Although Arch Linux is great, installing it is a real headache for many people. But now there is a simple GUI-based installer for Arch. And you already know how to use it.
Arch Linux’s Catch-22
Arch Linux is a light to medium Linux distribution. Most people consider it the first streaming distro. Instead of new releases once or twice a year, it offers frequent, smaller updates that keep your computer up to date.
Arch arrives completely pure. There is no unwanted packet bloat. There are no distribution-specific settings or management tools. It’s just plain old vanilla Linux. For some, this is an attractive proposition. You choose, step by step, the configuration of your computer.
But that’s the crux of the problem. The detail. To be able to choose in detail how you want to install Linux, you must understand this level of detail. Or follow it ArchWiki very carefully.
The standard Arch install requires you to download one of their monthly ISOs. This boots to an Arch Linux command line prompt. You have to follow a considerable number of steps on the command line to get a working version of Arch on your computer. It’s easy to miss a step or make a choice that you realize later was wrong.
After all that, you have a bare metal Arch installation. You still need to install a desktop environment such as KDE or GNOME, along with any applications you want to use. It has nothing to do with installing Ubuntu where you choose your desktop environment up front, and the installation process includes a wide selection of applications. And after an Arch install, it’s common to struggle with things like Wi-Fi settings or graphics drivers.
Installing a working version of Arch is an achievement and a milestone for those managing it. There are those who think that if you can’t install Arch the “right way”, you shouldn’t use it. This is bullshit. Others say you should because you’ll learn a lot about Linux and how your operating system works. It’s true, you learn a lot. But for the best part, the items you recover will never be used again until the next install of Arch.
What about Arch-based distros?
There are many Arch-based distributions, such as Manjaro, ArcoLinux, Garudaand EndeavourOS. These provide graphical installation routines, often based on the famous Installer Calamares. They configure the network and Wi-Fi, and they install the desktop environment of your choice.
It’s all fantastic, and to varying degrees, you end up with an Arch Linux that’s very close to simple. But it’s not just Arch Linux. Some differences are significant, others are small. But there are differences.
For example, Manjaro deliberately withholds updates until they have been tested. Once confidence is high in the security of the updates, they are released to their user base. This is a fundamental principle of this distribution. Manjaro provides an Arch-based streaming distribution with added risk management. Manjaro meets this particular need. There’s a reason it’s so popular.
All other Arch-based distributions add Something to the mixture, in greater or lesser quantity. These are all great distros, but if you’re looking for vanilla Arch Linux, these distros will only get you so close.
Arch Linux GUI
Arch Linux GUI is not a distribution. It just provides an easy to use installer for Arch Linux.
Their website offers builds that include GNOME, KDE Plasma, XFCE, Cinnamon, and the i3 window manager. Besides i3, these come in “pure” or “themed” variants.
A pure edition is just that: untouched Arch Linux. Theme variants have lightweight desktop themes and a few packages installed that you’ll probably want to install anyway, such as printing services or Bluetooth.
But, for this exercise, we want things to be as pure as packed snow. We will therefore install the GNOME Pure version.
Installing the Arch Linux GUI
Download the version you want to install and create a bootable USB. Boot your computer from your USB key. When you see the Arch Linux logo and menu, select the first option, labeled “Arch Linux Installer (x86_64, BIOS)”.
This will boot your computer from the installation media into a “Live ISO” session. No changes are made to your computer at this point. Soon you will see a generic GNOME desktop.
The installer is hidden with other applications. Click the dotted “Show apps” icon in the dock. The application list appears. The installer has an Arch Linux logo as its icon and a description that reads “Install Arch Linux”.
Click on the icon to start the installation. The look and feel of the Calamares installer will be familiar to many. It is used by a large number of Linux distributions.
If you want the installer to run in another language, select it from the drop-down menu. Note that this does not set the language of your Arch installation. It’s just for Calamares screens. Click “Next” when you are ready to continue.
The location screen appears. You can let the installer know where you live by making selections from the “Region” and “Zone” drop-down menus, or by clicking on the screen.
This is the step that defines the language Arch will use and how it will format numbers and dates. Click “Next” to proceed to the next screen.
You need to select your keyboard layout and language, then click “Next”. The Partitioning Options screen appears.
The usual partitioning options are available. You can erase the entire disk and have the installer partition it automatically, or you can manually set custom partitioning. If an operating system has already been installed on the target computer (which was not the case with our test machine), you can choose to install Arch alongside it.
You can also select which file system you want to use and whether you want to use swap or not.
Make your selections and click “Next”.
You are prompted for your name, username, password, computer name, and whether you want to use the same password for your user account and for root.
Complete the form and click “Next” to display the summary screen.
If you want to change any of your choices, click “Back” until you see the option you want to change and set it to your preferred value. When you are satisfied with all the settings, click “Install” to start the installation process.
As the installation progresses, the progress bar moves from left to right and different snippets of information are displayed in the main part of the Calamares window.
Once the installation is complete, check the “Restore Now” box and click “Done”.
Your computer will reboot into your clean install of Arch Linux. When you log in, you will see the generic GNOME desktop.
Updating your system
Although the Arch Linux GUI Project releases new ISOs at the start of each month, due to the rolling release nature of Arch Linux and the offline nature of installation, there will almost certainly be updates. that you can apply.
Open a terminal window and type:
sudo pacman -Syyu
pacman is the package manager for Arch. The options we used are:
- S: Synchronize (install) packages.
- yy: Force a local package database refresh by downloading the package databases from the remote repositories. Using it twice refreshes all databases, even those that seem up to date. As this is our first time updating this facility, it doubles assuring that anything that can be updated is updated.
- you: Upgrade all outdated packages.
Arch Linux checks the software versions on your computer against the repository versions and displays a list of updatable packages.
Press “Enter” to accept the default response of “O” to proceed with the installation. You may need to do the same thing multiple times during updates, depending on the updated packages.
The ArchWiki is your friend
One of the best parts of using Arch Linux is the ArchWiki. This is perhaps the most comprehensive collection of Linux knowledge on the web.
If you want to know anything about Arch, check the wiki. And because Arch is such a pure, bare-bones Linux, people use it to troubleshoot or get information about other Linux distributions as well.
It also covers Arch-specific packages such as the
pacman package manager, which you will use to install the packages you want, to complete your new installation to your liking.
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