Archman GNU/Linux Xfce 2019-09Archman is an Arch Linux-based distribution developed in Turkey. The project's website is available in both Turkish and English, which makes the distribution approachable to non-Turkish audiences. Archman has various releases with different desktop environments and release dates. In this review, I will be reviewing Archman's Xfce 2019-09 release, which is codenamed Lake With Fish.
To begin, I downloaded the 1.6GB ISO and copied it to a flash drive. I rebooted my computer, turned off Secure Boot, and started Archman from the flash drive. The boot process was quick, but I ended up at a graphical login screen instead of a working desktop environment. I pressed the Enter key and I logged in without needing a password.
The live desktop looked very nice. It is an interesting blend of classic and modern. The live desktop has icons for the user's home folder and Trash. There is also a shortcut for Hexchat and the Calamares Archman Installer. The panel at the bottom of the screen holds the application menu, shortcuts for showing the desktop/quickly minimizing all running applications, Firefox, the user's home folder, sections for the currently running applications, switching desktops, a clock, Bluetooth and wireless controls, a battery meter, update notifications, volume control, and a log out/reboot/shutdown shortcut. The panel is 70% the width of the screen and set to automatically hide.
I looked around the live desktop for a little while. I tested to make sure that everything was working okay with my hardware, and once I was certain that all my hardware worked, I moved on to installing Archman.
Archman uses the Calamares installer. This provided a fairly typical installation experience. The installer walks the user through all the standard installation steps: selecting language/keyboard layout, setting location/timezone information, partitioning the hard drive, and setting up a user. Pretty standard stuff, but there were a few issues I ran into when I was installing. First, the installer required Internet access. It is nice enough to tell the user this up front, but it still was a pain, because the first time I tried to install Archman, I was somewhere without Internet access. I had to try again later. When I did get the chance to install Archman, I ran into an issue where the installer could not successfully use the option to erase and use my entire drive. It would fail no matter what I did. I ended up using the option to replace one partition, which had Ubuntu installed on it, and the installer used my existing EFI partition. This worked, but the use entire disk option had three choices for how large the swap partition should be, which ranged from none to large enough to support hibernate, but the replace partition option left me with no swap. I could have used the manual partition option, or spent more time figuring out why the option to use the entire disk was not working with my computer, but the option I picked worked well enough.
Archman Xfce 2019-09 comes with Xfce 4.14 with a customized layout. It also comes with Firefox 69, LibreOffice 6.2, GIMP 2.10, Inkscape 0.92, Quod Libet for listening to music, Ex Falso for editing tags in audio files, Parole for playing videos, Hexchat, various Xfce utilities and applications, and two games: GNOME Chess and Chromium B.S.U., which is an arcade-style, top-scrolling space shooter. The pre-installed selection of software is quite good, and the video player can play movies without having having to track down codecs, but for some odd reason, the chess game does not have a chess engine installed to allow the user to play against the computer.
Xfce 4.14 introduced a large number of enhancements, many of which were small, but welcome improvements to various aspects of the Xfce desktop and standard applications. There are a lot of "under the hood" enhancements and the core components now use GTK3 instead of GTK2, but Xfce 4.14 is basically a very nice revision and upgrade of the Xfce 4.12 desktop environment. Xfce users will probably like the enchantments, but users of distributions that are still using Xfce 4.12 probably will not have reason enough to distro hop just to get the latest and greatest. However, because of Archman's customizations, users interesting in seeing what Xfce 4.14 has to offer might wish to look at a distribution that uses a more vanilla Xfce 4.14 to test out the new version for themselves.
While Xfce 4.14 is nice, I ran into several minor issues with Archman's settings. Some of these settings might be upstream defaults, some are not, but they really frustrated me when trying to use Archman. The biggest issue was the default touchpad settings. The touchpad was way too sensitive. I have never had any problem with any other distribution regardless of desktop environment, but the touchpad in Archman was constantly registering my palm as a touch when I was typing. I would find my cursor moved, text selected, and the like while just typing the way I usually do, which has never caused an issue on any other distribution I have tried. I enabled the "disable touchpad while typing" option in the settings, but the default time to disable the touch pad was too long and I had to go back and reduce the time from 2 seconds to 0.5 seconds. I also had trouble getting the touchpad to register tapping with two fingers as a right click, and I had to change the scrolling option to two-finger mode to help alleviate the issue with the touchpad detecting the side of my hand as a touch.
There were a few other issues that were fairly minor, but still annoying. The bottom panel has an icon for Bluetooth that opens a device manager. That device manager has the option to disable Bluetooth, but I could not use it because my account did not have permission to do so. A quick Google search provided a solution (add my user to the rfkill group), but something like this should have worked out of the box. Also, with the default software selection, LibreOffice could not spell check my documents; I had to install the hunspell-en_US package before spell check would work.
A couple of issues I had were very subjective nitpicks, but they bothered me enough that I had to change settings from their defaults. The terminal uses a teal text on a black background, which did not have enough contrast for me to comfortably use. Thankfully, there were several preset options available that were easier on the eyes. I also did not like the auto-hiding bottom panel. When it is hidden I had no clock, so I could not easily check to see what time it was, which is admittedly minor, but it bothered me. I also found that the hidden panel would get activated when I tried to access the various features at the bottom of some program's windows. For example, when I tried to use the bottom panel in LibreOffice Writer to change the page style by clicking on on "Default Style", I would active the panel instead. I could have tried to be more precise with my touchpad movements, but I ended up turning off auto-hide and tweaking a few other settings to make the panel more to my liking.
Installing additional software
Archman is basically Arch Linux with an extra repository added for the Archman specific packages, so there is a large selection of software available from Arch's Core, Extra, Community, and Multilib repositories. The default GUI application for installing and updating software is Pamac, which can sort packages by categories, groups, or repository, so it is pretty easy to find packages. In the Pamac settings panel there are options for enabling several advanced options like automatically removing unrequired dependencies, enabling downgrades, and enabling AUR support to get software from the community maintained AUR repository.
Command-line users have the option of using the Pamac utility to install, remove, and upgrade packages, or they can use the pacman command. Archman also comes with several aliases pre-configured to simplify some of the more common pacman commands. Trizen is the command-line utility for managing AUR packages and it is aliased to the 'aur' command.
Archman is a nice way to get started with Arch Linux. It provides a pre-configured desktop that, for the most part, works out of the box. There are a few headaches, but most of those are easily fixable and take less time than installing and configuring Arch Linux. That said, there are a few out of the box configuration items that should not have required fixing, especially the issue with enabling/disabling Bluetooth. Sure, the fix was very easy, but it should have worked right without the user having to do anything.
I have mixed feeling about Archman's specific customizations, but almost all the issues I have are subjective opinions. The desktop environment looks very nice and is easy to use, but there are some things that I just had to change. Turning off the auto-hide feature for the bottom panel and making it used 100% of the screen's width solved my problems with the panel showing up when I did not want it, but a slightly better auto-hiding that let me use the functions at the bottom of various applications would be ideal. I have yet to find trackpad settings that I really like, but that may be me just being too used to the defaults found in Fedora's and Ubuntu's GNOME desktops.
Overall, if you are interested in an Arch Linux-based distribution that will let you get started quickly with only a handful of tweaks and fixes, Archman is a great option. Every issue I had was quickly solved by looking through the Arch wiki or Arch forums, but it would have been nice if Archman had just a little more polish so users did not have to fix minor issues.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was an ASUS VivoBook E406MA laptop with the following specifications: