Last time, I wrote about how I was working on installing Linux on my computer. The main question with any Linux install though is, what distro do I use? I’ve used many different distros before, such as the popular Ubuntu, Slackware, and more recently, Mint and Fedora. I even tried to tackle (somewhat succeeded) Linux From Scratch. Each distro has its strengths, but for some reason, I was never happy with any of them. One didn’t give me enough control over my system and did everything for me, while others *cough* LFS *cough* provided me with next to no help, leaving me in over my head.
Well, that’s when I discovered the wonderful Arch Linux. I don’t plan on looking back.
What really turned me on to Arch Linux at first was its mission statement, aka The Arch Way.
Arch Linux defines simplicity as a lightweight
UNIX-like base structure without unnecessary additions, modifications, or complications, that allows an individual user to shape the system according to their own needs. In short; an elegant, minimalist approach.
I was still a little skeptical though, because I wanted to see how Arch is compared to other distributions. Well, Arch thought about this already. A wiki page is provided comparing and making a case for Arch versuses all the other big and a few small distros. It definately convinced me to at least TRY Arch.
Alright, Arch Linux seems like it won’t provide me with a bunch of features that I don’t want, but does this mean that I’ll have a hard time learning how to use and set it up properly? I consider myself a pretty competent Linux user, but I definately don’t know everything that is needed to set up a whole operating system. Good documentation is invaluable and is key for users to learn how to use your project. On the opposite hand, bad documentation is almost worse than no documentation. Jeff Atwood has a few words on this, which he calls “undocumentation”.
After a quick look around Arch’s website, I found not one, but TWO installation guides for the distribution. There was a beginner guide as well as an official guide, with the former holding your hand through installation and the latter explaining a lot more details but expecting you to know what to do with them. I found it helpful to work through both guides simultaneously, as they were both very complemenetary.
Since Arch wants you to install everything yourself, once you’re done with the basic installation, you are presented with just a command prompt. No Gnome, no KDE, no X. Oh boy, I’ve had bad experiences messing around with X before, so I was a little worried about this step. The fact that I have 2 monitors of different sizes didn’t really make things any better (actually it made it MUCH harder).
Luckily, the install guide covered this topic pretty well. I did have to search forums and the wiki quite a bit since I had a somewhat unique setup with dual monitors and I’d never configured X before. This was definately the hardest step of the installation, but after I got it all set up properly, I have a Gnome installation with no clutter and customized just the way I want.
Another potential problem that I was worried about was how software management would be. Since Arch is a minimalist, I was concerned that managing packages might fall entirely on my shoulders. If this was the case, I don’t think I would have used Arch, since while it gives me more control, I’d much rather just have a package manager handle everything for me automatically. I was very pleased to see that Arch has the pacman package manager. Installing software is as simple as ‘pacman -S package’. The repositories are also current and seem to have a very large selection of software available.
I’m still getting my system setup to my liking, but so far, I’ve liked nearly everything I’ve seen about Arch. This is probably due to the fact that Arch really just provides powerful tools for you to build a Linux system to fit your exact needs. I’d highly recommend it to you if you’re looking for a new distro (or even if you’re not!).