Manjaro Linux 0.8.4 – “Mint for Arch”

Manjaro XFCE, by manjaro.org

A weekend off in the middle of winter – just perfect to test a new Linux distro. I decided on Manjaro, the new star among Arch- based Linux distros (currently ranked 15 on Distrowatch) which seems to be on the best way to become something like “Mint for Arch”.

So what does Manjaro do on top of Arch ?

The most important feature is of course the pre- configured desktop environment. Manjaro uses XFCE by default, and there are official Openbox and Cinnamon versions and a headless “Net” variant. KDE, Mate and LXDE are offered as “community editions” with a different release schedule. The 1GB XFCE image (32 Bit) has all you need for daily work, including gParted, the VLC mediaplayer, Abiword, Gnumeric and  Gimp for Office purposes, Chromium, Pidgin and Xchat for internet access, and even Steam for gaming.

The installer is text based and closely resembles the old Arch installer (those were the days …). While installing the system is not complicated, there’s certainly room for improvement if you compare the process to established end user distributions like Ubuntu, SUSE or even Fedora. The graphical package / upgrade manager Pamac handles pacman packages from a special, tested Manjaro repository which is updated regularly (usually once a week) in a rolling release model, yaourt is included for easy AUR access.

I’m not sure about the current state of things in Arch, but Majaro runs very smooth. All hardware was recognized successfully. The only changes I did are more a matter of preference, I removed pulseaudio (using gnome-alsamixer as mixer) and configured Ubuntu- style 2 finger right mouse tap by adding ‘synclient TapButton2=3 TapButton3=2′ as new startup command in the ‘Session and Startup’ settings.

Manjaro lives up to the expectation of an easy, polished and stable Linux distribution. The desktop layout with the XFCE panel on top and Plank dock at the bottom looks very clean and modern, in fact it looks like a combination of Elementary OS and Mint. The Pamac graphical package manager is the first application of that type on an Arch- based system that is actually usable. The only thing missing to take on the Mints, Ubuntus and SUSEs of the world is a graphical Installer, but there’s already one in the works.

The Inofficial Archbang Games Collection

Tuxracer screenshot, by linuxblog.dk

Of course there are hundreds (if not thousands) of games in the Arch repositories, including popular classics like The Battle Of Wesnoth, Nexuiz, or Flightgear. But there are some games that go even better with Arch / Archbang’s KISS philosophy, and that COULD be included with Archbang, if Archbang included games and came on a DVD and so on, so, long story short, here’s “The Inofficial  Archbang Games Collection” !!

  • Pysolfc – The inevitable collection of solitaire card games, plus a very nice Mahjong
  • Extreme Tux Racer – The classic Tux downhill racer, still loads of fun
  • Pychess - Beginner- friendly chess program with a helpful “Hints” and “Spy” mode. Pychess has its own engine but can also use gnuchess or any other Xboard- compatible engine.
  • Ltris - Lightweight implementation of the popular classic “Tetris” with many features
  • DoomRL LQ - simple and beginner- friendly (at least on level “too young to die”) rogue- like with tile graphics. The LQ version is only 5 MB vs. 80+ MB for the “full” version and has midi music instead of MP3s
  • FreeCiv – Free clone of Civilization 2, single- or multiplayer
  • Dopewars - classic … erm … business simulation that can be played in GTK or on the command line (option -t)
  • Lbreakout - Nice breakout game with a lot of options
  • GzDoom - Nice OpenGL DOOM implementation with pretty good graphics, keyboard playable !! You need additional game data, e.g. FreeDoom / Blasphemer from the AUR or download Harmony from their web page

This is just a small collection of my favorites. More interesting games can be found in the wiki under Netbook Games and List of Applications / Games.

