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Antergos Review (2015-04)

Antergos is an Arch based distribution from Spain, offering users a simple installation of Arch. It was formerly known as Cinnarch, using the Cinnamon desktop by default, but because of the conflicting priorities of Arch and Linux Mint -- the developers of the Cinnamon desktop -- Antergos dropped Cinnamon as its default desktop and changed its name. The conflicting priorities that precipitated this change are that Arch values having the latest packages and associated libraries whereas Linux Mint values serving as many of their users as possible, even those on older versions. The very fast release schedule of GNOME, whose libraries Cinnamon uses, wasn't compatible with both of these priorities. But now, the issue seems to have resolved itself such that Antergos offers a well packaged Cinnamon desktop as well as five other desktop environments.

The focus of Antergos is on providing users an easy to install Arch system. Making Arch "for everyone" as their brand tagline indicates. Whether Antergos's benefit to users unfamiliar with Arch but want a simple Arch installation has been questioned by other reviewers, contending that this type of user should just use other systems because they may encounter difficulties in the long run. I myself would recommend Manjaro as another Arch based distribution that would be worth a look for these users to avoid the necessity of familiarity with Arch and the required maintain-it-yourself nature of Arch, as well as for other reasons, mentioned later in the review.

On the surface, the Antergos approach is an easy install of Arch by providing a live environment from which to run a graphical installer that is very well designed from a user interface standpoint and a nicely themed desktop environment in all aspects, including a very visually appealing display manager greeter. However the installer is extremely unstable and insists on non-standard use of the EFI system partition. If these installer issues are resolved along with a larger number of and faster mirrors, this will make a nice addition for users who are already familiar with Arch, and, who like me, want another Arch installation without taking the time for the traditional Arch installation or from another existing Linux installation.

Review

I decided to install Antergos (on a Lenovo V570 with Phoenix Technologies EFI v 2.0, an Intel Core-i5 2450M processor, integrated Intel Graphics HD3000, and an Intel Centrino® Wireless-N + WiMAX 6150 wireless network interface) because I wanted another pure Arch system -- purer than Manjaro -- to experiment with. Antergos directly uses Arch's repositories and only add one of their own, whereas Manjaro uses their own repositories with packages taken from Arch. I thought installing Antergos would be a way to avoid the lengthy, if uncomplicated, installation method that I used to install Arch on another partition of the same system, and to have a redundant Arch installation. Unfortunately, when I started the install I found a terrible installation experience.

Before delving into the problems with Antergos, here are a few screenshots that demonstrate the good work that went into making the distribution look very good. First, the WebKit LightDM greeter which I found stunning when logging in for the first time after dealing with the faulty installer.

antergos lightdm webkit greeter (showing the time)
The LightDM WebKit Greeter.
Initially the greeter shows the time where normally the user name would appear. The time jiggles when the minute is incremented. Clicking the time shows the user selection.

Initially the greeter shows the time where normally the user name would appear. The time jiggles when the minute is incremented. Clicking the time shows the user selection. The drop down menu in the lower left of the login dialog allows selection of a desktop environment and the buttons on the right connect to system control actions. The first button to the right of the password box submits the password, and the second button displays a somewhat useless log for the greeter.

antergos lightdm webkit greeter (showing the time)
The LightDM WebKit Greeter.

The "hamburger" menu button at the top right activates the background picture selection control, including the option to randomly change the greeter's background.

antergos lightdm webkit greeter (showing the time)
The LightDM WebKit Greeter.
Initially the greeter shows the time where normally the user name would appear. The time jiggles when the minute is incremented. Clicking the time shows the user selection

The attention to the look of Antergos continues past the greeter. It is amazing how the selection of a font and icon theme can make a desktop look good.

OpenBox window manager used as a desktop environment on Antergos
The OpenBox window manager used as a desktop environment.
Antergos provides a Zukwito theme and obmenu in the "Antergos" repository. But I am using the Numix Frost theme, the Numix Frost square icons, and the Exo 2 fonts form the Google TrueType fonts package provided by Antergos. The wallpaper and the Conkies (a work in progress) are from elsewhere.
Xfce used as a desktop environment on Antergos
Xfce on Antergos.
Xfce using the Numix Frost style, icons, and the Exo 2 font.

I am using KDE Plasma 5 which is available in the Arch repositories, but Antergos haven't caught up with theming the Breeze styles. A plasma desktop theme or a widget style is not available for the new version of the KDE desktop, but Antergos probably has custom styles for the current KDE desktop.

KDE Plasma 5 on Antergos
KDE Plasma 5 on Antergos.
Antergos theming efforts have not caught up to Plasma 5.

And two screenshots for enlightenment19 because I installed Antergos to have a second Arch system on on this multi-boot system on which to experiment with e19. The Numix styles, except for that of Nemo, my preferred file manager when not using KDE, transfer well to e19, as well as to GTK apps. The Google fonts and the fact that enlightenmnent attempts to mimic the Numix GTK style makes it look better than it would normally.

enlightenment 19 on Antergos
Enlightenment 19 on Antergos.
The Numix styles, except for that of Nemo, my preferred file manager when not using KDE, transfer well to e19, as well as to GTK apps. The Google fonts also help e19 look better.
enlightenment 19 on Antergos
Enlightenment 19 on Antergos.
Another look of e19. One of the eye candy elements I like is the pager on the desktop that reproduces everything displayed on each of the desktops.

Because Arch doesn't do any modifications to upstream, there is a security flaw in the way that enlightenment implements the cpufreq gadget. This is blocked in the openSUSE packaging of e19. This difference is possibly an indication that Antergos doesn't do enough for new users to really make Arch "for everyone".

Now back to Antergos's serious problems. It would seem that the goal of the developers, to give users an easy Arch installation would be satisfied by the tools they provide -- a graphical installer and a fully working live environment on which it would run. However, it was actually easier to install Arch from an existing Linux installation -- in the sense that everything worked the way it was supposed to -- using Arch's customarch-chrootchroot environment available on its bootstrap image. The difficulty with installing Antergos in this release was due to

  • the extremely unstable installer, this may be due to trouble connecting to the Antergos repository
  • its insistence on mounting the EFI System partition to/bootinstead of the commonly used mount point of/boot/efi

About three weeks after installing Antergos, as I am writing this now, I started the live environment to grab some additional screenshots of the installer, especially the additional components selection screen which I failed to get during my initial install, I gave up in frustration after starting the live environment three times. After connecting to a network, Cnchi would update and then indicate that the update completed successfully and would start, but then not start. Starting it manually would initially place the applications GNOME menu in the panel the cursor would change to indicate "working" but then it would not start with the Cnchi's panel menu disappearing. This is the worst installer I have used, but it looks nice.

The instability of the installer manifested itself in several ways, the first of which became evident because I restarted the live environment many times attempting to resolve the other/boot/efiissue. After the live environment is started, two pop-up notifications are displayed, the first informing the user that a network connection is necessary to perform the installation. This is the nature of a pure Arch system in that the packages installed are obtained from the current repositories over a network connection and not from packages placed on the ISO when the distribution releases a version, packages becoming stale in the interregnum.

Once connected to a network, there is a second notification -- the one related to the instability, which informs the user that an update is available for Cnchi, the graphical installer. The first time I ran the installer, it was at version 0.8.56. I then updated the installer, but the version displayed was still 0.8.56. On one of the subsequent instances I ran the installer it started at 0.7.303. After updating it, the version stayed the same. The only obvious difference between these two versions was that the later version, as far as the interface is concerned, allows mounting the EFI partition to/boot/efi, whereas the earlier version interface shows a possible mount point for this partition as/boot. Although the interface in the later version displays a mount point as/boot/efi, it didn't actually allow me to use this mount point nine times out of ten. After many restarts of the live environment, I was able to land on a state where the Cnchi version was 0.8.56 and after reducing the selection of additional software and components to a minimum, the installer allowed mounting the EFI partition to/boot/efi. After the installation was nearly complete, it failed. I decided to try one more time, this time not running any of the software available on the installer and further reducing the additional components for installation, before giving up on Antergos, this time with a successful result.

The problem I have with the second of the installer issues is that it breaks the purpose of the EFI partition, which is to just hold the necessary components to boot the system that are not written to the EFI firmware, namely the bootloader and its supporting resources, if any, applicable to the OS using the bootloader -- Windows has some resources for localization, diagnostics, and secondary bootloader -- and nothing else. In the Antergos implementation, the kernel images would also be placed in the EFI partition, unlike all of the other Linux distributions that I have tried, and Microsoft, which place only bootloaders and supporting resources in this partition. The Antergos approach seems to be more appropriate to a non dual-boot or multi-boot, non-(U)EFI system.

This issue was discussed on many Antergos forums, with users not being able to install using the customary mount point for the EFI partition. This thread makes the issue clearer, demonstrating the technical issue besides that the EFI partition is not the place for kernel images, and the perspective of the developers. After many months of discussion on this thread, it would seem that the installer was modified, as the installer's interface would suggest, to allow mounting the EFI System partition to/boot/efi. However, it seems not every element under the hood was properly changed to allow this.

the contents of the EFI System partition mounted at /boot/efi
The Contents of the EFI System Partition mounted at/boot/efi.
The result of the struggle is shown here. The contents of/boot/efi, which is in fact the EFI partition. Note the names of the directories and the fact no distributions place kernels here.

It should be noted that Arch, while in their installation guide uses/boot/efias an example mount point, the user can specify any mount point. It also allows naming the directory placed in the EFI partition, while giving the distribution name only as an example, as every other distribution uses for this folder. A related OCD quibble is that Antergos names this directory differently, calling it "antergos-grub".

After finally installing it as I, and many others, would want, and as many distributions implement it -- with the EFI partition mounted at/boot/efi, I was pleasantly surprised with the attention the visual elements were given by the Antergos developers, the most striking of which was the LightDM WebKit greeter. Other appearance elements or setup conveniences to be found in Antergos are:

  • a set of Numix themes and icons
  • a large number of Google fonts packaged as a set in the Antergos repositories, select-able for install by the additional components selection in the installer
  • a custom GRUB theme that looks much better than the default offered by many distributions.

Plymouth, in my opinion an important element in completing the visual polish of a distribution, was missing, sadly, because as the comments in the Plymouth package description in the Antergos repository states, the current version is broken, and an outdated version is available in this repository. I was able to install the latest version of Plymouth and a custom Arch Plymouth theme from the AUR without any problems. I wonder why the developers wouldn't do this.

Although the Antergos developers don't go nearly as far in making the distribution as easy to use and maintain as Manjaro, they do provide some conveniences in configuring the Arch system:

  • The Pamac graphical front end to thepacmanpackage manager is installed by default, with integrated AUR support.
  • A component of the installer allows the user to select additional software and components to install. For example LibreOffice can be specified for installation as well as CUPS printing support, Bluetooth support, the Google TrueType fonts, and Samba file sharing. Although this is a nice addition to the installer, it was one of the contributing factor to the installer's unreliability. The only way I could get the installer to finally work as it should was not to select any additional components to install.
  • An additional repository named after the distribution is available, which besides holding some core Antergos specific packages, makes available additional packages not found in the official Arch repositories, but available from the AUR for Arch. These include, for example, the Opera stable and developer branches of the web browser, the aforementioned Google fonts package, and other conveniences.
  • The quality of the appearance, a result of the partnership with Numix, is a time-saving convenience over Arch since everything in Arch comes from upstream without any modifications. In Arch if the default appearance of your chosen desktop is ugly you will spend some time customizing. The Antergos developers have taken enough care with appearance elements that you could possibly leave the default settings and be happy with your desktop. When additional desktops are installed using the Antergos supplied Numix theme will give a consistent look to all desktops.

These additions to the standard Arch are useful, but a user without adequate familiarity with Arch may still encounter frustrations. Some of the common problems that will be encountered will be updates to configuration files that will need to be merged with existing files, packages being split into multiple packages, and similar issues. There may also be more complex manual interventions during updates. It would seem that the migration tosystemdwould have been difficult, and who knows what will happen when X is replaced with Wayland?

Also, only one kernel -- the latest available, which is updated as is any other package, is installed, and only this and one LTS kernel is available in the official repositories. Most non-rolling distributions, for the sake of stability, conservatively use a relatively older kernel and only update maintenance versions, whereas Arch and Antergos will always install the latest available kernel (My Antergos installation is using 4.0.2 as of 16 May 2015). I have taken the precaution of installing the LTS kernel available in the official repositories in Arch and Antergos addition to the latest as backups.

Considering these potential long term causes of problems, the approach taken by Manjaro and the tools they provide seems to be better suited to those less experienced with Arch, or even those with little experience with Linux in general, in many respects. First, Manjaro uses its own repositories where packages are taken from Arch repositories and placed in Manjaro's unstable or testing repositories, and after some period of testing are moved to the stable repositories. This process has been criticized by some for the delay in obtaining critical security fixes, but I think the enhanced stability and Manjaro developers dealing with the interventions outweighs the criticisms.

Manjaro also makes both GUI and CLI tools for maintaining various system-wide non-desktop specific system configuration. For example the graphical settings tool has a "Kernel" module that lists the available kernels with very detailed changelog, that is capable of installing a(n) (additional) kernel, making the necessary images including microcode updates, and updating the GRUB configuration with a single click. A graphical tool is also available by default to update mirrors as well as a custom CLI tool that replaces the Archrankmirrors. No similar tools are available for Antergos, only the do-it-yourself ones passed down from Arch.

I have not had any breakages since installing Arch in Jan 2015, but but there were some problems I had to resolve or live with. The first was that the way Intel microcode update were incorporated to the initial image changed. This resulted in the openSUSE GRUB as configured by the/etc/grub.dscripts supplied by openSUSE not being able to boot Arch. Instead of customizing the scripts, which I don't have the skill to do, I switched to Manjaro's GRUB which seems to be the most robust. The other problem I encountered was actually on Antergos just two days ago, which was that the latest version of VMware player couldn't build the necessary modules for its operation. The reason for this was that Arch (whose repositories Antergos uses) used gcc version 5.1 to compile the current kernel but the installed version of gcc from the Arch core repository is 4.92. VMware expected the same version of gcc as used to compile the kernel to be installed on the system. The solution was to temporarily enable the testing repositories, install gcc 5.1, and then disable the testing repository.

Pamac warnings caused by a temporary fix to an Arch packaging problem
Pamac Warnings Before Disabling Testing Repository
Enabling the testing repository to install the gcc version only found in the testing repository used to compile a kernel made available in the core repository is a problem as indicated by this Pamac warning. The Plymouth specific error because I installed the current version from the AUR instead of the outdated one from the Antergos repository.

The Linux user that Arch targets will expect to deal with these kinds of issues -- although using a gcc version to compile a kernel available in the core repository but not making the same gcc version available in the core repository seems to be a mistake -- but will the target audience of Antergos?

Except for the initial installation problems with the installer, I have been happy with Antergos. It eventually met my need for a backup Arch system on the same machine, and even gave me a consistently nice looking theme across the three desktop environments I installed in it, although in hindsight it would have taken me less time and less frustration to install another Arch thearch-chroot method.

When the reliability of the installer is improved and fully supports mounting the EFI partition at/boot/efi(Arch lets you choose mounting it anywhere, but this is not a necessary feature for Antergos), it will be a great alternative to installing Arch by the traditional Arch method for users already familiar with Arch. For everyone else Manjaro may be better.

Quick Facts

Feature Availability
Desktop Environments Gnome, KDE, Cinnamon, Xfce, Mate, Openbox, Razor-qt
Architectures x86, x86_64
ISO Environment GNOME only
ISO types Full Live ISO (Select form six desktops to install);
Minimal Live ISO, (Select form six desktops to install)

What Works and What Doesn't

The GRUB bootloader as customized by the Antergos developers through modifications of the scripts in /etc/grub.d is not robust enough to even handle booting Arch or Manjaro, let alone other non-Arch distributions. It would be understandable if the implementation couldn't boot non-Arch distributions, as many distributions' implementations of the GRUB scripts sometimes can't properly deal with the idiosyncrasies of other distributions, but the Antergos GRUB configuration can't even boot Arch. I am currently using the GRUB installed by Manjaro to boot this eight OS multi-boot system because it is the one that can boot most of them properly.

Hibernation is not enabled in the kernel images built bymkinitcpio. I had to add a hook forresumeto the /etc/mkinitcpio.conf file (as well as aplymouthhook after I installed Plymouth).

Software

The additional components feature of the installer allows the user to easily select the common software necessary for most users. As mentioned above it allows selecting to install among other components, Bluetooth support, CUPS printing support, network file sharing support, as well as specifying LibreOffice for installation and Google fonts. Unfortunately, this element of Cnchi added to its unreliability. Otherwise this is a very good user convenience addition to Cnchi -- which from a user interface standpoint is very well designed -- allowing users to be up and running after install.

One of the other things I liked about Antergos in terms of software availability is their repository, housing besides Antergos specific core system tools, packages for customization appearance like Google fonts, and some packages that otherwise would need to be built from the Arch AUR. Look at the Antergos build/package repository page to browse what is available from Antergos as opposed to Arch and to download packages directly.

Package Management

Thepacmanpackage management tool is, of course, available by default, as Antergos is an Arch system with an additional repository. The Antergos developers add the Manjaro developed Pamac graphical front end topacman, with integrated AUR support, which is fully functional out-of-the-box. This is one of the benefits of Antergos in addition to the intended easy install; an Arch installation does not include any graphical package management tool, nor does it include any AUR helpers -- either with a GUI or a command line tool, which need to be added using the standard method of installing packages from the AUR.

A useful addition to the basic Arch system that the Antergos developers could implement is a method of updating and sorting mirrors by quality and speed, as Manjaro does in both a graphical and CLI tool. Not having such a tool is just an inconvenience for someone who is familiar with Arch, and might just usereflectoranyway, but as Antergos targets beginners tools like this would benefit its target audience.

The real problem I had with Antergos package management is the terrible speed of Antergos repository connections. The screenshot below shows the output of a pacman -Syy command. The Antergos speeds are 1/150 to 1/300 of the Arch speeds. I believe this connection problem to the Antergos repositories caused Pamac to hang most of the times I used it. I installed Octopi from the AUR as an alternative.

output of pacman -Syy command showing the speed of Arch repositories and the Antergos repository
Output of pacman -Syy.
Updating the Arch repositories occurred at speeds between 3.39M/s - 1.85M/s, while updating the Antergos repository occurred at 11.0K/s.

Including the Octopi front end topacmanin Antergos's repository would be welcome to avoid installing it from the AUR. I've used both in Manjaro and Octopi in Arch and it seems to be the better of the two, from my perspective, in terms of number of convenient features, although Pamac is able to show the history of installations and allows editingPKGBUILDscripts while Octopi does not. I also found Pamac to become unresponsive in Antergos, possibly due to problems with connecting to the Antergos repository. Screenshots of these tools are below, both showing the Antergos repository.

Pamac graphical front end to pacman
Pamac graphical front end topacman.
This view should be a view of packages filtered by the Antergos repository. It shows the default view of packages becoming unresponsive after selecting the Antergos repository filter.
Octopi graphical front end to pacman
Octopi graphical front end topacman.
This view shows packages filtered by the Antergos repository.

In the case of Pamac, although filtered by the Antergos repository, it doesn't seem to actually be showing the Antergos repository, but the default unfiltered view shown when starting it.

Documentation and Help

It's a good thing the Arch wiki is so great because the Antergos wiki is lacking except for style. First it is designed as a blog and not a wiki providing broad categories that can be navigated to lower levels to find relevant topics easily without using search, as does Manjaro. Although not nearly as stylish as the Antergos wiki, it was very helpful when providing instructions on modifying/etc/mkinitcpio.confto add hooks to support resuming from hibernation and adding desktops. Then a test search for "plymouth" yielded no results no results on the Antergos wiki. The Manjaro wiki on the same subject was very helpful to me when I installed Plymouth on it, referring to the Arch wiki for common elements, and then providing specific instructions for the Manjaro only issues. A screenshot of the two wikis is below.

Antergos and Manjaro wiki search results for plymouth
The Result of a Search for "plymouth" on the Antergos Wiki (left) and the Manjaro Wiki (right).
This Antergos wiki doesn't have an article for this topic that may be of interest a user just after installing.

The Antergos wiki doesn't even have any relevant results for an essential topic as usingpacman, the cornerstone of an Arch system. The results that do appear are for a search of "pacman" are blog entries for "Installing Display Managers" "Installing Steam" "AMD Catalyst Drivers Snapper: Pacman Integration" and "Antergos Applications List (defaults)".

Recommendation

I have been using Antergos happily for the past three weeks. This stems from the Arch base, which I like a lot, and the attention that Antergos has paid to the visual elements of the distribution. But this came at the cost of much frustration with the worst installation experience of the approximately ten distributions I have installed on this laptop (not in a virtual machine) over the past nine months. Even the very esoteric NixOS was easier to install, because, although requiring completely manual installation and configuration, everything worked as it should.

For this reason I would only recommend Antergos after the installer issues have been fixed, and then only to users already familiar with Arch but wan't a quicker install of Arch. Until then, these users and even those less familiar but don't mind the Arch Way can install Arch easily from an existing Linux and then add the Antergos repository by creating an Antergos mirrorlist in/etc/pacman.dand adding it to/etc/pacman.conf. Those unfamiliar with Arch and don't want the Arch Way, but want an Arch based system, should try Manjaro.