Scary Big Bro

Disclaimer: this a perfunctory post for the E-SPEAIT course. It may contain banter.
The weekly prompt was: “Linux vs Linux”.


People come in various flavours. To accommodate for that, Linux too has different flavours. A flavour is just another word for a Linux distribution, and quite aptly named too. However, while there is a wide range of vastly different distributions available, there’s a part of the community that has caught my attention, as it turns out, that some people think some flavours aren’t stronger, but straight up better than others.

“Ideal” Community

The Linux community prides itself for being Open Source, communitiy driven, helpful, and full of people who like to do cool stuff. And yet, while there are parts of the fandom to which this description applies, it has mostly become a facade to hide behind. If once there were browser wars, then today there are distro wars. Let me ease you in to the field with a small proxy: the story of Arch and Manjaro.

AUR

Arch is and has been notorious in the community, due to the presumed difficulty in installing it. Programming languages have concepts of “low and high level”, and Arch could be viewed as a “low level” distribution. Indeed, there is no installer, there is no GUI: you build what you need, how you need, when you need. If LFS is assembly, then Arch is C. It is worth noting that Arch is a rolling release distribution.

What Arch has achieved with its daunting set-up is create a community of more tech savvy users who appreciate Arch for giving them more even more power than a more rigorous distribution such as Ubuntu. This community gave birth to the AUR or Arch User Repository, containing a vast amount of user created packages. There, the community may vote on them and even join development, and once a package becomes popular and well made enough, it is likely that it will become part of official repositories.

In a sense, the AUR is like a buffer zone where unofficial stuff bloom, and users can get packages from with a higher safety threshold than from random online sources. In general, the longer a package has been in AUR and the more votes it has, the safer it becomes. It allows the communitiy to evolve without needing to deal with “official stuff” all the time. Community repositories themselves are accessible via pacman (the Arch apt).

Did I Say Ideal?

All this sounds very nice, and even better is the fact that the Arch documentation is one of the most thorough and well designed documentations out there. So, where’s the catch? Well there are those who use Arch due to their skill, need and / or own fun, and they make the great stuff mentioned above. But on the other side, there are those who use Arch because “Arch is elite, difficult and supreme”. Indeed, there’s a bunch of people who think distros that aren’t Arch are lesser, and they actively scare away newer rookies with their cult of difficulty and elitism.

Enough is Enough

Let us summarise, Arch stands out because it:

  • is a rolling-release distribution
  • comes as empty as it gets without compiling your own kernel
  • has an outstanding documentation
  • crazy fast unless you bloat it yourself
  • AUR

The downsides of it being difficult to set-up, a half-elitist community and perhaps too much choice. Therefore, Manjaro was born.

Manjaro is a distribution based on Arch, and can be viewed as user-friendly Arch. It has an installer and allows you to pick form the three most popular desktop environments: KDE, GNOME and XFCE. It follows the Arch rolling release except it is more stable and reliable, and due to being Arch under the hood, the user has access to pacman and the AUR. Manjaro also ships without much bloat, really being more of an Arch with GUI + its own more stable repositories and included graphical package manager. The Arch documentation also still applies (mostly).

Smaller Brother to the Rescue?

What Manjaro accomplishes is a simple, highly customisable distribution that follows the core concepts of Arch, but being much more user friendly, and therefore targets two main groups of users: those who want the AUR and Arch philosophy but don’t want to mess with keeping their system working all the time, or those who want to ease in to the Arch community.

However, it is important to keep in mind Manjaro doesn’t just copy and try to abstract Arch, it has a mind of its own too. This can be seen with its own repositories and underlying utilities like automatic hardware detection. It is also nurturing a more friendly community than what Arch has become and in general is more fun and hip. Some later move on to Arch and will join “team nice”, while some will be satisfied with Manjaro and won’t even feel a need for Arch anymore, nor its “team dark”.

Some Technical Stuff

The easy read is over, so if you aren’t interested in the more wiki-style content, thanks for reading!

Arch is a distribution for x86-64 based processors (currently) and was initially released on 11th of March 2002 under Free Software (mainly GNU GPL) under the lead of Judd Vinet. Currently, the Arch community is led by Levente Polyak. Manjaro on the other end is developed and was initially released on July 10, 2011 by Manjaro GmbH & Co. KG. Therefore Manjaro from the start has been more of an organisation / team thing than a build up from someone’s personal hacking, the way Arch was. This is to be expected, considering the timeframes and state of computing at that time,

Oh well, it looks like I bored you already, so it’s coffee time. Still, I recommend giving Manjaro a shot if you like simple, pretty, effective things. Who knows, maybe you will end up as an Arch poweruser someday.

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