10 things to do after installing Archbang 2012.12

Installing Archbang is WAY too easy, so you might wonder what to do next … here’s some ideas ;)

  1. Optimize mirrorlist – the Arch wiki has a script that generates a mirror list sorted by speed and update status. Run the script and copy the result to /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist (don’t forget to make a backup copy of the old list with all mirrors)
  2. Enable multilib – if you want to install 32 Bit binary packages (like e.g. printer drivers) you need to enable multilib support in /etc/pacman.conf – for details consult the Arch wiki
  3. Install Pepper Flash - unfortunately Adobe only supports Flash on Linux for Google, so get google-chrome or chromium-pepper-flash-stable from the AUR. It really makes a difference, especially on low end hardware like a netbook
  4. Install fontsttf-droid and ttf-liberation will significantly improve the looks of your web pages (and Google docs). If you absolutely need Windows fonts, install ttf-ms-fonts and ttf-vista-fonts (the latter will extract newer MS fonts like Calibri from Powerpoint viewer)
  5. Lock on lid close – suspend works out of the box, but the computer isn’t locked. To fix this, you have to create a new systemd service that will be triggered on suspend / hibernate, as described in this blog post (translation here - but copy the source code from the original post). After enabling the service with systemctl enable slock you laptop should lock on close. If not, you probably forgot to fill in your username instead of the placeholder
  6. Locking screensaver – to automatically lock your screen e.g. after 7 minutes, install xautolock and add the following line to your autostart.sh: xautolock -time 7 -locker slock
  7. Sync clock – install NTP and enable with systemctl enable ntpd – now your clock should be synced over the internet
  8. Extend the menu – these 2 additional menu entries might come handy (use “execute” action in the graphical menu editor) …
    - Refresh Application Menu: bash -c “(openbox-menu -p -o abapps.xml -t ‘lxterminal -e’) & (sleep 3 && killall -e openbox-menu) &”
    (works without the ‘kill’, but you end up with a lot of openbox-menu processes over time)
    - Restart tint2: bash -c “(killall -e tint2) && (sleep 1s && tint2) &”
  9. Logout with Super+X – if you are an old Chrunchbang user like me, you don’t want to miss the Super+X shortcut for logout – you can easily configure this using the graphical menu editor from the Preferences/Openbox menu, and change the execute- action to oblogout. The desktop help text can be changed in ~/.conkyrc
  10. Install pcmanfm – spacefm might be a great file manager, but after accidentally deleting my home directory while trying to remove a favorite, I decided to go back to pcmanfm. After installing, you have to change the Super+F shortcut with the Keyboard Editor from the Preferences/Openbox menu. To enable auto mount for USB sticks etc., add the following line to your autostart file: dbus-launch pcmanfm -d –no-desktop &
That’s it, should be enough to get you started. There’s always room for improvement, and an Arch system is never really finished anyway, so be creative (and share your ideas in a comment, if you like).

Archbang 2012.12

Archbang Screenshot, by archbang.org

Archbang is back – the Archbang team has accepted the “Pepsi challenge” from the likes of ArchPup, Nosonja, Bridge, CinnArch and Manjaro, and strikes back with an excellent update release (although, admittedly, CinnArch and Manjaro look very promising, and one of them could, over time, turn into something like the “Mint of Archlinux”, i.e. a stable, beginner- friendly, Arch- based Ubuntu alternative).

But back to the matter at hand – the software selection of Archbang is, as usual, reduced to the essentials – a perfectly configured Openbox desktop with Tint2 panel and dynamic application menu, a browser, some tools, and that’s it. Archbang of course includes packer for instant AUR access. The biggest visible change is the spacefm file manager, a fork of pcmanfm with a lot of additional features like multi- panel layout (view screenshots for details). Gparted is also included, making Archbang the only LiveUSB I need.

There are more changes under the hood, AB! 2012.12 is now “state of the Arch”, i.e. uses systemd and grub2. Luckily they kept the (text- based) installer, allowing you to install Archbang without a second internet device for Wiki reading (unlike “real” Arch – check out my post for an idea what it means and how to get started). My hardware was recognized perfectly, and the network problems I experienced in vanilla Arch 2 months ago seem to be solved, too, either Archbang is smarter in that regard or the issue has been fixed in the Kernel anyway. Of course Archbang uses the official Arch repos and the AUR, and there is no branding except a wallpaper and the browser pointing to archbang.org (you can change this in the menu entry) – there’s no way to get closer to “the real thing” without installing vanilla Arch, actually Archbang is not so much a distribution as a shortcut to working Arch with Openbox.

