Testing out Arch Linux

As you may know, I’ve used lots of Linux distros over the years. Right now, I’m testing Arch Linux on an old PC. I’ve been curious about Arch for a long time and now finally I had the opportunity to try it out. Basically, I’m giving new life to an old PC and thus I’m exploring ways to use the most lightweight software possible. That means choosing the right applications and the right distribution. I’m not sure if Arch is the right distribution, but I like it.

So, what is Arch like ?

Arch is a very basic Linux distro, that you can easily customize. It reminds me of Gentoo, although it’s not source-based. Package management is based on tar.gz packages, with full dependency support. What stands out at first is the speed of pacman, the application used to manage software installation. After downloading the packages, installation is very very quick. And it’s as simple to use as apt-get.
So, at first, package management looks like apt-get but with tar.gz instead of debs. But it doesn’t stop there. Then you have the AUR platform, which is the part that resembles Gentoo. The AUR repository holds not the software, but special files (PKGBUILDs) that tell the installer where to get the software from and how to install it. It can be binaries or sources (they look a lot like Gentoo’s ebuilds). This AUR repositories are community-maintained and everyone can contribute with PKGBUILDs. Creating a package is very simple, the PKGBUILD is just a small script and you’ll probably just have to edit some variables. That’s why there’s so many software int the AUR. By using this simple mechanism you ensure that all software on your computer is installed through Arch package management system.

What do you get of an Arch installation ?

Arch installation is done through a text installer, but is quite simple. Installation is quick because there’s not much software to install. The base installation only has core libraries and binaries. There’s not even X. You’ll only get a console prompt, vi and not much more. And this is great, because you can customize it the way you like it and install only what you want. And if you want X, just issue "pacman -S xorg".
It’s not for everyone, but long-time Linux users that like to fiddle with their system will probably like Arch.
Over the next posts I plan to tell you more about my experience with Arch and with building a lightweight system.

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2 responses to “Testing out Arch Linux”

  1. celem says :

    I too tried out Arch. Using tar.gz was appealing to me. However, while building i got several M’soft-like blue screens of death crashes. Given that I wasn’t getting a stable build, I abandoned the effort. I will probably try again sometime in the future but for now I remain cautious about Arch.

  2. Carlos Ribeiro says :

    That’s too bad. Fortunately I still haven’t experienced a crash.

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