Sunday, 18 September 2011

Arch linux: my perspective

When I finally found an article covering Arch linux, I thought its time I write about the distribution I have been using for over two years. I switched to it from openSUSE. I have been a KDE user all along; seen transitions from stable 3.x to current 4.7.

I am a minimalist and Arch fits right in. It sure is "bleeding edge". Today only Chromium 14 was released and it was available in Arch repositories. In contrast in Gentoo, another rolling release distribution, the policy is they stabilize a package after a month without any bug reports about it. Due to this policy, Gentoo is still at Firefox 3.6.x while Arch provides me latest Firefox. Even when Firefox released an update after the DigiNotar issue, Arch also pushed the update to its repositories. With Gentoo's policy, it certainly is more stable. As Arch provides, bleeding edge software, you need to understand how to act/react when there are inconsistencies. Only yesterday, hit three bugs: filed one in KDE directly, another in Arch and another in Enlightenment. Another time, I was getting a bug related to valgrind because I had an updated version of it as Arch had pushed the update much before any other distribution. I should probably also mention that Arch released a patched version the following day.

Arch is really simple in the sense at the system level. I was able to create init scripts for Arch far more easily than on Gentoo for the same package. Arch however is not as configurable as Gentoo is. No distribution can match or even come close to Gentoo in this regard. It uses a unique system for this called USE flags. With Arch I can not have a custom KDE; but with Gentoo I have a large number of options as to what I want to have and what not. This flexibility of configuration in Gentoo comes at a price: every package is compiled on your system.

I have provided comparisions with Gentoo because it is the only distribution that has comparable features. Both of these distributions are in a way close to me. On my home desktop, I have Gentoo installed; but on my laptop where I do most of my development tasks, I use Arch linux and I do not see a distribution switch in near future.

For me, Arch surely is a base platform to do what I want to do. I have so to say three distributions in one: a distribution that provides nice command line environment, another that provides nice and stable KDE. I have even stopped akonadi and nepomuk search from starting up at all as they started mysql instances and I was not using any of them. The third one provides latest Enlightenment desktop. I compile it instead of using the packages in the repositories so that I am up to date and also to get debug symbols compiled in.

There have been some issues with Arch from time to time though. For example, the Ricoh card reader on my laptop works fine for some kernel versions; but does not work with others. Arch surely is not for the beginners. However, for advanced users, it provides a lean system which can be tweaked to taste.


Anonymous said...

While Arch doesn't really have a system exactly like the USE flags, you can still compile packages with the flags you want. For example there is the Arch Build System which provides the PKGBUILD scripts to recompile any package in the repositories to your specifications. There's also the Arch User Repository which contains user submitted PKGBUILDs that are often set up to build existing packages with different flags like removing unnecessary GNOME/KDE libs in GTK+ and QT apps.

I don't know if this is what you're looking for but it's one of the best parts of Arch.

Phoenix said...

I know about ABS and AUR well. In fact, I have submitted some PKGBUILDs too. However, the flexibility of USE flags is not seen in these. AUR can provide some variations to you; but not much.