NOTE: This is an older article, so the information provided may no longer be accurate.

Is Arch Linux for you??

Until my friend Fred finally got me to try Arch Linux, I was best described as a 'Distro-Hopper', installing one Linux distro, using it for a while, but then growing dissatisfied, removing and then trying another distro.

My biggest issues with other distros were that they either were infrequently updated, used buggy packages or didn't fit in with my style of usage. The top distros that I almost didn't abandon were PCLinuxOS and Debian. If Arch were to disappear, I suppose I'd go back to one of those.


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Why Arch is for me (so far)
I like reliability, and I also like choice. Distros like Debian or Ubuntu force your hand and include a TON of other packages when you install something that otherwise should be simple or small. Also, they force you to uninstall stuff that you want to keep if you decide you don't like just one little package. For example, on Debian, if I wanted to get rid of the GNOME Bluetooth service, it forces you to uninstall pretty much all of GNOME along with it! Ridiculous! Arch is not this way at all, and as they say on their site, they make Arch Linux 'user-centric', not necessarily 'user-friendly'.

Another thing I like about Arch is that configuring system boot is way easier than other distros. Arch uses a BSD-type init config file (rc.conf) that lets you choose what user-defined modules you want to load, lets you do basic network configuration and even provides configuration of services/daemons you want to run at startup. You lose some flexibility here compared to other setups (like using rc0.d, rc1.d, etc) but for me, this is absolutely perfect.

Arch's wiki also sets Arch apart from other distros. I've found that other distros' wikis can be extremely outdated and unhelpful, but generally speaking, the Arch wiki is chock-full of most everything you need to set things up. Sometimes someone gets a little over-zealous and messes things up (the recent changes to the Xorg wiki, for example) but overall it's a whole lot better than most other distros' wikis I've suffered through.

What bothers me about Arch
The freedom and power you get with Arch can definitely be a double-edged sword, unfortunately. The Arch forums can be a great resource for someone running into problems, but depending on the day and time and how well you compose your forum post, you might get ridiculed right off the planet.

If you are really on the ball, if you've read through the wiki and used the forum's search function and haven't found the answer to your issue, then the more experienced forum members usually won't give you a hard time. If, however, you haven't looked through the wiki and you post something on the forums that has been previously discussed, you don't follow forum etiquette or you post something with a extremely unhelpful subject such as "ARCH NOOBE - NEED HELP!!! you most likely will get a virtual smack on the back of the head.

While I understand long-time forum members chanting "Read The Stinkin' Manual" and bashing people for not following etiquette, not using common sense and not doing some research ahead of time, sometimes they take it too far, sometimes to the point of just being straight mean. As of the date of this posting I personally have not been treated poorly by any of the forum folks, but the more I post, the higher my chances are at getting dinged for something. Bottom line: Only post on the Arch forums when you've exhausted all other resources (wiki, forum search, search-engine search), make sure you include all relevant logs, config files and other necessary details and use a brief but descriptive post subject. If you ignore this advice it will result in several knots at the back of your head, with your pride pulled up and over your head like a pair of high-school underwear.

Something else that bothers me about Arch is how packages sometimes break after updates. Arch is a rolling release, and if you're a frequent updater as I am, you'll be on the bleeding edge. Sometimes that edge cuts a major artery and you'll bleed to death. Arch also has user repositories which are maintained outside the 'official' Arch system. I've always been a 'vanilla' kind of guy, so I avoid using unofficial packages, but sometimes it's unavoidable. You just have to be careful that updates with the official packages don't break the user-maintained stuff. Lately there have been a LOT of partially updated systems due to this, and it ends up causing problems ranging from a log filled with warnings all the way to failure to boot.

For me it's a bit irritating at the moment because the installation .iso Arch currently has available for download (2011.08.19) is so woefully behind the times that installing, then updating, from this .iso will definitely cause you some snags. I had to do a clean install a couple of weeks ago, and so much had changed from that .iso's release date that there were a few conflicts that require manual intervention that includes forcing certain packages to install. Definitely not good, because my system has never been quite right and I have to frequently hack some config files to keep error messages from littering my screen during boot. I should have followed the advice I now give anyone who wants to try or reinstall Arch: Use the Netinstall Image available on the Arch Downloads page instead of any other files You'll have a fresh install from the start with a minimum of fuss.

So Will, is Arch a good Linux distro for me?
If you've been using Linux for a while, if you're not afraid of installing your system one piece at a time, if you don't mind researching, installing and configuring your graphical desktop environment almost from scratch, if you're willing to put extra time and extra effort into installing and maintaining your Linux installation, if you don't mind using a command-line-only package-manager, if you want to be the boss and decide what type of system you want (even a custom desktop setup) then Arch possibly could be for you.

If you're new to Linux and don't understand the basics of how a Linux system works, if you want to open the Software Center and click a package to install it, or if you like the command-line and want to type: apt-get install the-package-you-want and want every single dependency to be installed and basic configuration done automatically for you, if you want a default graphical desktop installed and configured automatically for you, if you don't want to mess with the command-line and expect your Linux system to have a graphical package-manager/updater...Arch is probably NOT for you.

Arch is not impossibly difficult to install, configure and use, but it does require intermediate or better knowledge of Linux, and requires you to pretty much configure everything manually. But the rewards are great if you are looking for a distro that doesn't force you to install everything as a package deal. With Arch, you can install Fluxbox with LXPanel and use Thunar as your file manager and don't have to install everything else that comes with LXDE or Xfce. With 'user-friendly' distros that is a bit harder to do.

In my experience, once I had my Arch system installed, configured and everything was settled in, it takes very little effort or attention to keep it maintained. It has been almost care-free on my desktop, while my laptop is a different matter. Some of the drivers included with the Arch kernel were recently hobbled by an update to udev. My laptop's Broadcom wireless worked fine without issues until this udev update. Now when I boot Arch, my laptop waits 30 seconds before the udev timeout generates an error and the boot process continues. My wireless still works, but I MUST wait 30 seconds each time I boot. Kinda stinks. I filed a bug report, and hopefully the developers who write the Broadcom driver for the kernel fix how it loads.

If you're a Linux hobbiest or enthusiast and don't mind rolling up your sleeves and putting some time and energy into building your Linux installation, then Arch Linux is for you. Arch really does give you freedom, but you also have to learn a bit more than the average distro and take responsibility for your system's health (instead of relying on some automated graphical process to do it for you).
(Remember: Use the Netinstall image if you want to live!!)


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