For this review I'll be discussing ArchLinux 0.7 beta (Wombat). To be fair, version numbers don't really play a significant role like they do with other distributions. I recall as a Red Hat user, I would always be looking forward to the next release so that I could benefit from updated packages. Unless I'm very much mistaken, ArchLinux releases are little more than snapshots of the current and extra repositories. Of course, you get the installer to with the release, which I expect is improved for each iteration. Otherwise, once you have it installed, its package management utility will keep you up-to-date.
The first thing to do is make sure you have read the installation documentation. You'll quickly discover that there are two possible CD images. One is a base install, which provides you with all the basic components to give a basic ArchLinux system. The other is a larger image that comes with many additional packages. I opted for the base installation, as intended to go for an FTP install. So, download and burn. And whilst that is going on, read the rest of the documentation!
I booted up my laptop with the freshly burned disc. Incidentally, my laptop is a Dell Inspiron 8600. No fancy hardware so I didn't anticipate and problems. The specs are: Intel 735 M processor (1.7GHz), 1Gb RAM, 80Gb HD, CD/DVD writer, ATI Radeon 9600 128MB graphics card,1280x1024 LCD screen. ArchLinux booted and a command prompt beckoned. You then need to type /arch/setup to get the show on the road. And then, what do you know, a curses-based text installer! See, they don't expect you to do everything at the command line!
You are first asked for your installation method. I wanted the FTP install. This takes you to network setup screen where it automatically loaded my network card module and configured my network via DHCP. You'll then be expected to prepare the hard drive. For me, that wasn't difficult as it has already been set up from previous Linux installations. So, I simply re-used my old partitions. There is an “Automatically partition your hard drive” option - I'm sure it would have done a fine job. Next was to then select the filesystem types and mount points. This led my first head-scratching moment. I am used to the /dev/hda* approach of the old school /dev device tree. ArchLinux does use DevFS but it apparently sticks to the 'default' device tree. This means /dev/hda1 is instead represented as /dev/discs/disc0/part1. Ok, it's not the hardest thing to get your head around, but at the time, I was unfamiliar and so just hoped that part1 was hda1, part2 was hda2, etc (which it is!)
Next is the simple task of selecting packages. I selected the base system only. The following step is to explicitly install them, which is composed of selecting a mirror, then the packages are downloaded and installed. Choosing your kernel is the next step in the setup program. You can choose either the 2.4 or 2.6 version. And within, you are offered IDE, SCSI or build from source. It's recommended in the documentation to leave your tweaking until after the basic system is up and running, which seems sensible to me. I choose the 2.6 IDE kernel.
“Configure System” is the next option on the setup menu. Within is a list of various config files that are free to edit. You could skip this section, but you will probably need to come back to these files at some point, so you may as well get it over and done with! I edited the rc.conf file, specifying my timezone, keymap, and various network related things, such as hostname and enabled DHCP. I also removed a couple of daemons that I know I don't need at the moment. I then looked at my Grub configuration in menu.lst. I added an additional entry so I could boot my Windows partition. Finally I added an entry in the fstab file to automatically mount my media partition. This is a large vfat (fat32) partition consisting largely of mp3s so that I can listen to music regardless of which OS I'm currently in.
Happy with my configuration files, the final step was to install the boot loader. You do get a choice of Grub or Lilo, but as you will have guessed I use the former. Pick where you want to install – I always go for the MBR on the primary drive, which translates to /dev/discs/disc0/disc. Done! Exit setup and reboot.Post-install
The OS booted with no obvious problems and was greeted with a command-line login-prompt. Logged in as root which required no password. Quickly rectified that with passwd. I then added my first user account. It's worth mentioning from the outset that if you're setting up a desktop PC where you want to listen to music and watch DVDs, then it's worth making sure that you add necessary users to the audio and optical groups too.
Thought I may as well stay as root as I need to add a whole load of packages so that I can have my typical desktop workstation. This is where I get to experiment with the infamous pacman – the heart of ArchLinux's package management. Unfortunately, at this point it became apparent that I had no network connection to my router. The module for my network card hadn't been loaded. So, back to the /etc/rc.conf file and added by network module “b44” to the MODULES section. Rebooted and all was well.
Now, back to pacman. The first thing to do is sync yourself with the current package database, pacman -Sy. If you were installing packages from the CD, you may be better with a pacman -Syu which will also upgrade any packages which have inevitably become outdated since the CD was compiled.