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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