Is Arch Linux Better than Ubuntu?

Arch Vs Ubuntu

Arch Linux and Ubuntu are two major players in the Linux world. Both have a gigantic fan base, with many people taking a hard stance in favor of one and against the other. These distributions have each spawned a whole family of derivative distributions which are large players in their own right. But which is better? Is Ubuntu the undisputed and reigning king? Is Arch really the best distribution, reserved for the Linux elite? The answer is both sort-of-yes and yes.

Install and Setup

It might seem like there’s a clear winner here. After all, Ubuntu is the only one of these distributions with a proper installer. Arch affords something no formal installer can – full free-form customization

Beginner Linux Distros Ubuntu Installer

Ubuntu’s fully graphical installer and live DVDs make it ideal for both beginners and people who don’t want to be bothered fiddling with and configuring every aspect of their system. You can click your way through with full guidance at every step. You don’t need deep technical knowledge to install Ubuntu, and the process is extremely quick.

Arch Bootstrapping

In contrast, Arch Linux offers a live install CD that doesn’t actually come with an installer. Instead, it only includes command-line utilities to bootstrap an Arch Linux system from scratch. The result is a much more open-ended process that you can customize and tailor along the way. You won’t actually need to follow Arch’s instructions explicitly, and Arch’s instructions are far from being set in stone. You can make your Arch system whatever you choose, but it’s much easier to make a mistake, and it takes time to get to something ready for daily use.

Available Software

Both Arch and Ubuntu have immense software repositories. Ubuntu, because it’s so popular, is well supported by third parties. As a result, most things are tested to work on Ubuntu, and there are many third-party repositories, in the form of Ubuntu PPAs, to fill in the gaps.

Ubuntu’s software tends to be fairly new, but it’s not the absolute newest. Unless you’re running Ubuntu LTS, you won’t feel like you’re lagging too far behind, and the software you do get is probably fairly stable by the time it’s released.

ubuntu-software-min

Arch has a very simple packaging system and doesn’t make many, if any, modifications to its software. Because of this simplified process, the Arch team is able to package a lot more software more quickly. It’s fairly uncommon that Arch Linux is completely lacking something common in the main repositories.

The Arch User Repository (AUR) picks up just about everything else. The AUR is considered one of Arch’s greatest strengths because it lets users package for Arch and stores all the packages in one unified place. There’s no need to install a ton of external repositories. The AUR is absolutely packed with all sorts of software, including some fairly obscure things.

Multimedia and Gaming

There isn’t too much to say about these two when it comes to gaming and multimedia support. They’re both fantastic. In fact, they could both easily be considered the best distributions for multimedia and gaming.

Both distributions offer many of the top multimedia applications right in their default repositories. They also include a lot of the extras and codecs that make for a smooth multimedia experience. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding your favorite music player or media center in either one. For any omissions, the AUR and PPAs will probably have you covered.

Gaming isn’t much different. Ubuntu’s officially supported by Valve for Steam, but Arch is such a plain “vanilla” Linux distribution, Steam usually works flawlessly there, too. Both distributions also offer simple access to the latest graphics drivers for both NVIDIA and AMD. Arch may have an edge for AMD users because it offers the latest versions of Mesa and the Linux kernel, but the impact will probably only be noticeable with the absolute latest cards.

Customization

Customization is an interesting thing. If you’re just talking about changing the look and feel of your desktop, any Linux desktop environment can handle that beautifully, and both Ubuntu and Arch Linux have access to a wide array of desktops.

Ubuntu Disco Desktop

This article is comparing the customization of the underlying system, and in that respect there’s absolutely no contest. Arch is the clear winner.

By providing a streamlined experience out of the box, Ubuntu sacrifices customization power. The Ubuntu developers work hard to make sure that everything included in a Ubuntu system is designed to work well with all the other components of the system. Mess with that delicate ecosystem, and you’re probably in for trouble.

Arch With Xfce

Arch is more like a box of Legos. You can pick and choose pieces to use and fit them together. Now, just like with Legos, it’s very easy to build something hideous or downright unstable, but if you’re skilled and knowledgeable enough, you can create something truly magnificent.

Conclusion

So, which one is better? There’s no clear answer there because both of these distributions are the best at what they do. Ubuntu is the best at providing a beginner-friendly no-nonsense experience that works as soon as you install it. It’s a feature-complete system that offers everything you could possibly want, and it doesn’t need a lot of babysitting or maintenance.

On the other hand, Arch lets you build your own system however you like. It’s fast-paced, lightweight, and really powerful. With Arch, you’ll never want for software, and you’ll never be stuck with a configuration that you didn’t put in place yourself. However, with Arch, all the responsibility falls on you, and you’ll need to take an active role in ensuring your system keeps running like the finely-tuned machine you originally designed.

