SwagArch GNU/Linux 2017.06 SwagArch GNU/Linux is a relatively new addition to the DistroWatch database. The distribution is based onArch Linux and is developed for 64-bit x86 computers exclusively. Like its parent, SwagArch is a rolling release distribution. Unlike its parent, SwagArch's installation media ships with a live desktop environment and a graphical system installer which should make it a lot easier to set up the distribution quickly.
I downloaded the distribution's sole edition which is available as a 1.1GB download. Booting from the downloaded image launches the Xfce desktop environment. The desktop is arranged with a panel at the top of the screen which holds an application menu and system tray. At the bottom of the screen is a panel containing quick-launch buttons and icons representing open windows. Once the Xfce desktop finishes loading, the distribution automatically launches the Calamares system installer to assist us in setting up our new copy of SwagArch.
Calamares is a graphical installer which has been increasingly popular among Arch-based distributions recently. The installer is quite friendly and streamlined, reminding me a lot ofUbuntu's Ubiquity installer. We are walked through the usual steps of selecting our preferred language, our time zone and providing our keyboard's layout. Calamares offers both automated and manual disk partitioning options. I mostly used the manual options during my trial and found the manual options to be both flexible and easy to navigate. We conclude by creating a username and password for a new user account and then wait while Calamares sets up the operating system.
SwagArch 2017.06 -- The Calamares installer
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The first time I went through the installation process, Calamares locked up 83% of the way through its work. The status bar in the installer indicated it froze while "Running mrpacman operation". I left the system running to see if it would sort out the problem, but after two hours I gave in and started over. The second time through I switched from manual to automated partitioning to see if a default disk layout would help. This time Calamares crashed almost immediately after I created a user account.
The third time I went through the installation process, Calmares again froze at the 83% completion mark. I opened a terminal and did some looking at the running processes. I discovered a number of package management processes were running, including pacman (specifically the "pacman -Syyu --noconfirm" command) and the Pamac daemon process. Forcing these two processes to terminate unlocked Calamares and the installer completed its work successfully.
Once Calamares finished its work, I rebooted the computer and SwagArch presented me with a graphical login screen. Signing in brought me back to the Xfce desktop environment. I explored running SwagArch in two environments, a VirtualBox virtual machine and a desktop computer. When running in VirtualBox SwagArch worked smoothly. The distribution was responsive, stable and automatically integrated with the virtual environment. I had a fairly positive experience with SwagArch on my desktop computer too. The system was quick to boot, Xfce was responsive and the operating system worked well with my computer's hardware. In either test environment SwagArch required about 330MB of memory when sitting idle at the desktop.
I had just two minor complaints related to hardware during my trial. The first was SwagArch's printer manager was unable to properly set up my HP printer as the distribution does not include the necessary driver. This could be worked around if one is willing to hunt down additional drivers, but most Linux distributions can automatically set up my printer without extra steps. The other item which bothered me was clicking the logout button in Xfce would cause my computer's internal speaker to beep. Most distributions do not (thankfully) make any use of my computer's internal speaker and it was an unwelcome feature.
SwagArch ships with a small collection of desktop software. Looking through the application menu we can find Firefox is installed for us. Flash is not available by default, but we can install Adobe's Flash plugin from the distribution's repositories. Network Manager is present to help us get on-line. The GNU Image Manipulation Program and the Risteretto image viewer are present to help us view and edit image files. The VLC multimedia player and the Rhythmbox audio player are included along with a full range of media codecs. The Xfburn application assists us in burning optical media. SwagArch also features a text editor, the Thunar file manager, an archive manager and document viewer. There is a tool for renaming files in bulk and the KeePassX password manager is included to store account credentials for us. In the background we find the systemd init software, version 4.11 of the Linux kernel and version 7.1 of the GNU Compiler Collection.
One application which stood out was GNOME Encfs Manager. This utility creates, manages and mounts/unmounts encrypted volumes. With a few mouse clicks we can create a new encrypted storage space and select a folder where our encrypted files should be stored. Files saved in this folder are automatically encrypted (as are their file names) and stored in a hidden directory. We can mount or unmount this encrypted volume with a mouse click. When attempting to create or mount an encrypted volume we are prompted to provide a password. GNOME Encfs Manager is probably the easiest encrypted volume manager I have had the pleasure of using and it worked for me without any problems. I definitely recommend it for people who want a lightweight security option for casual encryption.
SwagArch 2017.06 --The GNOME Encfs Manager application
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There were some other features of SwagArch which stood out. For example, there is an icon in the system tray that, when clicked, opens a window where we can search for files by name. This gives us quick access to files not only in our home directory, but anywhere on the operating system. The search feature works very quickly and has a simple interface.
Another characteristic I noticed is the distribution's default command line prompt is unusually long and colourful. The prompt is spread over two lines and contains six distinct colours. I found this loud and long prompt distracting and chose to change it, but I can see how the various colours could help a person quickly find a piece of information such as the current time, directory or username.
