Although Arch Linux is great, installing it is a hurdle for many people. But now there’s a straightforward GUI-based installer for Arch. And you already know how to use it.
Arch Linux Catch-22
Arch Linux is a lean, average Linux distribution. Most people think of this as the first rollout distribution. Instead of new releases once or twice a year, it has frequent minor updates that keep your computer up to date.
The Ark arrives completely unadulterated. No bloat from unwanted packages. There are no distribution-specific enhancements or management tools. It’s just plain old vanilla Linux. For some, this is an attractive proposition. You choose step by step how you want to set up your computer.
But that’s the crux of the problem. The detail. In order to make detailed choices about how you want to install your Linux, you need to understand this level of detail. Or follow ArchWiki very carefully.
A standard Arch installation requires you to download one of their monthly ISOs. This will launch into the Arch Linux command line. To get a working version of Arch on your computer, you have to go through quite a few steps at the command line. It’s easy to miss a step or make a choice that you later realize was wrong.
After all that, you have a bare bones Arch installation. You still need to install a desktop environment like KDE or GNOME, plus any applications you want to use. It’s nothing like installing Ubuntu where you pre-select your desktop environment and the installation process includes a large selection of applications. And after installing Arch, it’s common to struggle with things like Wi-Fi settings or graphics drivers.
Installing a working version of Arch is an achievement and something of a milestone for those who maintain it. There are those who believe that if you can’t install Arch the “real way” you shouldn’t be using it. That’s baloney. Others say you should because you’ll learn so much about Linux and how your operating system works. That’s right, you learn a lot. But the best part is that the stuff you take will never be reused until you install Arch.
Installing a distribution is the first interaction a user has with it. With Arch, for many people – even with managed scripts like archinstall, archfi and Anarchy – this first hurdle is too high.
What about arc-based distributions?
There are many distributions based on Arch such as Manjaro, ArcoLinux, Garuda and EndeavorOS. These provide graphical installers, often based on the well-known Calamares installer. They will set up the network and Wi-Fi and install the desktop environment of your choice.
All of this is fantastic, and – to varying degrees – you end up with Arch Linux very close to ordinary. But it’s no ordinary Arch Linux. Some differences are big, some are small. But there are differences.
For example, Manjaro deliberately withholds updates until they are tested. Once confidence is high that updates are safe, they are released to their user base. This is the basic principle of this distribution. Manjaro provides a rolling-release distribution based on Arch with added risk management. Manjaro satisfies this particular need. There is a reason why it is so popular.
All other Arch-based distributions add something into the mixture, in greater or lesser quantities. They’re all great distros, but if you’re looking for vanilla Arch Linux, these distros will only get you closer.
Arch Linux GUI
Arch Linux GUI is not a distribution. It simply provides an easy-to-use installer for Arch Linux.
Their website offers versions including GNOME, KDE Plasma, XFCE, Cinnamon, and the i3 window manager. In addition to the i3, they are offered in a “clean” or “themed” variant.
The pure edition is just that: pristine Arch Linux. The themed variants have some light desktop theme and a few installed packages that you probably want to install as well, like printing services or bluetooth.
But for this exercise, we want things to be as clean as snow. So we will install the GNOME Pure version.
Installing the Arch Linux GUI
Download the version you want to install and create a bootable USB drive. Boot your computer from the USB drive. 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 in a “Live ISO” session. No changes are made to your computer at this stage. You will soon see the generic GNOME desktop.
The installer is tucked away with other applications. Click on the dotted “Show apps” icon in the dock. A list of applications will appear. The installer has the Arch Linux logo as its icon and a description that reads “Install Arch Linux”.
Click 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 a different language, select it from the drop-down menu. Note that this does not set the language of your Arch installation. It is only for Calamares screens. Click “Next” when you’re ready to continue.
The location screen will appear. You can let the installer know where you live by selecting from the “Region” and “Zone” drop-down menus or by clicking on the screen.
This is the step that sets the language Arch will use and how it will format numbers and dates. Click “Next” to move to the next screen.
You need to select the keyboard layout and language and then click “Next”. The split options screen will appear.
The usual split options are available. You can erase the entire drive and let the installer partition it automatically, or you can manually define your own partitions. If the operating system has already been installed on the target machine (which was not the case on our test machine), you can choose to install Arch alongside it.
You can also choose the file system you want to use and whether you want to use swap or not.
Make your selection and click “Next”.
You will be prompted for a 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.
To change any of your options, 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.
During the installation, the progress bar will creep from left to right, and various snippets of information are displayed in the main part of the Calamares window.
When the installation is complete, check the “Restore now” box and click “Done”.
Your computer will reboot into your original Arch Linux installation. When you log in, you will see the general GNOME desktop.
Updating your system
Although the Arch Linux GUI Project releases a new ISO at the beginning of each month, due to the incremental release nature of Arch Linux and the offline nature of the installation, there will almost certainly be updates that you can use.
Open a terminal window and type:
sudo pacman -Syyu
pacman is a package manager for Arch. The options we used are:
- WITH: Synchronize (install) packages.
- yy: Forces the local package database to be refreshed by downloading package databases from remote repositories. Double use will restore all databases, even those that appear to be up to date. Since this is the first time we’ve updated this installation, it doubly ensures that everything that can be updated will be updated.
- at: Upgrade all outdated packages.
Arch Linux will check the software versions on your computer against the versions in the repositories and display a list of packages that can be updated.
Press “Enter” to accept the default answer of “Y” and continue with the installation. You may need to do the same several times during updates, depending on what packages are being updated.
ArchWiki is your friend
One of the best parts of using Arch Linux is the ArchWiki. It may be the most comprehensive collection of Linux knowledge on the web.
If you want to know anything about Arch, check out the wiki. And because Arch is such a clean, stripped-down Linux, people use it to troubleshoot or look into other Linux distributions.
It also includes Arch-specific packages such as
pacman package manager that you will use to install the required packages to complete the new installation to your liking.
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