Arch Linux Newsletter

Aug 21, 2005
Jason Chu
Jens Persson
Aaron Griffin
Philip Dillon-Thiselton


Welcome to the Arch Linux Newsletter. This document attempts to give you an "at a glance" look at the world of Arch Linux.
This week we have had a minor rejig of the contents, placing all of the stats at the bottom of the letter and all the exciting stuff at the top. We also have our first interview, so many thanks to Jens for setting that up.

Table Of Contents

  1. Front Page News
  2. Devland
  3. Forum Highlights
  4. Mailing List Highlights
  5. AUR - Arch User Repository
  6. Package Highlights
  7. Interview
  8. FAQ
  9. ArchStats
  10. Seti@home
  11. folding@home
  12. Bugs
  13. Closing

Front Page News

This time again, we have no front page news. It seems the newsletter contributors are catching up with the developers.


  1. Paul has been gone since the 8th of August until the 17th. We all hope he comes back well rested and tanned.
  2. The Arch Linux community feels there is too much non-arch talk in #archlinux on, so they created #archchat. If you want to just chat about anything, go to #archchat. People will remind you about this if you make a mistake, I'm sure.
  3. Simo's back from his hiatus in Finland. Good thing, he can pick up Paul's tasks ;)
  4. Jurgen wonders whether we should put optional (an extra download) man pages into packages. I responded saying if the documentation is "essential" -- you need it to have a well run system -- or the package is a development library/tool, it should probably go in. If it's available on the website and you don't need it during regular operation, then it's not such a big deal.

Forum Highlights

  1. swazo started an archchat IRC channel.
  2. rabadash wants a new install iso.
  3. rxvt-unicode seems to finally got a functional terminfo file.
  4. JGC started a Gnome 2.12 server.
  5. dibblethewrecker has some considered observations about Fluxbox...ok, complaints
  6. arooaroo made some benchmarks on Java and Python.
  7. jftaylor21 has created an Arch Linux team for folding@home. More information can be found here and the team stats will now appear in the newsletter each fortnight. I have also added a foldingathome pkg to [community].

Mailing List Highlights

  1. First and foremost, there was an issue discussed on the mailing list about the last newsletter's FAQ item. The entire newsletter team would like to apologize for this. It was unwarranted and we apologize and promise to remedy this situation in the future.
  2. There was a discussion about running Zope and Plone on Arch. If you are interested, you can read about this here.
  3. A while back, before the current team, the newsletter was emailed out as well as posted on the main ArchLinux page. This was brought up and we have decided to restart this mailing as soon as we can.

AUR - Arch User Repository

  1. The number of user-submitted UNSUPPORTED pkgs in the AUR passed 1000 on August promptly dropped below that number as two pkgs were adopted by TUs.
  2. Could everyone submitting pkg to the AUR please read the Arch Packaging Standards. They are being constantly updated and improved and really do help you to build better packages.
  3. There is a bit of discussion in the bugtracker about how AUR password retrieval should work. Current advice is to try not to forget it...
  4. There a few asthetic and functional improvements in the AUR pipeline, including email address link in comments and auto flag TU submissions as safe.
  5. The next TU meeting is scheduled for Saturday 27th August 16.00 GMT.
  6. If you are interested in becoming a TU we strongly advise you to join up to the mailing list so you can get to know the system and the other TUs, and we can get to know you too :)

Package Highlights


This is an interview with Ions founder Tuomo Valkonen. You can find more info about Ion in this wikipage. We are very grateful that Tuomo took the time to answer our questions with such long and great answers. :) I'm swedish, Tuomo is finnish and the language is english so please have some mercy on us.

Can you give us a brief description of what Ion is all about?

Ion is one leg of an odyssey in search of better graphical user interface paradigms.

What's new in Ion3 compared to the previous version?

