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Now Running on Arch

July 21st, 2021 at 4:30 PM by Kugee
Category: Software

Ghugmur being a Linux nerd once again

I saw Arch Linux as nothing but some joke that some nerds babble about, much the same way they go "install gentoo!!!" But after talking about my desire to move to Linux in general following the announcements of the hideous Windows 11 and GPU manufacturers pulling out of Windows 7, my first idea was to go with Linux Mint - a straightforward desktop distribution that was my go-to option for many years, ever since Ubuntu 11.04 and GNOME 3 threw a curveball that really threw me off.

What all I was really looking for, though, was something that was lightweight and capable of getting me back on track with my usual routines quickly. That's when Mint, developer of the Limine bootloader, stepped in to write up an installation script for Artix Linux that basically got me up and running with much of what I wanted as a starting point. A little under a month after testing the script in a virtual machine, my primary workstation is now powered by Arch.

What about Artix?

systemd happens to be one of the biggest controversies in Linux to this day, next to PulseAudio. A lot of people have complained that it's overly complex for an integral process, violating the classic Unix principle of "do one job, and do it well". While many major distributions use it anyway, others such as Artix Linux opt to use a simpler PID1.

For a lot of people fresh off of having Windows as a daily driver like myself, this is a lot of strange lingo to be reading about a program that manages services. Artix was great, but some of the things I needed to do, particularly running VMware Player, insisted on systemd if I was to have any chance of getting my virtual machines to connect to a network. While an AUR package exists for OpenRC, none does for Runit at the moment, which is what I was using before.

I guess I can see why some people hate systemd so much, but at the same time, it has to be taken into consideration that many Windows users looking to switch to Linux are gonna need an easy route to start with. Linux on the desktop has come a long way for a lot of things beyond web browsing; one of my friends finds Manjaro to be a viable gaming platform, and with Olive 0.2 still on the horizon, it may very well be the beginning of the end of Adobe's grip they've had on me for the last eight years. For those of us not so deep into the whole subject, an overly complicated service manager for Linux is still a more desirable option over the service manager in Windows.

Same goes with PulseAudio over pure ALSA. It does happen to have trouble with VMware if I have too many audio programs open, complaining that a device is busy or something, but it's what I needed in order to be able to listen to the line output coming from whatever computer is next to me without having to plug in separate speakers. While I am moving away from making videos, of course, it's still very much a necessity to have such features around.

The Benefits

Arch Linux running XFCE with Chicago95 theme

After being on this installation for some time, I think it's safe to say that this is by far the most optimal route for desktop computing going forward. Being so accustomed to operating systems having hard versions up until this point, I previously saw Arch Linux as some really shaky distribution given its rolling nature, and didn't understand the benefits it had over something like Debian. As it turns out, the talks about it being unstable are not actually true.

In regards to Arch, it has the advantage of being much more up to date on packages, which other distributions tend to lag behind on. This is especially important for someone like me who wants to build an Alder Lake system in the near future, as Intel's upcoming lineup of CPUs is reportedly going to depend on the operating system to deliver optimal performance. Going with Arch for that build should mean I'll get the latest kernel which is all set to leverage Alder Lake's capabilities. If switching to Alder Lake means I can stop running into Windows 9x virtualization bugs, that oughta help get Redtoast back on foot after being put off for so long, as Ryzen is super buggy with virtualizing Windows 98.

Arch with XFCE using the Chicago95 theme looks amazing, really. While XFCE is kind of crude when it comes to searching files, at least with how Thunar appears to be set up, this theme does a really good job at illustrating what Microsoft could've been had they not been so hell-bent on stupid gimmicks like forced web integration, condescension towards household PC users, and being so mobile-centric. It's quite close to that kind of "Windows NT 4.5" I would've wanted to see, albeit with superior command line functionality. It even manages to tone down the eye-splitting floating tabs in Firefox by a lot. Unfortunately, SeaMonkey turned out to look worse when loading some classic themes created painfully thick borders, and it was becoming infeasible to have two browsers on the same computer, so I had to go back. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Taskbar system tray with too many icons

One other Windows trope I'm away from now is all those execessive background processes running. It's obscenely easy to clog a taskbar with system tray icons, and that's something that narcissistic drivers do all the time. Here on Arch, you can kind of just tell that everything is a lot cleaner, as everything responsible for making the system work stays out of the way.

As is natural for any modern Linux distribution, installing software is often much easier and cleaner than it was in Windows. It may sound like downloading an executable installer off a website is the most straightforward path for most users, but once you start using a command like pacman or apt-get, you begin to realize all the problems with doing it the "old" way. EXE files pile up unless you clean them up manually, you have to update every little program by hand, and as is the nature with Windows software, you never know when your OBSOLETE version of Windows will end up being abandoned by software developers because the latest version of a program uses some new API calls that force you to buy an upgrade to the operating system.

Not in Arch! If you want to update everything from the operating system's most essential components to that small program you use on occasion without much thought, you just type sudo pacman -Syu, and confirm. That's it. If you want to turn your computer into an instant 3D graphics workstation, you type sudo pacman -S blender, and the latest version of the program will be all ready to use either from your program menu or the command line (enter blender in a command line shell). Some are understandably burned out from software updates given how aggressive Windows 10 has been with pushing buggy updates, but trust me, the way the majority of the Linux distributions have done it is a hell of a lot smarter, and much more trustworthy.

