Seeking a new Linux distro

Sapphyre

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For a long time now, my system has run Gentoo. Other than the rather protracted initial set-up and configuration, I mostly rather like it. It just has one fatal flaw that has bitten me too many times now: as its portage tree is updated continuously (and re-sync'ed upon command), inevitably, changes will be made that are incompatible with my existing system configuration and installed libraries. "Slot conflicts" — things that can't be simultaneously installed on the same system — begin to crop up, as do circular dependencies and other issues. With some digging and mucking about, often I can work through these and solve them. But it takes time and effort, and they start coming up more and more frequently over time, until the portage system is just broken and a complete reinstall is needed.

So far as I can tell, this isn't an issue that stems from using a portage system so much as from continuously updating it. For contrast, OpenBSD also uses a portage system, but it is updated in discrete steps at 6-month intervals. I have run (and updated) OpenBSD systems for years without running into problems like I have with Gentoo. If OpenBSD had the hardware and software support that Linux has, there would be no need for this post, or to look for better distros. ^^;

My system from work uses Ubuntu, which runs smoothly enough but changes enough about how *nix normally works that I feel uncomfortable (e.g., there is no "root" user or account... wtf?)

Any suggestions?
 

BoundCoder

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You really need to figure out what you want in a distro. Rolling release (Gentoo, arch, a few others) has it's ups and downs, as does point release type distros (Ubuntu, RHEL/Centos, Debian).
I used Gentoo for quite a long time, but have finally given up on it within the last year due to politics within the dev community and what I'd call a major decline in packaging quality.
I'm on Arch now, and I've tried to like it, but I just don't. The attitude of the dev and user community really gets under my skin, and even for a developer-centric distro I find the it way too fragile. It just reminds me of Gentoo from the mid 2000s, except while somewhat eletist, it at least was seen as a problem to be solved by better packaging and QA and not by expecting people to religiously follow mailing lists and constantly be putting their system back together. I also really dislike AUR. Well, I don't necessarily dislike the concept, but I dislike that so many widely used packages are relegated there.
Regardless of distro though, I think the best thing you can do though is automate installation. I use a combination of ansible (yes, there is a pacman module) and some shell scripts to handle initial provisioning (ansible can do this, but imo it sucks at it, and for my home use case it's easier to just write a script to set up partitions and do the initial bootstrap and such, then let ansible handle packages and configuration). Keep your /home and any data on a seperate partition, then when things get extra messed up, just blow everything away and re-install.
 
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Sapphyre

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You really need to figure out what you want in a distro. Rolling release (Gentoo, arch, a few others) has it's ups and downs, as does point release type distros (Ubuntu, RHEL/Centos, Debian).
This is a good point. Mostly, what I'd love is a Linux distro that works more or less the way OpenBSD does. I can install OpenBSD on a new system (say, a laptop) in less than 20 minutes and have it running. Configuration for the most part has to do with setting preferences — what exactly should happen when the screen is closed, for example, setting up a window manager, etc — rather than getting things to work. Usually, everything Just Works™ right out of the box, from the wifi to the camera to the special function keys (volume / brightness controls, etc). The portage system and other tools are all command-line, but extremely well-documented, easy to use, and smartly designed in several respects. It is "no frills", but does what it does with excellence and almost anything you'd want to do is very easy to accomplish.

So, I suppose to begin to outline what I'm really looking for… mostly a traditional *nix environment with both minimal frills and minimal requisite tinkering.
 

winterheart01

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I happily used Gentoo for 14 years, untill the blocking portage problems began. An update of an ebuild that requires package X to be of at least version 1.somthing, yet when you try to update that package X it needs to have the first ebuild you tried to update to be also at least version XYZ.somethingelse. It's some sort of circular dependency hell (they had a name for it but I forgot).

