Schlagwort-Archiv: arch-linux

So I left Arch Linux… what’s up with that?

About a year ago I started this blog, primarily as a sort of public collection of notes on how to do things on Linux, especially Arch Linux.

At the time I was annoyed by a lot of decisions Canonical made with Ubuntu, which I had been using for quite a while. So I made the decision to retake the control I felt canonical was taking away from users by switching to Arch Linux. This article is essentially a summary of my experiences with it and an explanation on why I am not using it anymore.

When my new laptop arrived in January of last year I immediately installed Arch Linux on it. For someone like me who’s Linux installation experience is basically „insert an Ubuntu live CD and click install“ it was quite a challenge, but the Arch Wiki provides an amazing guide that made me succeed eventually (The Arch Wiki and Forum are in my opinion two of the best places in the internet to get help with Linux, not only Arch).

The Awesomeness

  • It’s customizable: The main reason for me to try Arch Linux, as I said earlier, is it’s customizability. You have to hand pick the software packages you want to be installed. This includes the Window Manager or Desktop Environment of your choice. So in the end you wind up with an operating system really suited for your needs.
  • It’s up-to-date: Arch is a rolling release distribution, which means that once an update for any package becomes available it will (almost) immediately be available for Arch users. Release cycle oriented distributions like Ubuntu also have an update function for bug fixes and security updates, but „bigger“ updates will only be introduced in the next release of the distro. (There are of course ways to still get the latest version of almost everything, but it requires knowledge and work and kinda conflicts with the whole idea of a release based distribution)
  • It’s a great source of knowledge: The process of installing Arch Linux alone is probably one of the most effective ways to learn how Linux works and is configured. And even the running system sometimes requires you to dig deep into the file system to tweak a config file. I have learned much about Linux during my time with Arch, most of it on the Arch Wiki and forum.

So I ran Arch for the better part of 2012 and was quite pleased with the things I mentioned earlier, but there were also some things I did not like so much.

The Annoyances

  • Stuff breaks… often: Arch is bleeding edge. You get every update almost instantly… what?… I said that already? Yeah, it’s a big plus, but also in stability and convenience terms it’s a pain in the butt. You have to be on guard every time you update your system, you have to follow the mailing list and there is a good chance you have to fix something after the update. Again, thanks to the Arch Community those fixes are almost always available in the forums, but you still have to do them.
  • Your system is unique: And that makes it sometimes a bit harder to troubleshoot stuff. Especially if you are not sure what’s causing your problem. Other peoples solutions might or might not apply to your setup. Of course this is not an Arch exclusive problem, but my guess is that is happens more often than with more restrictive distributions.

The last two points are only a problem if you do not have fun fixing problems and learning stuff (which I did) or if you simply don’t have the time (this one applies to me). I do all my work for the university on my laptop and it needs to work all the time. Also I use it as an entertainment device to watch movies, listen to music or play games. (Boy, has Linux gaming taken off lately 😀 ) And if I want to do one of those things, it needs to work.
I hate it to sit down and write some code only to find out that the last system update has broken the compiler or something.
So, Arch Linux, it’s not you, it’s me! There is nothing wrong with how Arch is, but it has just turned out not to be the right thing for me now.

That’s why I eventually decided to ditch Arch and switch to Linux Mint for now. I am now running Mint 13 Maya Cinnamon Edition and am quite happy with it.
I am almost sure that I will come back to Arch someday though!

Keep your software clock up-to-date with ntpd

Recently I noticed that my system clock tends to run a little fast up to the point where it is 7 to 10 minutes ahead of the actual time. (I now know that hardware clocks in common computers are not very good. If you want to know more click here)

After a little research I found out that I did not use internet time synchronization yet. So I guess the hardware clock on my notebook is not a very accurate device.

Thankfully, there is ntpd, the network time protocol daemon, which synchronizes the software clock of linux systems with available sources on the internet.

After the installation via pacman -S ntp, you first need to select a source for your time signal. Available sources are listed here. Put them into your /etc/ntp.conf file and you’re good to go.

Next stop the hwclock daemon and start ntpd.

sudo /etc/rc.d/hwclock stop
sudo /etc/rc.d/ntpd start

The daemon will then periodically update your system clock.

To start the daemon at boot, add it to your DAEMONS list in /etc/rc.conf and make sure, hwclock is blacklisted.

Syncing your Google calendar data with gnome 3 without evolution

I use Google calendar to manage all my appointments, because of the nice synchronization with android. But sometimes when I need to quickly check if I’m free on some day I want my calendar within a one-click distance.

The GNOME 3 shell has a built in calendar (which appears if you click on the top bar), which natively is managed by evolution. Since I don’t care for that (I use Thunderbird for Mails and … well nothing for my calendar), I was looking for a way to get my Google calendar data directly into the top bar.

The gnome 3 top bar gives you a nice quick overview over your calendar.

Luckily there is a nice tool available that does just that. It goes by the name gnome-shell-google-calendar and is available to arch users through AUR.

It has a client server like architecture, meaning that whenever you open the gnome shell calendar it will dispatch a service call, that will somehow be answered by gnome-shell-google-calendar. I not sure how it exactly works, but what you need to take away from this is, that the script needs to be running all the time to answer to the gnome shell.

The best way to achieve this is to add it to your startup applications:

 gnome-session-properties

opens the „startup applications preferences“ (It is beyond me, why the window title differs from the command). Click add, insert „gnome-shell-google-calendar“ and you’re good to go.

At first start the script will ask for your Google login information and store the password within the gnome keyring.

In case you want to exclude specific calendars from being fed to gnome, you can do so by placing a file .gnome-shell-google-calendar-excludes in your home directory and list the unwelcome calendars each on a separate line.

