Arch Linux is very unique. Unlike most Linux distributions, it does not have an official live disc. When you boot it up, you’ll be greeted with a terminal. For some people this is fine. In fact, they prefer it. Arch gives you the freedom to sit down and make a Linux install yourself, one that you’ve made with your own two hands. It’s a good time, and that’s great, if you like that sort of thing.
If you don’t like building from scratch, that’s fine too. There are many, many Arch Linux derivatives out there to choose from. Each one has their own flair or their own take on the Arch Linux base. These types of distributions are perfect if you love the Arch Linux package manager and base but don’t really feel invested in it enough to jump in and build it.
Note: it is important to understand that although these Linux distributions are based upon Arch Linux, they are their own thing. If you have issues and need help, head to the distribution’s official forums (or IRC channel).
Antergos might just be the perfect derivative. It’s not weighed down by developers who love the Arch base yet overload it with their own software repositories. When you install it, it downloads everything from the main Arch Linux repos, so you won’t even have to update when you start using it. Everything is fresh and ready to go. Not to mention the Antergos guys have partnered with Numix, so all the theming is top notch. If you’re in the market for an Arch derivative, one that stays as close to the Arch Linux software repositories and update cycle as possible, you may want to give this one a serious look.
Like CrunchBang Linux, ArchBang is a minimal, fast and heavily customized Linux desktop experience. Similar to Antergos, the ArchBang developers prefer to stick with the main Arch repositories, rather than maintain their own. This is nice because it means you get updates as fast as home-grown Arch. The only real difference between the two is this: CrunchBang uses Debian as a base, ArchBang uses Arch Linux as a base.
What you get with ArchBang is an Openbox style desktop with the Tint2 panel. It’s an ultra minimalistic experience. There’s not a whole lot of customization beyond that, and maybe that’s a good thing. If all you want is to get a super simple, minimal Arch Linux install, ArchBang is your best bet.
Do you love KDE, Arch Linux and want an out of the box experience? Currently your choices are limited to a few distributions. Chakra Linux is one of those choices. Their mission is to provide “the most pure KDE experience possible”. This means that most of the software from the official Chakra software repositories are KDE only, and they discourage the use of GTK applications (although they are available in their “extra” repository’).
I can’t say that KDE is something for everyone, but if you are in love with the K Desktop way of doing things, you should do yourself a huge favor and give Chakra a go. It has just about everything you’ve ever wanted in a Arch Linux based KDE installation. And best of all, it’s in its purest form.
Looking for something Arch based, but a lot more stable? Manjaro might be the best one for the job. It has a lot of strengths. For starters, they have their own software repositories. This means the Manjaro developers have better control over the software available to you. For those that prefer updates as soon as possible, this can be a tad bit annoying. If you don’t really care that Manjaro isn’t as bleeding edge as regular Arch Linux, you’ll be right at home.
Another strength Manjaro has is the fact that there isn’t just one flavor. That is something that a lot of the other derivatives on this list lack. ArchBang has this ultra-customized Openbox desktop, and that’s great if you like that kind of thing. If you not, you don’t get to pick a different ArchBang flavored ISO file to download. Chakra Linux has the same problem as well. It offers up a KDE experience. It’s a definite vision.
When it comes to Manjaro, the XFCE edition is considered to be the “blessed” one, but they’ve got a lot of other editions to choose from as well (both official and community editions). This is great because if you don’t really care for the XFCE edition, you can just go through until you find the edition that is just right for you. There’s a Manjaro flavor suitable for everyone!
Bridge Linux aims to be “Arch Linux made easy”. Like Antergos and ArchBang, it uses the vanilla Arch software repositories. Bridge Linux has no distinct DE and comes in a variety of different flavors (LXDE, XFCE, Gnome, MATE and etc). Just pop it in and bam. You’ll be able to get Arch Linux up and running. It’s not my first choice in picking an Arch Linux derivative; however, it’s a satisfactory choice if you’ve gone through this entire list and you’ve run out of options.
Building Arch Linux is not for everyone. This list is for people who love the idea of Arch, yet do not have the time nor the patience to sink into it, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Different people prefer to do different things. The distributions on this list will help these users find their way into the fold of Arch.