It gotten worse over the years, even with clean installs of a new system.
I no longer use Linux at home since I had no development use for it, but at work we are now cursed with Oracle Linux, while we begged for RHEL....
but what can you do when you get these included with images for the Oracle cloud......at customer......*cries*

I hate Ubuntu with breathing soul, its apt-get system is so fragile that I broke ubuntu during a full system update after a clean install.
Same thing with Linux mint cinnamon.
I used to hate RPM based distro's even more due to rpm hell but that seems to have been somewhat fixed, I no longer have that issue.

Honesttly though, If you need a headless linux and need bleeding edge, gentoo is probbaly still one of the best, just don't go install too much differnet things on it that can cause conflicts in portage.
If you need something with a GUI, maybe try looking into Fedora? I don't know the status of that but seriously, ubuntu has lost my faith.
 

Sapphyre

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I happily used Gentoo for 14 years, untill the blocking portage problems began. An update of an ebuild that requires package X to be of at least version 1.somthing, yet when you try to update that package X it needs to have the first ebuild you tried to update to be also at least version XYZ.somethingelse. It's some sort of circular dependency hell (they had a name for it but I forgot).

It gotten worse over the years, even with clean installs of a new system.
I no longer use Linux at home since I had no development use for it, but at work we are now cursed with Oracle Linux, while we begged for RHEL....
but what can you do when you get these included with images for the Oracle cloud......at customer......*cries*

I hate Ubuntu with breathing soul, its apt-get system is so fragile that I broke ubuntu during a full system update after a clean install.
Same thing with Linux mint cinnamon.
I used to hate RPM based distro's even more due to rpm hell but that seems to have been somewhat fixed, I no longer have that issue.

Honesttly though, If you need a headless linux and need bleeding edge, gentoo is probbaly still one of the best, just don't go install too much differnet things on it that can cause conflicts in portage.
If you need something with a GUI, maybe try looking into Fedora? I don't know the status of that but seriously, ubuntu has lost my faith.
Good to know. I definitely run with a GUI, but usually I find that command-line utilities are faster / easier to use once familiar with them. As an example, when I play DVD's on my computer, I use the command-line mplayer rather than any GUI-based player. I don't want to navigate a menu system… I want to tell my computer "play title 1, chapter 1, full screen" and have the movie start immediately. The command line lets me do that. And then all the controls while playing are just single keystrokes. Perfect. I suppose I'm an impatient person.
 

BoundCoder

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It gotten worse over the years, even with clean installs of a new system.
This was one of the straws that broke the back for me. It's one thing where an update breaks something on the install you've been dragging around for 3 or 4 years.. it's another when you're getting conflicts right out of the gate while installing fairly routine packages. Like I said, I feel like they really went downhill as far as QA and packaging goes. The whole systemd thing really didn't help (I mean major props to sticking with open-rc, but it definitely increased the workload and injected a lot of new things to worry about when they already were struggling).

For "just works", I'd say Gentoo and Arch are about as far away from that as you can get. I share winterheart01's hatred of Ubuntu (and really most Debian likes) for a variety of reasons, but unfortunately that is probably your best bet for "just works out of the box".

We mostly use RHEL at work, and I've given serious thought to using CentOS or Fedora at home. It's probably the most stable choice, but it also tends to be a tad out of date with regards to packaging. These days I tend to play with more enterprise-y type stuff at home, and most of the stuff I use has been stable for some time... so the version lag might not actually really matter as much as it used to.

*BSD is still around, but while possible, I don't think it's a serious choice for desktop use any more. Hell, I don't think it's worth it for server usage unless you have very specific requirements that BSD does better.
 
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RubberJin

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This is a good recipe for a holy war on the internet, but... my view is that I want something that just works. I've run Ubuntu & Debian and am now a massive convert to Linux Mint.

Aside from a bit of f**ing about with nVidia drivers for multiple monitors, now it's set up it is pretty flawless and most stuff just works.

Although I like having the option, unless I have to I've got zero interest in pricking around under the hood, which puts me in the minority I realise. My view is I haven't had to hand my money or my privacy to MS or Apple so I'm willing to tolerate the odd inconvenience - but so far it's been surprisingly low friction.
 

