back to article Arch Linux: In a world of polish, DIY never felt so good

Dig through the annals of Linux journalism and you'll find a surprising amount of coverage of some pretty obscure distros. Flashy new distros like Elementary OS and Solus garner attention for their slick interfaces, and anything shipping with a MATE desktop gets coverage by simple virtue of using MATE. Thanks to television …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The real purists compile from source with no binary blobs allowed.

    Me ?

    I can't be arsed.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    How odd

    I really see no reason for this article other than to unveil Yet Another Linux Distro.

    Touting the expertise needed as a bonus for a Linux distro ? Since when was that necessary, or even useful ?

    I like Linux, always have. I like the independence, the stability, the solid architecture. But if Linux is only a few percentage points in the desktop market it is because of how hard it is to grasp to the basic Windows user. Some distros are attempting to bridge that difficulty and bring Linux to the forefront of market share, and they are doing a good job of it.

    But please, let's not start panicking. Linux will always have distros that true experts will be the only ones to use, while basic users will have other distros to use. That is the beauty of this OS - there is a version for everyone.

    1. Fihart

      Re: How odd

      Absolutely. To popularise Linux what we don't need is elitist nonsense putting barriers in the way of those trying to flee Windows.

      After several bad experiences (sound not working, video not working etc ) I refused to look at Linux until a friend bullied me into trying Peppermint Linux. It's not perfect but is simple to install and usually stuff, including WiFi, works without having to hunt for drivers.

      For the first time, I have been recommending Linux, if only on netbooks too slow for XP, as it is fine for web browsing and emailing.

      1. nijam

        Re: How odd

        Yes, knowing what you're doing should always be described as "elitist nonsense". Especially in our field of endeavour.

        1. Fihart

          Re: How odd

          I first bought a PC in 1985 with no serious previous exposure to IT. MSDOS was a challenge -- installing a printer was nerd-central -- but I guess I enjoyed the novelty.

          These days installing an OS should not involve learning command-line stuff. Though I wouldn't deny the utility of being able to tinker under the hood, it should be an option -- not an obstacle to getting started.

          1. Maventi

            Re: How odd

            "These days installing an OS should not involve learning command-line stuff. Though I wouldn't deny the utility of being able to tinker under the hood, it should be an option -- not an obstacle to getting started."

            For most operating systems (including most mainstream Linux distros) using CLI isn't a requirement at all for installation.

            There are also a few around that it is, and rightly so as they are aimed at expert users. That's the target audience for this article.

          2. ecofeco Silver badge

            Re: How odd

            I first bought a PC in 1985 with no serious previous exposure to IT. MSDOS was a challenge -- installing a printer was nerd-central -- but I guess I enjoyed the novelty.

            These days installing an OS should not involve learning command-line stuff. Though I wouldn't deny the utility of being able to tinker under the hood, it should be an option -- not an obstacle to getting started.

            Same here. Early 80s PC exposure, late 80s home PC builder and I do NOT miss those days. The learning experience was priceless, but the pain was just as memorable.

            That said, I had no idea that there was a shortage of DIY, bare bones Linux images. No snark intended. This is good in that there are still choices for those who are ready to get down and dirty.

    2. AndyS

      Re: How odd

      > I really see no reason for this article other than to unveil Yet Another Linux Distro.

      The point of the article was very clearly laid out - considering it's an old, and fairly well known, linux distro, it is perhaps surprising that there are very few reviews of it.

      The conclusion is that this is logical, because there is really nothing to review.

      It's actually quite an interesting situation. I suppose the automotive equivalent is trying to review a home-built car in the same way as a Ford Focus or BMW 318. It's just... not really possible, as you can build it out of whatever you want. So the only noteworthy thing is the tool kit which is supplied, which the article talks about (the rolling update philosophy, the lack of patches, and the involved install process).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      IT Angle

      Re: How odd

      I read this... "Touting the expertise needed as a bonus for a Linux distro ? Since when was that necessary, or even useful ?"

      as this... "...expertise needed...Since when was that...useful ?"

      Anyways don't be fooled here, ArchLinux isn't as far down as finger rolling the daemons and drivers as it once was. It just projects a feeling of using Debian 4 or RH 5. But even that I'll have to pass on at my age.

      I make WinTin users look like cutting edge Bladerunners. I'm so old that if I have to take my hand off my chin and trackball to type...well I'm going to have to finish this thought later.

      P.S. Hand to god. I'm posting this from a WinTin machine that keeps disabling my entire ethernet controller every time I activate my VPN...so you may never read this.

