Install Xorg and KDE on Arch Linux

Part of why Arch Linux is so scary to beginners is it’s lack of a graphical environment out of the box. Luckily, installing these features isn’t difficult.

This is the last article in a three part series about installing Arch Linux. Part 1 gets you through the base installation on an UEFI system. Part 2 deals with the addition of tools and adding some useful configuration. Time to add some graphics to the mix.

Everything here is based on the official Arch Linux documentation on Xorg and KDE. A common mistake is to install KDE or another desktop/windowmanager but not Xorg. So if you prefer to work off the offical documentation, start with Xorg and get that going first.

X - the root of all windows

Systems like Windows and MacOS have their graphical libraries baked into them. Linux on the other hand uses Xorg to render it’s windows, etc. It’s a very powerful framework allowing developers to build desktops on top of it. Beyond that it handles the cursor, display drivers, the keyboard, etc. Virtually all Linux distributions use it as the basis of their graphical environment.

Installing Xorg and the Intel display driver:

pacman -S xf86-video-intel xorg-server xorg-apps xorg-xinit xterm xorg-fonts-100dpi xorg-fonts-75dpi

Native NVIDIA support can easily be achieved using:

echo blacklist nouveau >> /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist.conf
pacman -S nvidia

The nouveau driver is an open source alternative to the native nvidia binary drivers. Sadly I ran into many issues with that driver. If you prefer open drivers, try to stick with Intel and open source driver supported ATI cards.

Laptops usually need a package called synaptics to enable the touch pad:

pacman -S xf86-input-synaptics synaptics

Pick and choose what’s appropriate for your environment. Once installed run startx. An (ugly) desktop with one or more shell windows should appear. Test your keyboard and your mouse. If it all works, logout from these shells and your X session will end.

Installing Plamsa/KDE

Which desktop you use is entirely up to YOU. KDE is a bloated monster but it works great for me. Before committing to a desktop, maybe check out some alternatives.

In this part three major components are installed. The Plasma shell which is in fact the Desktop, the KDE applications and a graphical login/session manager.

Installing Plasma and KDE:

pacman -S sddm plasma kde-applications plasma-nm ttf-dejavu ttf-liberation sddm

plasma-nm is the NetworkManager widget. Skip this if you don’t use NetworkManager. The two font packages make the font’s pretty. sddm is the default login/session manager for KDE.

This will install KDE in all it’s glory with tons of bloat. It’s possible to be more selective but I find the install everything and the remove bits approach more practical for my purposes.

I prefer to get rid of elments like games, the KDE PIM suite (mail, contacts, etc) along with the akonadi service, multimedia tools, etc:

pacman -R kdemultimedia kdegames kdeedu discover telepathy-kde kopete umbrello kdepim-addons kdepim-apps-libs kdepim-runtime akonadi kaddressbook kalarm kmail kontact korganizer calendarsupport knotes messagelib akonadi-calendar-tools akonadiconsole akregator eventviews grantlee-editor mailcommon pim-data-exporter  akonadi-import-wizard incidenceeditor mbox-importer

Most of these packages affect the PIM suite. Don’t run if you prefer to keep KDE PIM.

To get it going just start/enable the session manager:

systemctl enable sddm
systemctl start sddm

Additional applications

Of course you’re not limited to what Plasma/KDE offers you. Feel free to add any applications you like (e.g. Firefox).

For example:

pacman -S firefox gimp inkscape gparted chromium darktable atom qbittorrent audacity

Bottom line

Installing Arch Linux from zero might seem scary at first but it usually only comes down to a set of commands modified to your needs. You’ll learn about your system and will have a much easier time understanding problems in depth.

Don’t be discouraged if things don’t work right away. Keep at it and explore. This three part series is just one example of how to install KDE. It’s not just some example but literally my reference documentation.

I hope that by sharing this I’m able to help you through the rewarding process of getting underway with Arch Linux. Have a lot of fun :)