Sapphyre

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This is a good recipe for a holy war on the internet, but... my view is that I want something that just works. I've run Ubuntu & Debian and am now a massive convert to Linux Mint.

Aside from a bit of f**ing about with nVidia drivers for multiple monitors, now it's set up it is pretty flawless and most stuff just works.

Although I like having the option, unless I have to I've got zero interest in pricking around under the hood, which puts me in the minority I realise. My view is I haven't had to hand my money or my privacy to MS or Apple so I'm willing to tolerate the odd inconvenience - but so far it's been surprisingly low friction.
I may look further into Mint… what sort of package / portage system does it use?

I know what you mean about privacy and money. I ran Mac for awhile some years ago, and the final straw for me came when I got a new iPod for Christmas. The new iPod required a newer version of iTunes to sync with; the newer version of iTunes required a newer version of OS X; the upgrade wasn't free. I considered paying for it (or more accurately, asking my mom to as I was a broke college student), but my stubborn nature kicked in. I installed Linux (Yellow Dog, if I recall) on my iBook and transferred my music to the iPod using gnupod. Problem solved. ^.^

Admittedly, most of my distaste for Windows comes from its design. I find it infuriating to use. As an example, the default behavior (at least on systems I've used in the past, it's been awhile now) is to perform system updates upon being commanded to shut down. So… upon being commanded to shut down… the system puts itself into a state from which it can't safely be powered down for an indefinite period of time. Kind of the opposite of what the user told it to do. Very helpful if you need to board a plane, or if the power's gone out and your UPS can only last a few minutes. I also shouldn't have to ask the task manager to kill a task more than once. Using Windows just… in many ways feels a lot like babysitting a particularly defiant and mischievous 5-year-old. It wears through my patience pretty quickly.
 

LittleSissieJolie

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This is a good point. Mostly, what I'd love is a Linux distro that works more or less the way OpenBSD does. I can install OpenBSD on a new system (say, a laptop) in less than 20 minutes and have it running. Configuration for the most part has to do with setting preferences — what exactly should happen when the screen is closed, for example, setting up a window manager, etc — rather than getting things to work. Usually, everything Just Works™ right out of the box, from the wifi to the camera to the special function keys (volume / brightness controls, etc). The portage system and other tools are all command-line, but extremely well-documented, easy to use, and smartly designed in several respects. It is "no frills", but does what it does with excellence and almost anything you'd want to do is very easy to accomplish.

So, I suppose to begin to outline what I'm really looking for… mostly a traditional *nix environment with both minimal frills and minimal requisite tinkering.
yea, when you have an outside entity essentially saying "don't worry your pretty head, we know what you really need" you'd have a Windows Clone. and they charge you for the privilege.
 

Sapphyre

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yea, when you have an outside entity essentially saying "don't worry your pretty head, we know what you really need" you'd have a Windows Clone. and they charge you for the privilege.
Certainly not what I'm looking for. Using OpenBSD as a model (it's been my favorite OS so far aside from lack of support), it's rather like a machine that is designed to be user-serviceable from top to bottom. Anything is easy to do… so long as you know what you're doing. There is a strong emphasis on RTFM kind of built into the culture of OpenBSD, and it comes through in the design of the OS. You really need to RTFM to have any clue about how to change the configuration of some aspect of the system, but you can find the information very quickly, and it will turn out to not require much effort to actually change what you want. To alter power management settings for example, you need to edit some files in /etc and then run a command or two to restart some daemons (or just reboot, I guess). Which ones, and what syntax needs to be added or changed? RTFM. It is extremely thorough and yet concise. ^.^

The user is expected to go "under the hood" with OpenBSD and learn its workings as they use it. But by the same token, it's designed to make things generally easy to learn and even easier to use once you know how. Even the source code… it is not just available (and BSD licensed), but very cleanly written, well-commented, well-documented, and fairly uniform due to adherence to relatively strict stylistic standards. You might have to go under the hood often to turn a valve, proverbially, but the valve is not only exactly where the manual said it would be, it's also clearly labeled and has a big rubber-coated handle attached to it. This design principle is endemic to the OS, and I find it appeals very much to me. I enjoy becoming increasingly familiar with the inner workings of my system just incidentally by using it, without encountering the frustrations of being unable to find adequate documentation, nor of needing to work around broken code very often. ^.^;
 

tiny

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Given what you're saying I definitely think you should have a look at Arch Linux.

