June 30, 2007

Archlinux - First Impressions

After having been faithful to Ubuntu for about 3 years, I decided a month back to try another distro on my Thinkpad X 40. Debian or Suse did not seem to be different enough to be of interest. So I decided to try out something that is more 'hands on' than Ubuntu. After trying out a couple of distros on Virtualbox (by the way - another use for virtual machines), I decided to give Archlinux a try.
Now I have Arch running for a week and am actually typing this from Arch - so it is time to give my first impressions. The main things that stand out in comparison to Ubuntu are -

System configuration

The Arch philosophy is to avoid using GUIs for configuration. Most of the configuration is done in /etc/rc.conf. The configuration files are well organized and nicely commented so that just a few days of using them and you begin to wonder why on earth you need a GUI for this.

Lean System

The recommended way to install Arch is to install the base only first and then add the packages you want. It is amazing how lean and fast the system feels when you do this. Ubuntu is very scaleable so that you can again do a server only install and then install the required packages, but I have never installed it that way and dont know if that would give a system as lean and fast as this.
I have installed the packages I want and overall the system is significantly faster than when I use Ubuntu - I think it is the combination of having only required packages and these being i686 optimized. Suspend works beautifully and suspend and resume are much faster too.

Rolling updates

Arch has a system of rolling updates so that the different 'releases' are little more than arbitrary snapshots. Each day is a new release! I did the base install from an older release, but it is a breeze from there to update the base packages and then proceed. The rolling release means that the packages are often newer than those in Ubuntu (where I have had problems with older versions for quite a few apps).

Package Manager

Pacman is an awesome package manager. While aptitude (or apt-get) has been good in Ubuntu, I think pacman is faster and more advanced. In Ubuntu, there is also some confusion with many ways of installing packages (Synaptic, Add/Remove, apt-get, aptitude, etc). Having one way to do it is simpler.


Archlinux is a splendid choice for an intermediate to advanced linux user who wants to try a leaner, faster and more flexible system. It is more demanding and takes more time to install than Ubuntu, but it is not as bad as Gentoo while still resulting in a very fast system and I think the extra time and effort is well spent.
Looking at Ubuntu a little critically, I think it has become a gateway for newcomers emigrating from Windows. So most of the development seems to be going into easier installs, newbie-friendly single click configuration, GUIs for everything, etc. Arch, with almost opposite philosophy has been a refreshing change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice review. In the past I had used slackware and gentoo and also tried knoppix and ubuntu but later on I discovered arch and it has been my favourite linux distribution since.