posted by Anthony Hicks on Tue 8th Apr 2003 16:17 UTC

"Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
Ark Linux is a project that's been started by an ex-Redhat bigwig who goes by the name of Bernhard "Bero" Rosenkraenzer. While I admittedly don't know a lot about Mr. Rosenkraenzer, I can appreciate his goal of making Linux easier for the masses, and so I decided to see what new ideas he was bringing to Linux with his Ark distribution. After downloading and burning the Ark Linux image, I booted up to find myself presented with a rather intimidating menu.

This menu gave me three options: Option 1 would allow Ark to basically "take over" my hard drive, destroying all data and formatting it for use with Ark Linux.

Option 2 indicated that Ark would locate and use all non-used space on my hard drive.

And Option 3 indicated that Ark would be installed parallel to an existing Windows partition.

Now let me say up front that this menu scared me! In the PC I'm using for my desktop, I have 3 hard drives with about 200GB between them, and one CD burner. Data files take up much of my hard drive space, and the remainder is taken up by a couple of Windows partitions (Win98 & XP), a couple of Linux partitions, and a BeOS partition. To be blunt, I didn't want Ark messing with the wrong partitions as I literally had a lot to lose if it did!

So the lack of choice with these 3 menu items really made me nervous. I certainly don't want Linux deleting my drives to make way for itself, and I didn't have any unused/un-partitioned space for the second option. For that matter, the fact that I couldn't choose which drive to use for the first two options was really annoying. I probably wouldn't have been so nervous if I'd have at least known which drive Ark was going to try and install itself to. It seemed like the 3rd option (to install parallel to existing Windows partitions) was what I wanted, but whenever I'd select this option, Ark's install process would immediately lock up.

I chalked this rather un-friendly installer up to the fact that Ark's only in alpha stage at this point. After investigating the problem online and doing some experimenting, I found that if I deleted the partition that I wanted Linux to be installed on and chose option 2, Ark would find and use the un-partitioned space no matter which drive it was on. So finally I was off and installing Ark.

I quickly found out that Ark Linux's installer doesn't ask you anything after that initial 3 choice menu! I was expecting that as with most desktop-friendly distributions, the install process would ask and setup both my root password, and a user, but Ark never did. I assumed that this meant that as with some of the more geek oriented distributions, I'd boot into Linux as root without a password, and then would have to manually set both that up, in addition to my regular user, so I was a bit surprised when I booted into X-Windows as a user called of all things "arklinux".

I also soon found out in the Ark Linux world, there really is no root password! Ark's take is a unique one, but also a scary one for anyone who's used Linux in the past. They presume that users don't want to have to worry about different users, or having to keep track of passwords, and so they do away with both!

Specifically, this means that Ark sets up each machine as if it were a one-user machine, and they remove all need for su passwords and such. If you want to do a task as root, you can just open up a terminal, type "su", and voila, you're suddenly root! This is accomplished by a questionable user-rights management system in which you can define whether a user has su privileges or not, and by default those who do don't not have to authorize themselves.

This is the complete opposite of any other Linux distribution! While I can appreciate what they're trying to do (remove the complexity of a *nix system vs. a Windows system), I disagree with their methods. They have a blurb up on their website which indicates that to their knowledge, this doesn't constitute a breach of security, largely because Ark's not meant to be a server OS, and thus most security issues about not having a root password are irrelevant.

If you don't like the convenience of having users setup this way (or if you have any common sense about PC security, and/or any experience with other Linux distro's) you do have the option of setting up Ark with normal security and passwords. This does in essence break a lot of what's setting Ark apart from other Linux distributions, but it is an option if you really want to use Ark, but you also want to have a somewhat secure method of controlling who your users are, and what they're allowed to do. Why you'd choose to setup Ark for this purpose, instead of simply going with a different distribution is beyond me though! If you want security and functionality, simply choose a different distribution. Why waste all that time trying to use Ark in a different manner from which it's designed to be used?

