benefits are even lower: everyone is having a combination of some crappy consumer-grade hardware parts, yet somehow they “need” to build everything with the most appropriate FLAGS to gain 3% in terms of speed, after the build took 3 days. Poppycock.
So let’s say we try some unofficial Arch repos with a “purer” Arch install, such as one obtained thanks to Ezarcher or Calam-Arch-Installer. My short list:
- Chaotic-AUR, because it’s comprehensive, maybe the most comprehensive of all, and quite stable.
- RebornOS, because they said we could.
- ArcoLinux, in a pinch. People normally just use ArcoLinux if they like it, but hey, Linux means freedom.
So, I added RebornOS repos to a system installed by Ezarcher. Then I wanted to install Pamac. It’s then that I noticed that their
pamac-aur package depends on Flatpak (
pamac-aur-snap is even worse, because of Snap):
Sacrilege! Impurity! Profanation! Also, installing it triggered a refresh of the kernel image! WTF?!
Then I looked at ArcoLinux: the Pamac package they offer is
pamac-all, which depends on Flatpak and Snap; this is both ridiculous and potentially risky, as adding unnecessary dependencies can lead to problems when using several repos!
Finally, the last hope: Chaotic-AUR. Yay! Both
pamac-classic are free of non-necessary dependencies!
Heck, how about the small number of extra packages offered by Salient OS–which I normally use with Chaotic-AUR, but which has its own build of Pamac? Not a single spurious dependency!
I don’t want Flatpak. I don’t want Snap. I don’t want any sandboxed app, because they’re slower and sometimes broken! I remember I once installed KDiskMark as a Snap (because it’s totally missing from Debian and Ubuntu!) and, since it ran sandboxed, of course it couldn’t access the drives I wanted to benchmark with it! Screw Snap, screw Flatpak!
10. THE OBVIOUS ANSWER
If it isn’t to be, it’s not to be… If one doesn’t want to use either of the two aforementioned Arch installers that I deemed decent, yet they still want to use Arch, possibly with Chaotic-AUR… or even without it, but conveniently, the answer is Salient OS. Silent Robot, congrats!