22 comments

  1. sorry, but the rage between the distributions put on my head is getting bored and it’s been 20 years since I’ve been using Debian and I see the fashions changing …
    Better to speak to God than to his saints
    You can’t be more royalist than the king

  2. “Now, just like with Legos, it’s very easy to build something hideous or downright unstable, but if you’re skilled and knowledgeable enough, you can create something truly magnificent.”—

    That may be true. But if you are skilled and knowledgeable enough to use Arch, you are good enough to start with Ubuntu and customize it to what you want. I have not found that Ubuntu integration is so tight that “if you mess with the delicate ecosystem you are in for trouble.” I start by swapping the DE to Xfce. Then I customize the panels. Then I switch from Thunar to PCmanFM as the file manager. Then I switch to VLC for everything multimedia. Then I switch to App Grid for software installs. The list goes on. My end product looks and feels nothing like out-of-the-box Ubuntu, but I benefit from the drivers and infinite apps designed to run in Ubuntu. And it just works without constant tinkering.

    1. Lego doesn’t get pluralised.

      You can get get the same install experience using Ubuntu minimal. Arch isn’t unique in that way

  3. “Both have a gigantic fan base”
    Quantity in the number of users does in no way imply quality of the product. Let me remind you of BetaMax vs. VCR.

    “But which is better?”
    Define “better”.
    You are not comparing like to like. If you were to compare Ubuntu to PCLinuxOS and/or Arch to Gentoo or Linux From Scratch then you would be comparing apples to apples and we could discuss which is better.
    Each distro is targeted at a different audience. *buntu is targeted at newbies and lazy people, Arch is targeted at nerds.

    “Available Software”
    What is the difference that one distro has X number of packages and the other has Y number of packages?! There is a very good chance that you will not be able to tell which packages are in one distro’s repositories and which one’s are only in the other.

    AFAIAC, PPAs and AURs are not as trustworthy as the distros’ own repositories. After all, they are developed by third parties (mainly users) and are not too closely vetted by the developers of the parent distro. The packages may contain malware or they may be ineptly written, Who knows what else.

    “Customization”
    *buntus are not customizable. Once the default install is complete, no unneeded/unwanted packages can be removed without making the system inoperable. All packages are dependent on one system file and the removal of any package will result in the removal of that system file.

    Arch, OTOH, is totally customizable. The user has almost as much freedom in choosing packages in Arch as in Linux From Scratch.

  4. If someone needs to ask then they should stick with Ubuntu, or go for one of the variants such as Linux Mint or PopOS.

  5. This is a typical example of a clickbait article with no useful content.

    “Which distro is better – Debian or Gentoo??? Mint or Manjaro?? Slackware or CentOS??” etc etc etc ad nauseam.

    Conclusion as always – it depends. Please keep your content informative and useful, this is neither.

  6. Not really quite fair as a popular (for good reason) Arch distro is Manjaro so why not compare that version of Arch’s installer at least? I only moved from Mint to Arch once I liked Manjaro’s installer and found it easily usable.

  7. The ‘buntu’s are for retards who are also too lazy to do anything more than what an initial setup gives them.

    1. I have arch in my laptop and Ubuntu in my desktop, I guess I am half retarded. More seriously, take the minimal install cd of Ubuntu that comes with Linux kernel and some extra package and you will have the same experience than installing arch. Your comment is irrelevant and your attitude is toxic. This kind of snoobish attitude is the main reason why gnu-linux stay so little in terms of penetration. If I am new to Linux world and read that I will definitely not install a Linux OS thinking that the “community spirit” is BS… You should use Mac, it is effect for people like you

  8. This is not a fair comparison. A more appropriate Comparison would be between Manjaro and Ubuntu. Then discuss the merits of a hybrid rolling release versus a frozen package system.

  9. While Ubuntu is buggy and nothing to write home about, Arch absolutely sucks big green donkey dicks! I get that arch is about having a very minimal system (if thats what you want), but there needs to be an installer, or at least a script that installs what is needed so that all of the hardware works, without spending days trying to figure out why the USB ports or the audio don’t work!
    Anyone that can install Arch is already smart enough to customize any distro to function the way they want!

    1. “Anyone that can install Arch is already smart enough to customize any distro to function the way they want.”—- Nonya

      Yep, I think I said exactly that. :) Unless someone is using extremely limited hardware, I don’t see how having a few extra, unused Ubuntu files lying around really matters much. Of course I know that there are some very talented nerds who excel at making a beautiful and artful installation. They are people who are capable of building a better distribution for the unwashed masses to use. And in the long run, that may be the most important thing they can do. Desktop Linux is still in a fight to the death with Windows and Chrome OS (which will soon be replaced by un-free Fuchsia.) Linus Torvalds has said that the greatest impediment to desktop Linux (and his biggest disappointment) is the fragmentation into so many disparate and competing distros. So I would rather see people unify around Ubuntu. And the talented elite can still accomplish what they want.

      1. “I don’t see how having a few extra, unused Ubuntu files lying around really matters much.”
        The idea behind Linux is that it should be modular. *buntus are monolithic, which is anti-Linux. A few years ago, Canonical introduced something called Lenses into Ubuntu.Lenses allowed Amazon to spam users with ads. Because of the way Ubuntu was and is structured, those “few, extra files lying around” could not be removed/uninstalled, so for many users they DID really matter much.

