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No is Ark verdict

By Susan Linton on May 21, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Ark Linux is a distribution developed primarily for new Linux users, although its developers say experienced users should find it powerful enough to use as well. I've tested it before and found the later claim a bit overstated. Would version 2008.1, released this month, be a change for the better? Although it was stable and included some handy software, hardware support in the latest release is lacking, and the distro's security philosophy a contradiction in terms.

Ark developers call it their "security system," but lack-of-security system would be more accurate. When you install the operating system, no password is set for the default user "arklinux" or root. The idea is to allow the user to execute some common administrative tasks, such as installing or removing software and configuring the network, through graphical tools without having root privileges or even at least providing a user password. This doesn't seem too bad unless you further discover that although the default arklinux user cannot use su to become root through a console emulator, it can su to root at the terminal. In addition, a root console emulator that doesn't require a password is available in the menu, which gives anyone with access to your computer free rein.

Of course, users could make a new user with a password or set a password for the default arklinux user. You can also set one for root, but that doesn't disable the passwordless terminal or menu terminal emulator. Ark's security system might make things easier for new users, but it does them a great disservice. One of the fundamental principles of Linux is the built-in file permission access rights, and this open system circumvents it completely. Mind you, Ark has a different opinion.

Ark Linux is available as either an installable image or a live CD. Extra add-on images are usually available as well for server software, games and entertainment, a development suite, and extra software, but these weren't updated to 2008.1 as of this writing.

I tested the installable version, and had a few problems. The installer is dated and unattractive. My USB mouse was not detected, but I was able to use my laptop's touchpad. The first screen has drop-down menus that let you choose language, keyboard, and time zone, but the time zone menu contained only two locations, and neither was mine. The next screen allows you to choose your type of install: on partition with Windows, resize Windows partition and make one for Ark, take over entire disk, or custom partitioning. I chose custom partitioning, but QTParted couldn't read my disk and gave a useless error. My disk was already partitioned, so I clicked Quit from the menu and it closed. I designated the root partition and bootloader options on the next screen. The installer provides no further configuration options, and the system installed with no incident. However, once it was finished and I clicked OK to reboot, the kernel crashed and locked up the machine, consistently.

The kernel panic experienced after the install had no adverse effects on the resulting system. I was able to boot it after editing my main GRUB configuration file. I configured the Ark bootloader to be installed onto the root partition, but it wouldn't chainload (that is, the main GRUB in the master boot record would not hand over the boot process to a GRUB directory located on the install partition).

After setting the full path to the kernel in GRUB, I was able to boot to the Ark Linux desktop. The desktop too looks dated. It uses the stock KDE colors, Plastik window decoraton, and the same customized KDE 3.x wallpaper the distro has used for several releases.

Hardware support

I had a few problems with Ark's hardware support for my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion laptop. X started with a resolution of 1024x768 instead of the optimal 1280x800 that most other distros use. My USB mouse did work, but it seemed a bit inaccurate at times and stuck in one spot at other times. The touchpad and keyboard worked fine. My wired Ethernet adapter worked, but it wasn't auto-detected. I had to load the module and activate my Internet connection manually each time I booted, either at the command line or through the distribution's Mission Control utility.

Sound worked somewhat, but it popped and crackled intermittently for no discernable reason at times and at other times when I opened applications or inserted removeable media. The system notifications that were in Ogg format wouldn't play, and most were set to Oggs.

Ark displays a battery monitor in the lower panel. I was able to activate CPU Frequency Scaling (which lowers the processor speed to save power or raises it for more demanding tasks) by loading the modules my hardware needs and configuring Klaptop. I wasn't able to bring the Broadcom wireless chip to life even using the bcm43xx-fwcutter available in software repositories. Suspend and hibernate didn't work.

Ark detects removable media. Inserting CD and DVD disks sometimes either opened a corresponding application, chooser, or placed an icon on the desktop, but it wasn't consistent -- sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. USB memory sticks are detected and a fleeting information box appears to state the device was inserted or removed, but they aren't mounted or otherwise acknowledged.

