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Five days in a TTY

I installed KISS Linux

This new semester has been pretty easy on me, so far. I hardly every have any classes (again, so far), and I’ve a ton of free time on my hands. This calls for—yep---a distro hop!


KISS has been making rounds on the interwebz lately.1 The Hacker News post spurred quite the discussion. But then again, that is to be expected from Valleybros who use macOS all day. :^)

From the website,

An independent Linux® distribution with a focus on simplicity and the concept of “less is more”. The distribution targets only the x86-64 architecture and the English language.

Like many people did in the HN thread, “simplicity” here is not to be confused with “ease”. It is instead, simplicity in terms of lesser and cleaner code—no Poetterware.

This, I can get behind. A clean system with less code is like a clean table. It’s nice to work on. It also implies security to a certain extent since there’s a smaller attack surface.

The kiss package manager is written is pure POSIX sh, and does just enough. Packages are compiled from source and kiss automatically performs dependency resolution. Creating packages is ridiculously easy too.

Speaking of packages, all packages—both official & community repos—are run through shellcheck before getting merged. This is awesome; I don’t think this is done in any other distro.

In essence, KISS sucks less.

Installing KISS

The install guide is very easy to follow. Clear instructions that make it hard to screw up; that didn’t stop me from doing so, however.

Day 1

Although technically not in a TTY, it was still not in the KISS system—I’ll count it. I’d compiled the kernel in the chroot and decided to use efibootmgr instead of GRUB. efibootmgr is a neat tool to modify the Intel Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). Essentially, you boot the .efi directly as opposed to choosing which boot entry you want to boot, through GRUB. Useful if you have just one OS on the system. Removes one layer of abstraction.

Adding a new EFI entry is pretty easy. For me, the command was:

efibootmgr --create 
           --disk /dev/nvme0n1 \
           --part 1 \
           --label KISS Linux \
           --loader /vmlinuz
           --unicode 'root=/dev/nvme0n1p3 rw'  # kernel parameters

Mind you, this didn’t work the first time, or the second, or the third … a bunch of trial and error (and asking on #kisslinux) later, it worked.

Well, it booted, but not into KISS. Took a while to figure out that the culprit was CONFIG_BLK_DEV_NVME not having been set in the kernel config. Rebuild & reboot later, I was in.

Day 2

Networking! How fun. An ip a and I see that both USB tethering (ethernet) and wireless don’t work. Great. Dug around a bit—missing wireless drivers was the problem. Found my driver, a binary .ucode from Intel (eugh!). The whole day was spent in figuring out why the kernel would never load the firmware. I tried different variations—loading it as a module (=m), baking it in (=y) but no luck.

Day 3

I then tried Alpine’s kernel config but that was so huge and had a ton of modules and took far too long to build each time, much to my annoyance. Diffing their config and mine was about ~3000 lines! Too much to sift through. On a whim, I decided to scrap my entire KISS install and start afresh.

For some odd reason, after doing the exact same things I’d done earlier, my wireless worked this time. Ethernet didn’t, and still doesn’t, but that’s ok.

Building xorg-server was next, which took about an hour, mostly thanks to spotty internet. The build went through fine, though what wasn’t was no input after starting X. Adding my user to the input group wasn’t enough. The culprit this time was a missing xf86-xorg-input package. Installing that gave me my mouse back, but not the keyboard!

It was definitely not the kernel this time, because I had a working keyboard in the TTY.

Day 4 & Day 5

This was probably the most annoying of all, since the fix was trivial. By this point I had exhausted all ideas, so I decided to build my essential packages and setup my system. Building Firefox took nearly 9 hours, the other stuff were much faster.

I was still chatting on IRC during this, trying to zero down on what the problem could be. And then:

<dylanaraps> For starters I think st fails due to no fonts.

Holy shit! Fonts. I hadn’t installed any fonts. Which is why none of the applications I tried launching via sowm ever launched, and hence, I was lead to believe my keyboard was dead.

Worth it?

Absolutely. I cannot stress on how much of a learning experience this was. Also a test of my patience and perseverance, but yeah ok. I also think that this distro is my endgame (yeah, right), probably because other distros will be nothing short of disappointing, in one way or another.

Huge thanks to the folks at #kisslinux on Freenode for helping me throughout. And I mean, they really did. We chatted for hours on end trying to debug my issues.

I’ll now conclude with an obligatory screenshot.


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