posted by Joe Ferrare on Mon 2nd Feb 2004 07:10 UTC
IconInstalling Ark Linux was another episode in my continuing quest to find the perfect GNU/Linux distribution. My operational definition of perfect is pretty simple: just like Slackware, except for the parts I can't figure out (getting my USB thumb drive to work properly, for instance).

I've been using Dropline Gnome on Slackware for the last eight months or so, which is about half the time I've been using Linux. Ark Linux is at least the tenth Linux distribution to grace one of the two boxes I've had since I switched from Mac OS X to Linux (long story that started out sad, but ended up happy). Before that I'd been an Apple user since buying an Apple //c in 1985, and switching to the Mac in 1988. I've used DOS/Windows at work in various incarnations since the mid-'80s as well, and my wife has an XP home system that I administer. I'm lucky enough to use Mac OS X at work on a shiny new dual processor G5.

Click for a larger view On the receiving end of this latest distribution is my home-built small form factor Biostar IDEQ 200V. The "V" stands for Via, which makes the motherboard chipset (KM400 and VT8237). It includes the normal ports and slots, including Serial ATA and Firewire (IEEE 1394). I have an AMD 2800+ CPU, a gigabyte of 333 Mhz RAM, a Lite-On 401 DVD burner, a Seagate 80 GB SATA drive and an ATI 9200 AGP video card. My SATA drive has my Slackware installation on it, so I installed Ark onto a 20 GB Maxtor 7200 rpm ATA-66 drive. I attached four USB devices in my testing: an Apacer Handy Steno USB 2.0 thumb drive, A Canon PowerShot A40 digital camera, a Canon S450 printer and a Wacom Graphire drawing tablet. I had no Firewire devices handy.

On their web site, the Ark Linux folks state their distribution is for the desktop, primarily for people with no previous Linux experience. They go on to say it is designed to be easy to use, and to include a lot of tools and applications. Combine that with the splash screen displayed during installation (which calls it eXPerimental) and some of the choices they've made, and it's easy to see they're going after the Windows refugee crowd. This was also noted in this site's last Ark review, which was of the alpha6 version. There are other distributions out there doing the same thing, though I haven't used any of them. So I won't be able to compare Ark to, say, Lindows.

I can, however, compare it to Red Hat, on which it is based, as well as to several other Linux distributions. It is advertised as an alpha release, and while it has its problems it is in the running for the smoothest installation I've ever done. Of course, the easier it is, the fewer choices you have. The Ark team no doubt considers that perfect for their intended audience. It was perfect for an evaluation installation as well.

The few choices you do get to make during installation include the language you want to use, the keyboard map and which kind of installation you'd like. Ark won't install over existing partitions, so the choices it offers are to use the whole drive, to use any free space on the target drive, or resize a partition. I chose to use the whole drive, because it was easy and had the additional benefit of erasing the failed FreeBSD 5.2 installation still on the drive, the vestiges of which might have confounded the bootloader or the partitioning software if I had tried something trickier.

Installation went quickly. I didn't time it, but it was in the 20-minute range. The Ark team provides the user with a nice blue background and drawing of Tux that makes him look like he's playing nice to get more fish. If you don't want to look at the nice penguin the Ark team was kind enough to include Tetrix to play while the installation takes place. I don't know if Windows converts will realize the fundamental difference the ability to play a game while installing an OS represents, but it is a nice touch nonetheless.

One thing that surprised me about the installation was that my mouse worked from the very first screen. Sadly, it didn't at the very end. Once the installation routine announced it was done and I could reboot or click the box and keep playing Tetrix, my mouse froze. It seemed to do no damage, and GRUB greeted me after a system reset.

Booting from the hard drive brought up a nice seascape-cliffs background, a progress bar and the option to hit the F2 key and watch the normal output. Red Hat users will be familiar with the display of the normal boot messages. X started automatically and was swiftly followed by KDE. X identifies itself as version 4.4.0-0.20031119.1ark, and KDE as 3.1.4-120031119.1ark. After answering the obligatory Wizard questions, I was staring at Ark's nice KDE desktop. As I surveyed this new desktop space my system started making an odd sound (a hardware noise), and I got a notice that Ark was giving up on trying to get my sound server to work because it was overloading my CPU. Again, a slightly scary failure that left no apparent damage, as the system continued on for hours without a tic. No sound, but no instability or other oddness.

The first thing to check out once Ark is up and running is Mission Control. It is one of the distribution's main selling points. Mission Control can best be described as a celebrity-impersonator version of the Windows XP control panel. It's not a pixel-for-pixel copy, but I'm guessing somebody would have to point that out to the average user. Again, given the market the Ark team seems to be aiming for, this is not a bad idea. Coming from Dropline Gnome on Slackware, however, I had to check which operating system I'd booted up.

In use Mission Control is a front end for the KDE Control Center and a number add-ons, such as Synaptic for installing software and QtParted for partitioning drives. I thought I would quickly dispense with Mission Control and go straight to the programs I needed, but after three days that turns out not to be the case. Mission control is a very convenient one-stop shopping screen for dealing with your system. It presents its control panels as tasks (Intall or Remove Software) or simple headings (Cameras). There's a link to the KDE Control Center on the panel, along with a link for the command prompt.

Table of contents
  1. "Ark review, Page 1"
  2. "Ark review, Page 2"
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