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Getting back into Linux


I finally installed Linux onto my desktop this week. It has been a long time coming; I bought this PC a year ago now, and have almost exclusively run Windows on it.

I am no newcomer to Linux, I started using it when I was about 11, mainly because my (very) old computer could run little more than Windows 98. Windows XP would crash spectacularly during installation, so I delved into a fabled operating system my Dad mentioned once. I ended up installing Fedora Core 1, and almost lost everything on my hard drive in the process. There was indeed a learning curve, but I successfully ran a nice Slackware setup with KDE 3.4/3.5 for quite a long time, and when I purchased my next computer, ran all kinds of distributions during its lifetime, settling more often than not on Arch Linux.

Ah, good old KDE 3.5

So last year when I purchased my computer, I of course had every intention of running Linux in my standard dual boot setup. However it was not to be, if you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’d know that my computer exhibits a high pitched noise by default. After tweaking the BIOS settings, this has ceased, but for some strange reason things only improved on Windows, not Linux. I was left with no choice but to solely run Windows, and hope that future Linux kernels fix the issue. In the meantime, I played about with many distributions under VirtualBox, which although is fast, is also unspectacular in the graphics department, and struggled running the full GNOME 3 experience – my preferred desktop environment.

I put off trying again for quite a long time, VirtualBox sufficed and I was too lazy. But one day I was intrigued and decided to write a Fedora ISO to an SD card and give it a spin. And hallelujah, there was no irritating noise, and GNOME 3 ran beautifully. Now as much as I respect Fedora, I can never manage to use it for too long. I find its package manager slow, its font rendering sub-par, and the lack of non-free packages without third-party repositories is just a nuisance. I appreciate Ubuntu and use it (sans Unity) at University and on my Netbook, but their GNOME 3 implementation is just terrible, and I don’t really like Unity. So where does that leave me? Back to Arch Linux, the only distribution I can’t find fault with.

If you’ve never tried Arch Linux, and you’re a veteran of distributions like Ubuntu, Debian or Fedora, I urge you to give it a try. It takes some reading into, but you’ll find it’s really not that difficult, and it pays in terms of flexibility and the very latest software.

So I ended up spending Tuesday night installing Arch Linux on my desktop, hitting only one minor snag, lack of firmware for my wireless device. I just used my brother’s in the meantime, and downloaded the firmware in the installed system, expecting everything to be fine and dandy – it in fact wasn’t, the driver is incredibly unstable, and I can’t maintain a connection for long. I have ordered a new wireless card now, which uses the Atheros AR9285 chipset, and thus the ath9k driver, which is the same driver used by my Netbook, and is apparently well supported under Linux.

Installing lots of packages

Now when I installed this, I half expected the high pitched noise to creep up on me, so I installed it in a partition at the end of my hard drive, which would be far easier to remove. It turned out I didn’t need to worry, but now had to face shifting my partitions along, so I could store the installed Arch Linux system at the beginning of the drive (keeping everything at the beginning of the drive is known to be faster). Just creating a new partition at the beginning of the drive using GParted took 8 hours. I had started it quite late on Wednesday, so it was done by this morning, but I seriously did not expect that length of time. After doing this, I had to copy the original partition to the new one at the beginning of the drive, using the following commands:

(After using fdisk to correct the order of the partitions)

# dd if=/dev/sdc3 of=/dev/sdc1 bs=512 conv=noerror,sync
# fsck.ext4 -f /dev/sdc1
# resize2fs /dev/sdc1

I then just went back to GParted to remove the original Linux partition, and resize the NTFS partition to fill the freed space.

Finally, GRUB was acting very strangely, and was not finding my Linux partition in the logical place, so since I kept having to boot manually, I installed GRUB2, which finds partitions by UUID, rather than GRUB’s own mechanism. Booting the system now works perfectly.

Arch Linux and GNOME 3, with yes, the Mac OS X Mountain Lion wallpaper

And so I’m finally back to having a decent Arch Linux installation, and it feels good. I missed messing about with it, it just wasn’t the same in VirtualBox. Of the things that I was impressed by was the speed of GNOME 3, which in my opinion is one of the better desktop environments for Linux (I genuinely wonder why it gets so much abuse), and the excellent default graphics driver for my AMD Radeon HD 6950, which seems far superior to the proprietary AMD drivers for Linux. I now just hope my new wireless card will work seamlessly with Linux and Windows, and I’ll be very happy.