    4. chagatai

      Re: How odd

      "Unveil Yet Another Linux Distro"? Arch Linux has been around since 2002. The Arch wiki at wiki.archlinux.org is one of the most complete sources of information about installing and configuring Linux anywhere.

      On your other point, the reason why it's valuable to engage the user with the actual process of installing and maintaining their OS is exactly so that it's not a mysterious black box. The user can make more decisions, understand and fix more problems, and is general more in control of what is going on. Is that for every user, or every use case? No. I don't want to have to debug the microcontroller in my toaster to get better toast. But, I am glad that the tools to learn about toaster microcontrollers are out there so that people who want to do that, can.

  3. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    Nice distro, but..

    There's a reason I buy ham at the deli instead of keeping and slaughtering my own pigs. I am by no means a Linux guru, but I've been using Linux off and on for about the last 18 years and at the least can read and understand technical documentation. It's not a lack of skill or being intimidated, mostly laziness I guess. For me, I'm plenty happy with Mint, and it allows plenty of tinkering if I wish, but why reinvent the wheel when you're not going to make it significantly rounder?

    I'm not denigrating anyone that wants to roll their own, quite the contrary. But working with technology all day, I feel that for me personally there's not enough hours in the day to willingly be a masochist and do every little thing by hand.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: Nice distro, but..

      I buy ham at the deli instead of keeping and slaughtering my own pigs.

      - I think you are confusing your boil-in-the-bag flavour of 'Linux with the likes of LFS.

      Honestly, Arch is more of 'cook a meal from quality ingredients' vs. the instant ready meal from the likes of Mint or Ubuntu.

      Not that I'm a cook, I microwave a lot. With Arch, you may have to set up the meal yourself initially, but after that, it's not much of a chore to keep going. The overhead is only a little more pacman vs apt (basically check archlinux.org for advisories before an update.

      I also run Ubuntu on a netbook.Updating every six months is more of a chore than an entire year with Arch.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Nice distro, but.. @ Teiwaz

        So use an LTS release.

        Apply updates, yes, but you only have to do a dist-upgrade every four years or so, if you're prepared to skip a release.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nice distro, but..

        If Ubuntu is a microwave dinner, Mint is chinese takeout, and Arch takes all afternoon to prepare but doesn't necessarily come out great... what's the OS equivalent of simple fresh vegetables and a barely cooked choice steak?

        1. Bob Merkin

          Re: Nice distro, but..

          "what's the OS equivalent of simple fresh vegetables and a barely cooked choice steak?"

          Slackware

          1. Maventi
            Pint

            Re: Nice distro, but..

            Or CentOS.

            1. Missing Semicolon
              Meh

              Re: Nice distro, but..

              Centos? I use it, but there's too much Poettering for my taste.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nice distro, but..

          FreeBSD?

          One thing that's turned out to be useful with that, is it has a proper, official manual which covers all major user level and sysadmin tasks.

          Completely ignored the manual first time around, but it's turned out to be useful when getting further into things.

      3. Unicornpiss Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Nice distro, but..

        Perhaps the ham analogy wasn't the most apt I've ever spun. I'm not knocking Arch at all. I may even try it one of these days if I find myself with some actual boredom. But there's nothing wrong with Mint either; it's plenty tasty and nutritious without tons of fillers and artificial ingredients, to carry the food analogy a bit further. "Boil-in-box" should really be reserved for the likes of Windows these days--where you end up with a half-cooked meal that's cold on one side and burnt on the other, while having set your microwave on fire doing it. At least for now I feel like I have enough self-torture in my life just by working in IT to enjoy a bit of ease when I want to install an OS.

        I do think Arch can be a great learning experience though on how Linux works and is built, like building a "Heathkit" for those that remember them :)

  4. ultimate_noobie

    If the article is going to tout for the DIY, where's the Slackware love? :)

    1. V.Srikrishnan

      same here

      same question here, using a slackware desktop here...

    2. Pirate Dave Silver badge
      Pirate

      or Gentoo? Not that I use it anymore, but that and Slack are the two old kings of DIY Linux. Gentoo was cool, it just took too long to install for my ADHD personality. ;)

    3. Bodge99

      I've just moved my main kit to Slackware this week.. I've been looking at systemd free distros and have settled on Devuan, Arch (systemd removed) and Slackware.

      I've found Slackware to be the best so far (for me) but I still would recommend Mint to ex-windows users etc.

      All good stuff!!

  5. Khaptain Silver badge

    What's the real advantage

    Ok less bloat, but that can be achieved on many distros.

    Breaking ones balls just to install the system makes no sense, what the point ? Being able to master the install does not make you a Jedi, it just means that you are spending your time doing something not very productive, oh and when things break you are left feeling very much alone.....

