The great thing about Linux distros is that there’s one for every skill level. If you’re new to Linux and want something that works right out of the box (or rather, the ISO file), then either Ubuntu or Linux Mint is a good choice. On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with Linux and Unix and you like to customize things a little (or perhaps, a lot), then you might want to give Arch Linux a try.
Arch is a distro that’s been around for about a decade, and tries to adhere to a “keep it simple stupid” policy. Simplicity, however, means something different to the Arch community than it does to the Ubuntu user base.
An article on The Arch Way on Arch’s wiki explains what they mean:
Arch Linux defines simplicity as without unnecessary additions, modifications, or complications, and provides a lightweight UNIX-like base structure that allows an individual user to shape the system according to their own needs. In short: an elegant, minimalist approach.
For Arch, “unnecessary additions, modifications, or complications” include a graphical user interface, wizards, or anything else intended to make it easy for Linux newbies to get their feet wet. Arch is targeted toward “competent” Linux users, people who are comfortable with the command line and editing configuration files.
When you first install Arch, you end up with a base system with the bare minimum of tools to get up and running, which you then customize as you see fit. It’s ideal if you like to tinker and play with things. Systems like Ubuntu try to be all things to all people. Arch’s attitude puts the user in control of everything that’s installed on the system.
Another major difference between Arch and other distros is its stability. Arch aims for a “rolling release” system, meaning that instead of having a fixed release date, the user is expected to have the latest version of every package installed on the system. This can cause some breakage occasionally, but it means that every package is up-to-date without having to wait for the maintainers to incorporate upstream changes.
If this interests you, Arch is pretty simple to set up. You can just grab the ISO torrent from Arch’s website. I’d recommend using a spare computer or a virtual machine if this is your first time installing Arch. This way, you’ll have a working system that you can use to refer to Arch’s extensive online documentation.
Arch used to have a menu-driven installer, but it apparently wasn’t being maintained, so the developers decided to scrap it for an installation that works entirely from the command line. It looks daunting, but if you follow the instructions, you’ll have a working system fairly quickly. You can then start installing everything you want, including X, your favorite editors, desktop environments, window managers, shells, and other productivity tools.
The Pacman package manager makes it dead-simple to find, install and update your packages quickly. If that’s not enough, the Arch User Repository (AUR) lets you download and install many more packages before they make it into the main repository. You can even compile them yourself if that’s what you want to do.
If you like to tailor your system exactly to your tastes and don’t need a lot of hand-holding, then Arch might be the right distro for you.
Experienced Arch Linux users, please share your love in the comments.