Software and tools

Ark Linux comes with Linux kernel 2.6.25.3, Xorg 7.4/1.5, and KDE 3.5.9. GCC isn't installed by default, but 4.3.1 is available from Ark software repositories. Many of the included applications are those found in the KDE source packages, but there are some nice additions too. These include KLMDonkey, Amarok, Kb3, KMPlayer, KDE Radio Station, and Kynaptic.

Kynaptic is a KDE-oriented front end for APT, the package management solution used in Ark Linux, although it has been modified to work with the RPM package format. Ark ships with repositories set up to install a wide variety of software for the current release and the developmental branch as well. With this configuration, KDE 4.1 and other experimental software is available to the new Linux users for which this distro is designed.

Other software available in the menu includes OpenOffice.org 2.4.0, Scribus 1.3.3.11, Gwenview, and Tux Racer. Some of the standalone tools include wpa_gui, QTParted, and RPM Installer (not to be confused with KPackage, which is also available).

I didn't have any trouble with the applications except QTParted and the RPM Installer. QTParted never did like my hard drive, and the RPM Installer didn't seem to do anything. KMPlayer played all sorts of video and audio files including encrypted DVDs. I was able to watch YouTube videos in Konqueror, but not Google Video.

The most noteable tool included in Ark is Mission Control, a central configuration center somewhat like Mandriva's Control Center or openSUSE's Yast2. It is a container for modules to configure various aspect of the system. Most items call KDE modules, but a few bring up other tools such as the Ark Linux Internet Config or Kynaptic. Mission Control is not particularly powerful, but it might be easier for a new user to navigate than the KDE Control Center.

Conclusion

I regret having to report that this release is not impressive. The installer is antiquated and not easy to work with. The look and feel of the desktop is worn and dated. The selection of software could be better, such as substituting the GIMP for Scribus.

Ark security policies could make things easier for new users, but file access privileges is not the area in which to try and mimic Windows. This flaw alone could make the system undesirable for experienced users.

I'm also disappointed in the hardware support. This is usually not much of an issue with Linux distros these days, so I was surprised that Ark tested so poorly in this area. The popping sound I heard could be confined to hardware similar to mine, but I have three motherboards featuring this chip. In addition, it is rare for a distro not to activate the Internet connection automatically these days.

Take a pass on Ark Linux 2008.1. There are too many other distros that look good and work well to bother with all of its shortcomings.

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on No is Ark verdict

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.100.170.162] on May 22, 2008 12:02 AM
I find it kind of funny that this article doesnt render properly in FireFox 2.0.0.14 but looks just fine in IE 7!

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.228.138.142] on May 22, 2008 01:38 AM
Even though i have to say that anyone putting together a linux distro in their own free time for no charge at all, deserves some respect, I have to fully agree with you that arklinux 2008.1 is pretty much everything but impressive. I honestly try very hard to keep an open mind about "other" linux distros, but this is just too much.
I'm sorry if anyone feels offended by this, but this is not an attack on arklinux itself, just an observation, i.e *my* point of view.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 99.243.98.143] on May 22, 2008 03:22 AM
"I find it kind of funny that this article doesnt render properly in FireFox 2.0.0.14 but looks just fine in IE 7!"
Looks fine in Firefox 2.0.0.14 on Slackware to me, Trolly McTrollerson.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.37.201.31] on May 22, 2008 03:55 AM
The desktop's look is "worn and dated" and its... KDE 3.5.9, the most recent release of the reliable KDE 3.5 line? What would not have looked "worn and dated" to you? KDE 4 is certainly newer, but the reviews I've read don't make it sound quite ready for prime time. My own experience concurs with this -- KDE 4 has vast potential, but it's not quite all there yet either feature-wise or stability-wise.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Pikidalto on May 22, 2008 04:37 AM
I'd like to know several things...
-If QtParted didn't see your hard disk, how did it install to begin with? The installer relies on QtParted to format your hard disk.
-All Linux users know to be careful with the root account, and it's unlikely that a new user would go into root mode unless told to do so, though I do agree that a root password should be required. This is the only thing I don't like about this distro
-Since when did laptops have such high resolutions? The highest resolution I've seen on any laptop (including my mother's and grandmother's grand spankin' new laptops) is 1024x768
-Every USB mouse I've used has worked with Ark. What one are you using that it doesn't work? A wireless mouse that requires proprietary software? Ark doesn't use proprietary software, so of course you'd have to install this yourself, but if it's a wire mouse, it should work.
-Would you possibly have a damaged sound card, or one that isn't well supported by a vanilla kernel?
-Where did you install your Broadcom's firmware to? I use one, it works perfectly with the firmware installed by the bcm43xx-fwcutter and am using the b43 driver
-Suspend and Hibernate only work in Mandriva, not in the many other distros I've tried (Ubuntu, Suse, Red Hat...the list goes on). You actually expect this to work in one mere distro?
-It's rare to see an Ethernet card not working...how old is yours?

