Arch and thoughts on distro hopping

“Arch is a hard distro to {install,maintain,use}”

Elitist and meme culture

There has been a sentence on the internet for a long time now that I very much hate to hear or see. It’s the neckbeard’s introduction to a Linux topic and the nerdy zoomer’s favourite meme.
If you haven’t figured it out from that description, it’s the computer science nerd’s favourite meme expression: “I use arch btw”. It is a sentence that, if used unironically, is supposed to convey the superior intellect and skill of the person running that specific Linux distro over other Linux users, and, if used ironically, is supposed to be the latest hilarious meme in the computer science community that has been around for decades.

Why is this sentence so wide spread, known by everyone that has any interest in Linux and used the internet for 5 minutes? Because there exists this assumption that Arch Linux must be a painstakingly difficult distro to install, use and maintain.
But is that correct?
It’s true that Arch can be intimidating to install, with all the command line stuff going on and no prior knowledge of the process. But is it really that bad?

First time? Me too

I remember my first time installing Arch like it was yesterday: At first I was sweating profusely, scared of typing in rm -rf / by accident while I had the chroot active, but after a few minutes I was breathing heavily while clacking on my keyboard at 200wpm, just like the Linux nerd I always wanted to be. It turned out to not be such a difficult thing after all, having read the installation guide on the wonderful Arch Wiki. It’s honestly a fairly short read, and if you have any idea about anything on Linux you won’t be having that many issues. If you do run into any issues, the private search engine of your choice, or even the Arch Wiki itself, will be your best friend. Linux isn’t the undocumented, confusing mess of an operating system that Windows users make it out to be, not by any stretch. If you need help on something, you will find information on that (and please do make sure to look up on a topic instead of creating a new Reddit post right away, the information is most likely out there), especially when it’s Arch related.
After installing Arch for the first time, I decided to create my own “guide” (which as of now is a bit outdated), which is more like a series of commands that I need to run in order to install Arch. Now every install is just 10 minutes of thinking about the commands I need to type in and rebooting.

Usage

After the “horrible” installing experience, which is actually quite beautiful since you can configure the system the way you want and are not limited by the graphical installer that other distros come with, it’s time for actually using the distro. No, you won’t have a graphical interface to use at first, but that’s quickly fixed by pulling and installing the window manager/desktop environment of your choice with the amazing pacman and rebooting.
To be completely honest, I don’t understand why so many people call Arch a “difficult distro to use”. It’s used like every other Linux distro that exists on the internet after you first installed it. Sure, the way you install packages changes if you were used to a graphical front end of a package manager, but I’m sure even those exist for pacman if you prefer a GUI over the terminal. After installing something you’ll just use it like you would on Ubuntu, Mint, PopOS, Fedora, or any other distro. The hard part is if you want to run something like osu! that isn’t natively available on Linux and needs a lot of configuring to ensure that your drivers are working and the audio latency isn’t unbearable. Everything else is just as easy as you know it.

The “horrible” experience of maintaining Arch

Now, what about maintaining Arch? Surely that must hold some weight… right?
No, not if you ask me. I’ve been running Arch on and off for more than 5 years and not once did I actually have to fix something that was hard to do. If a package in your repo breaks anything then Arch usually tells you on their front page, and you can even automate the process of seeing if anything is up by installing informant, which blocks the installation of packages if there is news about any packages on the Arch website. The fixes are then displayed right in your command line from where you were updating your system from anyways.
“But what about the AUR?”, I hear you ask. I’m not aware of a tool like informant that exists for the AUR and yes, sometimes things in the AUR mess up, but this is the same as with any other distro. Think of it like this: The AUR is a collection of packages that you would have to install manually if you weren’t on Arch. An AUR helper makes this process even easier by allowing you to use the AUR like you use the offical repositories with pacman. If something screws up you either look at the GitHub issues for that project or the AUR page. If there’s nothing there, that sucks, but you’re now on your own, just like you would be on every other distro.

Conclusion

My conclusion is: No, Arch is not hard to maintain. It’s debatable, but I would even go as far as to say it’s easier than on other distros due to the help on the Arch website for packages in the repo that might break something, the Arch wiki that has a lot of issues on packages/programs listed on their respective wiki page, and the AUR pages of packages that people will post issues on and the maintainer of the package can post solutions to.

Distro hopping: An epidemic in the Linux bubble

The time has come for the second topic of this post: distro hopping. For a while now there has been a culture around constantly choosing different distros and trying them out, called “distro hopping”. People use a distribution of Linux for a while, think they don’t like it and jump to another one, daily driving that one for some time, until changing again, and so the cycle continues.
I have never understood the point of this and always ask myself: “What benefit can you gain from distro hopping?”, but I always end up with the conclusion that there is no benefit in doing this. Here’s why.

What’s the difference between distros? There are the fundamental differences: The package manager and the init system. If you are not happy with either then yes, it makes sense to hop to another distro. But there are only so many combinations of these 2 fundamental things to try, and nowadays the init system, being systemd, mostly stays the same across distros. What changes is the package manager, but there is a finite number of these available and at one point there’s no way you haven’t tried every single one.
The other difference a distro can make is what packages are installed by default. I get leaving a distro because it has packages that you don’t want, but at some point you’re bound to wonder if you shouldn’t just install a minimal distro like Arch to just choose what packages you want to have installed when you first use it. Don’t like a certain desktop environment? That’s fine, just don’t install it. Want a different one than the one you are currently using? Sure, just install it and you’re fine. No need to go distro hopping because of a desktop environment.

Lastly, it’s also just very annoying to hop distros. This is obviously a subjective point I’m making here. I can only imagine going from Ubuntu to Arch to Fedora, the package manager changing each time and having to consult different wiki’s (the most horrible thing, as I’ve found that the Arch wiki is essentially the only usable one, and it’s really good, too).

If there are points I missed, please enlighten me on what those are so I can finally understand this culture of distro hopping. As of now the reasoning behind this is beyond me and I think it’s a pure waste of your time.

Posted on: 2021-10-02 12:30
Last modified on: 2021-10-07 23:53