After using Ubuntu for almost 3 yrs and enjoying it, I have moved to a new distro – Arch Linux. So, instead of my customary short review / first look post after each Ubuntu release, I will be writing a small review / Arch vs Ubuntu post here.
The Why – Well, after using the same distro for about 3 years, I wanted to try something different. With so many distros around, there is hell lotta choice – Debian, Suse, Fedora, Arch etc. I went for Arch coz it has all the things that I was looking for – stability, option to go bleeding edge, a big user community with an active forum, a good package manager and something I have not tried before and coz one of my friends just would not let me rest without trying it :). Although, all this might seem stupid 😛 , the bottom line is I am now an Arch Linux user.
The Review – How is Arch different from / better or worse than Ubuntu ?
While Ubuntu is a linux distro with a release every six months, Arch is a rolling release. Ubuntu’s six month cycle has had its advantages but sometimes it also has had major disadvantages but keeping it in sync with the GNOME release cycle has been good for it. There has been times however when I wanted to move to a new package but no matter what I did, I could not satisfy the dependencies ppa or no ppa. I ended up using beta/alpha repos of the next release (case in point – my amarok 2.2 install guide). Keeping packages of 2 version in Ubuntu is not very pleasant :(. With Arch, being a rolling release, this is avoided as packages are available as they are available upstream either in the main repository or in testing.
However, this is not the major difference between Arch and Ubuntu. Ubuntu believes in giving a working desktop out of the box ( and yet there have been times when LTS releases fail to start the X server 😛 ). On the other hand, the Arch way says that you only get a bare bones system and you need to make it the way you want. This translates to installing / configuring everything including X, GNOME (or any other desktop environment). This is where Arch’s user base is decided. If you want to go into the details, Arch is for you. If you don’t – stay away. I think with average experience with Linux, it should not take more than 6/7 hrs to get Arch up and running like Ubuntu is after install. Afer the first 6/7 hrs (which may or may not be a pain) what you get is a great distro. The 6/7 hrs are usually pretty easy to get through if you follow the Arch wiki and the Beginner’s guide. It took me around 4 hrs to get things up and running including some experimentation with available ati drivers.
The package management –
The one thing that I really liked about Ubuntu was APT – the package manager that Ubuntu uses. With its power and flexibility, it is definitely one of the best package management systems out there. Combine it with PPA’s and you have a bleeding edge system with ease. If I was going to move to Arch as my primary distro, I needed something similar and the combination of pacman and AUR is as good as if not better than APT + PPA. Whatever the other differences may be, pacman does seem faster than apt. Its wicked fast.
Another thing that I appreciate about Arch is the way packages are in the repository — they are vanialla and modular for eg. GNOME is packaged without pulseaudio \m/ and even gnome-termnial for that matter (please install it before starting gnome or you might just end up with system with no access to the root terminal :P). In fact all you get when you install gnome are the following packages –
#pacman -S gnome
gnome package not found, searching for group...
:: group gnome (including ignored packages):
epiphany gnome-applets gnome-backgrounds gnome-control-center
gnome-desktop gnome-icon-theme gnome-media gnome-mime-data gnome-mount
gnome-panel gnome-screensaver gnome-session gnome-settings-daemon
gnome-themes gnome2-user-docs libgail-gnome metacity nautilus
And you are still given a choice to install the entire group or select each individual package.
If you are unhappy with the modularity of KDE, there is the KDEmod project which is KDE built especially for Arch 🙂 . If you are a person who installs a lot of packages from source, then ABS and yaourt are definitely for you. It builds pacakges from source but integrates them with pacman – nice.
The great thing here is – I do not miss APT.
Help available – The great thing about Ubuntu is the help avaiable on the forums. There usually aren’t many question to which you cant find answers to on the ubuntuforums. On the Arch side, the wiki and the forums to-gether are all the help you need.
Who should use what – As I said earlier, if you do not want to do much and want something that runs out of the box, Ubuntu is still the best choice. I will still say that for new linux users Ubuntu rules. But if you are ready to do a bit of config in CLI and/or build your system exactly the way you want, Arch is for you.
Conclusion – Arch is a great distro. Besides the first 4 hrs (which weren’t really a pain but more of a great learning curve) , I have really liked the way this distro operates. Pacman + yaourt are awesome and AUR is quite vast. Arch Linux is definitely going to be my first choice distro for at least the next year 🙂 . That said, Ubuntu is still the best distro for beginners.
PS – If you are wondering how to get to the terminal if you are in GNOME without gnome-terminal and Ctrl+Alt+F* are not working, add the following to your GRUB kernel line —
# (0) Arch Linux Single-user
title Arch Linux Single-user
kernel /vmlinuz26 root=/dev/sda1 ro 1 #The 1 is the runlevel
More info here.