Turning Gnome 3 into a usable thing

Note: Please keep in mind that this article was written in March 2012, so it may or may not be partially out of date.

Much has been said about the usability or the lack thereof in GNOME 3 and I don’t want to start a whole rant here (although I fear, I will anyways). I just want to say that one of the main reasons I turned away from Ubuntu by the end of 2011, was the fact that they tried to turn my Computer, on which I do actual work, into a smartphone like entertainment device. Yes, I am talking about the Unity Desktop Environment.

So I was a bit shocked when I finally installed Arch and GNOME 3 on my laptop and found that it had almost the same flaws that drove me away from Unity. I was this close to switching to OpenBox or something similar, but I decided to give GNOME a shot.

I quickly learned that there are a lot people out there that were as annoyed as I was and put a whole lot of effort into turning GNOME 3 into a usable desktop environment. So I made a lot of changes and am now quite comfortable with my system.

In this post I would like to present the changes that I have made to my GNOME 3 installation that I found made it usable for my needs.

Getting a Taskbar

The problem:

GNOME 3 does not have a taskbar. Which means when you are working in one program there is no way of seeing what other programs you have running and what they are doing (without pressing a button). Apparently the idea behind this is to avoid distraction, I personally prefer to have an overview over running programs and find it hardly distracting.

The solution:

I found a solution to this problem in tint2 (arch-wiki) a panel/taskbar that was actually developed for window managers like OpenBox that did not come with anything like that. Well, guess what, GNOME 3 doesn’t come with anything like that either and tint2 works just as well.

A screenshot of GNOME 3 with tint2
Tint2 integrates well into the GNOME 3 desktop. It is not overlapped by windows and is extremely customizable.

Getting the desktop icons back

The problem:

As ridiculous as it may sound: GNOME 3 has a Desktop (i.e. you can select a Wallpaper), it has a folder called „Desktop“, but it does not display the contained files on the actual desktop.

The solution:

There is a very useful tool when it comes to customizing GNOME, namely the gnome-tweak-tool. It can be installed from the repositories and offers a lot of options GNOME does not offer natively. For example

Make use of the emptiness in the top bar

While lacking a taskbar GNOME 3 features a fancy monochrome top bar that displays the time, the currently focused window and a little more. Mainly it displays the color black.

Seriously, two thirds of it are not used at all. (I am guessing it is to not distract the user… I cant see which programs are running, but must stare at the bluetooth symbol all the time…really?)

Enter extensions.gnome.org, a site that features plugins for GNOME mostly affecting the functionality of the top bar and the user menu (the drop down menu that appears when you click on your username in the top right corner). And the site is actually hosted by the gnome people themselves? That must mean they are coming to senses! Yay!

While still described as in „Alpha“ state the site is really convenient to use, you just look for an extension you like, click on a little switch next to it and the extension gets installed and activated. Clicking on the switch again turns it off again.

My personal favorites are:

  • Alternative status menu: It modifies the usermenu and adds Suspend, Hibernate and Power off as separate entries, so you don’t have to hit Alt before you can switch off your machine.
  • Show Desktop Button: Adds a button that hides all windows with one click.
  • Presentation Mode: Adds a switch to the usermenu that lets you enable „presentation mode“ which keeps the screen from going black. (Useful not only for presentations, but also for watching DVDs)
  • Remove Accessibility: Removes the never used by me accessibility symbol. It is sad that an extension is needed for something like that.

But there are much more nice little tweaks, just browse the site and try stuff.

Conveniently delete stuff

The problem:

On every Desktop environment that I have ever used, I was able to delete files by selecting them and then hitting the delete key… not in GNOME 3, I can’t!

The solution:

To get the power of your delete key back, open dconf-editor, go to

org -> gnome -> desktop -> interface

and check the „can-change-accels“ box. Now open nautilus, select a file, click „edit“, hover over the „Move to Trash“ entry and hit delete. That way you assign „delete“ as a shortcut to „Move to Trash“. (You should probably uncheck „can-change-accels“ after you are done, to prevent undesired changes)

That is all I can think of for the moment. There are more specific things like integrating your Google calendar with GNOME 3, but I will deal with that in a separate post, because it is not as general as the stuff I described here.

I hope I could help some of you out and am always happy about suggestions and comments.

Global volume control with esekeyd

Something that has been bugging me ever since I first tried Linux (Ubuntu when it used to be… not shitty) is the fact, that the media button of my Laptop, especially the volume control, never seemed to work in fullscreen applications. And since I recently started playing Battle for Wesnoth again, I decided to tackle the problem once and for all.

A fairly simple way to fix it is esekeyd a deamon that listens to keyboard events and then executes whatever command you wish. It is available in the arch repositories, so first install it using pacman:

sudo pacman -S esekeyd

After you installed it you need to edit the config file /etc/esekeyd.conf which holds entries like the following:

#VOLUMEDOWN:amixer set Master 5%- &
#VOLUMEUP:amixer set Master 5%+ &
#MUTE:amixer set Master toggle &

If you simply want your volume control to work, uncommenting these lines should suffice. However If you are not sure what the buttons are called or if you simply want to check if esekeyd receives the keystrokes correctly, you can use the handy keytest tool, which is also part of the esekeyd package:

sudo /usr/bin/keytest

The tool will print the names of the pressed keys to the screen.

After you are done with the config file, start the daemon (and add it to your DAEMONS list in /etc/rc.conf if you want it to automatically start during boot):

sudo /etc/rc.d/esekeyd start

When I first tried this nothing seemed to work and it turned out that for some reason I didn’t have amixer installed, so make sure you have the package alsa-utils on your computer.