Linux in general is also much more programmer-friendly in a number of ways. The scripting capabilities of Bash, often the standard-issue shell for Linux, are far superior to those of the Windows NT command prompt. Are you asking me to use PowerShell? Give me a fucking break! I've previously done quite a lot of Bash programming for some project that never got finished, and it wrapped up nearly everything I could've asked for in a neat, tightly integrated package.

Many Linux-based environments are also set up in a way where they assume you may get right up and do some tidbit of programming. If you need to get your small leftover program compiled, you just install GCC and run the necessary command to turn it into a valid executable for your installation. No need to install some heavyweight Visual C++ IDE or go through the tedious process of getting a different compiler set up with environment variables and everything. By having a primary operating system that doesn't have so many hurdles to getting a programming environment set up, the shorter pipeline to reaching that point where I'm focused on programming may help get me to do it a lot more often than I have been before.

The Downsides

As goes with any move to a different platform, one has to adjust oneself to its major differences. For the most part, things have gone all smoothly given I already have several years of background with the Linux command line, having previously used it on an irregular basis. While the first Linux distribution I used was SUSE 10.0 way back in 2005, I hadn't familiarized myself with the terminal until 2009, and by then I was using Ubuntu 8.04/9.04, FreeBSD 7.2, and, of course, Mac OS 10.5/10.6. So, most of that's all taken care of.

Apart from those issues which were resolved by using regular Arch and PulseAudio, the only major problem I have on hand with using Linux at this time is the fact that I can't use my Adobe CS6 software natively on here, and can't count on WINE to pull off miracles. Of course there are FOSS alternatives to these programs, and some of them are really making headway; after all, Olive 0.1 was used to edit around 95% of Bigeye, with the other 5% managed by GIMP and Blender. Olive's still not quite up to par with something like Premiere or After Effects where I can pretty much make anything exactly how I want without much of a hiccup, but make no mistake, what Olive can already do now is phenomenal.

To help with the transition, should it ever complete, I have a Windows 7 virtual machine running all of my Adobe CS6 programs. While it does work, I find that the virtual machine tends to get strangled on something... I don't know what it is, but it'll happen after some unpredictable number of minutes, and sometimes I just have to reboot the virtual machine. I've adjusted a lot of settings like CPU cores, memory, video memory, virtual memory, and how many host directories are connected to the machine... no luck. I'm still using the open source drivers for my AMD card, and don't really want to bother using the proprietary ones if at all possible. If this severe lag can be fixed, I'll be very well off, but otherwise I may opt for keeping two separate computers next to each other when it comes time to build a new one. One will do the majority of my tasks, while the other will be used exclusively for running the software I still need.

I don't do a lot of gaming, but as many games still aren't supporting Linux like they should be, that may inevitably be an issue for a lot of users. I tried running the Linux executable for Unreal 227 on my installation, didn't want to work. If only UE1's source code was released, there would be much less to wrestle with. When some of us decided on Quake II netplay instead, all I had to do was compile the Q2PRO source for Linux using the make command, copy the menu file over, and I was ready to go. Just another reason why John Carmack was one of the best programmers of his time.

Your Turn

With all the success me and some of my friends have had with Linux, I think I can confirm that now is the time to make the jump to this operating system. Given how awful Windows 11 looks like it'll be, it's critical that Linux gets more support so it becomes all more feasible to have a sane alternative to Microsoft's perpetuation of their bizarre ideas. Anything, with the exception of Chrome OS, is more desirable than that shitfuck of an operating system that's going up in flames as we speak. The warning signs were always there, now the evil has really manifested.

Fun fact, remember that forced web integration Microsoft pulled with Windows 98? You know how they backpedaled on it to a point where you could kind of disable Internet Explorer on Windows 7? Well... it's back, and nastier than ever. Apparently a lot of Windows 11's essential functions are driven by their Chromium-based Edge browser. What does that mean, will 11lite or Redtoast II have to emerge? Imagine having to call Windows 10's shell a lightweight alternative, I mean, holy fucking shit, dude...

If you're saying you want to upgrade to Windows 11, you're lying to yourself. It does not have your best interests in mind; you're just being force-fed whatever new maddening ideas Satya whipped up and being given anaesthetics so as to accept them passively. It's time to stop falling for that garbage. Windows hasn't been great since 1997, but it was at least tolerable until Update 1809 deleting so many files basically proved that it is, in fact, malware. Unforgivable.

Whether you're a technical user or just getting started, there's something for everyone when it comes to Linux. If you prefer, you may want to start with a beginner-friendly distribution like Pop!_OS or Linux Mint. You may settle in either of those or end up moving somewhere else down the road. Even my dad was using Linux Mint back in 2012 and really liked it, and he's the kind of guy that would ask me how to do some really basic computing task like saving a document in a Word format! It shows that anyone can use Linux; the main issue is always just software support.

I'll never abandon classic Windows (2000 and earlier), of course, given how much of a stake I have in that. Going forward, though, much of my operations are going to be driven by Linux.