I was intending to craft this entry for quite some time now. However, I continued to postpone it to let my thoughts and emotions mature and so that my final view is as fair as possible. After all, the distribution I will be talking about is a bit of an underdog and truly deserves praise. Who knows, maybe others will share my positive feelings…
Arch Linux is…different. It is not your run-of-the-mill Linux distribution with a focus on appealing graphical user interfaces or general ease of use. Arch Linux philosophy is based on two core components – simplicity and transparency. They make up the foundation of the Arch Way.
Simplicity of Arch Linux is understood differently than the majority would expect. It is ‘simple’ as in ‘uncomplicated’ not as in ‘simple to use for everyone’. This means that the initial setup is extremely minimalistic. In fact, the X Window Server needs to be installed and configured manually. Arch Linux offers a small initial system base from which everyone can build further to their liking.
Transparency of Arch Linux is…transparent. The whole system is governed in an impressively clear way. Configuration files provide necessary input and output. Even the package manager, pacman, uses very modest syntax (you won’t see long command chains like in Debian or Ubuntu), still being equally powerful as apt-get or portage.
Package management in Arch Linux also has a very interesting and flexible form. We have the mentioned pacman with its binary repositories and yaourt with its access to source-based AUR (Arch User Repositories). In essence Arch Linux combines quick and painless installation of classical binary packages with optimized compilation similar to that of Gentoo (though definitely not as extensive). Each user can contribute to AUR with new packages or re-editions of old ones. Others may then use those packages, comment on their performance and vote for favorites so that they are later added to the official pacman community repositories.
The development model of Arch Linux is something that requires explicit attention. Arch Linux is a rolling-release distribution, meaning that a single installation suffices for years and LiveCDs are merely snapshots of the OS and pacman repositories. This is not a very popular choice due to potential instability of the system. However, it doesn’t mean that all of offered software is in alpha or beta state. Arch Linux packages are thoroughly tested by a sizable community of experiences programmers before release. This reduces potential risks to a minimum. Personally, I never had any problems with the system, unless I accidentally caused them myself.
Summing up, I really enjoy Arch Linux. To me it is a perfect combination of simplicity, freshness, programming prowess and the finest features from other major distributions like Gentoo or Debian. It can be rather demanding, but the experience gained will definitely be invaluable when dealing with other distributions.