Ark is the first out of five (including UBUNTU) to fully work on my hardware.
[Modified by: Pikidalto on May 22, 2008 04:43 AM]

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Re: No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.44.76.33] on May 22, 2008 10:43 AM
You are joking right? Laptop resolutions of 1024x768 on modern (eg. within the last twelve months) I haven't seen that for a while. On the two laptops in my household which are 6months old, I would take them back if they maxed out at 1024x768, even my sisters aged Dell lappie that she bought secondhand almost 12months ago does more than 1024x768. A distro that doesn't correctly detect a laptops correct resolution is the exception to the rule these days in my experience. Suspend and Hibernate works in Ubuntu 8.04 for some laptop - it does for both of mine. I'm sure that all distro's have some laptops where it works well with and others where it doesn't - more work could be done here for everyone. I'm afraid that the password issue kills ark for me as a choice before I even d/l it.

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Re(1): No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Pikidalto on May 22, 2008 02:34 PM
I never joke, I have never seen any laptop resolution (even on new computers) above 1024x768. As for the password thing, just set a password for the root and arklinux accounts and disable auto-login. Besides, as mentioned in a comment below, anyone who can get into my house I trust, and anyone who breaks in is going to steal my laptop anyway (we're talking a laptop that, even though it's beat up a bit, is nearly $2k), and (I'll add) the police aren't likely to find the guy before he gets my valuable information anyways (considering he's a good hacker).

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Re: No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.201.192.86] on May 27, 2008 07:54 PM
re res: 1024x768 the highest res? i'm tempted to dismiss your entire argument out of hand just for that! my 3 year old laptop runs 1400x1050, and most widescreen laptops i see run at least 1280x800. he also states that other distros detect it correctly, so there's no excuse for this to not work here.
re suspend: expecting suspend and hibernate to work is a fair thing to state in a review, although he doesn't say whether it works in his other distros, it wouldn't be a good review if he didn't state everything that does or doesn't work.
re ethernet: the ethernet card DOES work, it just doesn't load automatically which, in modern distros, is a farce.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.228.138.142] on May 22, 2008 08:35 AM
1024x768? 1999 called, and they want their laptop back.
Seriously though, mine has got a 1680x1050 sceen. Most laptop these days are 1280x800 widescreen laptops though.

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Re: No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Pikidalto on May 22, 2008 02:37 PM
I'd be more than likely to give them their laptop back, considering they reimburse me by the nearly $2k that I paid for the thing. Seriously, though, I've never seen a new laptop with any higher resolution.

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Re(1): No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.169.163.241] on May 23, 2008 04:22 PM
Seriously, though, you're both wrong and a twit.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 212.59.138.23] on May 22, 2008 12:48 PM
I'm using Ark 2008.1 - and both of my USB mice work fine, even when they're both plugged in at the same time. You seem to have some really odd hardware there...