        “Desktop Linux is still in a fight to the death with Windows and Chrome OS”
        Whatever gave you that idea?! Windows and Chrome are commercial enterprises that measure their success by the market share. Linux is a communal project which spreads by word of mouth. Think of the Woodstock Festival. Commercially, it was a flop but as a movement, it was seminal.

        Maybe Canonical or Oracle are getting their panties twisted in a knot about gaining a bigger market share but most distro developers are not. When was the last time you saw an ad, in any mainstream media, for Linux?

        BTW – Chrome OS has a Linux kernel. So does OS/X. So Linux is making inroads into the commercial arena.

        ” So I would rather see people unify around Ubuntu. ”
        Ubuntu is nothing more than Windows concept copied to Linux, and just as crippled. There are many other distros that people could/should rally around (Debian, SUSE, PCLinuxOS, MX, antiX, etc)

        1. I was using Ubuntu at the time Lenses was introduced. I never got a single Amazon ad because the first thing I did after an install was to switch to Xfce. Ubuntu may appear monolithically integrated at the level you are looking at. For me, those files lying around didn’t matter at all.

          Both Windows and Google are currently pretending to provide Linux under the umbrella of their own operating systems. You may see that as Linux penetrating commercial systems. I see it as Linux being co-opted with the intent to funnel people back into the warm embrace of the commercial OSs. Your access to things Linux in those systems will always depend on what the corporations will allow and they are being very strategic in their actions. Most people who want to check out Linux will think safe way to do that is to try it under a commercial system. And when that proves unsatisfactory, as it will, they will conclude that is the fault of Linus.

          I understand that you are not interested in market share. Certainly in the realm of servers, super computers , IOT, and smartphones Linux or at least the kernel, has done very well. But in the everyday hands-on world of laptops, desktops, and tablets Linux is losing. Since the introduction of uefi boot, it is not a simple matter for a regular user to install Linux on their own hardware. Certainly winning market share on laptops is not necessary for the survival on Linux but it is necessary for the success of Linux in the hands of the mass of people. And that is really what software freedom means. If freedom is only available to a handful of elite technophiles, it is not freedom at all.

  10. I agree that *ubuntu is better for new users. I started with either 4.10 or 6.04. After 10.04 I jumped to bodhi. After a few years I jumped to Arch. Having found a decent couple of YouTube guides and having installed Arch about 5 times; first install kinda was a fail, second was used until the system (hardware) and I had issues, third and fourth were on different system and two different drives, fifth is on a backup system. I agree also that one shouldn’t compare an all in one system to a rolling release. I don’t think PPAs and AUR are that similar. From my limited understanding PPAs can thrash a system due to library mismatches. I believe AUR is a bit better on that front.

  11. It is interesting that in a compare/contrast article, I didn’t see a mention of the Archwiki. That piece alone bumps the Arch ecosystem over the top for me.

    Rolling release is another “contrast/compare” that was missed.

    I started with debian/ubuntu back in the day. Ten years ago after a buggered upgrade from one Ubuntu install to the next, I started looking for something that didn’t NEED a “distro-upgrade”. Worked with the archwiki and built an Arch system, and have never looked back.

    The ONLY times in the last decade I’ve had to do a fresh Arch install was for additional machines and one hardware failure that took out the primary HDD.

  12. There is also Zen Installer. Its a third party graphical installer for Arch Linux. Makes installing Arch Linux easy.

  13. My vote goes for Fedora. They made a superb job transitioning Xwindow to Wayland.
    Ubuntu looks unproffesional in that respect. To say the true I vae not tested Arch at all.

  14. I’ve used Linux exclusive for 15 years. Ubuntu/Mint works for human beings with real-work to accomplish. Ubuntu smoothly drives the casual computing appliance while introducing the lowest noise-level ( noise == options). Suck it down BOSCO! Arch pimps byte-boiz/neckbeards/twitchers … the drooling script-monkey denizen minions of howling 1960s CLI computing. Ever tried to read BASH-script? It’s what happens when stroke-addled spaz can’t get a Friday night date. May they rot in little-endian Hades. Roar on Ubuntu roar-on!

  15. I tried installing Arch. I installed it to the point of needing a desktop Environment, but couldn’t because I don’t have Ethernet connection. Wifi-menu worked for installation but not after installation. So I guess Ubuntu and its distros are best for me. Ended up installing Bodhi based on Ubuntu 18.04 32bit. My whole point for trying to install Arch 32bit was to use i3wm. Which I am with Bodhi.

  16. Personally, Ubuntu since 4.1. Spend a lot of my time rebuilding old computers and installing a lightweight distro, giving them away. LXLE, Lubuntu, AntiX and Q4OS on my old machines right now. Using Mint 19 on my newer computer. I have a 486 that I am placing with Tiny Core next. Prefer the Debian/Ubuntu world the same way someone who has used Arch the whole way prefers them. Take your choice and stick with it.

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