Unlike most Linux distributions, SwagArch does not feature a desktop task manager in the usual sense. There is a panel at the bottom of the screen which displays quick-launch buttons and icons for open windows. However, this panel is often covered by the windows of running applications. We if wish we can add a classic task manager to Xfce's top panel with a few mouse clicks.
One surprise the distribution gave me was the OpenSSH client software (including ssh , sftp and scp ) is not present by default. It is an unusual omission and the OpenSSH software can be installed from the distribution's software repositories.
When software updates are available for the distribution a red icon is displayed in the system tray. Clicking on this icon opens a graphical update manager. The update manager shows a list of new packages along with a comparison of the old vs new new package versions and the size of each new package. We can click a box next to each entry in the list to select or dequeue a package.
SwagArch 2017.06 -- The update manager
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The first day I was using SwagArch there were 101 updates totalling 148MB in size. When I attempted to install all the available updates a warning was displayed letting me know the package manager had detected a dependency loop. Choosing to proceed anyway initiated a download process which almost immediately stalled. After waiting for several minutes, I paused the download and restarted it. This caused the update manager to completely lock up and it failed to proceed. Re-launching the update manager and attempting to install new packages a third time began okay, but I found my download speed was limited to 2kB/s.
The underlying package manager used by SwagArch is pacman and I found its default repository mirrors included a server in China. Removing this mirror (along with other distant mirrors) from the list of available servers greatly improved the update manager's speed, increasing my download speed to about 20MB/s.
I continued to receive a fairly steady supply of updates during the week, usually around ten a day. Most of these installed quietly without issue. One update caused a warning to be displayed letting me know the update had changed the permission settings on my sudoers file, the file which dictates which users on the system can perform administrative actions. I then checked the file, but found its permission were the same as they had been before and secure, so I'm unsure why the update manager reported an issue.
Apart from the update manager, SwagArch includes a graphical package manager called Pamac. This simple package manager displays a list of available packages. We can click a box next to each package to mark it for installation or removal. We can search for software by name or we can filter software using pre-defined groups. These groups tend to have technical names such as "vim-plugins" or "qtcurve" rather than "Office" or "Internet" and probably will not help newcomers.
SwagArch 2017.06 -- The Pamac software manager
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Pamac worked quickly and was pretty easy to navigate. However, I did run into one problem which I think is a bug. If the user selects a package to remove then the package is removed along with any other packages which depend on it. This happens without any warning being displayed to let us know other packages will be removed. In other words, if we remove a library we do not think will be needed any longer, Pamac will quietly remove the library and other software that uses the library, which may be an application, a game or even the desktop environment.
SwagArch features a settings panel which is very similar to the control panel found inManjaro's Xfce edition. The settings panel provides simple configuration modules which help us change the look of the desktop, tweak the window manager, change the keyboard's layout, set up the firewall and adjust the display settings. Like Manjaro, SwagArch's settings panel features an icon which launches a second control panel that features modules for managing users, language support and changing the system clock. I am not a fan of having one small control panel hidden inside another and I hope both distributions unify their settings into one panel in the future.
SwagArch 2017.06 -- The settings panels
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My time with SwagArch got off to a rough beginning. While the live environment worked well enough, the Calamares installer ran into a conflict with the pacman package manager and it took a while to sort out which processes were preventing the distribution from installing. Once the distribution was installed, things mostly went smoothly. SwagArch worked well with my hardware and with the test environment. However, package management was consistently a sore point during my week. I ran into a dependency loop, a false warning about sudoers permissions and the default pacman repositories left me with very slow software downloads. It was possible to work around these issues, but requiring the user to trouble-shoot package management and adjust the default repositories does a lot to negate the benefits of using a distribution like SwagArch over plain Arch Linux.
Apart from the package management issues I encountered, SwagArch generally offered me a positive experience. The distribution provides us with a small, yet useful, collection of default applications. The distribution offers good performance and, during my week with the project, the distribution was stable.
Perhaps my favourite feature was the encrypted volume management tool which makes setting up encrypted storage space very straight forward. For people who want simple point-n-click encryption of local files, GNOME Encfs Manager is a good option.
SwagArch has a slightly macOS style feel. The bottom panel with its bouncy icons and the spinning "beach ball" mouse pointer being the most obvious examples of macOS-like customizations. Personally, I'm not a fan of the macOS desktop, but I can see how someone coming from a macOS background would feel more at home with SwagArch as a result of these little touches.
This distribution appears to be fairly young and there are a number of little issues to work out, but nothing major that can't be fixed for the next snapshot. I think the minimal application set along with the responsive Xfce desktop and easy to use system installer will appeal to people who like the philosophy of Arch Linux while also wanting a distribution that can be set up with a handful of mouse clicks.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications:
- Processor: Dual-core 2.8GHz AMD A4-3420 APU
- Storage: 500GB Hitachi hard drive
- Memory: 6GB of RAM
- Networking: Realtek RTL8111 wired network card
- Display: AMD Radeon HD 6410D video card
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Visitor supplied rating
SwagArch has a visitor supplied average rating of: 10/10 from 3 review(s).
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