The Arch Diaries: (3) A JWM Desktop Environment

In part 1 and 2 I showed how I installed Arch and configured my hardware, and X.

Of course you could just type pacman -S xfce and be done with it, but honestly, if you were looking for an easy solution you’d be using something like Mint or Bodhi in the first place. So here’s what I did to create a kind of desktop environment based on JWM. JWM  is a lightweight window manager used in distributions like Puppy or Damn Small Linux. Even without customizing, JWM creates a simple, fully functional XP- like desktop. JWM is very configurable, and all options can be set in one single XML file (~/.jwmrc, as always the Arch Wiki has more details).

  1. Install jwm (pacman -S jwm) and add the following line to ~/.xinitrc to start JWM when you run startx: exec ck-launch-session dbus-launch jwm.
    Instead of using a logon manager like slim you can configure X to start automatically after logon as described in the wiki.
  2. By default, JWM is ugly as sin. To improve the looks, I copied the Antix JWM theme and replaced cyan with Arch blue (#1793D0 according to the Arch forums)
  3. GTK theme, icons and fonts can be modified using lxappearance. I chose elementary-gtk-theme and faenza-icon-theme from the AUR and installed ttf-droid and ttf-liberation fonts.
  4. JWM doesn’t have a run dialog or task manager, so I linked gmrun to Alt+F2 and xfce4-taskmanager to Ctrl+Alt+Del. The Exit menu entry will just bring you back to the terminal, so I added oblogout as shutdown / logout dialog
  5. Screensaver / lock is provided by xautolock and xlockmore - running xautolock -time 7 -corners 0-00 as <StartupCommand> will lock the screen after 7 minutes, unless the mouse cursor sits in the upper right corner (great way to disable screen locking while watching movies)
  6. Now you can install the usual tools and applications, like e.g. pcmanfm file manager, google-chrome browser, gpicview image viewer, lxterminal, xfce4-screenshotter, gksu, conky, scite text editor, xcalc, volumeicon, batti to show battery status, gpicview image viewer, gimp image editor, transmission Bittorrent client or the VLC mediaplayer … if you are looking for something special, alternative.to is always a good place to start
  7. For libreoffice, when installing with pacman -S libreoffice make sure to deselect libreoffice-kde to save diskspace for a whole lot of KDE dependencies. To address the issue of missing window decorations in JWM, you have to force the UI to generic mode (e.g. SAL_USE_VCLPLUGIN=gen lowriter).
That’s all it takes to create your own desktop environment based on JWM. Of course this is just an example, the variety of available tools and themes is endless, and as always in the Arch world, the journey is the reward.

The Arch Diaries: (2) Xorg, Network, Hardware Support

Even after installation (see part 1), the Arch system is still pretty basic. You can boot into text mode, connect to the internet with wifi-menu or even do some basic text browsing, but for a desktop system a very central part is still missing – the desktop. The 2nd part of my “Arch from Scratch” diary shows how to set up X and configure some hardware for my Asus 1215N (the process may be different on different hardware).