    There are far too many distros available that are lean, easy to install and get you up and running without the ball breaking attitude of the purists....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's the real advantage

      > Being able to master the install does not make you a Jedi

      Yes and no. Having to choose what goes on your system does give you a much broader idea of how everything fits together and can teach you a lot.

      My poison of choice is Gentoo. The old style stage 1 bootstrap install was a bananas ground up process that took two to three days. Worthless in terms of productivity but it taught me a LOT about Linux.

      It's also worth nothing that Arch's documentation is exceptional, so you never actually feel alone when something goes a bit Pete Tong.

      It's very much a case of choosing the right tool for the job. If you just want to install Linux then Ubuntu or Mint or whatever is the tool for you. If you are an unashamed tweaker like me then it's Arch, Slack or Gentoo.

    2. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: What's the real advantage

      Ok less bloat, but that can be achieved on many distros.

      - Getting more of a chore to remove the bloat these days than build a system bloat free in the first place.

      I remember my first full distro, Suse 7.0. The installer was damn good, and gave your the option to specify what extra packages you either wanted or didn't in detail, including install whole kit and kaboodle or various minimums between. These days installers have gotten even smoother and more idiot proof, to the point that like a 'ward of the state' all the decisions are made for you.

      Yes, a lot of distros have a server edition which does the minimum, and you could build a desktop ontop of that, but in what way is a distro that by default gives you that 'purist' or as someone else mentioned 'elitist', such assumptions seem to hide a sense of inferiority.

      Arch is not elitist, just do some work before posting questions on the forums (read package manual, check wiki, forums and bug tracker). Majority of cases, you'll find the solution without having to seek help, users will be terse if you ask a question already answered multiple times, but helpful if you are clearly trying to sort out your problem yourself but have run aground.

      Purist? It uses Systemd and provides proprietary drivers if you need them - hardly a purist distro.

      Breaking balls to install? An afternoon of reading to 'learn' the steps, and some checking that my hardware was not going to cause issues was all I needed, and the hardware compatibility check should always be done before embarking on a new distro.

    3. timrichardson

      Re: What's the real advantage

      A big advantage of Arch is the community. It's very strong technically. The documentation is very good and I've found it a very helpful community.

  6. nematoad Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Your choice

    It's horses for courses. That's the beauty of Linux. You pays your money and takes your choice. With Linux of course you don't have to pay anything if you don't want to.

    I too use a rolling release distro PCLinuxOS. It's stable and because I have been using Mandrake derived distros since 1999 I'm used to its ways and peculiarities so it's the one for me but probably not for you.

    The article does seem to involve a bit of "willy waving". That's fine but as an old hand at trying out distros I've made the decision that life is too short to have to get down to bare metal with distros like Gentoo and Arch. That's not to say that I haven't tried them, I have. I enjoyed the experience but decided that for me Linux would be more of a means to an end rather than the end itself.

    I see recompiling the kernel and installing the likes of Arch and Gentoo as a rite of passage. You learn a lot from doing so but in the end the main thing is what you want to get out of using Linux. For me as I said it's a tool. For others a hobby, a way of educating oneself into how Linux works at the lower levels and so on. At least with Linux we have all the tools available to fit our Linux to our needs.

  7. Len Goddard

    I love arch

    I don't actually use it because I am lazy, but whenever I encounter obscure problems I seem much more likely to be able to find helpful info on the Arch wiki than anywhere else.

    Long may they prosper.

  8. gv

    It's not difficult

    If you read the install guide and know the basics of partitioning a hard disk, you can be up and running in about 20 minutes, with the Linux GUI of your choice.

    1. keithpeter
      Coat

      Re: It's not difficult

      @gv: I reckon the pacstrap and genfstab scripts are an installer in disguise.

      I'd also argue that knowing how to boot from a live image and chroot into the root partition of an ailing installation might be a skill that proves useful at some point depending how much low level work or testing of bleeding edge software one gets involved in.

      But each to his own which is the blessing of the various Linux/*BSD worlds.

      Coat: Mine's the one with the Slackware DVD in one pocket and the Manjaro USB stick in the other.

  9. wolfetone Silver badge

    What puts me off Arch Linux is stability, not the fact it's more involved to install than the other distributions. I use my machines for development and if I update the system - which you should do - I don't really want the surprise of a borked system on a Monday morning. It's a sure fire way to ruin your day and cost you development time.

    However, I would've thought the purist would be involved with Slackware? That's hard as nails to configure to begin with, but rock solid when it's working - even after updates. I tried it once, got bored and abandoned it. But that was down to depression rather than me being lazy.

