There are becoming more and more distros that are based on Arch Linux, with some so heavily “based” that they actually use Arch packages. This is fun for me as it means that I can now break multiple distros in one go, bringing “Allan broke it” to a whole new level.
One such distro is Kahel OS. Breaking through the market-speak on their website, it basically claims to be a newbies distro that has all the features a guru expects. It comes in Server, Desktop and Light Editions. I decided to try the Desktop Edition using the installer released on 2009-12-25. I installed using QEMU as I do not have a spare partition at the moment.
The install CD boots to a horrific orange screen . After selecting the “install” option, you are greeted with bunch of kernel bootup text , followed by an Arch style boot process . No graphical boot for this distro, so newbie friendly is a bit dicey already. Once booted, you are presented with a screen explaining why Kahel OS is good . I suppose that was in case all that boot text was scaring us away.
Then we are actually installing. The installer is what I call ascii-graphical , although reverts you to text based screens as needed  (from that screenshot, you might notice that the answers are not necessarily intuitive…). Partitioning is done in cfdisk , followed by reselecting what type of filesystem you really want . I decided for a single partition taking up the whole 4GB image I created and selected Btrfs for something new and given support for new filesystems is one of Kahel’s claimed features. I found it a bit strange that there was no warning about this filesystem still being experimental, but after some searching I found one hidden away on another TTY .
The “Install Packages” step goes straight to output from pacman , so there is no option to customize your install. The default install uses 3GB of space . The package list is certainly interesting…. it installs the entire base, base-devel, xorg, xorg-video-drivers, gnome and gnome-extra groups. These are supplemented with a variety of other software including banshee, brasero, gnote, firefox, go-openoffice, xsane, and lots of fonts. I do not understand the use of gnote over Tomboy given mono is already installed for banshee. The SVN version of gtkpacman is installed for graphical package management. Other software choices are plain strange, such as libgpod, which is not required by anything else and is fairly useless on its own.
Finally, the installer takes you through some basic setup . This distinguishes three types of users; root, administrators and normal. An “administrator” appears to have been given permissions to perform a variety of tasks via policy-kit.
Once you are done, you can reboot into your nice preconfigured desktop… but I could not. Those of you paying attention earlier would have noticed that I choose to have a single partition using btrfs. Of course, grub can not boot from that so that is a fail on my behalf. But a newbie friendly distro should have stopped me from doing that.
So, here is what I found different form Arch Linux without actually booting the system. There are a couple of extra repos enabled in pacman.conf. The listed Kahel OS repo does not exist yet. I did find a link to another Kahel repo, but it was empty. As a non-working repo breaks gtkpacman, package management is broken out of the box. Also the archlinuxfr repo is present but disabled, probably just so you can easily install yaourt.
Several packages are novel to Kahel OS. These are mainly for automatic configuration of the desktop and fonts as well as providing nice icons. The developers need to learn about makepkg.conf as they have not set their PACKAGER variable. Also, something strange is happening to their kahel-desktop-base-configurations package. It has 22 files, but “pacman -Qk” show that 11 of them are missing from the system so some installer magic has occurred. Not a great use of package management…
Overall, I am not sure what this distribution hopes to achieve. It seems that that it wants to provide a fully functional desktop after install and maybe it achieved that (I can not comment). But the installer is far from what is considered user-friendly, to the point that I do not think someone could achieve an install using it and not be able to do so with the Arch installer. Looking at screenshots on their home page, I can not see a major improvement graphically from a standard GNOME install. From all their “release announcements”, I am not sure that they know what they are trying to achieve either.
As an aside, of the 704 packages installed by Kahel OS, I built 80 (11%). So there is a lot of scope for me to cause breakage for unsuspecting Kahel OS users!
 – Bootscreen with lots of orange.
 – Boot text
 – Familiar boot-up from Arch
 – Market-speak
 – Ascii-graphical installer
 – Configuring timezone
 – Partitioning disk
 – Selecting filesystem type
 – Hidden Btrfs warning
 – Installing packages
 – 3Gb installed
 – Set-up