Jason's Blog

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My Path to Arch Linux

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When I started using Linux 5 years ago, Ubuntu was a wonderful distribution for me. It was easy to set up, made access to drivers easy, and had a giant repository of software. Between Octave and the myriad of programming tools available, I was set for my engineering coarsework1. And for downtime, Wine let me satisfy my World of Warcraft addiction.

Over time, my computing aesthetic taste gradually trended minimalist. I realized while Ubuntu comes by default with a wealth of useful applications installed by default, I never used them. They cluttered my menus and disk drive. My next several Ubuntu installs used the text based alternate installer to build up only what I needed from a clean slate.

Simultaneously, I explored shell scripting, using conky to keep track of my system status, mutt to view my email in the terminal, and vim to edit my files. I realized that I felt more in control of my computing experience this way. I was hooked.

All this time I was using Gnome 2 as my desktop environment, but was intersting in trying alternatives. The Gnome Project’s introduction of version 3 of their desktop environment, and Ubuntu’s switch to Unity gave me the excuse I needed to do so, since I would be switching anyway.

And since I was looking for alternatives, why not try a different distribution too? Arch Linux seemed like a great alternative to someone with my tastes. The project aims to be simple, elegant, user-centric, open, and free (as in freedom). From the previous link, on simplicity:

Arch Linux defines simplicity as without unnecessary additions, modifications, or complications, and provides a lightweight UNIX-like base structure that allows an individual user to shape the system according to their own needs. In short: an elegant, minimalist approach.

Just what I was looking for! Moreover, they have excellent documentation through their wiki. I had never found a comparable source of knowledge for Ubuntu. I highly recommend looking through it and using it as a resource even if you don’t use Arch.

I’ve been using Arch for almost a year now. I have 3 machines running it:

  • My desktop, using xmonad as a window manager.
  • A Thinkpad laptop, using Gnome 3 so that my wife is able to find her way around as well. She doesn’t share my minimalist aesthetic.
  • I ended up renting a server on Linode that is using Arch. My home server is having some trouble, and I haven’t had the time to mess with it at a hardware level yet. I’ve been quite happy with them so far.

If you are like me, and enjoy both minimal aesthetic and the feeling of complete control over your machine, consider using Arch Linux.

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

  1. Indeed, looking for an alternative to buying or pirating Matlab was what lead me to try Linux in the first place. All I needed to know was that I could use Open Office to write documents and still find a way to play games.