I broke every other Linux distro I tried fairly quickly -- usually because of crappy package management. But I've had a couple of Arch installations running for about ten years now. They get updated regularly, and there are rarely any issues that are anything other than trivial, and even trivial issues are rare. The package manager is called pacman. It's very intelligent, and reliable.

Arch is based on the KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) philosophy, so the system works in a fairly standard Unix-like way. You are definitely expected to RTFM, but the F-ing Manual is excellent. Also, the forum doesn't have lots of "silly questions", so it's easy to find the information you need there, too.

Arch doesn't add fancy/complicated/non-standard processes to anything. If there's a plain text file you can edit to make changes to something, that is probably the only (default) way to do it... unlike bloated distros like Ubuntu, where there seem to be lots of apps all trying to modify the file settings automatically (i.e. stupidly) for you. It sounds similar to what you're saying about OpenBSD.

Linux Mint and Ubuntu are more aimed at people who don't care how their OS works, so long as it does (a bit like Windows). The installations are bloated, there are a million ways to do everything, and the manuals often seems aimed at end-users rather than systems administrators. But they take minutes to install, and everything is ready to go.

One major difference with Arch is the install process. I guess you'll either love it or hate it! It certainly puts a lot of people off trying.
First, there is no installer program. Instead you boot from a minimalist live version of Arch, clone it to your hard drive, then customise it as you wish. Full step-by-step instructions are provided.

It takes a little while, but the installation process effectively gives you a tour of the system, so you know how everything is set up and how to fix stuff. The initial installation leaves you in a basic text-only (bash) system, then it's up to you to install whatever you want. It's easy to have multiple Desktop Environments, a basic window manager, or do whatever you want.

https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Arch_Linux

Here's how Arch compares to other distros:
https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Arch_compared_to_other_distributions
 

tiny

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It just has one fatal flaw that has bitten me too many times now: as its portage tree is updated continuously (and re-sync'ed upon command), inevitably, changes will be made that are incompatible with my existing system configuration and installed libraries. "Slot conflicts" — things that can't be simultaneously installed on the same system — begin to crop up, as do circular dependencies and other issues. With some digging and mucking about, often I can work through these and solve them. But it takes time and effort, and they start coming up more and more frequently over time, until the portage system is just broken and a complete reinstall is needed.
^^^ THIS is exactly the problem I had with every other distro. I think you'll love Arch. :)

Seriously, package management is one of the best things about Arch. It intelligently detects dependency cycles and conflicts and usually you can just accept what pacman suggests.

If an upgraded packages comes with a new configuration file (extra options, deprecated options, new defaults), and you haven't modified the old version, the new one will be installed automatically. That way, you're always using the "standard" settings for the program. And if you have changed the default config, pacman will save the new config file with a .pacnew suffix, and prompt you to make the correct changes. That way, nothing breaks unexpectedly.

And, as part of the Arch Philosophy, upstream packages are not modified EXCEPT where Arch-specific changes are needed. That way, you're using the "standard" versions of programs. There are no weird distro-specific modifications that haven't been properly tested, or that cause other stuff to break.

My system from work uses Ubuntu, which runs smoothly enough but changes enough about how *nix normally works that I feel uncomfortable (e.g., there is no "root" user or account... wtf?)
All part of the Ubuntu way of hiding the inner-workings of the OS from the user. Great, if that's what you want. But then, I think, Windows does that better...

(Sorry -- I'll shut up about Arch now! I really do like it, though... in case that wasn't clear... :p )
 

Sapphyre

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^^^ THIS is exactly the problem I had with every other distro. I think you'll love Arch. :)

Seriously, package management is one of the best things about Arch. It intelligently detects dependency cycles and conflicts and usually you can just accept what pacman suggests.

