A year on, Arch Linux remains unbeatable

Posted on January 6, 2014

I first wrote about my tryst with trying to use Linux on the desktop sometime around 2012. I covered various attempts to use a Hackintosh, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, among various other distributions, before finally ending up with the one Linux distribution to rule them all, Arch Linux.

It has been a year and a half since I wrote those posts. In that time, I returned to using Windows 8.1 briefly, while also giving other distributions such as Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Mint KDE, and SolydXK a go. I still hold on to my Windows installation dearly for reasons such as gaming, watching Blu-ray discs in PowerDVD, and most importantly having a functioning PC for when anything goes wrong on the Linux side of things. But none of the other mentioned Linux distributions have offered me the pure Linux experience that Arch Linux has in the past, and still continues to do so.

Nearly everything I wrote about Arch Linux in that older post remains true to this day. Rolling releases are a Godsend for people like me who simply must have the latest versions of all software and drivers running in their PC. The Arch User Repository remains the largest user-created database of Linux applications out there. And no other distribution has as comprehensive a Wiki as Arch has. But those aren’t the main reasons why Arch remains my distribution of choice. The number one reason I will never leave Arch is that I have learnt more about the internals of Linux by using Arch than by using any other distribution.

It hasn’t always been rosy. I’ve had to tear down my Arch installation a handful of times over the past year due to a number of issues. On one install, Nvidia simply refused to switch on Vsync for my videos, which made VLC and any other video player including Youtube all but unusable. This has been well documented in the past. On my most recent install, sound seemed to be working just fine in the general desktop and music players like Amarok, but refused to work in VLC and Youtube. It turned out that Nvidia HDMI Audio was gaining priority over my Intel onboard sound card for some insane reason. After trying for hours to fix the issue using ALSA, I gave up and installed Pulseaudio, which allows the user to disable one of the sound cards altogether.

Most of this sounds like more work than is necessary. And to be completely honest, it is. I’ve lost countless hours of productivity trying to get Arch Linux to work properly, than with any other distribution. But the net result is that I ended up learning more about Linux in trying to fix these issues than I had in the past. And to me personally, that seems worth the effort. And the long-standing positive is that, Arch Linux, because of its rolling nature, is a one-time install distribution. Once you’ve got everything up and running (and backed up), you don’t have to worry about it for any several years. In my experience, Linux is not susceptible to the same kind of installation bloat and rot that Windows is (orphaned registry entries, software that leave behind traces of their existence which prove difficult to remove etc). I hope to keep my current install running for the foreseeable future, until Arch gives me a reason not to.

I am also planning to get into writing Arch PKGBUILDs for some of the software I want, but that either don’t exist in the AUR or exist but not in the format I want. In the next post, I will get into similar details on how KDE won me over as the desktop environment of choice.