Ion3 is not yet finished, and there may still be some significant improvements to be written, but at the moment the most notable improvements possibly are simplified configuration routines that external programs should be able to understand too, a nice statusbar that adapts to workspace layout instead of wasting a whole border of the screen, floating splits and the scratchpad. The scratchpad is a frame toggleable visible with Mod1+space by default, which is modelled after the console of many FPS games. Floating splits allow frames to partially overlap in a controlled and thus usable manner. This feature should improve Ion's usability with side-by-side applications that benefit from slightly bigger windows than a strict split would allow for.

Other new features and improvements include the "pane workspace" that is an attempt to make window management even more automatic. It, however, still needs more work, especially with heuristics and other ways to classify windows that are needed due to non-existent application support for indicating the type of a window. Obviously there are numerious minor improvements and fixes as well, and the scripts repository is growing.

A few people have asked me why Ion hasn't got a special configuration file, possibly XML based, so I forward the question over to you. Will there be a configuration file or will it stay with Lua only?

There is a configuration file. Many infact, they just happen to be Lua scripts. And no, there are no plans to support configuration files in a non-scripting language format. Even if there were, the format would never ever be XML. It's not meant for human consumption, and configuration files should be human-readable. Something like .INI is a rather robust and easily readable format, and therefore much better for configuration files. For documents a TeX-like syntax is quite ideal, although one would hope for a non-Turing complete lookalike with better separation of structure and layout.

Back in the topic of configuration files, robustness is indeed the biggest problem of using a scripting language for configuration. Make one syntax error and the whole file is unusable, and this can be a big problem with newbies. The reason for not supporting a more robust configuration file format is that supporting both a scripting language -- and people do want scripting -- and configuration files in a different format makes things more complicated than necessary and brings extra work maintaining two redundant ways of doing the same thing. With the changes in Ion3 it should however be possible to modify the configuration files with a helpful tool instead of only directly editing them, and there has been little work towards such a tool, although not much recently I'm afraid.

Are floating windows all bad?

If you include "floating splits" as introduced in Ion3 as floating windows, then the answer is clearly negative. If you restrict the definition to freely floating windows of the conventional WIMP desktop style, then the answer is pretty much positive. The biggest problem is that such a window management model doesn't scale at all. It can be used to a degree with maybe a handful of windows when cycling through all of them isn't a big task. Something like Exposé may increase this number a little, but even it should run into problems once the windows are too many to make to draw a good scaled-down picture of, or when they are almost identical. Locating a needle in a haystack is slow, and this is one of the major problems of the whole WIMP paradigm. When you have running a few dozen xterms like I do, you can't cycle through all of them effectively, and you can't quickly or at all pick them from a list of images nor titles that might be nearly identical. Until computers can read our thoughts, what you need is a way to keep the windows organised in such a manner that it helps remembering where the window was. PWM was a first step in providing such a way to move between windows attached to the same frame. Ion provides ways to find the right frame.

Ion does, however, still have a scalability problem. It doesn't easily scale to dozens of small windows that should be used almost constantly. Mostly this means the toolboxes of GIMP and other such programs. But neither does the intended environment scale to this; one needs to keep constantly arranging the windows. I think this kind of UI design is inherently bad, and everything needed to edit a document should be found in the document's window. (Compare Sodipodi to Inkscape.) Yet, the "pane workspaces" try to address this problem by automatically putting such toolboxes in a particular pane, document windows in another and so on. As already mentioned, there's, however, much work still to be done with it to make it really work.

What's good and what's bad in todays applications GUI designs?

I can't think of much good to say about them, and many things in the FOSS world are getting worse infact. More like windows. What I think of the Gnome file chooser isn't fit for printing. To list some general annoyances of GUI software of today: zillions of dialogs and toolboxes popping up everywhere, applications insisting on their own weird skinning instead of the one provided by the toolkit when using one, applications trying to be their own window manager, widgets laid out in a complex fashion such that keyboard movement between them is totally unpredictable, practically unconfigurable bindings with the defaults being very windowzy and using modifiers in an inconsistent manner, bad keyboard support in general, and so on.