If an upgraded packages comes with a new configuration file (extra options, deprecated options, new defaults), and you haven't modified the old version, the new one will be installed automatically. That way, you're always using the "standard" settings for the program. And if you have changed the default config, pacman will save the new config file with a .pacnew suffix, and prompt you to make the correct changes. That way, nothing breaks unexpectedly.

And, as part of the Arch Philosophy, upstream packages are not modified EXCEPT where Arch-specific changes are needed. That way, you're using the "standard" versions of programs. There are no weird distro-specific modifications that haven't been properly tested, or that cause other stuff to break.



All part of the Ubuntu way of hiding the inner-workings of the OS from the user. Great, if that's what you want. But then, I think, Windows does that better...

(Sorry -- I'll shut up about Arch now! I really do like it, though... in case that wasn't clear... :p )
I may give it a try… ^.^
 

ScriptedGamer

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I have not…?
I think you should check it out. With its small size of less than 500 megabytes it can be used as a back up OS that can be stored on almost any flash drive. There's also a community around it. I used Universal USB Installer to install Puppy Linux onto my USB.
 

Sapphyre

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UPDATE:

I went through a small flurry of new distros…

First, I tried Arch. From a design standpoint, I appreciate the minimalist system it provides and the hands-on aspect. On the other hand, I felt that Arch actually went too far in this direction; sometimes some automation is certainly called for. At various points during the install process, the Installation Guide had me literally creating new config files and entering semi-mysterious lines of syntax verbatim from the guide. Surely, I don't need to do this part manually…? The sense that I'm having to do way more work than I should kept creeping up on me, and I never quite finished getting Xorg working. My patience expired.

Next was Mint, which was an almost exactly opposite experience. Other than not installing proprietary nVidia drivers, it gave me a fully functional system quite quickly. With several programs I don't need, a window manager I wouldn't have chosen, etc, etc... and most vexingly, no root account. Anything needing to be done as "root" is done through sudo. I am not a fan of this from a security standpoint…

Trying to give Arch another chance, I then tried a derivative called Antergos, which primarily aims to be "Arch but with a streamlined install process", from what I gathered. The installer didn't boot. Oh well. On to the next…

Debian. While more applications and window managers than I would want were installed by default, this has so far been a good balance. There is a root account. I can configure and control things without using any cheesy GUI tools. So far, it Just Works™, and I haven't had to configure much more than the video driver manually. This might be the winner…
 

depends4me

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Thanks for this thread. I've been using Linux on and off for 15+ years but never found a distribution that I really liked. To quote a local tech friend who after just a short brush said, "Unix people have the strangest ideas of what makes something simple". Obviously that doesn't apply to OpenBSD, which I am now even more intrigued to try. I don't need the operating system protecting me from things or performing automated processes. Creating wheels within wheels within wheels like a Rube Goldberg machine is where Windows fails, and there is no reason to imitate that. I want a distribution with lots of infrastructure: if I want to run a Gnome program, I want the core Gnome SO's or a very straightforward way to get them, the same for KDE. But I don't necessarily need a fat GUI on top that hides the OS's inner workings. Yes, the Arch installer sounds bewildering. A tutorial explaining the Arch way of doing things is a great idea, but I don't see the need for all that manual configuration. I wonder if it's their way of getting out of scripting the installer properly?
 

Sapphyre

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Thanks for this thread. I've been using Linux on and off for 15+ years but never found a distribution that I really liked. To quote a local tech friend who after just a short brush said, "Unix people have the strangest ideas of what makes something simple". Obviously that doesn't apply to OpenBSD, which I am now even more intrigued to try. I don't need the operating system protecting me from things or performing automated processes. Creating wheels within wheels within wheels like a Rube Goldberg machine is where Windows fails, and there is no reason to imitate that. I want a distribution with lots of infrastructure: if I want to run a Gnome program, I want the core Gnome SO's or a very straightforward way to get them, the same for KDE. But I don't necessarily need a fat GUI on top that hides the OS's inner workings. Yes, the Arch installer sounds bewildering. A tutorial explaining the Arch way of doing things is a great idea, but I don't see the need for all that manual configuration. I wonder if it's their way of getting out of scripting the installer properly?
You're welcome! ^.^ I do encourage giving OpenBSD a try. The default system is truly barebones, but functional and easy to configure and customize once you learn how.