  1. The first step is of course to install X-Windows. If you don’t know exactly what hardware you have, you can just install the whole Xorg group with pacman -S xorg. This will install most drivers and allow Xorg to auto detect your hardware. To be able to do ANYTHING in X you will also need xorg-init and xterm, too. Now you should be able to ‘startx’ successfully from root into a naked XWindows with a couple of xterms.
  2. You shouldn’t work as root of course, so now’s the time to create a new user with adduser. Some recommendations for groups can be found in the wiki. For startx to work for the new user, I had to copy /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc to ~/.xinitrc.
  3. While you’re at it, install sudo and enable it for your user (or the whole wheel group) – run EXPORT EDITOR=nano; visudo and uncomment the desired line in the config file
  4. Add Firefox or Chromium and you already have a very basic work environment, allowing you to read Arch wiki and access the forum
  5. For easy AUR access you want a tool like yaourt or packer - I used this blog post as a guide, but you can also check out the more general documentation in the Arch wiki. Once this is done, you can simply search and install packages by typing e.g. packer chrome and then picking the number from the list.
  6. To support my Nvidia Optimus graphics chip, I installed Bumblebee from the AUR by simply typing packer bumblebee. I didn’t have to change anything in the PKGBUILD files, but Arch wiki insists you should always have a look at them, to check if they really do what they seem (a malicious PKGBUILD could do serious harm to your computer). This will install nvidia-utils-bumblebee but not the Nvidia drivers and power management, so you have to install nvidia and dkms-bbswitch separately. After a reboot you should be able to run any program against your Nvidia chip with the optirun command.
  7. For the automatic dkms rebuild to work properly after a kernel update, you have to change /etc/bumblebee/bumblebee.conf from PMMETHOD=auto to PMMETHOD=bbswitch (as described by Samsagax in a comment on the AUR page) and enable the DKMS service with systemctl enable dkms (more details here)
  8. Even though wifi was working with the included Kernel drivers, I experienced frequent disconnects with my BCM4013 wireless chip. After some research I finally resolved the issue by switching to the proprietary dkms-broadcom-wl driver from the AUR. To make sure broadcom-wl is really used, you should enable the kernel module wl and blacklist b43, ssb and brcm80211 (as described in the wiki). Using broadcom-wl will switch the wireless device from wlan0 to eth0, so you have to change netcfg configurations accordingly and wifi-menu will not work anymore.
  9. So this a good moment to install a network administration tool like wicd (don’t forget to configure the wireless device, usually wlan0 or eth0 – the easiest way to do this is in the preferences of the wicd-client took from package wicd-gtk)
  10.  Of course you could just install a desktop environment like XFCE (pacman -S xfce) or KDE now and be done with it, or start to create your own desktop environment with a window manager (like Openbox, Fluxbox, JWM, …)

This concludes part 2 of my Arch diaries, in the next part I will describe how I created a simple, lightweight desktop environment based on the JWM window manager.

The Arch Diaries: (1) Installation

After some quality time with Crunchbang and Mint 13 XFCE I was looking for a little more adventure again. Manjaro, despite a brilliant Live experience, wouldn’t boot after installation on my Asus 1215N, so I decided to quickly set up Arch over the weekend, only to discover that the installer is gone !! My first reaction was to write an angry post to the Arch forum, but in the end I delete it and decided accept the challenge. We’re here to learn something after all, right ?

The documentation on the USB image is by no means sufficient, so you either have to print out half of Arch Wiki before starting, or even better have a second internet device ready to read some documentation (starting from the official Installation Guide - would be really cool if the install media included arch-wiki-lite or a text based browser like links to avoid this necessity). Anyway, here’s a short log of what I had to do to install Arch (with the 2012-10 hybrid setup image) to my Asus 1215N laptop.

  1. Burn the ISO to USB using dd, e.g. dd if=archlinux-2012.10.06-dual.iso of=/dev/sdb (don’t just copy this line, but CAREFULLY CHECK THE DEVICE NAME, so you don’t accidentally erase a harddrive)
  2. The Arch install media supports wireless networking – run wifi-menu to connect to wireless network (cable DHCP should connect automatically)
  3. Keyboard layout can be set with e.g. loadkeys de
  4. I didn’t want to change the partitioning, and if I did I would do it before installing Arch with a PartedMagic CD / USB.
  5. The next step is formatting the root and swap partition. To show the partition table, use lsblk  and/or fdisk -l, then simply format the root partition with e.g.  mkfs -t ext4 /dev/sda7 and the swap partition with mkswap /dev/sda8 (numbers will be different on your system). ATTENTION ! THIS IS THE POINT OF NO RETURN, it will obviously destroy your old Linux installation in /dev/sda7 !!
  6. Now you can install packages. Mount the root partition to /mnt. Then check /etc/pacman.d/mirrorlist and then run  pacstrap /mnt base base-devel wireless_tools grub-bios dmenu wpa_supplicant links - this will give you the base system with dev packages (for AUR install), a bootloader, wifi-menu and the links console browser
  7. Now create the fstab with genfstab -p /mnt >> /mnt/etc/fstab
  8. Now chroot into the installed system: arch-chroot /mnt - the next steps have to be executed in the context of your new system, and NOT on the install media
  9. Write a hostname into /etc/hostname (something like “arch-yourname”)
  10. Symlink your timezone, e.g. ln -s /usr/share/zoneinfo/Europe/Berlin /etc/localtime.
  11.  If you dual boot with Windows you should set the clock to local time instead of UTF by entering LOCAL at the end of /etc/adjtime
  12. Uncomment the locale in of your choice in /etc/locale.gen and enter the same name in /etc/locale.conf (e.g. “en_US.UTF-8″), then generate locale-gen.
  13. Console keyboard layout is defined in /etc/vconsole.conf (e.g. “KEYMAP=de-latin1-nodeadkeys”)
  14. Create the boot image with mkinitcpio -p linux (configuration can be changed in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf, but defaults were working fine for me)
  15. Install the bootloader with grub-mkconfig -o /boot/grub/grub.cfg and install with grub-install
  16. Set a root password with passwd
  17. Finally, exit chroot, unmount (umount /mnt) and reboot

