It’s been over a year since the last time I reviewed (1, 2) the Linux distribution that I use most of the time, Arch Linux. Since then, while the distro-specific innovations have slowed a bit down, maturity and stability has emerged. Make no mistake. Arch has seen some cool new additions lately: a special mkinitrd utility, network profiles, ACPI support, NetworkManager in the “Testing” tree and more. But what really stands out compared to the user experience of the 1-2 years ago is the package stability. Fewer buggy packages make it to -Current or -Extra trees these days and the ones that do are quickly fixed by the very helpful hackers in the Bugzilla.
Moreover, it is still possible to start up a fully functioning Gnome with only 50 MBs of user-consumed RAM (acpid, dbus, hal, fam, gdm also loaded), while the default configurations of the big-4 distributions require well over 100 MBs of RAM — making them pretty impossible to run on 128 MB RAM machines.
Speed is also one of the great features of Arch Linux. It boots fast (20-22 seconds on my P4 laptop) and it it’s generally speedy when operating too.
What I like in Arch most of all though it’s its simplicity. There are no GUI tools to take care most of the configuration, but it’s so easy to learn to use the system was it was supposed to be used that this is not a problem. For example, most configuration exists on the editable /etc/rc.conf file, and you might also need to edit the /etc/rc.local or /etc/conf.d/wireless files. Adding your users on some of the /etc/group user-groups will allow them for further flexibility.
The reason I write this mini-review is just so I revisit my “Arch Vs Slackware” article published in November 2004. Back then, the two distros were a tie. Today though, I think that Arch has surpassed Slackware in terms of the overall user experience. During that time Slackware has become KDE-only (Gnome available only via external efforts) and has seen tiny evolutionary steps.
All this doesn’t mean that Arch is perfect though (neither that Slackware is bad). Some lose ends, like some automatic configuration for a few things that a user would normally expect to be pre-configured, gnome-power-manager and other important packages becoming part of -Extra, easier/automatic package creation etc, are still missing. Yes, there are some community repositories, but if you want to keep your machine as stable as possible, you stay with -Base, -Extra and -Current trees only.
In closing, I would like to applaud the Arch Linux developer team for their efforts. They’ve done a great job so far and of course, they still have a long way in front of them too.
If you like a speedy Linux, easy to learn and operate and you don’t afraid of the command line, give Arch Linux a shot today. Its main ISO with X support is just 500 MBs (and then you built it from there adding more packages as you go along).
Hardware Support: 9/10
Ease of use: 7/10
Credibility: 9/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 9/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)
Overall rating: 8.3/10