The Arch installer doesn't exist per se. It's just a bootable image that gets you to a shell with network, etc. From there, you manually fdisk your drive, mkfs your filesystems, download and install a base system that is unpacked onto your / filesystem (after you mount it of course), chroot into it, and then set up root passwords, boot loader, user accounts, Xorg, and literally everything else by hand from the shell. And I mean literally everything. By default, your network doesn't come up when the machine boots… in fact, by default, it's not even configured. By constrast, despite being minimalist and text-based, OpenBSD is typically installed and running (including X if desired) in 15 minutes flat. If that. ^^;
 
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tiny

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First, I tried Arch. From a design standpoint, I appreciate the minimalist system it provides and the hands-on aspect. On the other hand, I felt that Arch actually went too far in this direction; sometimes some automation is certainly called for. At various points during the install process, the Installation Guide had me literally creating new config files and entering semi-mysterious lines of syntax verbatim from the guide. Surely, I don't need to do this part manually…? The sense that I'm having to do way more work than I should kept creeping up on me, and I never quite finished getting Xorg working. My patience expired.
The Arch installer doesn't exist per se. It's just a bootable image that gets you to a shell with network, etc. From there, you manually fdisk your drive, mkfs your filesystems, download and install a base system that is unpacked onto your / filesystem (after you mount it of course), chroot into it, and then set up root passwords, boot loader, user accounts, Xorg, and literally everything else by hand from the shell. And I mean literally everything. By default, your network doesn't come up when the machine boots… in fact, by default, it's not even configured. By constrast, despite being minimalist and text-based, OpenBSD is typically installed and running (including X if desired) in 15 minutes flat. If that. ^^;
Yes, the Arch installer sounds bewildering. A tutorial explaining the Arch way of doing things is a great idea, but I don't see the need for all that manual configuration. I wonder if it's their way of getting out of scripting the installer properly?
I can understand why you got frustrated, Sapphyre. The Arch installation process is a bit of a baptism of fire. But there are good reasons for it being the way it is. And if you can get over the initial hurdle, it's so easy and "sensible" to maintain. Once it's installed, and you've played around and tweaked stuff... you'll think, "Ohhhhh! Now I get it! This is easy! And everything works!!! It's soooo fast!!!" It's worth the initial effort, honest! 🙃

Arch is designed to do almost anything! Not everyone wants network connectivity or X. Not everyone wants to build an Arch installation that works on the PC they are currently using. So Arch has to be modular, and start from a minimal installation so you can do whatever you want with it. The installation method (of chrooting into a live CD/USB) is exactly what you'd need to do if you totally mess up the system so it won't boot or function. It's a useful skill to learn! And the rest of the installation guide walks you through other useful things.

Unlike other distros, Arch doesn't modify or customise packages at all unless it's necessary for them to function normally. This makes it quick and easy for the latest packages to be made available, AND results in rock-solid reliability. No weird shit occurs.l There are no superfluous GUIs or daemons sneakily changing settings behind your back. If you want to change a setting, you consult the wiki (if necessary), edit the relevant text file and save it. Job done. No surprises.

Arch used to have an installer, but it was dropped because it's easier to maintain a live CD image than an installer... and because the manual method allows more control (for those who know what they're doing)... and to give new users a tour of the system... and (dare I say it?) possibly as a way to put off Linux newbies... :-o

If you can cope with the Arch installation process, then everything else will be a breeze! The installation process is definitely the most "hands on" I'll ever get with Arch... everything else has been so easy! And you only need to install Arch once. I've got systems that have been running it for a decade and are still as "clean" and fresh as a new installation.
 
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