Why I moved to Arch Linux
I switched from Windows to Ubuntu Linux nearly 5 years ago and was quite happy with the move. About one and a half years back, while upgrading from 12.04 to 14.04, I moved to the more lightweight Xubuntu variant of Ubuntu and was quite pleased with this somewhat more minimalist distribution. It was only a month ago that I moved to the truly minimalist Arch Linux. Many factors drove this move:
- Above all, this was another step in my continuing journey towards minimalism. Xubuntu’s XFCE is a more minimalist desktop than Gnome, KDE or Unity, but Arch allows me to run Linux without a desktop environment at all. Arch Linux “is installed as a minimal base system, configured by the user upon which their own ideal environment is assembled by installing only what is required or desired for their unique purposes. GUI configuration utilities are not officially provided, and most system configuration is performed from the shell and a text editor.”
- The second big reason for the move was the desire to run the latest versions of the software that I do use: “Based on a rolling-release model, Arch strives to stay bleeding edge, and typically offers the latest stable versions of most software.” (My Arch Linux installation provides Linux Kernel 4.3.3, GCC 5.3.0, Python 3.5.1, and Emacs 24.5.1).
What happens in Ubuntu is that even at the time of a new release, many of the packages in the software repository are not the latest. For example, Ubuntu 12.04 released in April 2012 contained a very old version of TeX (TexLive 2009). A more recent version (TexLive 2012) was introduced in Ubuntu 13.04, but users of Ubuntu 12.04 could not get access to TexLive 2012 without upgrading their Ubuntu distribution itself. Upgrading Ubuntu is a non trivial undertaking particularly because like many other Ubuntu users, I prefer a fresh install of Ubuntu to the often problematic process of upgrading an existing Ubuntu in place. Therefore I usually upgrade only from one stable release to another so that while using 12.04, I waited for 14.04 (April 2014) to upgrade. This left me stuck with old versions of many software packages for many years.
Arch Linux solves this problem in two ways. First of all, the rolling release model means that packages are continually updated – updates do not wait for a new release; in fact, unlike Ubuntu, there is always only one version of Arch. Second, Arch usually builds and ships packages as the original author of the software intended with practically no changes in the source code. So when the original author makes any change, Arch is simply able to build the new version and ship it. Distributions like Ubuntu make a lot of changes to the original software and, therefore, there is a long delay in introducing the new version of the software in its packages.
- Finally, installing and using Arch Linux is a wonderful way to learn about how a Linux distribution works. The Arch Wiki is perhaps the best place to understand all the choices that are available for each component of the system.