Installing Arch Linux is a bit like building your own house. You have to dig the foundation, erect the walls, build the roofs, run the plumbing and electrical wiring around it … and all the rest of it. In other words, installing Arch Linux is not at all like renting an apartment, just moving in, and letting the landlord take care of everything else.
While I mostly use my MacBook these days that runs macOS, Arch is the primary distro that runs on my desktop system. But then I also run Windows 10 on a virtual machine as my journalistic work requires me to be updated with all major platforms. Using different platforms also ensures I am neutral and not biased.
The bigger question is, why did I choose Arch Linux over others and what does it have to offer that others don’t.
# By the community, for the community
One of the strengths of Arch Linux is that it’s a pure community driven project. It doesn’t have to worry about the market, customers and ROI, which can affect its development — and could, in fact, derail it.
I am not even aware of any organizational structure of Arch. The Arch page clearly says “Arch Linux survives because of the tireless efforts of many people in the community and the core development circle. None of us are paid for our work, and we don’t have the personal funds to sustain server costs ourselves.”
What they do have are release managers and maintainers of core components such as pacman and main repositories, but beyond that it’s all for the people, by the people. And this has been working quite well, as it turns out.
Arch Linux doesn’t patch anything. It’s more or less like a ‘stock’ Android experience where you use what the upstream developed. When you use a package there is no tweaking – it flows down right from the glacier.
# The ‘biggest’ software repository
I have yet to find a package that is available for other Linux distribution but not for Arch (minus some distro specific packages). Credit goes to the mega-bank of software packages called AUR – Arch User Repository.
It’s a user-maintained repository that enables users to ‘compile’ and install packages from source. Compiling packages doesn’t require a computer science degree, it’s fairly easy. Just two commands and the package is installed. To make the process even simpler there are tools like Yaourt that not only compile and install packages for you, but search desired packages in AUR. At the same time it’s also fairly easy to create packages (using PKGBUILD) for other users so anyone can create them, and once again it’s not rocket science.
Users can vote on AUR packages, which helps users in installing the ones which are more popular. It also helps developers because popular packages hold the potential to enter the official repositories.
I have found AUR to be much better than Ubuntu’s PPA, which lacks any centralized search feature, requiring you to search for packages on Google (just the way we used to do for Windows) and then manually add the PPA to system. openSUSE’s software.opensuse.org is better than Ubuntu’s PPA in that regard but there is no way to search and install packages from the terminal or any system tools. AUR beats them both as you can run the yaourt command with packages name from the terminal and install the packages. Yaourt can install packages from both AUR and enabled repositories.
If there are any bugs or problems with AUR packages, you will also see other user’s comments in the terminal. You can fix the problem then and there just by editing the pkgbuild file.
In my experience, Arch is the first distribution where the latest packages land first. If you are like me and want to test out the latest version of any given software, then Arch is for you.
# The most comprehensive wiki
One of greatest strengths of being a purely community driven project is documentation. There was a time when Ubuntu documentation used to be top-notch, now it’s Arch Linux. Arch Linux has the richest wiki when it comes to Linux distributions, which is always updated. What makes Arch wiki stand out of the competition, if any, is that it’s not Arch specific. It talks about technologies in general, so users from different distributions can also benefit from the wiki.
# Almost all major desktop environments at your disposal
Many GNU/Linux distributions are desktop environment (DE) specific. Ubuntu, for example, uses Unity shell. And while it is possible to install other DEs on Ubuntu they tend to break things due to package conflict. I always ended up with a broken system when I tried to install Kubuntu and Gnome alongside Unity on Ubuntu. The same is true with Linux Mint.
I have Gnome, KDE, Cinnamon, Mate, Deepin, and LXDE installed on my Arch system and there is nothing broken. I must admit that the issue of multiple DEs is more visible on Ubuntu-based systems that have forked components of Gnome, which creates some conflicts. Other distributions are quite tolerant of multiple DEs sharing the same space on the hard drive – no hard feelings.
# Total user control
In Arch, the user is in control. There is no middleman collecting taxes and tolls. There is no business agenda or goals behind the project. Since you build everything from scratch you can choose the components you want for your desktop to get the best PC experience. And since nothing is patched by Arch developers, you get the pure experience of that software, whether it be Plasma or Gnome.
# Once it starts rolling, it never stops
As I wrote in a previous post about openSUSE, I really don’t see any need for non-rolling releases for desktop users. Arch Linux is one of the champions of rolling releases. Once you install Arch you don’t have to worry about upgrading it every six months.
With Arch, you are always running the latest package – whether it be the kernel itself or desktop environments like Plasma or Gnome. You don’t have to wait for the distro to make those packages available for you; Arch Linux users will get them as soon as they’re out.
There are unstable and testing repos that allow users to test and try packages before they are released. I have been using Gnome 3.16 (which is v3.15.91 in Arch unstable repos) on Arch and am pretty impressed.
However, there is only one caveat of this rolling release model: Things ‘might’ break if you are playing with way too many new packages. For example, if you have enabled testing and unstable repos.
I have been using Arch since 2011 and have never ended up with an unusable system (well, except when I added testing repo to try out the new Plasma desktop. And I learned my lesson).
But you don’t have to worry about broken systems, as there are tools like Clonezilla that allow a user to clone their current systems and restore everything if something breaks.
Once you go Arch, you never go back. That has been my experience so far and I am a loyal openSUSE/Kubuntu user. Once in a while I will try Linux Mint, Ubuntu and other distros but I always come back to Arch within a week or so.
It will hook you because it gives you an unbloated, fully customized system. You’ll love how easy it is to install apps. (How hard is it to ‘yaourt amarok’ and then type ‘y’ for yes?) And availability of the latest packages immediately is the killer feature – no competition there. And the icing on the cake is the rolling release.
This is exactly what a Linux user wants.
All that said, Arch Linux is not for everyone. It does take effort and a user’s desire to learn and try things out to make it work. You need to know stuff, or know friends who know stuff. If you are not willing to learn and try you will end up with leaky pipes, exposed live wires and, at worst, a house on fire.
Arch is for those who are willing to invest time in Linux. Because everything has to be configured manually, there is no spoon feeding. You will learn, in the process of using Arch, how the basics of a Linux system work. And once you learn that, everything else becomes easier.
Are you willing to learn? Are you willing to take control of your computer? If so, Arch is the Linux for you.
Note: This is a modified version of an article that was originally published on CIO.com