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Ark Linux has something for everyone. On the outside, it boasts a powerful and usable KDE desktop that is absolutely beautiful. It uses Keramik as its theme, and that theme is also applied to GTK2 which gives all programs (almost) a uniform look. What about GTK1, you ask? I'm getting to that
Ark Linux is, at this point, a bleeding-edge distribution. The latest alpha (1.0-alpha9) uses such bleeding-edge packages as XFree86 4.4.0, the GIMP 1.3, and a prerelease of Kernel 2.4.23. It's also 2.6 ready. At this point, beginners may be wondering, "Huh?" What does any of that mean? Well, it means that instead of trying to stick with "stable" (ie: outdated) software, they've chosen the alternate theory that sticking with the newest stuff will provide better support for newer hardware, and will make sure that the software is always as featured and as up-to-date as possible. This will mean less frustration, especially with laptops (some of which are _notorious_ for being incompatible with kernels that are even just several _months_ old!) Ark Linux is all about the present/future, not so much about the past/present. The mere fact that GTK1 is not even included is a prime indication of that. They're ready to "move on," and they're not ashamed to show it. The latest version (alpha 9) also has a beautiful graphical bootup sequence (something that most modern distributions are starting to contain now)
Are you a Linux enthusiast who like Red Hat 8/9/Fedora Core 1 but just _hate_ what Bluecurve did to KDE? Well, I've got some good news for you all. Ark Linux was originally started by Bernhard "bero" Rosenkränzer. Bero was an employee at Red Hat, and he was one of the people (if not _the_ person) responsible for getting KDE to work with Red Hat. When he found about their plans for Bluecurve for their next major release (8.0 at that point) he didn't want to have anything to do with it, so he quit the company and started the Ark Linux project soon thereafter. But Ark Linux is more than just what Red Hat 8.0 should have been.
Yes, Ark Linux is in the alpha stages. This is a review of alpha 9 and I must say that this is not one of the most stable or functional of the ones I've tried (alpha 7 was my first Ark Linux distribution -- in fact it was my first Linux distribution!) It has many bugs, unfortunately, that were not present in Alpha 7 or 8. However, the current Dockyard at the time of writing has addressed most of these problems (so I'd advise you wait until alpha 10 before running off to download alpha 9.) Many people complained of sound problems (which was due to a faulty kudzu in alpha 9 -- fixed now in Dockyard) and other things. In the past, nVidia was a concern, but as far as I know that has been completely fixed (great news for nVidia card owners!) At this point Samba is also a bit of a mess (but that is currently being addressed and is not much of a big deal.) Other than that, however, most of the issues that are keeping Ark Linux from going gold are due to a lack of graphical configuration in a few spots here and there, combined with the current weaknesses of the programs bundled along with it .
Remember, if you're a beginner, the first thing you should do after installing Ark Linux is RUN MISSION CONTROL! Mission Control is a graphical configuration tool that resembles Windows' Control Panel. Although it is more of a "centre-point" that links to external tools, I feel that that is a very good way of organizing things. There is absolutely no point in "reinventing the wheel" as some distributions such as Mandrake and SuSE currently do.
Ark Linux is more than just a Linux distribution; it is a true project. Many other mini-projects are being worked on, such as an open-source Flash library (!) and an open-source 'distribution' of Wine that will be similar to WineX (!!)
Ark Linux uses Debian's Advanced Packaging Tool (APT) along with "apt-get" (command-line frontend) and "synaptic" (easy-to-use graphical frontend) in order to install packages and upgrade the system. Ark Linux has, at this point, a very impressive apt repository with many extra, useful, and up-to-date packages (Afterstep 2.0beta, Fluxbox 0.9.x, Flash plugin, (K)MPlayer, etc.) This will be useful for both end-users and experts alike. For the end-user, this makes installing software easy. He/she just opens Synaptic, searches for the package name (or if s/he doesn't know it, s/he can search the description for whatever s/he may be looking for) and it will be installed 'automagically' (no frustrating dependencies to worry about) -- and Debian users -- did you get frustrated or confused by all those annoying questions Debian would ask you when trying to install packages or upgrade your system ("Would you like to statically link XYZ with ABC or keep it with DEF?") Ark Linux deals with all of that automatically, and just installs the software with sensible defaults. It doesn't have a "menu-system" per se, but using synaptic or apt or even installing their RPMs manually will usually add an entry into your K menu (depending on the nature of the application.) This is, in my opinion, a better way to handle menu entries than in other distributions such as Debian (sorry if I'm frustrating some Debian fans here!) or Mandrake (how's that? :P) because users can then easily use the K menu editor to edit their K menu without seriously breaking their system. Unfortunately, the disadvantage to this system is that it only works with KDE (but if you're like me, I like to customize my menu entries in other window managers anyway.)
One thing that bero (and the other core developers of Ark Linux, all of which can be found at #arklinux on irc.freenode.net) has made clear is that he believes end users also want to have a good time with their operating system, while maintaining a fresh and professional interface. For example, Tux Racer and Chromium (2 popular Linux games) are included in the base system! Platero, a filesharing protocol, is also included _by default_ in the base distribution. Mozilla was included in alpha 7 and below, but it was removed in Alpha 8. Why, you ask? Well, the question is, "why not?" Konqueror is a fully-featured file-manager and web browser that is reminiscent to Internet Explorer (minus the security holes and plus tabbed browsing, of course!) and provides a friendly interface that many Windows-converts will surely appreciate. OpenOffice.org, the most popular office suite in Linux, was also omitted (both OpenOffice.org and Mozilla are available both in Synaptic and on the Extra Software CD, by the way!!) due to the fact that KOffice is better integrated with KDE and is suitable for simple documents. I, personally, would advise that OpenOffice.org is installed right away and that KOffice is removed (with Synaptic) after you install Ark Linux, but it that is just my opinion and it is totally up to you. While OpenOffice.org is more similar to MS Office than is KOffice, KOffice is smaller, faster, and lighter. Think of it as MS Works (hah!) and OpenOffice.org as MS Office if you're a Windows would-be-convert.
The bottom line of this review should be obvious. INSTALL Ark Linux!! Although it is not yet complete, it is a fun, and very exciting distribution. Development is active, and the people are _extremely_ helpful. Remember, IRC is included with Ark Linux for a reason. As soon as you install it or even if you're just thinking about installing it, run IRC right away and log onto freenode.net #arklinux and ask anyone there any questions you may have.
So, I give Ark Linux a perfect score, not because it is perfect now, but because I feel that by the time 1.0 is released, we will have before us the perfect Linux distribution that will be more than just an alternative to Windows; it will be a Windows _replacement_ that many distributions claim to be, but simply are not. It will be (and already is) a distribution that is suitable for anyone who has ever had the slightest bit of an interest in learning or trying Linux.