After these steps you are now at the point where you would have been after running the old Arch text installer, i.e. you should be able to boot into your brand new Arch install with root and start further configuration. This will take you between 1-2 hours, remember that in case of an error you can always go back to the install media and mount / chroot into your installation to correct errors.

This concludes the 1st part of the log of my first Arch “From Scratch” install from November 2012, on an Asus Eee PC 1215N. In part 2 I’m going to point out how to turn that empty Arch system into an operating system by installing X, a browser, packer (to install stuff from the AUR), Bumblebee Nvidia Optimus support. In part 3 JWM will be added as a simple desktop environment.

XFCE 4.10

Archbang also makes a great base to install another desktop environment, e.g. for XFCE you only have to run ‘pacman -S xfce4‘ and then replace the openbox startup line at the end of .xinitrc with ‘exec startxfce4‘. Arch repos of course already include XFCE 4.10, which is certainly the most mature desktop environment I have seen so far, and one of the snappiest. Sticking to the classic taskpanel / menu concept, XFCE it is easy to use, very customizable and easy on the eyes:

This is my XFCE desktop, using Elementary GTK theme, Minimal XFWM theme and Faenza Dark icons (the dock on top is wbar, the wallpaper is available here). This setup is very efficient in terms of screen estate, I havent’t found any other combination of OS / desktop environment, yet, that uses so little space for window decorations and scrollbars, while still being fully functional. Combined with the Classic Compact Firefox theme this gives you an almost fullscreen browsing experience, and makes Chrome look bloated in comparison (especially in combination with the dated and cheesy Windows Aero UI).

(this is a repost from my old blog)

Archbang 2012.05

Archbang Linux is an old dream of mankind come true: working Archlinux out of the box. Because that’s what you get after installing Archbang to your harddrive: plain vanilla Arch -  the same package system, the same repositories, and the same bleeding edge rolling release. This also means, Archbang might not be for everyone, it’s actually more like a shortcut if you COULD install Arch (i.e. have done it before) but want to save an afternoon.

The 32 Bit ISO weighs less than 500MB and contains the essential OS with a simple Crunchbang- style Openbox desktop. All my hardware (eeePC 1215N) worked out of the box, except having to install Bumblebee Nvidia drivers. For your package managing needs Archbang includes packer, a pacman wrapper with included AUR access, giving you access to the latest stable version of about any piece of Linux software that is available on the internet (if that’s still not bleeding edge enough for you, there often is a Dev / Beta version in the AUR, too).

The (text based) installation process is rather smooth, but it might make sense to partition your HD before (e.g. with PartedMagic), or at least check the partition table with fdisk -l, so you don’t accidentally overwrite your data or Windows partition … Before upgrading (packer -Syyu) read the latest news on archlinux.org, right now there are 2 entries (filesystem upgrade, pacman verify) to considered before you can successfully upgrade Archbang 2012.05 to the latest packages.

(this is a repost from my old blog)

Hello world!

Welcome to Arch Linux Blog. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!