Eee 701 Planetoid

2011/07/23

Arch Linux and the Eee 701: first steps

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , — Tim @ 09:43

So, if you read my last post about moving on from Eeebuntu, you can infer from the title of this entry, that I made a decision on the Linux distro for my Eee 🙂

Yes, I plumped for Arch Linux in the end—partly as I like to “tinker” with settings and the like, but mostly because I think Arch is simply the “right” distribution for a machine like the Eee 701. Arch isn’t necessarily a good choice for all potential Linux users—it can be complex, and the system doesn’t come “out of the box” like, say, Ubuntu—but Arch’s “roll your own system” philosophy comes into its own with a computer like the Eee 701, which has very specific “needs” (low-powered processor, small solid-state storage and screen, etc.) which aren’t ideally best served by a “full-fat” distro like Ubuntu.

Moreover, as I wrote last time, the relatively few distributions which are customised for netbooks (and even fewer for the Eee 701), tend to be derivatives of Ubuntu or its family, run by small teams (or even individuals), where there is no guarantee that at some point, they won’t run out of time or resources and let the distro “wither on the vine”. I understand this—I have family and other commitments too—but at least with a distro like Arch, you can build a system tailored to your needs, and its “rolling” updates mean it should stay current for the foreseeable future. At least, I don’t think Arch is going away any time soon…

So, Arch it is, and I’ve been working in my spare moments this week to install and customise the new Arch setup on my 701. I am immensely grateful to the Arch community for providing a massively-comprehensive wiki for Arch users, which has helped me at almost every turn—in particular, the wiki’s dedicated page for the Eee 701 proved invaluable throughout my “journey” so far.

One overriding consideration for me with building the new system: wherever possible, I didn’t want GNOME, due to its size and “weight”. Instead, I wanted to return to an “old friend” for the machine’s desktop—the Fluxbox window manager—and to use more “lightweight” alternatives for applications, unless I really wanted or needed something specific. For instance, to manage wired and wireless network connections, instead of GNOME’s NetworkManager applet, I found wicd, which is lighter on resources whilst still (usually) working just as well.

Screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager)

Early screenshot of Arch Linux (Fluxbox window manager) on the Eee 701SD

You’re probably dying for a screenshot at this point, and who am I to stand in the way? Here is a first look at my Eee’s “new” Fluxbox desktop—it’s quite spartan at the moment, as I haven’t had time to get to work on a custom Fluxbox “style” (theme) yet. (Fear not: I’ll be restarting the “My Eee Desktop” monthly series again, once I’ve had time to really “tart up” the display 🙂 )

The main items to point out are the system stats on the desktop (that’s my old favourite, Conky, at work) and the array of “dockapps” in the Fluxbox “slit” along the right-hand edge. I have rather “retro” tastes when it comes to computer “desktops”, so I am quite partial to dockapps, some of which have origins as far back as the 1990s (whilst still being useful and not too demanding of screen real-estate). Most of the dockapps are not in the main Arch package repository, so I had to build the packages via the Arch User Repository (AUR), but they make it relatively easy to do this.

The apps—from the top down in the screenshot—are:

  • wmdrawer—this sends out a “fly-out” menu (not shown) with ten quick-launch icons for commonly-used apps (I added the Arch logo on the front, from this icon set by “gabriela2400”)
  • bubblemon—an animated water/bubbles/rubber duck display, which shows CPU, memory and system stats
  • wmnd—a network interface monitor
  • wmacpi—I use this mainly for displaying battery statistics
  • wmix—a volume and sound mixer control
  • wmsystemtray—acts like the system tray in GNOME/KDE; here showing wicd, Blueman and Dropbox (this is not to be confused with “wmsystray”, which kept crashing and (IMHO) didn’t “blend in” as well)
  • wmcalclock—nice time/date display

I wish I could report that I have already got everything working as I want it, but there is still a list of “to-dos” before me. A couple of samples:

  • Whilst wicd does a good job of replacing NetworkManager in most respects, it’s missing the ability to open and close VPN connections. It’s still necessary to edit various config files and scripts for PPTP (and I’m not touching OpenVPN yet), but I’ll be happy if I can get things running without much pain. Speaking of which…
  • …the main item which, frustratingly, I haven’t yet got working completely, is one that computer users in 2011 take for granted: automounting of USB mass storage devices (e.g. flash and hard disk drives). I’ve scoured the Arch wiki and Google for help, and ensured that the necessary services are running; so far, I have had limited success (it works, but only partly), but I think I’m on the right track. If nothing else, it shows you how much work the developers of Ubuntu and the like, have done to get USB automounting working as well as it does…

I think that will do as a first report 🙂 Stay tuned for further developments… and I suspect those could come quite quickly!

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2 Comments »

  1. […] You could say I have already taken a first step on the “performance upgrade” path, by installing Arch Linux—the system now runs subjectively faster and smoother than its predecessor, even before I start […]

    Pingback by Hot-rodding an Eee 701: first thoughts « Eee 701 Planetoid — 2011/09/05 @ 18:48

  2. […] been thinking for some time, about various ways to boost my Eee 701′s performance—partly by a change of Linux operating system, but also by upgrading the RAM and SSD (storage) to larger/faster […]

    Pingback by Hot-rodding an Eee 701: upgrading the RAM « Eee 701 Planetoid — 2011/09/20 @ 18:42


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