Ark took my notebook's display straight to another fairly nonstandard resolution (1440x1050), but this is probably decided by the graphics chipset -- Intel graphics chips seem to adjust to the right resolution just fine (it is really great to have a chipset with a vendor-supported free xorg driver! Thanks Intel!), while nvidia ones go to 1024x768. Haven't tried ATI...


I strongly disagree with what you're saying about the Ark (lack of) Security System in the review -- it is one of the things that make me keep going to Ark.

I don't want to be bothered with password prompts all the time, and I don't want to do the insane thing of just working as root all the time either -- but for pretty much all other distros I've seen, it's either one of those.

Ark gets it totally right -- normal applications run as an unprivileged users, so even if someone tricks me into launching an "rm -rf /" script, the system can't be damaged -- but when I need to do root stuff, I can do it without being prompted all the time.

Yes, it allows people who have physical access to my computer to do stuff as root -- big deal, I trust the people who can get into my house, and if someone bad comes there, he can steal the computer or take out the harddisk anyway --- and due to the fact that the default accounts are _locked_ to the outside world, remote security is just what it should be.

As for substituting the GIMP for scribus, that's like asking to replace a spreadsheet application with a word processor -- they aren't meant for the same thing. Scribus is a desktop publishing application, GIMP is an image editor.
If you want to see what Ark has instead of GIMP, look at Krita -- that one actually does the same thing and is much nicer than GIMP (yes, it is lacking a few of GIMP's power features at the moment, but unlike GIMP's its user interface is something people can figure out).

Also, in terms of diskspace usage:
GIMP is 12 MB and requires more than 40 MB worth of libraries that aren't part of a standard Ark installation because nothing else needs them.
KRITA is 5.5 MB and doesn't drag in any superfluous extra libraries.
scribus is 12 MB and doesn't drag in any superfluous extra libraries either.

Besides, if someone really needs gimp, they can just apt-get install it -- the current version is included in Ark's repositories.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.224.38.52] on May 22, 2008 02:44 PM
-All Linux users know to be careful with the root account, and it's unlikely that a new user would go into root mode unless told to do so

Nice generalization there. I wish I could agree that "all" linux users would know better. In a distro geared towards newbies, most of them in fact will _not_ know better

-Since when did laptops have such high resolutions? The highest resolution I've seen on any laptop (including my mother's and grandmother's grand spankin' new laptops) is 1024x768

Tell your grandmother not to buy her brand spankin' new laptops in the bargin bin at wal-mart and you may see recent resolutions, 1024x768 is fairly unheard of these days

-Suspend and Hibernate only work in Mandriva, not in the many other distros I've tried (Ubuntu, Suse, Red Hat...the list goes on). You actually expect this to work in one mere distro?

No, these features do not "only" work in Mandriva, many distro's have had various amounts of success with suspend / hibernate lately, you really need to read up on some current-events

-It's rare to see an Ethernet card not working...how old is yours?

If anything, older should be even better supported, judging hardware by age in the linux world generally doesn't mean much, I have always had "odd" issues with hardware in Ark - and the main response I got when looking for help was "Sorry, we can't test everything". Even on some standard hardware. Ark may be wonderful for the few people who get features they want implemented in it, and Bero does work his @$$ off for the project, which is commendable, but I have to agree with the above posters / reviewer, there is nothing Ark really brings to the table that warrants the drawbacks that also come with it, not to mention some of the 'holier-than-thou' attitudes you receive in the support chat

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Re: No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Pikidalto on May 23, 2008 02:06 AM
"Nice generalization there. I wish I could agree that "all" linux users would know better. In a distro geared towards newbies, most of them in fact will _not_ know better"

Note that I said that it's unlikely a new user would use root unless told to do so. In fact, I personally was scared to go root for some time before using it, and everyone I've met are smart enough to ask about something like "root" before touching it.

