Arch Linux & GNOME 3 – A bit of a review / experience report

By | June 18, 2016

After over 7 years of using Linux Mint (first with GNOME 2 and then with MATE), today I installed Arch Linux and GNOME 3.

I decided to make the jump for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my laptop has been struggling performance-wise, so I thought a leaner and more customisable distro would help with that. Secondly, Arch Linux due to it’s ‘rolling release’ system is bleeding edge and always has the very latest software packages. With Linux Mint, it’s very hard to upgrade software packages to the latest version.

I had a few concerns about the jump. Arch Linux isn’t anywhere near as user-friendly as Mint and I was afraid by moving to Arch I’d need to spend a lot more time trying to get stuff to work. I know I can be productive under Mint and I don’t want Arch to ruin that. Another concern was all the negative reviews I’ve read about GNOME 3. I have played with OpenSUSE and GNOME 3 under virtual box before and actually didn’t mind it, but a lot of other people seem to disagree and perhaps, just maybe, there’s a reason for that and I hadn’t noticed it yet.

The install of Arch was a bit painful. I couldn’t work out how to partition my hard drive, but I decided I didn’t actually need to do that anyway. I stuffed up a few bits but was able to re-boot off the CD and fix it up. In the end it all just sort of worked!

After installing I was able to login as root. From there I created a new user and installed gnome. I discovered how to get gnome to start at boot, which was awesome until I discovered gnome-terminal didn’t work properly. And there was no text editor or anything even remotely useful installed. So I was stuck with a useless installation of GNOME 3. I couldn’t do anything!!

Apparently I stuffed up the locales (something about languages??) during installation – that’s the part where I re-booted off the CD to fix it. After that gnome-terminal worked fine.

Video drivers were a piece of cake to install. I just followed the Arch wiki page and I think there was only about 3 steps involved. Last time I installed Mint, installing drivers was an absolute pain!

The touchpad on my laptop didn’t work properly. It acted like a little touch screen rather than a mouse type device. The solution is to install xf86-input-libinput.

Sound worked straight out of the box, but I couldn’t play music because I had to installed gstreamer plugins first. No biggy.

After making a few adjustments, GNOME 3 is actually pretty excellent. You’ve absolutely got to install the gnome tweak tool to get it right, though. For me, I’ve has to turn on the minimise buttons on the windows and I’ve turned on the window list shell extension. This gives it more of a normal feel and now I can easily navigate between windows.

One thing about GNOME 3 that annoyed me was the lack of options in the user interface of several stock applications. ‘Files’ for example, sorts files and folders together whereas I prefer to see folders listed first and then the files. To change things like this, you need to use the dconf editor. There’s no simple UI option to do that. On the bright side, everything looks clean and simple.

The ‘Activities’ button on the top bar is fantastic. In Mint I used GnomeDo and then Kupfer to launch applications. GnomeDo was pretty good but I found Kupfer to be slow and a memory hog. I’m pleased to find GNOME 3 has an equivalent built straight in.

Right now I’m downloading all my files from the cloud using the ownCloud sync client. Having no status bar was a bit disconcerting until I discovered there’s actually a little pop out menu on the bottom left hand corner. That’s where it hides when it’s running in the back ground. 🙂

So far I’m finding Arch + GNOME 3 to be faster, more useable and more elegant than Mint + MATE.

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