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Checking Out Arch Linux

written by: MD Weems•edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 2/3/2012

For those who are looking at the Arch Linux system for their computer, this is a beginner's review of the program to let you know what you can expect from the distribution and its installation.

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    What is Arch Linux?

    Since I am just becoming familiar with Linux, I had to do a little bit of background research on Arch Linux before I started to use it and review the program. I figured that I would share a little bit of that with you here before we get into the review so that you'll be familiar with it as well.

    Judd Vinet started the Arch Linux project as a way to create his ideal distribution. His goal was simple: to make a simple Linux system for power users. (Of course, a simple system does not mean for beginners, hence the reason I had to research it a lot before I reviewed it.) The Arch system is structured so that users can change things around and configure it to their personal preferences by modifying some simple items or installing what they want or need. There are no automatic configurations or GUI (graphical user interface) tools in this program. Anyone familiar with Linux can easily configure the program exactly how they like it, as the files are structurally simple and easy to find, unlike some of the other programs out there.

    Some Arch Features - Arch Linux installs a very base Linux system that users can then configure or expand so that the program fits their needs, and uses the pacman package management system that Judd Vinet wrote as well. (No, not the PacMan arcade game that we all loved 20 years ago... much to my disapointment...) While the program is like many other distribution software programs out there, it has its own repositories that are filled with different programs that are there to help the end user. But, one of the most unique features of Arch is that is uses a rolling update system. Here is what that means for you: instead of waiting 6-8 months for a new update to come out and be released to you, Arch will automatically release a new update as soon as it has been tested and then it will immediately be sent to the users of the program through the Arch repository. This means that those who use Arch won't have to do any type of upgrade to get the latest version of the software, as all you have to do is install a simple pacman-Syu and that command will always keep your program up to date. I personally think that this is probably one of the best features, as you never have to worry if your program is the latest version or go searching for new updates.

    Another great feature of Arch is the ABS, or the Arch Build System. This is based on a PKGBUILD file that contains all of the information about creating a package. You can easily compile a package in your system and then just as easily contribute to the community with a simple 1KB text file. While you don't have to use the ABS to install items, it is a great feature to the program that makes compiling and installing extremely easy.

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    On to the Arch Review

    Rating Average

    But the real reason that you are here is to read a review of the Arch Linux system, right? Well, here we go.

    Installation – The version I installed is 2007.08 ISO, or “Don't Panic” (which I thought was aptly named for me, as I had no clue about the program!). When you boot the CD, it will go into an installation/recovery system, and you simply type /arch/setup and then the installer will pop up. I was actually surprised at how easy the installer was, even though I am by no means a Linux expert – now don't get me wrong, I did get lost a couple of times and have to stop and go back. Those who are more experienced with Linux will have a much easier time. There is an official installation guide that can also help you through the process that was easy to use as well, and helped me a lot. To get a base system installed, configure the kernel, and then install Grub, it took me about 20-25 minutes – which isn't that bad for a beginner.

    Configuration – After the installation is complete, you only get a Linux prompt. There are no instructions here. I jumped back online and found the wiki for the program, located at, and found the information that I needed to install, nVidia drivers and Gnome (these were the most popular programs that I found were installed on Arch after I did some research online about it, which is why I chose these three programs – but there are tons of them out there that you can choose from). Pacman makes it easy to fetch the packages and make any configuration changes, and it was only about 10 minutes before I was able to start up Gnome. Since Arch isn't as graphics based as other programs, the desktop that you have is pretty basic without any flashy items. But, there are tons of programs that you can install (such as, conky, and Compiz-Fusion to make it more pleasing to the eye as it is in no way nice to look at right now the way I have it, at least for me).

    Once I got those downloaded and configured, I was then able to go in and get some other programs with pacman and install them on Arch as well. There are so many different programs, like Flash player, that you can install by simply using the pacman repositories and then installing them using the “pacman -S package” command. Even I was able to understand this and install some of the normal drivers and other programs that I like – so it has to be pretty user friendly.

    Overall, the configuration took me around 45 minutes to get everything set up the way I wanted it, as I had to go back to the wiki a couple of times for some help.

    My Opinion - While I am not familiar with distribution systems, I found that Arch was actually really fast and easy to use once it was configured the way that I liked it, and I was able to get in and play with it a bit. You do want to make sure that you configure it exactly to the hardware that you have on your computer so that you don't bog the program down or install stuff that you don't need. So, for those that are more familiar with Linux than I am – you are sure to find Arch Linux one easy program to use. If I found it pretty easy to use as a beginner, then I know that it will be simple and easy for other Linux users to install and work with. So, for those out there who are considering Arch Linux, I would easily give it a solid 4 out of 5 – and you might even rank it higher than that.