So I left Arch Linux… what’s up with that?

About a year ago I started this blog, primarily as a sort of public collection of notes on how to do things on Linux, especially Arch Linux.

At the time I was annoyed by a lot of decisions Canonical made with Ubuntu, which I had been using for quite a while. So I made the decision to retake the control I felt canonical was taking away from users by switching to Arch Linux. This article is essentially a summary of my experiences with it and an explanation on why I am not using it anymore.

When my new laptop arrived in January of last year I immediately installed Arch Linux on it. For someone like me who’s Linux installation experience is basically “insert an Ubuntu live CD and click install” it was quite a challenge, but the Arch Wiki provides an amazing guide that made me succeed eventually (The Arch Wiki and Forum are in my opinion two of the best places in the internet to get help with Linux, not only Arch).

The Awesomeness

  • It’s customizable: The main reason for me to try Arch Linux, as I said earlier, is it’s customizability. You have to hand pick the software packages you want to be installed. This includes the Window Manager or Desktop Environment of your choice. So in the end you wind up with an operating system really suited for your needs.
  • It’s up-to-date: Arch is a rolling release distribution, which means that once an update for any package becomes available it will (almost) immediately be available for Arch users. Release cycle oriented distributions like Ubuntu also have an update function for bug fixes and security updates, but “bigger” updates will only be introduced in the next release of the distro. (There are of course ways to still get the latest version of almost everything, but it requires knowledge and work and kinda conflicts with the whole idea of a release based distribution)
  • It’s a great source of knowledge: The process of installing Arch Linux alone is probably one of the most effective ways to learn how Linux works and is configured. And even the running system sometimes requires you to dig deep into the file system to tweak a config file. I have learned much about Linux during my time with Arch, most of it on the Arch Wiki and forum.

So I ran Arch for the better part of 2012 and was quite pleased with the things I mentioned earlier, but there were also some things I did not like so much.

The Annoyances

  • Stuff breaks… often: Arch is bleeding edge. You get every update almost instantly… what?… I said that already? Yeah, it’s a big plus, but also in stability and convenience terms it’s a pain in the butt. You have to be on guard every time you update your system, you have to follow the mailing list and there is a good chance you have to fix something after the update. Again, thanks to the Arch Community those fixes are almost always available in the forums, but you still have to do them.
  • Your system is unique: And that makes it sometimes a bit harder to troubleshoot stuff. Especially if you are not sure what’s causing your problem. Other peoples solutions might or might not apply to your setup. Of course this is not an Arch exclusive problem, but my guess is that is happens more often than with more restrictive distributions.

The last two points are only a problem if you do not have fun fixing problems and learning stuff (which I did) or if you simply don’t have the time (this one applies to me). I do all my work for the university on my laptop and it needs to work all the time. Also I use it as an entertainment device to watch movies, listen to music or play games. (Boy, has Linux gaming taken off lately 😀 ) And if I want to do one of those things, it needs to work.
I hate it to sit down and write some code only to find out that the last system update has broken the compiler or something.
So, Arch Linux, it’s not you, it’s me! There is nothing wrong with how Arch is, but it has just turned out not to be the right thing for me now.

That’s why I eventually decided to ditch Arch and switch to Linux Mint for now. I am now running Mint 13 Maya Cinnamon Edition and am quite happy with it.
I am almost sure that I will come back to Arch someday though!

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10 Responses to So I left Arch Linux… what’s up with that?

  1. hypoxia says:

    Just out of curiosity — I always wonder what exactly it is when people talk about “update breakage” in arch. What did you experience on your part? Are we talking regressions in the updated software, or problems stemming from packaging? I just wonder because in the year I’ve been using arch now I haven’t had a single “breakage” event and only once a regression in a kernel driver.

    As for the mailing list, I’m not following that at all and it’s not expected of the users. I follow the RSS news feed which, during a year, has seen only two postings related to significant changes in distribution structure (the usr-move and systemd), and none of those required much manual intervention on my part.

    • Nick says:

      Ok, fair enough, I should have given examples.
      When I used Arch I used Gnome 3 as my desktop environment. As I described in one of my previous posts I used a couple of extensions to make it more usable. Gnome updates used to break those extensions all the time and you would have to wait for the extensions author to adjust his code to the new version (Gnome 3 was very young and fast moving at the time, so I guess it could have become more stable by now). But extensions in general have similar problems, also for Firefox and Thunderbird.
      One time I couldn’t boot into GDM until I had fixed a config file of GDM (or X11 I can’t remember). One time VLC introduced a bug and I could not play certain DVDs until the next update.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am not blaming Arch for any of this. All of those things are clearly the fault of the respective projects or myself, but the way a rolling release works just kind of encourages those things to happen. I am happy for you that you don’t have the issues and as I said they were never very severe for me either, but the annoyances just added up and I made the decision to switch.

      On the mailing lists: arch-announce is recommended for all users to subscribe to, I think the RSS news from the website are essentially the same. Yes, the postings are rare, but they also tend to introduce rather big changes like the deprecation of init scripts in favor of systemd.

      • hypoxia says:

        Ah, I see what you mean then. Thanks for elaborating. Of course it would be nice to have the best of both worlds, as in partial upgrades. But I guess those things don’t mix easily. One way that comes to mind would be maintaining one’s own packages, which would implement a kind of partial upgrading, where you opt out of the rolling release model for some packages. I’ve never really tried that except for a single, rather trivial package that doesn’t get updated that often; but I have read from others that maintaining your own packages on Arch like that can be a pain and isn’t what one would like it to be. Anyway I hope mint works well for you.. Consider letting us know at an appropriate point in time.

    • Nick says:

      Yes, I agree, an opt-out solution would be tempting, but I guess then you would introduce dependency issues. Anyway, if the rumors of Fedora and even Ubuntu switching to rolling release in the future turn out to be true maybe we will see a different approach.

      • h4unt3r says:

        Excuse my coarse attitude, but you should never just blindly update. I have been running Arch for a little over a year now and I’ve been perfectly happy. I should point out that I use openbox and pcmanfm with my bashrc as my login manager. So its barebones, but I still read the updates and proceed with caution when I see my WM or kernel getting updated.

  2. 53p3n7 says:

    I found Linux Fedora to be a great compromise between the Slackware/Arch/Gentoo distros where almost everything must be done manually (what I call “The Conservative South”) and the Ubuntu/Mint auto-everything distros (“The Icy North”).

    I would recommend sticking with Fedora 17 though, as Fedora 18 isn’t quite all there yet in my experiences.

  3. Harry Spintz says:

    If you like Arch, try Manjaro. They have all the flavors that includes openbox, xfce (standard), Cinnamon, mate, E17, KDE, LXDE and a net edition. They have optimus working out of the box….

    Popularity has been soaring…..

  4. sangnd says:

    Hello, I am about to switch to Arch Linux or Fedora from Ubuntu. I’ve read your entry and I still wanna try Arch Linux 😀

  5. jarkonik says:

    If arch can at least boot after upgrade – that’s cool. The worst part is when i have to chroot from other distro to repair it. Love it and wouldn’t switch to anything else anyways.

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