"Tell your grandmother not to buy her brand spankin' new laptops in the bargin bin at wal-mart and you may see recent resolutions, 1024x768 is fairly unheard of these days"

I couldn't stop laughing when I saw this. Both my mother and my grandmother bought their laptops from BEST BUY just a couple months ago, and they got the most expensive system they could find. You're trying to tell me that 1024x768 is unheard of these days? Actually, my grandmother's monitor has a smaller size (in inches) than mine, I measured it myself.

"No, these features do not "only" work in Mandriva, many distro's have had various amounts of success with suspend / hibernate lately, you really need to read up on some current-events"

I've got references, just hop in the #arklinux channel on Freenode and ask JohnMS or madpenguin8 about it.

"If anything, older should be even better supported, judging hardware by age in the linux world generally doesn't mean much, I have always had "odd" issues with hardware in Ark - and the main response I got when looking for help was "Sorry, we can't test everything". Even on some standard hardware. Ark may be wonderful for the few people who get features they want implemented in it, and Bero does work his @$$ off for the project, which is commendable, but I have to agree with the above posters / reviewer, there is nothing Ark really brings to the table that warrants the drawbacks that also come with it, not to mention some of the 'holier-than-thou' attitudes you receive in the support chat"

What "standard" hardware doesn't work right? Also, it is my experience that anything older than Y2K (even older than 2001) doesn't work very well under the 2.6 kernel on any distro. Try telling me that everything should work on Ark (or any distro for that matter). In fact, tell me how Ubuntu supposedly works on all hardware and yet somehow fails to see my ATI card (and I've seen other ATI users complain of the same thing).

I'm sorry, I can't agree with any of this.

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Re(1): No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.208.133.218] on May 23, 2008 08:19 AM
In fact, tell me how Ubuntu supposedly works on all hardware and yet somehow fails to see my ATI card (and I've seen other ATI users complain of the same thing).

That's because Ubuntu hates you. :P

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.35.35.34] on May 22, 2008 05:31 PM
Linux without built in Security as the rule is not Linux. If the devs of this distro feel that strongly about removing what makes Linux truly great, then I suggest they immediately stop their efforts and instead switch over to M$'s camp. There really is no point at all in a new user switching over to Linux (or MAC), if they are going to continue to do things the M$ way. Case in point, my neighbor wanted me to load Ubuntu on her Computer because she does not like Vista and is sick of M$ forcing things on her. I did so, everything worked out of the box including her wireless. I installed several Open Source apps for her to do her work, and showed her just how easy everything was and how she could get strait to work with all she now had. What did she do?..

Its now two months later, and she gave that computer to her son, and asks me to come with her to buy a new computer with Vista preloaded on it. Turns out she never even attempted to try to do things the Open Source way. Linux's built in security did not have anything to do with it. It was just that she didn't feel comfortable doing things differently than what she had always been brainwashed into doing. No amount of tweaking the system would have changed her mind. She just cant get past the M$ brainwash she has been spoon fed all her life, and never will feel comfortable doing anything different from what she was conditioned to do. The joke of it all is that she wants to be an IT Network Major!! I of course, advised her to choose a different field lol!!!

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.254.84.207] on May 23, 2008 06:48 PM
I couldn't help laughing my eyes out. Laptops don't have resolutions higher than 1024x768? Seriously? Then this laptop..I must have been screwed. Welcome to 2008, heck, welcome to the 21st century..and the era of widescreen laptops.

It's obvious that you are an Ark fanboy defending your favourite OS. And failing miserably. I have every respect for people trying to make new distros, but if they're below par, then we're not going to hesitate to point the flaws out.

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No is Ark verdict

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 90.212.168.226] on June 18, 2008 03:41 PM
I tried 9 different Linux versions, including many of the big ones as a first time user. Ark was the only version that installed without any problems, worked out of the box, is easy to use and does exactly what it claims to do. It does look a bit dated to begin with but after tweaking the visual settings it looked stunning to me after using Vista. I dont know if I was just lucky - but in a complicated Linux world Ark was fantsic for this newbie !

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