Make Gadgets Work

Arch Linux - nearly a year on....

Ankit Mittal

I have been dwelling in the world of Arch Linux for just under a year now and must admit the experience is nothing less than liberating. Granted that the barrier to entry was big when I dived in, as a pure Arch install takes some reading and learning but the rewards are worth the pain.

While it may seem easier to stick with dear old .deb files in the end AUR has an equally large collection if not more and the fact that it's a rolling release means that the initial set-up pain is very well negated by another fact that unless like me you are forced to change your hard disk or something that sinister; there is no reason to do a reinstall which is often the case with Debian based distros should you chose to upgrade to their latest offering.

I have read and heard words such as "Arch is not for faint hearted" or "Arch is for motivated newbie" and so on but in my opinion there are two types of Linux users:

  1. Those who have an itch to tinker (someone like me)
  2. Those who don't care as long as they can get on with their day to day business (someone like my wife)

It's the type 1 who is intended audience of this post because type 2 can't be bothered. Now if you have an itch to tinker there will come a point where you will find that all existing distros have a limit on what you can tinker without messing something to the point where you feel like you have to give another distro a try and before you know it a reinstall is on hand, which ofcourse means type 2 user has to deal with the changes a new distro will bring and this in turn will make them frown and thereby increase the risk of them secretly cursing the day you - the type 1 user - encountered the world of Linux.

Now Arch is very stable and still gives you the freedom to tinker, learn and do all great things rather than worry about the cosmetics and allow your tinker angel to quench it's thirst by allowing you to focus your learning potential on something that just doesn't scratch the surface so you can feel good about yourself but actually allows you to learn a great deal in the process. The helpful Arch community usually has the answers for nearly every problem I encountered while trying to achieve my goals.

I do not think that for a Type 1 user - newbie or not - Arch is hard or unfriendly. There is lot more satisfaction once you have your desktop exactly the way you wanted. Getting applications is as easy as using software centre in other distros and now that I have been using it, I find using "yaourt" (Arch equivalent of Synaptics) much better and the fact that repositories are maintained on servers in nearly all locations, it does seem to get new updates to your favourite applications rather quickly too.

I will substantiate this claim with following examples:

Getting android sdk configured on debian based distros is a right pain in you know where but with Arch it's what we like to call a doddle in Great Britain. Getting intellij IDE on other distro repositories is not an option but in Arch - you got it, it's a doddle.

Why is that? It's because Type 1 users when they switch to Arch they soon realise that they now have time on their hands which earlier used to disappear in distro hopping. So what do they do with this time? They search for software they want to use and if it isn't in the repo then with their new found confidence they don't shy away from building it from source and when they have done that they want to showcase their work and they can do so in AUR short for Arch User Repository - though with all that is already there this showcasing will only be possible if you genuinely need a very unique software not used by any Arch user - highly unlike scenario if you were to go by my experience . You will find nearly all software you can think of in AUR and since it's being maintained by someone who needed it, chances are he / she will keep it updated for his / her use thereby ensuring you get the latest and greatest as it happens. What a wonderful model it is indeed.

Now if you are still not geared up to go all the way to start from scratch on Arch but want to get a flavour, why not start with the new kid on the block - Manjaro Linux?

Manjaro linux is an Arch based distro, with a rolling release schedule and will still give you the access to AUR. It takes away the pain of setting up your system on command line and does the hard work for you so you can get the benefits of Arch but not the pain. Seems like a win win especially for those who are repelled by the very thought of terminal based system configuration.

Manjaro Linux offers all leading desktop environments - Gnome, KDE, Openbox but their best offering is with XFCE. XFCE is very good as well what with it being light weight and not making your Type 2 users feel that the system has been rendered useless. The default configuration of Manjaro XFCE flavour does come with a very ready to use set-up yet enough opportunity to make it and configure just the way you like it. In addition a type 1 user will be pleasantly surprised that using XFCE does wonders to satisfy that itch to tinker.

The login manager used with XFCE is MDM but can be easily replaced to the slick lovely light and beautiful SLiM and by installing slimlock you can also get rid of the ugly default screen lock that comes bundled with XFCE.

Explore some more and key bindings on this desktop are much more satisfying and easier to manage than on Gnome or KDE - IMHO.

Manjaro also comes with GUI based synaptics equivalent called "packer" but like I said once you are used to "yaourt" interface everything else GUI based just seems pale in comparison becaue it does not give the same satisfaction of installing stuff.

The one situation where Manjaro might actually be a better choice than Arch is when you are dealing with a potential convert. Offer them Arch with yaourt and they might be very sceptical but offer Manjaro with packer and they just might convert. Then again for this scenario perhaps Linux Mint or Zorin OS may be even better choice.

Point is Arch should enter into anyone's life where they make the choice but not when someone else is making that choice on their behalf as they may or may not develop the habit of tinkering. When and if they do, they will need to decide on their own to move to this platform but if you have been calling yourself a linux newbie and have found yourself reviewing new distros or worse distro hopping and by extension forum hopping, tailoring your linux install and generally enthusistic when it comes to all things Linux, I think it is time to get your feets wet and hands dirty. Get Arch experience in it's purest form or by using Manjaro, you will not regret it.