    1. lleres

      What is described above is not 'instability', but expectations being conditioned to abnormality by static release distributions that only provide security patches to static versions of packages.

      With Arch and all other rolling release distributions, an update is an update, not security patching. If you make the choice of updating all packages on your system to their latest version, you should be prepared to accept that some of those versions may not work well together.

      You likewise have the option of not doing that, or updating only system packages and libraries used in development. As a developer, having access to the latest versions of packages would presumably be useful.

      Finally, here is something other OSes and distributions never tell people - stable software will remain stable. If your system is known to be stable and working well, why are you updating the entire system?

      Sure, vulnerabilities get discovered, which is what system package upgrades are for. Can even restrict Arch (and Gentoo and others) to specific versions of packages and still get security patches on those versions.

    2. gv

      "What puts me off Arch Linux is stability"

      Stability is not guaranteed in any OS: a cursory search of even this site would indicate that a Windows update has the potential to seriously bork your system.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        "Stability is not guaranteed in any OS"

        Well can I introduce you to my laptop that's run Debian 7 for the last 4 years without any problems, but with copious amount of updates?

        1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

          I've run Arch for 2 (or more?) years, and since the very beginning I've taken to clone and maintain few packages locally - these which are critical for my own purposes (kernel, samba etc.). There is actually very little maintenance involved, I usually follow mainline Arch packages except for my own version selection or small patches to improve the functionality important to me.

          Still, when I want to upgrade I do keep few hours reserved in case I need to rollback. 15 minutes would be sufficient if I was not troubleshooting first - which I usually do, as to contribute to fixes. Arch is closely following the most recent version of all packages and sometimes these do not play nicely with each other (recent example - samba 4.4.6 with tevent 0.9.30)

    3. NB

      "Stability"

      I've been running Arch across multiple systems for years and the only time a system borked was when I fucked things up by tweaking too much. Arch installs with sane default configurations and unless you really get in there and fuck about with it it's very unlikely to ever fuck up.

      Arch has been the single most stable distribution I've ever used and I've been running Linux systems since the '90s.

      1. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Stability

        the only time a system borked was when I fucked things up by tweaking too much.

        - Same here, I mucked up my Arch install three months after my first install by over-tweaking to make the boot-up more flashy and geeky.

        Four more months down the line, I could have fixed it manually myself with ease, but the first time I just re-installed.

        Biggest issue to date this year was a problem with ttf-dejavu fonts which blocked update due to symlinks, normally I'd just remove the offending package before running update again, but the dejavu fonts are required by so many packages (too many for a mere font - only vlc had it set as an opt-depend sensibly - Gnome, gnome-themes-standard, GTK, Budgie Desktop among others would all have to be removed along with a font). A simple forced (re)install of the font sorted it.

        With updates in small, regular chunks, for less chance of getting an unstable system, so I update regularly at least once every two weeks.

  10. tiggity Silver badge

    I remember the pain of command line install / configure of Linux way back in the day when polished install routines had yet to arrive & feel no overwhelming urge to revisit it...

    But it was a useful learning experience & certainly worth people giving that a go at least once.

    (at the time I had very small disk drive (disk price per Mb was ludicrous back then) & fact that I could have only the programs I required was v. useful indeed.

    These days, with storage space being a non issue & far less time to tinker, I'm happy with easy install Linux variants (cheers to nematoad for mentioning Mandrake, that was my distro of choice for quite a while, albeit quite a while ago)

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      But it was a useful learning experience & certainly worth people giving that a go at least once.

      Indeed. Difficult installs and having to understand things which an install program could figure out better than me confirmed that, for the average person, auto-install is the best approach. Providing it works.

      I had used Slackware and other distros when they used to come on a single floppy and was always willing to try a more modern Linux but no install ever worked flawlessly for me until Ubuntu 8 came along. There was always some problem with partitioning, network, video or sound cards. These days things have got a lot better.

      As others have noted; for most people there aren't enough hours in the day to be pissing about getting things installed and making things work. But I accept Arch Linux isn't targeted at those people.

  11. Brian 18

    Former Gentoo user.

    Several years ago I used Gentoo as my home distro. You not only had to select the packages you installed but wait for them to compile before you could use them. I learned a LOT about the internals of Linux. It was a good learning experience in the internals of Linux and all of the components needed to make it usable.

    These days, I just want the system to work so I switched to Debian a few years ago.

    1. lleres

      Re: Former Gentoo user.

      When 'something that works' gets turned into 'accepting every piece of s$#t package the distribution fancies being shoved down your throat', while still having to do many things manually, it becomes harder to justify its use.

