Arch Linux: When you know exactly what you want (and don't need all the fluff).

Posted on Feb 07, 2008

My workstation at the Digisphere office runs Arch Linux.

After using Ubuntu for quite some time, I started to get a feel for exactly what I wanted in my dream Linux distro. I didn’t want Gnome, KDE, or any heavy desktop environment. I also didn’t need a glorious flashy window manager. I wanted something fast, light, and easy on the resources. Something that was quick and efficient to interact with from the keyboard. I tried very hard for a while to give Ubuntu the makeover it needed to become what I wanted; but it always proved a little tricky.

Arch Linux takes an approach from the opposite direction of Ubuntu (and friends). It’s a minimalist distro in the way that the base install provides only the most essential tools to complete a usable operating system. It doesn’t install X by default or any desktop environments, window managers, and so forth. Once installed, it’s up to you to make it what you want.

Package management in Arch is handled by pacman. It uses a simple compressed file format and does most of the basic things such a program is meant to do. Like the rest of Arch, it’s a minimalist program but it can be built up with various utilities to extend it’s functionality. Users of apt, yum, and the sort may find it quirky at first, but all it takes is a little syntactical shift in thinking before you realize it’s pretty much the same thing only smaller, lighter, and faster. The best part is that the Arch repositories track the latest versions of software which provides users with all the latest features. No more compiling your own and waiting for your distro repositories to catch up!

After a few hours I was able to go from vanilla Arch to a fully customized distro. I’ve got xmonad running on top of vanilla X. I’ve got vim the way I want, mutt for email, urxvt for a terminal, python 2.5, hugs… it’s perfect.

I’m tempted to spread this to my lappy. :)