Arch Linux vs Slackware vs Others

Slackware was the first distro I installed, from a book, in the early 90’s, when I was studying for my PhD. In the latter half of the 90’s I had installed Redhat.

For everyday use, I use Windows, because things like my webcam and Yahoo Messenger Just Worked. If I was feeling a bit UNIXy, it was always possible to resort to cygwin.

I mostly pootled along that way until I discovered the Raspberry Pi, whereupon I decided to run a webserver from home on it. I fiddled around with the hardware, bought a cubieboard, and then a proper computer: an ASUS. The ASUS was pretty cheap. It came with Windows 8, but with no install disk, alas.

I tried Windows 8 for all about 30 minutes, and concluded that it was as bad as everyone said it was. That’s when I decided to zap the hard drive and install Arch onto it. I had some experience with Arch before, which gave me problems, for one reason or another.

I knew that my server would be dedicated to Linux, so I did not mind that I was erasing Windows 8.

This time, I had no problems with Arch, and I have been using it on my server for over a year. My conclusion: it’s the best Linux OS I have used. Despite being rolling release, it has been very stable for me, and much more stable than other systems.

On my main desktop, I have mostly been using Windows 7, with the occasional dual-boot to whatever I happen to want to experiment with. I have used a number of Linux systems in the past, including the *BSDs.

I usually dual-booted onto some flavour of Ubuntu; either the main distro, or Lubuntu. I tried out the most recent version of Ubuntu to see what all the fuss was about regarding the GNOME desktop.

To me, GNOME is unusable. It seems to require an unwarranted amount of movement, with no particularly good way of arranging windows. It you’re a developer, you need to have ready access to a large number of windows, and GNOME doesn’t seem to accommodate that kind of layout.

I was irked enough that I decided to try Slackware again.

My general comparison of Arch vs Slackware:

  • I love the breadth of packages available for Arch, and its dependency management. Slackware is clearly inferior in that respect … BUT … having said that, Slackware has two mitigating factors: 1) alienbob provides some pre-built binaries, and they’re for some really useful software like vlc, blender and libreoffice, and 2) failing that, sbopkg fills in many gaps. I discovered the tool ‘sqp’, which can build a queue containing all the dependencies. This is excellent, as it means I don’t have to fark around manually installing the dependencies. The dependency chain can be quite long for some of the more involved packages. Now I don’t have to worry about it. For software that is not in sbopkg, I can download the source and compile. This is not so bad, because software in this category tends to be at the periphery, where the dependency chain is not so big as to be onerous. Arch still wins, but I now feel that Slackware is able to make an adequate showing.
  • I am not a “ooh shiny” kind of guy, but I think that the newness of Arch software is a net plus. People’s mileage is going to vary on this. Some won’t like the size of the updates, and some won’t like the potential stability issues. Also, personally, I am keen to develop in C++17, so I am always itching to see what’s in the latest GNU compiler. Contrariwise, I think Slackware is great for testing your releases, as it is somewhat older, and you can check for compatibility issues. So it’s a win for Arch for me.
  • systemd … Slackware wins by not having it.

So, generally, I prefer Arch, although I think Slackware is an adequate second. I intend to dual-boot into my Slackware distro more often, and I would say that my opinion of Slackware has actually increased in the last week.

As to my opinion on other distros:

  • Ubuntu: I would actually recommend it for most people. It has some wonks to it, and I don’t like GNOME, but for most others it should be fine
  • Mint: pretty good, although I haven’t used it for a few years
  • Other minor distros like Crunchbang, Puppy, Elementary, etc. … yeah, they’re OK, pretty good, if they work for you, fine, but I always migrate away from them eventually
  • Debian: I have a lot of respect for Debian. apt-get is great. Stable is too old, and I wouldn’t recommend Stable for most people. Testing would be a much better bet, although I do notice that even in Testing, software can be somewhat stale. Sid, just no, I don’t want to “keep both pieces”. I’d say that if you wanted to install Debian, you’re actually probably better off installing Ubuntu.
  • Gentoo: no thanks. Seems like a hammer to crack a nut.
  • Fedora … ah yes, Fedora. this distro I have to rate as utterly unusable. By which I mean: eat flaming death, preferably with Poettering still trapped inside the building. Everyone would be much better advised to install Ubuntu instead. And before any Fedora fanboy pipes up in defense: please save your breath, I’m aware of the arguments, but I don’t buy them.

On desktops:

  • GNOME: Gno thank you. Consumes a lot of resources but delivers little functionality. The worst desktop environment imaginable.
  • KDE: OK, but not for me. Too resource-hungry for my liking, and a bit overly sugary, if you take my meaning
  • XFCE: I used to like it, but it now seems fairly resource-hungry and too finicky to set up
  • Fluxbox and LXDE: my two favourite window managers. Light-weight, stays out of my way, and yet has enough features to be useful. I discovered that you can do aerosnapping on Fluxbox, which makes it all you really need. Both are a little bit of a pain to set up to an acceptable configuration, but once done, they are great desktops
  • Fvwm2: I’m a fan of retro, and this certainly has that 90’s desktop feel to it. It’s a very light-weight manager, and apparently very customisable. The lack of a panel is a severe letdown, and the button bar and pager seem a bit clunky to me; which is why I prefere Fluxbox/LXDE better
  • Tiling window manager: fun for about 5 minutes of geeking out, then it’s back to a regular window manager as pragmatism reasserts itself

So there we have it. That’s my rant over. Remember, if you disagree, they’re only opinions. But they are the right ones. 😉

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About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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