So, long story short, I've been working a lot with ArchLinux in the last few days, getting it setup, and starting to use this peculiar little distribution. While I will surely be blogging more about Arch in the coming days, I think a brief list of first impressions are in order.

  1. I share values with the Arch Developers.

    This is, I think, a factor of "choosing a Linux (or BSD) distribution" that is really hard to understand or explain. In part because the values that distinguish distributions are hard sometimes hard to suss out, particularly if you're on the outside looking in. This explains the phenomena of "distro hopping"

    My sense of the "Arch" philosophy/approach is largerly what this post is about, but in summary: arch is lightweight and minimal, Arch expects users to be sophisticate and intelligent (Arch would rather tell you how something works, so you can do it "right," than try and save you from yourself and do it in a way that might be wrong.) Arch is a community project, and isn't reliant on commercial interests, and arch is firmly dedicated to free software ideas.

    How does this compare to other distributions you've heard of. Arch is community oriented/originated like slackware and Debian; Arch is lightweight like debian-netinst and Gentoo; Arch is minimal like Damn Small Linux (though not quite that minimal) and the other tiny-Linuxes; Arch is based on binary packages like Debian and Fedora/RedHat/CentOS; Arch uses linux, but takes inspiration from the BSDs in terms of system architecture; Arch uses a rolling release cycle like Debian testing branch and Gentoo.

  2. It doesn't dumb anything down, and doesn't expect users to be either experts *or* total beginners.

    I think the term they use is "Intermediate" or "Advanced Beginner" but in any case, but in any case I think the approach is good. Provide configuration in it's most basic and straightforward form, and rather than try to make the system easier to configure, document and hope that straightforward configuration setup will be easier to manage in the long run than a more convoluted, but "easy" set up.

    Basically Arch expects and assumes that complexity and difficulty are the same, and opposed and that simplicity and ease of use are similarly connected.

  3. Arch values and promotes minimalism.

    This comes from a few different aspects of Arch but in general, the avoidance of complexity in the configuration, and the "blank slate" aspect of the installation process combine to create a system that is minimal and that is almost entirely agnostic with regards to what you might want to do with the system.

    Where as many linux-based systems are designed for specific tasks (eg. mythbuntu; medibuntu; linux mint; crunch linux, etc.) and include software by default that supports this goal. Arch in contrast, install no (or very little) software by default, and can function well for a wide range of potential uses, from the fully featured desktop to the minimalistic headless server install.

  4. The Arch Wiki Rocks.

    I've been thinking about wikis and what makes a wiki "work" rather than "not work," and I'm beginning to think that the ArchLinux Wiki is another example of a wiki that works.

    I used to think that wikis powered by the MediaWiki engine were always bad: they look too much like wikipedia (and are reasonably hard to customize) and as a result people tend to treat them like wikipedia which caries all sorts baggage from the tradition 19th century encyclopedic projects and colonialism, and fails to capture some of the brilliance and effectiveness of wikis outside of the world of wikipedia (and the MediaWiki engine by association.)

    So despite this, the ArchLinux wiki is actually really good and provides helpful instructions for nearly everything to do with Arch. It looks good, and the more I read it all of the cool discursive/opinion-based modality that I enjoy the most about wikis is present on the Arch Wiki.

  5. Archies are really geeky and great, and their interests and tendencies are reflected in the packages provided by the system:

Allow me to justify this with a few anecdotes:

  • Arch includes a "snapshot package" from emacs-23 in the main repository (you have to add another debian repository to get this in debian).
  • There is a great cross over between Awesome--my window manager of nchoice--and Arch, so there are good up to date packages of Awesome.
  • Uzbl, (eg. useable) a super minimalistic, web-kit based browser is developed on/for Arch.
  • As I was getting my first virtual machine setup, I did a bit of distro hopping to see what would work best. I decided to use virtualbox (because it's nearly free software, and reasonably full featured) and I had a hell of a time getting other OSs to work right inside of the virtual box, but it appears that other Archies have had the same thought, and there were pretty good explanations on the wiki and it just worked.

How cool is that? I don't think arch is for everyone, but, if any of what I've talked about today sounds interesting/appealing, give it a shot. Also, my experiences with running it under Virtual Box have been generally favorable, so if that's more your speed, give it a shot.

Onward and Upward!