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Come on in the Water's Fine

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Ark Linux 2005.2 rc3 was released a day or two ago and offered the new KDE 3.5 beta2 packages. I was interested in taking a look. After some doing I have an Ark install and am suffering from mixed feelings.

The install was almost a deal breaker. I wanted to install Ark Linux on my /dev/hda12 partition so I boot up an unique looking graphical environment that asked me for my Language, Keyboard, and Timezone, to which I answered. Then next was "what type of install?" On my main harddrive I have a bsd partition on hda1 and hda2 is an extended filesystem with many linux partitions mostly of ext3 and reiserfs. My choices during that attempt were Express and Expert. The others were grayed out. Express clearly states it will take over the whole drive so I most assuredly didn't want that one, and "expert" is usually the classification I pick anyway. Well, I don't know what I was doing wrong, but I just could not find where to set /dev/hda12 as "/". I thought I was and yet the next screen would always say it was installing on /dev/hda5 (the first linux partition on disc). I don't know, I've been installing various Linuxes for over 5 years now, and I just couldn't figure that one out. If anyone knows where I went wrong, please sing out. So anyway, I hooked up this other old Maxtor 10 gig harddrive that someone recently gave me. It consisted of a fat16 and two ntfs filesystems. I booted up the install disc and just pressed Express and whoopee, we were on our way. It did its thing and offered to let me play tetris. I passed on that as I figured it'd just slow down the install, but how nice of it to offer.

After a little while I got a message to let it reboot and I did. A nice splash/progress screen displayed for me while the system booted. It's a lovely seascape looking off a cliff on a beautiful sunny day. That was an unique start up I thought. It was accompanied by a rather tasteful progress bar. My first boot was a total lockup. It had detected my nvidia 6800 chipset and set "nv" as the driver. With no root accessibility until you get into the graphical user environment, init 3 was useless. I fortunately had a livecd hanging around, so I booted it and edited the xorg.conf file for vesa. That got me in.

The next boot I was auto-logged into kde. A KDE 3.5 no less.

KDE 3.5 has been covered basically in one of my SUSE stories, but this version seemed more like KDE default. SUSE had put in their various custom touches. This implementation of it seemed rather nice as well. It was fast and pretty and stable. Ark adds a few of their own customized graphics to the mix, uses the plastic windec and features the redglass cursor theme. I don't know if it's a KDE issue or an Ark issue, but system sound didn't work in KDE, until I configured them to use "play" instead of arts.

Ark has a strange philosophy on root and even its regular user account. I had been to their site earlier and read how to get back the usual functionality of root by using the konsole in the superuser mode provided in the menu and re-set the root password. Not a difficult task for someone who had seen the documentation.

Speaking of documentation, I had also seen where Ark provides nvidia drivers and their suggested procedure. Ark uses apt-get and a KDE-centric version of synaptic call kynaptic. They suggest using apt-get at the commandline for installing those drivers and I did as documented. apt-get update; apt-get install nvidia; nvidia-enable. The drivers were installed, but I think there was some niggle with the nvidia-enable step. Seems the xorg.conf file wasn't edited properly. The Load "glx" had been added back but the Driver was still listed as vesa. The xorg.conf.nvidia-enable was a mirror copy of the original xorg.conf. I edited it for nvidia and checked for a modprobe/modules.conf type file. I found a /etc/modprobe.conf file that did have some nvidia configuration at the end. Upon reboot I did get X, but it was still using vesa. I rechecked my xorg file to assure my changes were saved, they were. Then I checked lsmod to see if the nvidia drivers were loaded, they weren't. Well, I cheated and just put /sbin/modprobe nvidia in the /etc/rc.local file. Next reboot all was well.

Ark's claim to fame is their gorgeous Mission Control. Much like Mandriva's, SUSE's, or PCLOS's Control Center, it can help the user configure their system. It has hardware configuration modules and links to kynaptic and many other kcontrol modules for configuring your desktop.

        

As stated previously, Ark uses apt-get to install and uninstall its rpm packages. The kynaptic front-end is tidy and uncluttered, yet attractive and functional. I tested it with several packages and it worked as advertised. In fact, Ark comes with some of their software repositories already setup. That's a really convenient touch.

        

Ark delivers a 2.6.14 kernel and of course KDE 3.5 beta2. X is version 6.8.99.900 (6.9.0 RC 0) from 01 August 2005 + cvs. That nv bug is still present in this release, but hopefully they'll update to the newer cvs where it's fixed before final. They state on their site that they will be including KDE 3.5 final and will be releasing their full version at about the same time as KDE's release. Gcc isn't installed by default, but 3.4.5 version is available through apt-get/kynaptic. The kernel source is available as well. Ark ships with an OpenOffice.org 2.0beta that functioned really well. Xawtv and firefox are available through apt-get, but xmms isn't.

Ark doesn't come with a lot of extra goodies either. I couldn't watch simple mpegs from gamespot (the sound worked tho) while java and flash tests didn't work. However, flash is available through apt-get and there are docs on how to install/enable it as well as java on their wiki doc site: Enable Flash. Using Java.

        

Their site states:

Ark Linux is designed to:

  • be easy to learn and use

  • include all tools and applications the typical desktop user will need
  • be a technically sane development environment

It might be easy to install for someone who only has windows installed, but for someone with other systems they'd like to retain, ease of use is not how I'd describe it. After system install the nvidia driver installation doesn't go smoothly either. Those points aside, the rest is a breeze.

I think the all-the-tools-needed statement might not be entirely true as well. Where as all the KDE applications are available as well as OpenOffice, aren't browser plugins pretty much typical?

Technically sane development environment? There is no gcc installed by default. I guess if someone was gonna develop they'd know how to install it. They further claim "An extra highlight for developers is the addition of a compiler for the D programming language." I've never actually met anyone that uses that. Have you?

All in all, it's has some issues that make it not ideal for everyone. Once installed, it's a nice system. Good looks, adequate speed, and stable performance were delivered, but I'm not sure they meet all their claims. It's a fairly good foundation, but it would take some work to make myself at home.

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