Ark sails in on Linux tide
Ark Linux 1.0 alpha 9
As someone who is more of an OSS enthusiast than a technical expert, there are some Linux issues which continue to bug me. If there is a such a wide range of software so freely available, why are Linux apps so difficult to install and get working? And why do so many really fun peripherals not work under Linux?
While I don\’t doubt that there are solid economic (and obtuse philosophical) answers to my questions, of late my questions have changed. Ark Linux has not even reached its first full release (currently alpha 0.9) but it is making waves with new Linux converts for it\’s ease of installation, robust hardware support and well integrated bouquet of applications.
Installation is a grand total of four mouse clicks and is as easy as booting the CD, selecting the language preference, selecting from a hard disk takeover or partition install, choosing a KDE GUI theme (including the default Ark Linux theme), and clicking OK. There is no \”expert\” setup option, no package selection routine to confuse newbies and no security settings to configure.
Within minutes you are greeted with the Ark Linux KDE desktop which starts up with a default user account and no password (root account is actually disabled). While I sense some geeks getting hot under the collar, I suspect most computer users will happily dispense with these login formalities.
All my hardware, both on my brand new notebook and a six-year old desktop, was easily recognised and configured, a feat which had proved too complex for both Windows and Linux hybrid, Lindows. The Ark Linux Mission Control panel, functioning independently of the KDE configurator, is a leaf taken out of the Windows book, but improved and perfected under this Linux distro.
Despite having limited technical experience I have installed nearly a dozen distributions on as many hardware platforms since the mid-nineties, which I feel leaves me better qualified to comment on the touchy feely aspects of the distribution than on it\’s technical merits.
While aesthetics, themes, fonts and desktop behaviour are a very personal choice, the Ark Linux default settings was far-and-away the best looking and most refined interface I have ever used. Font aliasing and colourful, detailed iconography adds substantially to the first-time Linux user experience.
But the clincher for Ark Linux is in the package selections, which reads like my personal wish-list of productivity apps, useful utilities and lighweight, fun stuff. The cream of the KDE-compliant applications are all fully represented including the KDE office suite (KWord, KSpread, Kmail etc.) as well as a variety of multimedia players, CD burners, DTP (Scribus) and graphics utilities (Gimp).
The Ark Linux complementary CD contains several dozen applications, including OpenOffice, Evolution, Mozilla, RoseGarden, Mr Project collaboration manager and handfuls of system tweaks and monitors. All the add-on applications install in two clicks, with all their dependencies, and the start menu fly-outs are automatically updated.
Despite accumulating so many brownie points Ark Linux eventually did fall prey to the same issue which has bugged every one of my distros on test: dodgy USB support.
First my notebook\’s trackpad began behaving erratically and then the USB mouse began the now-I\’m-working-now-I-won\’t fiasco. The nett result of a reboot was no mouse pointer at all, which seems a senseless waste of a rather beautiful GUI. Of course my modern, \”legacy free\” PC has nothing but USB ports (no PS/2 or even good \’ol serial) so this dampened my experience somewhat.
With so many useful USB peripherals on the market from scanners to web cams, external storage, card readers, printers and digital cameras, the unpredictability of Linux USB guarantees that a Windows be given room on my hard drive for some time to come. And I can\’t be sure if that is maddening or saddening.
The USB and mouse pointer issues of the Ark Linux converts have been acknowledged by the developers in many public forums. Constructive mobo workarounds are suggested, and fixes are planned when the product gets out of alpha.
As a convert from the Microsoft school it becomes difficult to avoid making direct comparisons between the gamut of Linux distributions and Windows. But Ark Linux comes up trumps for it\’s good looks, which surpasses WindowsXP in many areas, and for it\’s sweet suite of applications and genuine \”no brainer\” ease of installation.
I currently have ArkLinux running on 3 PCS; more than I have ever achieved with the \”mature\” Linux distros. It\’s hard to believe ArkLinux is just an alpha release, and leaves one wondering how much better the life of a Linux user could get.
Minimum specifications: Pentium-class/64MB RAM/2GB HDD (Recommended Pentium II 400-class/192MB RAM/3GB HDD)
Ark Linux can be downloaded from www.arklinux.com or ordered on CD:
Ark Linux (current version), installation CD 10 EUR
Ark Linux (current version) Development Suite CD 10 EUR
Ark Linux (current version), Extra Software CD 10 EUR
Interview with creators: