10 May 2011

CTK Arch: Fast and Furious

When reviewing different distributions, I always try to do this in Live mode, being it Live CD, Live DVD or Live USB. There are some reasons for this.
  1. First of all, Live version can show you hardware support issues which you anyway face in normal install.
  2. Then, Live versions is safe for data on Hard disk. You don't risk to lose data because of bad installer.
  3. And last but not least, installation itself is not the quickest process, and basically is waste of time if I am not going to use the system again.
You may notice that most of the systems I have tried so far are either pillars of Linux world (Ubuntu, Debian, Mandriva, Fedora etc) or derivatives of Ubuntu or Debian. There is no Live version of such pillars as Slackware or Arch Linux.
Saying that I still want to mention that my first ever review was about Slackware-based Live system: SLAX. It means that there are some Live derivatives of Slackware and Arch Linux. But their number is tiny compared to army of Ubuntu/Debian based derivatives.
That's why I was very interested when I first heard about Live operating system based on Arch Linux. Its name is CTK Arch. Image of version 0.7 of this OS weights less than 600Mb. I downloaded it and then used dd command to copy iso file to USB stick, like it is recommended on official howto page.
Everything is ready. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Starting up and first impression

First screen of CTK Arch which I could interact with was about language selection. There is a choice to run system in French and English. French is default with few second of countdown to make decision.
Second screen allowed me to choose additional options: keyboard layout, persistence options and so on. Default keyboard is English US, which I changed to English UK. Unfortunately, Russian is neither in list of available languages nor in list of available keyboard layouts.
Right after boot, I was presented with single window on empty desktop. This window allows you to either close itself or read documentation page. I highly recommend to read documentation, there are lots of useful information!

CTK Arch is based on Openbox window manager. It is aimed to be very light. And my first impression confirms this aim. 
I also found a feature in Openbox which I have never seen so far. Number of desktops can be quickly adjusted: add new desktop, remove existing desktop are separate items in the menu when clicking on the empty desktop space.

Another surprise was waiting for me in terminal. To be precise, not in terminal itself, but in its window. It does not have window title with control elements (close-minimize-maximize). These options are only available with right-click on taskbar item. I can't say that I liked this feature, but probably it can have fans. From my perspective this is not comfortable, as even moving the terminal window is not obvious task. Additional terminal "feature" which gave me some unpleasant moments is inability to copy-paste text from there. At least, I could not find key combination for this.
Taskbar is automatically hidden in CTK Arch. It means that you have a chance to see absolutely naked desktop with wallpaper picture on it. Quite rare case, I should admit. Most distributions at least place links to home folder and installation application on desktop.

What is inside?

CTK Arch represents itself as minimalistic system with carefully chosen software. I should admit that CTK Arch's understanding of minimalism is very clear and user-friendly. I have seen another distribution which preached minimalism. It is Bodhi Linux. But Bodhi's minimalism means absolutely naked system.
What is actually in CTK Arch?
  • Office applications are taken from GNOME office: Abiword and Gnumeric.
  • There are 2 browsers: Arora and Midori. I tried to use both and my preference falls to Midori. 
  • There is a game in CTK Arch. Its name is Tux racer. Very simple in idea and graphics, but still can consume significant chunk of your time.
  • Graphic section contains GIMP, Gtkam, image viewer. Screenshot tool is only represented by terminal-based scrot.
  • Multimedia is represented by couple of players, burning tool Brasero and several other packages.
You can see that set of software is Spartan, but still enough to start working with CTK Arch.
What would I add to the list? CTK Arch comes with 2 package management tools: pacman and yaourt. Both of them are command-line based, and from my perspective far from convenient. I'd rather see any graphical-based package management tool. I am not talking about Ubuntu Software Center, but at least something like Synaptic would add some user-friendliness to CTK Arch.

Configuring system for myself, just a little

Default theme in CTK Arch is in black and blue colours. It's nice looking and pretty contrast. If you do not like black, there is another theme in white and blue. Switch is available via right-click on empty desktop space.
There is also a good choice of wallpapers for your needs in CTK Arch distributive. Most of them are in fantasy or techy styles. There are some nice ones, I should admit.
As usual, I wanted to add Russian layout to my keyboard. Unfortunately, I have not found any graphical tool for this. Quick Internet research gave me an idea that this configuration should be done vie  /etc/rc.conf or /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-evdev.conf (as advised on the forum), but I feel myself too unprepared for this level of digging the system. This small failure with keyboard made me little bit disappointed in CTK Arch.
CTK Arch allows persistence! Yes, all the changes you do in the system can be saved and used at next logon. That is very nice feature. Actual mechanism for changes saving is something similar to SLAX or Puppy. Changes are saved in squashfs file. But CTK Arch has more complexities. Whereas SLAX or Puppy can do everything for you with just one question (Puppy asks for filename and location for change file), CTK Arch has some strict requirements:
  • separate partition for change files
  • special name for this partition
That's not a big deal to create everything required, especially because there is special tool within CTK Arch which guides you through the process. But be prepared to reboot midway the process effectively losing all the current changes.

Adventures with WiFi

I run my CTK Arch test on Compaq C300 laptop which has Broadcom 4311 WiFi card. I know this card is usual pain in the 5th point.
First result from lspci output was very promising: WiFi card is visible there. Second step in iwconfig is also promising: wlan0 interface is there. But the card is still not activated.
First of all, I tried to figure out the situation myself.
  • Command ifconfig wlan0 up from user: not permitted.
  • Command sudo ifconfig wlan0 up: sudo command does not exist as such (sure, it is xsu in CTK Arch).
  • Then I tried to switch to root. Command su required password which is mentioned in "Documentation" (remember - I gave you a clue above?), and password is toor.
  • Unfortunately even root cannot put wlan0 up via ifconfig wlan0 up.
  • Command xsu ifconfig wlan0 up: same result as under su.
At this point of time I was already tired with my attempts. Then I turned to best support service ever: Internet. And the only post on CTK Arch forum which mentioned Broadcom was very useful.
Of course, driver for Broadcom 4311 is not included into distributive. I had to connect my laptop to LAN and download driver. Command yaourt b43 gave me options of available components, and b43-firmware was selected. Few more keystrokes to confirm different items (password for root asked several times too), and driver is downloaded and activated.
Forum also advises to add driver into rc.conf and reboot, but for my case I only had to refresh list of networks in Wicd to switch network on. Passcode is entered... I am connected! This blog post was drafted directly from CTK Arch!

Once network is up and running...

Next logical step for me is to mount my external network drive. I have not found any graphical tool for this, but old friend command line is still here, of course. Command mount -t cifs... worked like a charm. It means that Samba is installed in CTK Arch by default.
Russian characters are supported in terminal (Midnight Commander) and graphical (PCManFM) modes, and I could browse my network drive from either of them.
I navigated to folder with my music files and tried to play them from network drive. Unfortunately, MP3s did not play from network location. Neither Audacious nor SMPlayer could do this. SMPlayer log gave some sort of socket error (mplayer: could not connect to socket). That's quite strange. Simply because same file was copied to local machine and played OK. Files with Russian characters in path/filename were also OK.

How quick!

Ok, seems I made all the configuration I always do for my system. Not all of them are successful (keyboard), but at least I know the direction where to go for them. It is good time now to restart the system and see whether persistence works.
This time I used stopwatch to check how much time CTK Arch takes to boot. And result is rather amazing. Cold start takes 65 seconds to ready-to-use system, which is very good result at my Racecourse Scoreboard. Although, I had to manually start Wicd and reconnect network after reboot. Minor bug from my perspective.
I should also mention here that CTK Arch not only boots very quickly, but works like a spark! Can you imagine that GIMP start time is about 5 seconds?!


CTK Arch is very interesting distro from my perspective. It is well balanced between graphical and CLI sides of Linux. Maybe I am little bit too unexperienced for it yet, but still can do quite a lot there.
I will not recommend CTK Arch for beginners. You need to be prepared to take some of challenges. But once you have some basic knowledge, then digging within CTK Arch will give you unrivalled pleasure of control over system!
I should probably look into CTK Arch (or other Arch-based distros) later, when have more Linux experience myself.

Do you want to try CTK Arch yourself, but cannot download image and burn it to CD yourself? You can check the page Buy Linux CDs and make an order there.

Useful links:
Another review of CTK Arch:
Some words about CTK Arch from K.Mandla:


  1. Hi,
    I like Arch Linux a lot, and for sure this is a great distro. Based on Arch Linux and OpenBox.
    But I prefer to create my own from scratch, I mean Arch Linux, OpenBox or Fluxbox and LibreOffice, and so on. :)

  2. @Guillermo Garron:
    Building system from scratch maybe good for experienced users like you. But I am not one. I prefer pre-packaged solution which I can amend later as I wish. From this perspective CTK Arch is very nice. It has minimum to start using it, and it is not as overloaded with non-essential tools as for example Knoppix.

  3. Have you ever tried ArchBang? It's a similar distribution with similar goals, though it's slightly newer tries harder to emulate #!. I've compared the two here.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  4. @PV:
    I have not tried ArchBang yet. But I read your review: look at the "Useful links" section of this post.

  5. Note that you can access your samba network drive with pcmanfm by installing the package gvfs-smb :)

  6. @Calimero:
    Thanks for advice! Another proof that CTK Arch (as any other Linux) can be fine-tuned for your own purpose.

  7. How about
    setxkbmap -layout ru -variant phonetic
    (or which ever variant you use)?

  8. @Calimero:
    Thanks for information. That's power of Linux that you can add packages for your own taste, when you need them.

  9. Another Arch based distro with a live cd is Manjaro Linux. (http://manjarolinux.org/) It uses the XFCE desktop and has many user friendly tools that could make it to Arch what Ubuntu is to Debian.


  10. @Anonymous (Poiema):
    Thanks for suggesting a system. It is in my to-do list now, but I have to wait until 32-bit version is ready.

  11. Hi
    I came across here and found this nice blog. I would be very glad if you could try out manjaro linux and write a such blog entry. I will upload an i686 testing release, when version 0.1.1 is out.


  12. @Roland Singer:
    Will be more than happy to do so. You can update me here or by e-mail when 0.1.1 is ready.

    Please bear in mind, I do unbiased reviews. If you request it personally, it does not guarantee you get nice feedback. I had such an example with Jeff Hoogland already. But don't be scared. If you want, I can show you a review before posting it.

  13. That is no problem. If you don't like our distribution, then it is your right to post something negative about it.
    I will inform you here, if there is an update.