Yesterday I did a post on why I would still choose the Gentoo operating system over any other GNU/Linux system. Today, I want to talk about why I would choose another favourite operating system of mine: Arch.
The Arch installation is brilliant; everything is simple, streamlined and fully installed in about 20 minutes. I think even a beginner - with documentation - could get through the install very easily.
After the install, it’s a matter of installing X.org Server if you want it (as well as your input and video card drivers) and a desktop environment or window manager.
All in all, for me to get from nothing to a fully functional, perfectly set up Arch system just the way I want it, it takes a little over an hour. This is extremely fast in my books; coming from Gentoo (which takes about 6 or 7 hours to get the same outcome) I happily greeted the speed of Arch’s setting up process.
But Arch’s speed would be nothing without it’s brilliant package manager: Pacman. Pacman syntax is simple enough, but as with any package manager it takes a bit of getting used to if you’ve never used it before. Every time I install a package with pacman, I am amazed by its speed; I have LibreOffice on my system in a minute or two, and installing X only takes a minute. It truly is incredible, and a great credit to the developers.
Arch also has some great documentation. It is a very communal and open wiki, but its quality is unmatched; even by Gentoo. Guiltily, I have to admit I even used Arch’s documentation when Gentoo’s could not suffice.
In terms of using Arch, it is really, really fast. Boot up takes me 9 seconds - a full 13 seconds faster than a stage-3 Gentoo installation - which surprised me, since Arch is a binary distribution.
One thing to note is that Arch does use a few MiB more of RAM compared to my Gentoo installations. In Gentoo, I had RAM sitting around 67MiB with the Openbox window manager, but with Arch this was closer to 79MiB of RAM. This isn’t much, and on today’s hardware it is negligible. However, if you want to squeeze every bit of power out of your system, you really have no choice but to go with Gentoo. In most cases, however, this is essentially unimportant. I never found performance to be hindered in Arch, and as I stated earlier, I found Arch in most cases running faster than Gentoo.
Configuration is a breeze with Arch. Instead of having all your configurations scattered about in /etc/conf.d/ or wherever else they may be, virtually everything is configured in one, simple file: /etc/rc.conf. It is very different to Gentoo’s rc.conf in the way that it appears much simpler and cleaner, and hence I’m more inclined to configure it. On the contrary, I hardly touched Gentoo’s rc.conf without documentation or proper knowledge, but to be totally fair, they both serve different configuration options. Many overlap, but there are distinct differences in a few configurations, such as network configuration and hostname.
Arch also looks after your kernel for you, automatically building the appropriate kernel modules and symlinking the new kernel correctly, as well as cleaning out the previous kernel. I’ve never had a problem with the way Arch handles the kernel; it has never failed on me.
But perhaps one of my favourite things about Arch is the up-to-date packages in its repositories. I think this distribution has the most up-to-date packages of all distributions. For example, Mozilla Firefox 10.0.2 was released today. On the same day, it was released in the repositories. The Arch kernel is the latest stable kernel available. Updates are always coming, and I like that.
If I’m going to rely on a package manager and repository for my packages, I want them up to date. Arch exceeds all my expectations; I am mystified as to how up-to-date it is, at least compared to Gentoo where Firefox is still on 9.0 and the kernel was just passed as stable for 3.2.1. All in all, this is a brilliant advantage of Arch.
Perhaps their ability to keep all their packages up-to-date is because of their vanilla philosophy: provide software with no distribution modifications unless they are absolutely necessary. This is well inline with my philosophy; if there’s bugs in the software, you can trace it back to upstream, and secondly, you get up-to-date packages which are faster and the way the developer intended it.
So Arch is a fantastic GNU/Linux distribution; I would certainly recommend it to all who are keen on delving deeper into Linux, without having to get into bed with Larry the Cow.
I currently use an Arch system instead of a Gentoo system for a couple of reasons: 1, my BIOS doesn’t play nice with the 3.0.6 or 3.2.1 gentoo-sources kernels (that’s what you get from an HP laptop…) and 2, my hardware is poorly suited to local compilation; I think both my CPU and fan were ready to jump at one point.
However, here is the final verdict: Which operating system do I prefer?
The answer is Gentoo Linux.
Arch is a great system, no doubt, but I still like the Gentoo way of doing things. I like being in total control and building my system from the base up. I prefer Portage over Pacman, and the USE flags configuration makes everything more tuned to your system. On top of that, USE flags can help you decide which dependencies you pull in and leave out. Finally, I’ve always seen huge benefits in source package management instead of binary package management.
So there you have it. This is a counter-argument to my previous article, Why I Still Choose Gentoo. If you have any comments, questions or opinions, leave me a message in the Ask box.