ArchLinux, not just for the elite

… and I’m the living proof of it!

I had several colleagues, friends and people asking me whether they should run Arch Linux on their desktops or laptops. I even read someone’s blog today on his impression on Arch Linux and Ubuntu. It’s time for me to jump in and clarify what you should expect with Arch Linux as a desktop on a daily basis.

Arch Linux is a rolling release system. What this means is that you do not get releases at specific intervals in time, like you do with Ubuntu, OpenSuse or Fedora. Instead there is a constant stream of updates that are uploaded on the distribution servers and that you can pull almost everyday. These updates are uploaded after a testing period by the Arch Linux  testing community (you can switch to the testing mirrors if you wish) and it is up to you to choose if you want to install them or not.

Such a rolling release process eliminates the need to accomplish major upgrade and makes you gain time, as you typically end up installing your Arch Linux system once, or twice if you really screwed up something. Also, Arch Linux does not come with very specific tools (aside the pacman package manager) and therefore you do not end up with Unity vs. Gnome Shell or YAST and PUP, or whatever control center. You get the latest KDE version, the latest Gnome 3 version, the latest Unity and the latest Xfce (these are examples). Pretty much everything is configurable as the distribution gets to make choices on core components versions (glibc, python, etc.) and exercises its value and role on testing and QA (what happens after each kernel upgrade, etc.)

Yet all this does not mean the distribution is hard to use. Not at all. The installation process may take a while (several hours.. or less) and I would be tempted to claim that what takes time is to transfer your own content and granular application settings to the new system, such as themes, pictures, etc.

But let’s focus a bit on the installation process: that’s where things tend to get rougher. Arch Linux uses a command line installer. It does not make things very difficult to understand – besides, you can always refer to some very good documentation – but it definitely makes the process more intimidating and any issue or inconvenience tends to be perceived as a bigger annoyance than what it really is. Of course, such a comment has to be put in context of other Linux flavors where you insert a DVD and don’t do much aside choosing your keyboard and entering your name. Not so long away you still had to be careful when partitioning your hard disk even with an user-friendly interface. In any case, the installation process is what will make you reach a working, fully graphical and modern system or a glowing command-line mess. There’s nothing specific to avoid here, only know that your patience and work will be rewarded and that in a sense, such an installation is not that hard to perform.

Once your system is up and running, everything tends to run smoothly and you end up with a nice, fully customizable desktop. You can use  “community contributed packages” from the Arch Linux User Repository to complement your software tools, themes, fonts, games and utilities.

As a conclusion, I would say that while Arch is not as easy to install as, say, Ubuntu, once you’ve gone past it, you will be surprized how easy it is to use it, almost as easy than Ubuntu or any other distribution. Arch Linux is a very fun and stable distribution that successfully blends the bleeding edge, stability and hackability of Linux. Don’t be fooled by the rumours saying it’s for the elite. It is made for you, if you can give it 3 hours maximum of your time to install it, and it is likely you will never switch back.

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  1. Pingback: ArchLinux, not just for the elite | Moved by Freedom – Powered by … | Pici's Ubuntu Blog

  2. You are pretty convincing but I guess that what really matters in the end is the size of the repository. Is application XXX available in the repository? (I mean, without having to add one extra repository from one unknown developer from Kazahkstan?).

    It is even more critical when dealing with closed-source softwares: Skype, Google hangout, Flash and all that kind of crap.

    Last but not least: how is the support for hardware? Ubuntu nails it really nicely: if it work under Linux, in 95% of the case, you just have to plug it in and it works. (they manage to break the remaining 5% in an usually glorious way).

    I admit that rolling-release sounds great. OpenSuse has that “Tumbleweed” stuffs but I’m not sure it could be compared ArchLinux.

  3. I should give Arch a try. Actually, I did a few weeks back. But the install couldn’t handle installing onto LVM on raid. I didn’t bother working around that, because of the rolling release philosophy, which I have found in the past to be prone to breakage, despite people’s often impassioned claims of stability. It could well be that a certain synergy between software methods has been reached that makes rolling releases smoother. I’ll trust you, Charles. I’ll believe you. I’ll make the time and do the effort to get Arch working. I honestly do like the idea of rolling releases.