Good keyboard support does not mean just shortcuts to everything, it means designing the application in such a manner that one can effectively use it with just a few shortcuts, instead of by memorising every single escape meta alt control shift combination imaginable. I'd dare to claim that commands are infact much easier to memorise, and not all that much slower to type. Infact, there's one GUI app that has got something right. It's TeXmacs. It's graphical, and it can interpret LaTeX-like commands in the input stream. Yay! I'd prefer a more "wysiwym" instead of "wysiwyg" approach, though, but that's almost as good as wysiwyg can ever get.

Have you been following the development of other DEs/WMs? If so, what's hot and what's not? Have you tried WMII?

I don't much follow what's going on in the DE world. Whatever happens, I'm sure it sucks from the point of view of trying to write an alternative window manager and promote the concept of subjective usability, the Official Truth saying that usability is absolute and means "noobs aren't scared of it according to how we think noobs think of things". I think it is wise to be scared whenever there's news from the Gnome camp.

I've tried WMI(I) a couple of times, and it does have some good points, but unfortunately at least those snapshots I've tried have been rather flaky.

What do you think about all the new X11 stuff?

The only thing that made upgrading to Xorg worth it is working Xrandr rotation. The XComposite extension could be useful for something, although its primary intended uses are mostly worthless gimmicky. As for most of the other new stuff, I don't like needles being sticked into my eyes after every major upgrade or new install by apps using ugly antialiased fonts and refusing the use good old X fonts at all. (I had to spend an hour or so a few weeks ago to find out how to get the beautiful old X helvetica in firefox -- unblurred of course. It wasn't a small task.)

Are there any plans made for a Cairo based Ion version?

I did think about writing a Cairo drawing engine module once, but any plans have been abandoned. I don't like having to do extra work to get unblurred fonts.

Are you involved in any other projects?

Well, I'm not at the moment actively working on any other free software project. I'm trying to concentrate on finishing Ion3. One day "when it is ready", after which it is time for something else for a change. I did write Riot (Riot is an Information Organisation Tool) last autumn, and have some plans on further work on it. A bit related project to which I've contributed some code to and may do some further work on is Yi. Then there's of course Vis, but it is still at the vapourware stage, and likely to remain there for quite some time being a huge undertaking that I'm not ready to take at this point, trying to finish a particular project that grew bigger than I ever expected :), and having started working on another big project, namely PhD studies. Vis indeed stands for Vapourware Interface Synthesiser, and it's another leg of the odyssey I mentioned. The write-up available from the Vis home page tries to explain how it would be possible to write programs in a very interface-agnostic way, so that the user could ultimately control the kind of interface programs had while also relieving the programmer of the burden that modern GUI toolkits are to use. Even if I don't, I do hope someone else gets around to write something like Vis and it becoming a standard way of constructing user interfaces.

Ok, last question. What's your favourite distro? Have you tried Arch?

I've used Debian since about 1998 and have had no reason to try anything else. If it works, don't try to fix it.

Editors note: You may publish this interview separately (screenshot also) free of charge if you add a note that it was originally published in the Archlinux Newsletter.


Q: What is the difference between AUR, COMMUNITY, and UNSUPPORTED?

A: AUR(Arch User Repository) is the name of the whole new system which is maintained by the TUs(Trusted Users). It lets anybody that signs up to upload PKGBUILDs to UNSUPPORTED but only TUs have access to COMMUNITY which is a binary repo that you can use with Pacman.

Q: Why aren't all packages in UNSUPPORTED added to COMMUNITY?

A: There are several reasons for that. The most important is that the package hasn't got many votes. It's also important that you vote for packages that already are in COMMUNITY, otherwise they could be disowned by the TUs and moved to UNSUPPORTED. Other reasons could be that the package is unmaintained upstreams or got a license problem. Last but not least, no TU wants to do it.

Q: I want this very cool feature A added to AUR and also this B thing would be nice. Can you do that?

A: There is a team of developers coding on AUR and they will for the moment focus on getting the current featureset bugfree instead of adding new things. AUR is still pretty young so there will be more features added as time goes by. :)


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That's it for this time folks. If you have any opinions on the newsletter or have some things you wanna add, just send us a mail and we'll look into it.
Very best regards / Team Arch