To be fair, Ark also includes a GUI configuration tool if you want to setup new users with the same privileges as that provided to the default "arklinux" user. So if one non-secured user's to limiting to you, you can have entire groups of them! For my purposes however, even though I could see the convenience of not having to remember passwords, or the fact that there is such a thing as a root/su user in the Unix/Linux world, a password secured system is more preferable.

Ark also sports some very cool looking screens for configuring your system. They're not so much custom tools as they are custom GUI environments for already existing KDE configuration components, but they do set Ark apart from most other distributions, and it shows that they are moving towards a simpler, more Windows like system than most Linux distributions are.

The other features of Ark are more or less standard for a desktop oriented distribution. You get a fairly lean install without all the bloat of say a Redhat system, and you get a rather basic KDE desktop on which to build your "dream system".

Ark also lost points for their add-on CD that allows you to install a lot of popular software that isn't included with the base distribution itself (such niceties as a media player and so on). Rather than use a package manager, or an apt-get method of installing these packages, as you would with most other Linux distributions, you have to pick what software you want to install from a menu on the aforementioned add-on CD. It works. That's about all I can say about it though. Anyone who's ever installed software on a Linux system before will probably hate blindly installing stuff as Ark Linux does. Perhaps newbies and the desktop crowd that Ark's aiming at want such simplicity, but to me it was actually a step or two beyond the handholding that Microsoft is so infamous for. If Ark really wants to make Linux this simple for the end user, they should at least offer an option for the more experienced Linux users that doesn't dumb it down so much.

Another item Ark has to improve on is their documentation. There simply isn't any, and their website's a joke. Both will likely be upgraded as Ark matures beyond its current "alpha" stage, but I'd focus on both right now before worrying about dumbing some more of Linux features down. As it is, Ark just makes me nervous. It doesn't act like other Linux distributions (which could be a good or bad thing, depending upon your point of view), and it doesn't tell you what it's going to do before it does it.

For someone with a brand new one-drive system, this might be ok, but for someone with multiple partitions, multiple operating systems, and a ton of data to potentially lose, Ark is just too simplified for me to feel confident using it (I didn't even mention how nice it was for Ark to overwrite my boot manager without asking, prompting me to have to fix this before I could see my other OS's again!).

On the plus side, Ark looked nice once I got it setup, and it was fairly fast (Not Redhat8 fast, but very usable). Also, it comes optimized for i586 & i686 PC's (How it's optimized for both is unexplained though), which is always a nice thing to know. However it doesn't appear to offer me any benefits over any other distributions, unless you consider the dumbing down of security and package installs features âI do not.

Summary: Ark has some potential, but at this stage it's a big waste of time to me. Its security model is questionable at best, and I don't think it's too wise for them to post on their website that it's not really a concern because Ark isn't intended for use as a server. That's just not an excuse for handling security in this manner, and I feel sorry for any newbie who chooses Ark as their first Linux distribution as once they use a real Linux distro., they're going to be very confused by actual user and root management.

Similarly, Ark needs to accept the fact that their OS probably won't be the first thing on someone's hard drive, and they need to fix their install scripts to allow for this fact. Perhaps the 3rd install option would have handled this correctly, but since it locks up when chosen, I'll never know. It shouldn't even be presented as an option if it's not going to work as having the installer lock up first thing doesn't really inspire confidence in the OS you're installing.

To me Ark Linux is a Linux distribution made by someone who really doesn't understand the basics of a *nix system, and thus is trying to circumvent common methods and procedures in order to make it more Windows or BeOS like (from the install & package management methods at least). My recommendation is to not waste your time on it. Perhaps future versions will reinstate some of the missing security, but for now I look at Ark as being a poorly implemented concept.

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Windows"
  2. "BeOS"
  3. "Mac OS X"
  4. "GNU/Linux"
  5. "Linux Minus"
  6. "Linux Distros: Yoper"
  7. "Linux Distros: Redhat 8.x (Phoebe)"
  8. "Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
  9. "Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
  10. "Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
  11. "Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
  12. "Linux Distros: Suse Linux, Conclusion"
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