  4. I use Arch & Mint.
    But let me tell you that security on Arch is non existent… packages and updates are not signed, so using Arch on a production machine seems to be opening the gate to problems…

  5. Arch Linux is my main desktop distro for past one year and I have no hesitation in commenting that I have never found any distro so easy to install and maintain as Arch Linux . It is very to install for anyone , even for a non expert if Arch wiki and installation guides are properly followed as Arch installation guide and wiki is one of the best written and easy to follow documentation.
    Pacman is one of the best and highly flexible package manager with packer being my favourite.

    In short imho there is no match and alternate to Arch Linux as desktop operating system.

    regards,

  6. You have about four official repos (core, extras, community, multilib) and then you have AUR. In AUR you find almost everything, from Acrobat to flash to Second Life, Skype, games, Wine, and I must say I’m surprized by the choice there is there. As for the hardware it’s a good question. With a “wet finger”, it’s not as good as Ubuntu or a Suse, but actually not that bad, in the sense that you have to compile drivers, etc. sometimes. So it’s not automated and that’s one of the main hurdle at installation time. But the hardware support itself is quite good, I wonder if they took it from LFS or Slackware, or a mix of the two.

  7. Initially, Arch Linux impressed me a lot too. The documentation is generally outstanding, and especially if you are not afraid of the command line, it is a good distro. It was reasonably easy to install if you are willing to prepare yourself a bit (but which Linux user is not willing to do that, that is the fun of Linux, understanding the system).

    I am also a big fan of the Arch packaging system, it is so much easier than the debian and RPM systems, and yes, you can find almost any package needed. And the idea that your system only runs the daemons you like it good too. I now run Arch on two of my computers.

    But I recently changed my opinion somewhat! My recent update to udev-174 lead to a completely useless system on both my computers after a “pacman -Syu”, that is just: upgrade all packages. Yes, I could fix it, but it took me hours, in part because there was no documentation on this topic (and the forum comments on it were not much of a help either, and then, udev is a complex issue, even for veterans). This really changed my feeling about Arch, this should not have happened, and apparently many people suffer from the same problem.

    My experience with both Arch and Gentoo is that in the first months, everything goes smoothly, but at some point, the system just shows difficult to solve problems (like the udev issue). Also, I never got Gnome 3 to run on it (it just hangs, despite having a good nvidia graphics card), again, maybe I can figure it out spending hours, but if there are distros that “just work”, it is hard to convince people. I will stay with Arch, but if this sort of thing happens again, I am back to good old Ubuntu.

    So I ‘d say, wait and see.

  8. do i get signed packages if i run arch, or would the security of my computer/my data/my work be more compromised than if i ran windows?
    i ask this because one of the reasons i switched to linux was better security.
    if the answer is “no, you don’t get signed packages on this linux distro”, then i applaud the courage of anyone recommending it to others.

  9. Installing and running Arch Linux is a powerful way of learning Linux. That does not mean Ubuntu is in anyway inferior to Arch.Distributions like Ubuntu are doing wonderful things in bringing more people into Linux fold.

  10. John, it’s interesting you mention this aspect. I run on Arch on two systems (one workstation and one laptop). I had almost no issue whatsoever on my Arch Linux when upgrading to Gnome 3, but my laptop required much more care (it was okay, I had KDE aside). I never had that big of a problem, but, in the case of Ubuntu and OpenSuse (to be exhaustive and not to point fingers) I also had issues with upgrades that were not working very well and rendered the system bloated. I guess no Linux distribution is right in this case…

  11. No problem. Great article, by the way :D It’s a very nice explanation and description of Arch Linux!

  12. I am using Arch Linux in all my machines (Laptop,netbook and desktop) for the last 3 years without any major issues. Most of the problems will be avoided If you watch the announcements and forum discussion. The advantage is you have a system of your choice. Using AUR is at your own risk and mentioned clearly.

  13. Reading about Arch Linux has become depressing… I always use Arch + Openbox on my laptop with Mint on my desktop… My laptop died recently and I probably won’t be able to get another until after the holidays… I miss my ArchBox :(

  14. I think the key requirements to run Arch are that you have to read the manuals and be willing to use the command line. As to rolling release not being stable, my own experience has been a very stable Arch Linux across a laptop two desktop machines and a remote virtual server over a period longer than one year. I did have to downgrade a package (I forget which now) a couple months ago after a system upgrade (pacman -Syu).

