Arch Linux: the better hobbyist’s distro

I made the switch from Debian Unstable to Arch Linux for my home desktop a few weeks back. I’m both impressed and pleased.

What i like better in Arch

  • The rc.conf file is very much like FreeBSD’s. It contains your system configuration for the daemons you want to start, how and in what order, with any configuration you want to pass on to the startup scripts. This is way better controllable than e.g. Debian’s update-rc.d scripts, without having to dive into the more complex and error prone inittab.
  • The default package repositories have a true rolling release system. This means that virtually directly after a new release is available for software, it is pushed to the repositories, leaving you (the user) to decide whether or not you want to upgrade, in stead of Debian’s system where the package maintainers and the community decide when a version upgrade is stable enough for the repositories you’re using. Don’t get me wrong, Debian’s system is fine -even better- for servers et al, but for your own, especially home, desktop system, getting the latest stuff is just more fun.
  • AUR and ABS are two acronyms you’ll see a lot when getting into the Arch community. AUR are the Arch User Repositories, which contain a lot of useful packages maintained by the community. ABS is similar to FreeBSD’s ports system, where you can download and configure source code, compile it locally and have it installed by the package manager. Both provide you with a huge amount of ready-to-install software that is not considered stable or safe by definition, but is a lot of fun to try out.

Why Arch isn’t a starter’s distro

  • You set up your system from a somewhat clunky text interface that feels a bit buggy on some spots. You actually need to know what you’re doing when installing, or you might fail miserably. Debian’s installer is unsurpassed.
  • Some packages might be unstable when you install them. In my case, I installed MySQL, but the package did not create /var/lib/mysql with the correct permissions, which had me searching for half an hour why the daemon didn’t want to start. No problem for me, but not knowing where to find the problem can get you frustrated to the point of returning back to your commercial OS 😉
  • You would have to want to install all the stuff you want (or even need) yourself. That means a bit of research trying to find the right sound configuration, knowing to install 32bits libraries for Adobe Flash support, getting your desktop up and running through installation of packages, configuring a display manager or your own .xinitrc, etc, etc.
  • If you’re afraid of command line work or even detest it, you might be better off clicking your way around. Try a more graphically oriented distro, like Ubuntu, Linux Mint or Sabayon Linux.

Summing up: Debian is solid. Arch is flexible. They’re both great and have their own strengths. For me, Arch is the better choice, because one of the reasons I went with an open source operating system in the first place is flexibility. Arch gives me that, more than Debian.

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2 Comments

  1. LinuX-TUX (GoT)
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 23:30 | Permalink

    Weird step, if you want flexibility, what keeps you from switching to Gentoo? Then you can fiddle all the way to the core if you’d like.

    First thing you sum up are configuration arguments, which are implemented different, more BSD style. Can see benefits in it, or just digg a bit more for the debian way.

    With the second argument, I’m like, so? I mean, as if there is no delivery done first to the arch repository too. And who controls that step? But again can see a benefit in it.

    The third argument I’m again like … so? Debian has it’s own ppa alternative, also homebrew repo’s for your satisfaction 🙂

    Al met al, I’m not convinced yet, sorry. For flexible fully controlled system I’m more eager to take a netinstall debian machine with apt-build for it’s versatility, then Gentoo or Archlinux in this moment. Sometimes you have to consider an OS as a tool, where you make easy use out of the OS to do your thing you’d like to do. I can image that some people OS to OS. Others use the OS to browse / program / watch movies / work.

    PS: The folder permission issue with MySQL is just a big fail, however, debian had it also in the past, just like redhat. Shit happens from time to time, but I didn’t expect it to happen even now. I mean, Archlinux isn’t THAT young anymore.

    • drm
      Posted December 25, 2010 at 15:58 | Permalink

      I see what you mean, but Arch just offers easier access to all the fun stuff, imho. That makes it less of a search for the right tool for the right job (in any scenario), because the search is that much shorter.

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