Why I Don’t Use Arch Linux

Arch Linux is a great rolling-release Linux distribution that is focused on letting users get what they want out of their system. Its minimalistic nature allows a user to choose just the features they need, and it usually does a really good job staying up-to-date on the latest available versions of software packages. On top of this, Arch’s documentation wiki provides one of the most comprehensive collections of information on installing and configuring software on Linux, often also having useful information that can be applied to other Linux distributions. The installation guide on their wiki is especially useful, as it gives a user the freedom to set up their system as they see fit without being constrained by the limits of a conventional installer.

I’ve used Arch for a few months this year on a variety of devices from the Raspberry Pi 2 and 4, to a netbook from 2010, to a custom-built desktop gaming PC (AMD processor with NVIDIA graphics). I was able to get all of these systems working really well after a number of hours tweaking them to ensure the correct drivers and applications were installed. Overall, it was a great learning experience to see how a Linux system installation really works instead of having most of the details hidden behind a GUI or an install script. I was able to install Arch on my systems with encrypted BTRFS subvolumes with LUKS encryption which allowed me to use Snapper to automatically create BTRFS snapshots I could roll back to in case something went wrong with my system in the future. With a setup like this, I could hypothetically recover from a disastrous event, such as wiping my root subvolume without having to reinstall the whole system again.

To me, the minimalism of Arch is a double-edged sword; it allows a user to have great level of control over what is installed on their system so they can match it exactly to their needs, however that level of minimalism also forces users to spend a lot of time setting up and configuring their system. On top of this it also requires users to understand a lot more of the intricacies between software packages to get expected results: for example, when installing the LibreOffice suite on Arch, for spellchecking to work the user must also manually install the hunspell library. I found this level of involvement to be tedious after using my Arch installs for a while.

One of my other complaints about how Arch is organized is that their pragmatic approach mixes free software in their repositories with non-free software. I don’t have an issue with making non-free software available for users (heck, most of my desktop Debian installs use the contrib and non-free repos for things like the proprietary NVIDIA drivers and Steam), I just don’t like that there isn’t a clear separation between free and non-free software to let users more easily make this choice.

In conclusion, I think Arch Linux is a fine distribution that is great for users wanting a very granular level of control over how their system is set up. It is also a great tool for a user to learn how a Linux system is installed and configured. I just feel that it’s not for me; these days I like to use tools that make my life easier and decrease the amount of tinkering I need to do to get things to work the way I want. I don’t want to have to spend an hour to get an office suite set up, I just want something that just works with minimum fuss.