    There are problems on Arch, but I also had problems on Ubuntu, Debian, Redhat and Windows as well. I would not say Arch stands out from any of those in terms of problems. But then again, I run XFCE not Gnome or KDE.

    emk

  15. I have been using Arch linux in XFCE flavor in my home desktop for more than two years, I update it almost daily, but never have major issue , the forum and wiki is great! the AUR is great, I can not ask for more! I also installed Arch linux Xfce into my laptop a month ago , it works very well so far. the foremost impression is : fast , light , elegant user interface and wonderful documentation.

  16. Hi,
    to my mind it is a disservice to users to make ArchLinux looks like Ubuntu, only geeker. Arch requires constant attention from its user, as it is very easy to blow everything up, and each update require a watchout. Yes it is not that hard, but you must be prepared to do it everyday, otherwise your system will probably crash. I don’t call that “easy”.

  17. Been running ArchLinux for a year now, I’m no Linux guru, but I do enjoy it. It’s been the best learning experience compared to other distro’s I’ve tried.

    @Ploum
    Archlinux provides so many apps in their repo and also have a community one put together as well, which is “community certified” rather than official ArchLinux certified, this brings in a lot more confidence to the users. On top of that, you as the Linux user have the ability to install or create your own binaries for ANY distro that you use. Why use Linux at all if you only rely on others to do the work for you. Might as well just stick to windows.

    @Mark Rushing
    Having used Rolling release on ArchLinux, Debian which is considered the most stable(boring) flavour out there, I’ve NEVER experienced brokeness as a result of rolling release. I can only assume its you not maintaining your system correctly.

    @jediafr
    Security exists just fine, Explain to me what you think “package signing” achieves exactly and how that’s a big benefit on security which is uncompromisable.
    Anyhow, this is a dead argument because ArchLinux is looking to introduce signage on packages to satisfy those who feel its needed.

  18. It’s a terrible post and the same goes for the comment above. Explanation? Where? Of what? All I got from the post is that it took the author 3 hours to do the install. I’m sorry you wasted 3 hours hitting Enter a few times, it took me half an hour the first time I installed Arch and I never had to do it since – I’ve been using the distro for over 3 years.

    I can top this post with two links:

    1. https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/FAQ#Q.29_When_will_the_new_release_be_made.3F
    2. https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Beginners'_Guide

    Go out there, read documentation, install distribution you like. If you don’t like it, move on.

  19. [Off Topic]
    I’ve installed Arch 2 1/2 times, but there’s still one problem for me- installing the bootloader correctly [using grub to dual-boot into arch or win 7]. The arch wiki documents the process, but I didn’t follow/understand the directions well enough to prevent me from getting my computer stuck in a loop where it can’t boot either system. Any suggestions?

  20. Interesting writing.

    >Arch Linux is a very fun and stable distribution
    >that successfully blends the bleeding edge,
    >stability and hackability of Linux.
    True but arch does things different to all other distributions (e.g. using a BSD-style single init script, own package format and so on).
    This translates to a pretty limited knowledge base. If you know how to do things on Arch it is not always easy to apply this knowledge to other more mainstream distributions.

    >Don’t be fooled by the rumours saying it’s for the elite.
    No, but Arch requires a hands-on mentatlity as often referenced in their documentation and this is completely true. When using Arch you should be willing to fix things in the first place yourself and only rely on others if you have tried all sources of informations. This clearly shows when you ask questions which obviously show you have not done your homework. This has of course nothing to do with elistism.

    >It is made for you, if you can give it 3 hours maximum
    >of your time to install it, and it is likely you will
    >never switch back.
    Wow, now you are exaggerating way too much. Even when using the Arch installation guide (https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Official_Installation_Guide) it is more likely that it takes 2-3 hours to have a basic system setup (similar to what you get after doing an initial Ubuntu installation after 45 Minutes) plus n hours to set up the rest of the system (install required tools, install Yaourt, learn more about the system).

    For those who have a running Linux system plus the knowledge how to set up a KVM virtual machine:
    Give Arch a try. Set up a VM with Arch, configure a system similar to the one you want to use and play around with it. If you feel comfortable with it then decide wether to migrate your workstation to Arch. KVM allows you to simulate even more complex systems (e.g. multiple HDDs in RAID with LVM on them).

    Arch is bleeding edge and mostly stable but also has its edges and scratches.

    Will one never switch back ? It depends on. I have used Arch x64 over 2 years on an AMD dual core host but switched back again to Debian-based distributions (Aptosid, Xubuntu, Mint).

    I find pre-built distributions based on rolling release structures the best of two worlds.
    Be it Sabayon (Gentoo-based) or Aptosid (Debian-based).

    In regard to security / signed packages I do not know what is worse:
    – The fact that the Arch staff never considered doing so ?
    or
    – The fact they make dumb excuses and tried to block any try to implement at least hashed packages in the first place.

    I feel that for Arch “hands-on mentality” sometimes too easily means “it is your problem !”

  21. A small “official” answer on the question of signed packages.

    1) The lastest version of pacman in [testing] (4.0) has support for signed packages and signed package databases.

    2) About half of the repository packages have been signed. That is, almost the whole [core] repository and large parts of the others. As of now, every new or updated package that is added to any official repository is signed. However, it will take a while until everything is signed. (If you have an Arch system and update it, you should only get signed packages – if you install something new, you might end up with something unsigned)

    3) There is no official setup for obtaining Arch developer and Trusted User public keys, and for verifying their trust. This is being discussed and finalized right now, should be available soon(tm) (actually, discussion is over and we should be able to impement the scheme now).

    4) There is no implementation of handling signed database files yet. This means that only the packages are signed – an attacker could access a mirror, replace a package in the database with an older version and thus hold back a security fix. Signed package databases will be implemented, but I think it might be the last thing on the list.

    5) There is no version of the installer that supports signed packages.

    All of these issues are being worked on and should be solved within the next few weeks and months. As for an ETA, “it’s done when it’s done”.

  22. I really do like the bleeding edge and rolling release model of Arch Linux. I’ve been using it on my laptop for a while now. It took me several hours to install it, figure out exactly what I needed to get it up to par to a standard Ubuntu installation. Arch Linux is well documented, but I do think it lacks recipes to fully use it’s bleeding edge, unlike Gentoo. By exemple, it took me several days to find out how I could use SystemD and Plymouth while using the Nvidia binary blob. Arch needs more “meta-package/distribution” packaged with an installer, like Chakra. To me an hybrid between Debian and Arch would be the perfect distro, keeping the meta package/installer of Debian, and the rolling release of Arch. And let’s not forget the AUR. I really do love them. It’s so much simpler than packaging Debian package.

  23. As a newbie Ubuntu user, here’ why I didn’t choose Arch,
    It’s hard to handle all stuffs in lack of GUI, which just clicking “Forword” will be right,
    I think a GUI guide if installation is reliable than just commands for us,
    Ubuntu is such a distro one can use before he knows enough about Linux.
    I want to use Arch when I’m more skilled.

  24. Packages are not currently signed, though it is in the works. By this I mean that currently if someone malicious were to control one of the mirrors, then they could insert any software into any package and pacman would happily download and install it for you.

    As Xiao-Long states, package signing is coming, but I wouldn’t expect that only secure packages are allowed by default for at least another year.

  25. Good article!

    I would add that the Arch community is very knowledgable and helpful.

    Stop by the official irc on Freenode, #archlinux … folks here will try and answer questions.

  26. I have Arch on one laptop and Gentoo on the other; my desktop runs Fedora. The installation for both Arch and Gentoo are extremely well documented, and Arch really didn’t take long at all to get installed and up and running. The only difficulty in Arch was with the Broadcom wireless driver, but I managed to get it up and running. Otherwise, haven’t had any problems.

    The installation of Gentoo was much more involved, but, again, following the handbook will get you through the minimum installation with the greatest of ease. Gentoo quite obviously ain’t too keen on oversized laptop displays, but other than that it works fine. Bottom line: if you want an “uncomplicated” Linux installation that pretty much runs out of the box and requires an absolute minimum on tweaks, then go with Fedora, Suse, or Ubuntu. I would put Arch in this category as well, even though it is a bit more hands-on. But if you like getting under the hood, tinkering around a bit and fixing things, Gentoo is you distribution!

