While at Canonical, I did dozens of interviews with candidates to join us in various roles. I noticed that a surprisingly large number of excellent candidates ran Arch, or one of its derivatives, as their daily driver. Given the popularity among candidates, I decided to give Arch a try after leaving Canonical last year.
Unlike Ubuntu’s installer which walks a user through the install process, Arch’s downloadable image is simply a bootable environment with all the tools needed to install a system. I had seen other users suggest everyone should go through this process at least once and so I did. I walked through the installation guide step by step. I loved the experience and the ability to customize and choose exactly how I wanted to set up the system. I would also recommend this to anyone who wants to really understand the process of installing a system better.
The trade-off for this customization and flexibility is a very intimidating experience for newer users. While many parts are documented in the ArchWiki, it is clear why many of the Arch derivatives, like Manjaro and EndeavourOS provide a more traditional install experience.
Another alternative is the Arch-guided installer, which provides a step-by-step installation similar to a more conventional install process. This is the method I ultimately used for additional systems. It is fast and still provides a great deal of flexibility. This is the way to first try for most users, especially new ones.
After the install and reboot, I got things up and running like any other Gnome install, except I had the pacman package manager and a lot newer versions of everything.
What I love
Some high-level observations that I love from running Arch as a daily driver over the past year:
Latest - Having the latest kernel, Nvidia drivers, and software available to me all the time. Rolling releases for the desktop are great for developers. New versions of Go are on my system within what feels like hours of the release, and the same goes for many other packages.
Documentation - The ArchWiki is famous for a reason, and every page I have had to look up has seemingly had recent improvements that answered my questions.
Speed - I created several snap packages and used a handful at Canonical. However, I did not realize the impact on my boot speed and general application performance till I watched how fast my system booted and I opened Spotify on Arch. Everything is faster. More importantly, I run an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X; until recently, this was one of the fastest CPUs a consumer can buy, paired with a PCIe Gen 4 NVMe. If I notice a speed difference, I cannot imagine the speed hit for a five- or six-year-old laptop user who may still have an SSD or even a spinning drive.
Stability - I update my desktop every weekday, and after more than a year, I have only had one issue slow me down. That includes dozens of new minor kernel versions, graphics drivers, and language updates.
Availability - between the Arch package repo and the AUR repo, I have not had any issues getting the packages I need.
What I miss
I took some time to think about what I might miss from using Ubuntu, the big
thing that stood out was the command not found output. I loved typing a command
and having the terminal print out the package to install that binary if the
command was missing. Arch users must learn
sudo pacman -Fy <cmd> or use the
[package search site] to find the package name.
What takes time
Given pacman is the package manager, knowing the various options, flags, and
capabilities of the command is pretty essential. I am still learning some
options and have to look them up occasionally, but these will come with time.
I have to recall I did not learn all the various
dpkg commands in a month, let alone a year.
I say hurt, but in reality, neither of these items was that big of an issue:
Pacman signing keys - As mentioned above, I tend to update every weekday,
but on my laptop the updates happen less often. Occasionally I will get a
message about a signature not trusted or an invalid package. Every time this
was resolved with updating the
archlinux-keyring package first. The
ArchWiki even mentions installing this package first before updating if
an upgrade gets delayed for an extended period.
Sound issue - I updated my system one morning and then I lost all sound. After doing my own troubleshooting I went to the forums and almost immediately found a thread with someone else having the same issue and a way to resolve it.
If someone asked me what distro to try, the answer of course depends. If they are new to Linux and want to explore, handing them the great initial user experience of Ubuntu is the obvious choice. There is more hand-holding, and the defaults provide a great initial experience. However, if someone knows Linux and is ready to dive in a bit more or desires newer software, a performant user experience, and a very active community, Arch is my choice.