Take Mark Shuttleworth’s advice, try Arch Linux

In a recent Ubuntu community feedback session run on IRC Mark Shuttleworth said:

if you are a super-technologist then there is value in learning all about linux from every angle try arch. try gentoo. try fedora. try debian. try suse. they are all good

So, I did. I tried Arch Linux and it is is not just good, it’s truly brilliant! The truth is, I didn’t take Mark Shuttleworth’s advice. I took the advice of a quietly spoken work colleague. Whenever he saw me squirming with irritation at Canonical/Ubuntu he reminded me (quietly) that he was running Arch Linux and that it was really rather good. It turns out I should have listened to my colleague years ago, because he was right all along. He often is.

I started learning Arch Linux a few weeks ago and as of the time of writing all our home computers are running Arch Linux and so is my office workstation. I moved away from Ubuntu (which I’ve been using daily since 2004) because:

  • I often find myself needing/wanting updated packages on my workstations. Ubuntu + PPAs just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I concluded I needed a rolling release distribution.
  • In my humble opinion, Unity is a software engineering solution developed (by programmers) not designed using UI-patterns (by user interface designers) consequently it sucks the big one.
  • It was less hassle for me to switch to Arch Linux than bend Ubuntu to my will.

That said, I do wish Canonical every success with Unity, they’ll need it. If they try and ship a smartphone, tablet or TV running Unity they’ll be laughed out of town. For anyone interested in giving Arch Linux a try here are some observations.

  • Arch Linux does not hold you hand, you should be competent with a Linux based distribution. I’ve been using Linux since 0.99patch2 so I think I qualify.
  • Read the Unofficial Beginners’ Guide and Official Installation Guide before you install anything.
  • Install Arch Linux in a virtual machine to get acquainted.
  • Be prepared to fix your own problems. Fortunately the Arch Linux Wiki and Arch Linux Forums are a great source of good information.

Here is a list of what I most like about Arch Linux:

  • It’s a rolling release. I’ve already progressed through several kernels and been upgraded from Gnome 3.2 to 3.4. No fuss, no mess.
  • It keeps out of my way, I get to build the OS they way I want it. Yes, I’m looking at you Unity, Overlay Scrollbars, Unity App Indicators, Ubuntu One and upstart!
  • The AUR. It’s like a great big PPA.
  • Creating my own packages is super simple.
  • Adding my own packages to the AUR is super simple. I’ve already contributed 8 packages.
  • I’m learning more about Linux than I have done in years.

Here’s what I’m not so keen about, but can live with.

  • Some of the comments in the Forums and AUR are from real arse hats with a superiority complex. New comers may be put off by their tone and look elsewhere.
  • The AUR. Package quality in the AUR is variable, some are pretty poor. So long as the maintainer is not one of the aforementioned arse hats then contributing fixes and improvements is easy.
  • It’s a rolling release, so may not be suitable for serious server deployments. That said, I will migrate my own servers to Arch Linux in due course and see if I can prove myself wrong.

So there you have it, I like Arch Linux very much and, like Mark Shuttleworth, recommend it to other technically competent individuals looking to regain ownership of their computer(s).

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