Sunday, January 24, 2010

Arch Linux for Parents

My parents are over 80 years old and have routine needs. I switched them to Linux after moving to Chandigarh 3 years ago. The problems they have faced have been fewer than they faced with Windows. Partly because many of their problems were related to dial up connection failing whereas broadband connection is more reliable. Printing issues are about the same as earlier.

The only reason I had not switched them earlier was because the hardware technicians get nervous with Linux.

I have been updating their system to the new versions of Fedora by updating the fedora release information and then just allowing yum to update the system. However, before updating to Fedora 12, I decided to cleanup some of the old packages. I was not in a hurry as I wanted to wait till the Fedora 12's issues with old intel graphics cards were resolved. Unfortunately, I got into a mess and cleaned up almost everything - including rpm and yum (bug report). So, I had no choice but to reinstall the OS.

I decided to take a risk with Fedora 12 and, as expected, the display and the system would freeze periodically. This was very frustrating/disconcerting for my parents. Hence, I decide to install Arch Linux on their system as well.

The instructions in the Wiki for beginners guide were perfect. Arch Linux was installed fairly quickly but the graphics issues with intel driver were worse. A forum posting guided me to the 5 packages I needed to downgrade. Using pacman for package management was similar to using yum. The names of multimedia packages I needed were known so the installation on Arch Linux was easier.

In order to have the system as close to Fedora 12, I also installed PulseAudio. I had to add the users to audio group to get the sound to work. I haven't had a chance to expore ConsoleKit/PolicyKit to fix the permissions issue.

I copied the Fedora icons and theme and the system looks almost the same whether booted in Arch Linux or Fedora 12. Small tweaks were needed to the desktop icon which started OpenOffice.

I plan to persist and see if I can keep the system current without a major upgrade. But I will definitely miss the delta rpms for updating packages. The key lesson is also that if someone sets up a machine, using any distribution, including one like Arch Linux intended for tech users is not difficult.

Firefox is also moving towards incremental improvements and scrapping version 3.7. I hope Fedora moves soon to a rolling model as well. If Arch Linux can do it, so can Fedora.

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