Arch Linux

October 8th, 2012

Over the years I have used almost every significant Linux distribution available: either in work or at home.

  • Yggdrasil Linux/GNU/Xl
  • Slackware
  • Caldera Linux
  • Red Hat/Fedora and clones like CentOS
  • SuSE and openSuSE
  • Debian and Unbuntu and spinoffs like Linux Mint
  • Arch Linux
Check out DistroWatch for information on many of these and lots more distributions. More than that, at times work has taken me onto just a few of the different flavours of Unix:
  • SunOS, Solaris, OpenSolaris
  • AIX and its friends
  • BSD flavours
  • Xenix and later Sco Unix

Eventually - possibly somewhere in the very late 90's or just into the new millennium - I was able to close down my last remaining Windows system and say goodbye to Microsoft products forever - at least as far as my own home systems were concerned. I certainly do not miss the regular 6-monthly system rebuilds or the frantic virus eradication sessions or the progressive performance degradation or the enforced hardware upgrades. Even now, after all these years, I am still impressed by the multi-year uptime stats reported by my Linux systems.

Up until recently, my distro of choice has been openSuSE. Mostly because of my preferred KDE desktop and the Yast administration tool; both made managing the platform very easy. Most of the time, the openSuSE team have created really good migration tools so that moving from one version to another has been relatively painless.

Migration policy has become more important too, not just with the SuSE team but others as well.

  • the cost of maintaining version repositories has meant that most versions have a lifetime of 18 months or less before their repositories are closed
  • the rate of change of application packages and even core packages such as language versions, window managers, support tools, etc means that a particular OS version rapidly becomes outdated either missing features or forcing an upgrade
I found myself being regularly thwarted by missing repositories and therefore unable to upgrade manually to new package versions since required support libraries were missing. As a result, forced to do without new, improved versions.

Then I discovered Arch Linux. I tested it out on my Asus netbook and liked it so much, it has spread now to all my home systems. The key differentiator compared to most, if not all, distributions is the lack of versions: there is only the current active one.

To be sure, it is not a distribution for everyone; it can be difficult to configure compared to the likes of SuSE and package updates can cause temporary breakages. Still, for me the cost of these inconveniences is far exceeded by the knowledge that my systems are generally as current as they can be and most of all I can exercise more control over what is installed compared to any other distro.

Unlike most other systems, I can also engage directly with the distribution; helping to evolve documentation and even contributing packages. Being able to give something back, however small, for the amazing software countless people continue to contribute to Linux is a pretty awesome experience.

Arch Linux rocks!

SuSE 11.3 Multi-head

November 30th, 2010

On Thursday, I decided to upgrade from OpenSuse 11.2 to 11.3 I was highly suspicious that this would work so bundled up all my important documents, systems, settings & whatever and stored them safely away in my secret place. Downloaded and made a CD from the 64b Network Install ISO and promptly booted my system from the CD. Chose the upgrade option and went and made a couple of nice curries while the beast took 2 hours to download whatever it needed. …and when I came back…. Almost everything was working perfectly!

Better than that, some of the packages I had installed from the Packman repository were flagged correctly and through Yast's Software Management tool I was able to update, remove or whatever any packages that the installer did not know what to do with. And that was it; local applications were working fine, and all my important apps were all brand new and shiny recent versions - even weird stuff I had in /usr/local/bin continued to work fine. Wow! Seriously impressed.

Getting multi-head dual screens to work in OpenSuse 11.3 with a Radeon card

Only one fly in the ointment - almost a disastrous one as well. I have 2 monitors fed off a Radeon card which had given problems before though 11.2 seemed to cope well. But not 11.3 and definitely not KDE. Here's what I had to do:

Support Multi-head

Seems the latest kernel does not support automatic mode lines from RadeonHD cards so this feature should be turned off. Quite simple when you know what has to be done; edit your /boot/grub/menu.lst file and add the switch


to each of your kernel lines. Then just reboot. This allows you to at least choose multi-head behaviour.

Why graphics mode setting has been moved to kernel is beyond me; I would think this will make life much more difficult for folks pulling graphics cards in and out (yes, I have done that in the past) and general graphics issues. But perhaps this is only the start of some grand design thought up by someone.

Anyhow, if you have a Radeon or Nvidia card, this tweak may help you sort graphics problems.

Saving Multi-head Settings

Now I was able to choose the KDE control for configuring my multi-head setup: System Settings → Display After some experimentation, this was fine. But as soon as I logged out and back in again, the settings were lost. Here's what you can do:
  1. As before, configure your display as required and leave the configuration tool
  2. at this point, the settings have been saved in
    as a set of xrandr commands
  3. you can test these settings by logging out and in again and then running this script
  4. what we really want to do is execute this script as we login; presumably KDE does attempt this but if the X session is not ready, then nothing happens. We could add it to our profile or .bashrc, but then it would execute every-time we opened a terminal. Instead add a link to the script in
    then it will execute as KDE comes up for your user's account

Of course, this is only a workaround for KDE which should be doing it for us; if anyone has a better plan, please let me know.

Despite this minor hiccup, I am loving OpenSuse 11.3 - it actually feels quicker and more responsive than 11.2 and several tools that I use all the time have improved dramatically. Well done the Suse team on delivering such a painless upgrade!

© 2013 Andy Ferguson