I’ve been using debian linux since 1995; when I say using, I mean at least one machine in my house has been running debian constantly during that entire time, be it a server install running stable, a laptop or desktop computer for the wife or one of my daughters running stable, or maybe testing, and always my personal daily driver laptop running sid. So when I changed my two personal daily driver laptops (not any of my servers or other family member’s computers) from debian sid to arch linux this past July, it could be asked, why arch and why now?
I know and love debian. It works, I know all the ins and outs, and it has never once broken, failed to update, or let me down in any memorable way; these are the reasons debian is the only distro I would ever install on a server. Debian is not just for servers; debian is everything anybody needs, meaning if you need stable they have you covered, if you need more recent, less “stale” programs, they have that covered as well, and if you need the latest and greatest, then they have that too! If you want a minimal install, or a full fledged out of the box, everything included, just works distro, you have those options too. And no matter what you need, they have security covered too. Installing packages from the appropriate official repo, no matter stable, testing, or sid, you can rest easy knowing that security has been handled appropriately.
Debian sid is often called a rolling release, and it’s accurate to do so; outside of the freeze before a stable release, debian sid is constantly being updated. Other than that, if one sticks to the official repos, and doesn’t mix repos, just about everything you could possibly need is there, and can be safely downloaded and installed with almost zero unexpected gotchas to be had.
So why even try something new? Was there an itch that debian sid wasn’t scratching for me? The short and only answer to the question is that for my personal daily driver computers running sid, I have been for years maintaining a list (paper and electronic) of packages that were installed from source and outside of the standard sid repos. The itch that arch seemed to scratch that debian sid does not, is a solution for installing packages outside of the standard repos using the package manager. Debian doesn’t do this as easily, and more times than not, it’s easier to just build and install from source. With arch however, using the aur, and the pkgbuild system, everything on my lists of things installed outside the package manager on debain sid, could be installed using the package manager and the aur.
Is it perfect? Is it safer? No to both questions. The aur doesn’t feel as safe or secure as debian for sure; but it is just a safe as installing from source on sid, if you take the time to read the source –which is something you should be doing every time you install anything from source. The main advantage with arch and the aur is that you can install from source using the package manager.
So, for me it’s a win: if something is not in the official arch repos, and it’s in the aur (which everything on my lists were) I can install it with the package manager, which with arch is a superior user experience.
Just from a more nebulous aspect though, having things installed more close to source (less patches than with debian binaries) my system seems a little more lean–it’s a feel thing but it seems a little more lean and a little more snappy. One of the things I really enjoy about a debian sid install is the minimal netinstall, arch does this in spades, as you only install what you need and you only enable or start the services you need as well. With arch I feel more in control of every detail of my system.
Overall I am very happy replacing debian sid with arch, and I don’t regret anything about it. YMMV