  27. Hi there,
    I think your article is spot on.
    At first I didn’t want to try Arch because its fanboys on reddit were annoying, but as I really wanted to try out GNOME 3.2, I made the jump and installed it.
    And boy it is not that hard. I just followed the wiki, installed the base system then xorg, dbus and gnome. Add a user, edit the rc.conf file to launch dbus and gdm, reboot, and voilà, latest GNOME ready to go in about 60 minutes.

  28. I tried to install Archlinux in my laptop with no luck last Sunday. It seems the ipv6 support of Archlinux is buggy and I cannot get pacman and wget to function properly. wget -4 gives expected result but not wget. I am quite disappointed and after a few hours wrestling with that I gave up and install mint instead. Work like a charm and I enjoy it very much. If I am not stuck in the installation phrase I properly goes into Archlinux instead =P.

  29. @题叶 If you have spare processing power, I would recommend running Arch as a VM in VirtualBox or something similar, rather than waiting until you feel skilled enough to use it. The fact that Ubuntu is very Windows-like, in terms of providing a packaged OS with graphical configuration interfaces, will mean you’re just not going to pick up the skills to understand Linux… as best you will understand Ubuntu. The information and processes you would learn while using an Arch install in a VM would be applicable to both your Arch machine and to helping to understand what makes up your Ubuntu install.

  30. I start off with ArchBang. The installer is just a bit simpler and it gets me a working Arch system with xorg, openbox, alsa audio and nice fonts in about 20 minutes. Plus the include the tool “packer” so I am able to pull from both their repos and AUR with one tool.

  31. I would love to use Arch Linux, but no matter how hard I tried, I could never figure out wireless networking. I have been through tutorials and documentation and spend hours trying to make it work. Alas I could not. If networking (and wireless specifically) was easier to configure, I would blissfully run Arch Linux on all computer. Until then I can only conclude that I am not smart enough. I wish this was not the case, as Ubuntu is getting worse and less stable with each release.

  32. I run DWM + Ubuntu server, no gnome etc. It’s quite stable and very fast. Also easy to add software by apt-get. For daily using and dev job, Debian and Ubuntu are good for it.
    I think ArchLinux for enjoying customize own machine,like a for garage builder.
    Trucker, Taxi driver and etc. can not customize their machine much, need to be stable for job, also a dad must fix family car until next Saturday.
    It is same as PC. If you have extra, you can customize as you like.
    It is sure I want to try ArchLinux too when I have extra !

  33. The install process is not very difficult if you now how to read, ok. But I think Arch is though a distribution for advanced users: maintaining a system is harder than installing a system.
    I agree, Arch is not just for the elite, but is not though for everybody.

    (Arch Linux is a very lovely distribution)

  34. Pingback: In The Shop Today: Arch Linux | LearnByDoingIT

  35. Arch does not have good hardware support, is a pain to configure and sooner or later it pulls in a package that sends it tumbling. BAD.

  36. I’ve yet to try Arch Linux, but having installed Slackware, Debian and Gentoo in the linux ‘stone age’ I’m not worried about being able to figure it out.
    Arch Linux reminds me of how Debian used to be in the days before they had a ‘real’ installer. Back then you had to configure your network, X11, and quite a few other things by editing files. You also had to install packages using the “caveman” tool that is Deselect. Today, Debian almost installs itself.
    Another distro that requires the user to get his hands dirty is Gentoo. In some ways Arch sounds similar to Gentoo in that both give the user wide latitude in how to configure things, but Gentoo adds the complexity of additional options in how to compile packages from source.

  37. Unfortunately, I can’t get across the installing difficulties at present.

    I can’t get access to the my wireless network without the graphic interface. It need the browser to input the Username and Password~~~

  38. “Arch Linux is a very fun and stable distribution that successfully blends the bleeding edge, stability and hackability of Linux.”
    Beautiful phrase, indeed!

    Compiling latest Liquorix kernel 3.3.1-1 from the AUR right now… :D