Saturday, September 19, 2009

Arch Linux

I admit that, I'm a distro junkie and Linux addict and just can't resist trying different distros... I've been using Linux on regular basis for over 12 years and tried several distros, but haven't found the perfect one so far. This time I was tempted to try out Arch Linux - a versatile distro designed with accordance to KISS principle and targeted at advanced users. After around one week of playing with it I can say it's close to meet all my requirements for a perfect distro. Ok, it's not 100% perfect, but really close. Main advantages of Arch Linux in my humble opinion are:
  • It's blazing fast. I mean it. It boots really quickly and GNOME + Firefox feels much snappier then in other distros.
  • It's customizable. Ok, you can say it about most distros, but with Arch you're not forced to choose any path. You start with a bare minimum (just core system packages) and install whatever you want on top of it. Do you want pulseaudio? Here you are. Do you hate pulseaudio? That's fine too.
  • It's brain dead simple to customize & recompile packages with custom options and features, thanks to tools such as pbget, customizepkg and makepkg. It's equally easy to create your own packages from scratch, as all you need is a simple PKGBUILD file.
  • It's a rolling-release system, meaning most packages are up-to-date all the time and you may be on the bleeding edge to your liking.
  • It'sa binary distro after all, optimized for i686 (x86_64 is also available). No need to waste time & CPU time to compile all the stuff.
  • Basic aspects of system configuration (deamons, modules, network etc.) are easily configurable via a single /etc/rc.conf file. Daemons may be started in background (i.e. in parallel) making the system boot faster.
  • Pacman (Arch Linux package manager) is damn fast.
  • It has a good and helpful Wiki pages as well as supportive community.
Ok, I mentioned Arch was not perfect, so now onto downsides:
  • Setting it up takes time. It took me around 5 hours to install and tune the system to my needs. This included installation of Xorg, GNOME, multimedia stuff as well as some tools and libraries I use for developing my projects (Qt Designer, boost, cmake, git, emacs etc.). The main issue I had was with GDM - it turned out I had to use a specific GDM option (GdmXserverTimeout=60) to get it working correctly. On the orher hand, you do it once and forget about it.
  • Things may occasionally break if you upgrade your system blindly without paying attention to what's going to be updated.
  • The official repositiories lack some less known or less popular packages.
  • AUR repository (the repository of user-provided PKGBUILD scripts for additional packages that are not included in offical repos) is not something you can count on. It contains user content of varying quality. Some PKGBUILDs may be outdated or broken. On the other hand however I had to use AUR for 5 packages only: Opera web browser, grandr-applet, pbget, ttf-droid fonts and xephem.
  • There is no official support for security enhancements like AppArmor or SELinux. SELinux is available in the community repository only. I consider a MAC enhancements a must in today's systems; at least selected applications should be executed in confined environments.
I'd definately recommended Arch to everyone with some prior Linux experience. It should be particularly valued by advanced users, developers and open-source enthusiasts who like to use the newest and hottest software.


Faemir said...

Nice review, you pretty much said all the reasons why I use Arch.

One problem - you used the ancient arch logo!

Pawel Stolowski said...

Ups... I missed the 'Former logos' notice on Arch Linux web page... Thanks for pointing this out. Fixed.