      This may not be a popular opinion but perhaps something like OS X is a better fit for an OS that 'just works', which Debian a far cry from in the ease of use department - *cough* binary graphics card drivers, Debian users? *cough*

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Former Gentoo user.

      I'm a current Gentoo user, and have had to recover my machine from being borked about 3 times during the eleven or twelve years I've been using it. I haven't had any upgrade problems in the last couple of years though.

      I've never borked it so badly that I've had to re-install it though. So, my current count is 3 installations on three separate computers during that time, and the only reason for a new installation has been a significant change of hardware. i.e. a change from desktop to a first generation eee pc (yes, I really ran gentoo on one) then a move to an el cheapo Acer Aspire. (One of the more recent ones which can handle x86-64.) An update to Libre Office is a bit of a pain... I have to choose a couple of days when I don't want to use the laptop, and just set it going....

  12. Sil

    Only when I must

    I'm using Linus on the desktop only when I must, such as when a piece of software isn't available on Windows yet.

    What puts me off is - and I understand that other people will have an opposite view - is that nothing is standard, and you can't assume what works on a distri will work on another, from package manager to UI and so forth.

    So when testing some open source software, you basically have to install a specific distro, a specific hypervisor, a specific container and on and on, unless you're willing to spend hours and hours adapting it, just for the fun of utilizing the distro you already installed.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Coffee/keyboard

        Re: Only when I must

        Linus van Pelt... Classic! Now I need his towel for my keyboard!

  13. FuzzyWuzzys
    Facepalm

    Negativity central!

    While I have no interest at present to wish to roll my own distro, happily been a Mint user for 2 years now, I can see this might appeal to some.

    We all moan about people being spoon-fed their tech fix and the second the chance to do something for themselves and learn it from scratch, we all condemn it!! For those condemning it, here's an idea. You do the whole thing inside a VM that way you do no have to sacrifice any hardware AND you can pause/snapshot the VM at any time and take several weeks to complete your Arch Linux project, no need to sit down and do it in one sitting, take a month or two to play with it when you have time all tucked inside a handy VM container.

    I can imagine if you had a bunch of GSCE kids who you'd just shown a linux install, something like Ubuntu. You might want to show them what's really going on during a distro install/build during any after hours club, this could be a perfect way to get kids who want to learn about this get deeper into "real" computer tech.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Negativity central!

      Agreed. I've actually dabbled with rolling my own a few times in the past; it was a bad idea then, hopeless now. Assuming you want to run other people's software, you need a ton of bloatware & dependencies. It's just a matter of figuring out what packages/versions/patches you need and how to compile & configure them, just like Debian/Fedora/Arch maintainers do. If you want to do anything different you'll be swimming upstream, only to end up with yet another bloated, unusable, unknown Linux distro.

  14. Joe Werner Silver badge

    I once thought the same...

    ... but back then I wanted the absolute control, the tinkering, the challenge. Now I use Linux because I am tired of borked updates, tweaking, etc. I did learn a lot (especially about rebuilding the system after not so brilliant ideas of mine), but now I want the machine to do as I want (not as I say, i.e. not allow me to do certain things to the OS). More modern distros are like that. What was the quote I read a while ago? "Along with it [unix] came a set of disgustingly dangerous utilities that meant nothing, but could render a system useless within seconds" (or something like that).

    The package installation routines in Debian, the whole apt-framework is just amazing. It does not leave the system in an undefined state (unlike what Mandrake and Suse and others do). I would not want to lose that. I also think that the distribution installation scripts in Debian were pretty good already 10 years ago, pressing [return] a few times, entering a machine name and creating a user was the only interaction you needed (I still partitioned - still do - by hand, which added a few steps, also the initial package selection is now often braindead). That was the basic install, mind, still devoid of any useful software - or a desktop gui. Getting X11 to run was a major headache in those days. If the graphics adapter was newer than one or three years you had to run at least Debian testing (if not unstable), and I had unstable break on me a few times, but I could have avoided that (three flavours of Debian: rusty, stale and broken... still like using it, mostly because "stable" really means something).

    What one has to admit is that the arch forums / wiki / online documentation are really helpful (also to users of other distributions - if you roughly know what you are doing). Totally agree on that.

  15. wheelybird

    Arch is not bad

    The package system is quite good, and there's community stuff similar to FreeBSD ports or Gentoo portage.

    I've used it on ARM devices (cubox-i etc.) and uses systemd. I'm not sure if that's mandatory, but if it is then I feel sorry for anyone using Arch to learn Linux and then having to use systemd.

    To avoid that horror, flee to Slackware!

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