Debian and Arch

I’ve mentioned two or three times now that I have been spending a lot of time in Arch and Debian these days. I hold both distros in equally high regard for being fast, light and good starting points for outdated machines.

Debian gets points for reaching all the way back to the 486 generation, which means I can use it on my very very old systems. At the same time though, I find myself floating back to Arch more often than not.

On a machine that postdates the Pentium, Arch’s flat configuration is just more to my liking. I appreciate Debian 6 for picking up things like Grub2, but I strongly dislike the need to edit /etc/default/grub, then run an updater, if the configuration files are in a different place completely.

I don’t know the rationale for that, so it might be something inherited from the developers of Grub2. All the same, it’s a little inconvenient, particularly if you only want to change one digit.

If I can continue being honest, I also dislike the update-alternatives system for determining things like a default window manager, or a default terminal emulator in X.

Again, I don’t know how or why that’s in Debian, but it seems like a huge obfuscation. I have tried to learn the system over the years and sometimes it will actually work in my favor, but more often … not.

I think my underlying dislike for it is similar to my complaint about Grub2 — why is there another whole layer of configuration, just to trigger which emulator springs into view when I press Super-L-plus-Enter?

That, to me, is something that should be configured in the window manager’s files, edited directly and not relying on links, names, paths and priorities. And so I usually do just that — configure the window manager and ignore the alternatives system.

But I’m probably not being fair, since Debian has more uses and applications that I can even dream of. No doubt that system works well for someone else who needs Debian for more than just resurrecting an old Pentium I.

If I have to be honest though — and I might as well, since I’ve been dangerously honest up to know — those two things and a few others like them are what keep me from using Debian on my newer, faster machines.

For those, it’s just quicker and easier for me to set up Arch, and tinker directly with the software. To each his own, I guess. :|

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8 Responses to “Debian and Arch”


  1. 1 jraz 2011/03/29 at 8:10 AM

    IMHO i think the Debian developers finally bowed to the pressure to be like other distributions in regards to X. Often I read in forums about video issues and the usual solution is to create an xorg.conf. That should say something.

  2. 2 iasdbu 2011/03/29 at 5:13 PM

    I too dislike debian’s behaviour: “Hey, if you want X, you need Iceweasel | Chromium | Galeon | … “.

    What if I want to download and install Chrome 10 from their website? “Well, you could, but you should also install Iceweasel | Chromium | Epiphany | Konqueror …” wtf?

    Even Ubuntu doesn’t force you to do that… Is there a way to turn the damn thing off?

    • 3 tom 2011/03/29 at 5:45 PM

      Apt installs recommended packages by default, which can lead to having a bunch of unnecessary packages. Adding the following to /etc/apt/apt.conf (you may need to create it) will turn it off.

      APT::Install-Recommends “0″;
      APT::Install-Suggests “0″;

  3. 4 Peter 2011/03/29 at 7:10 PM

    This is no good for cli only machines but for those that get as far as installing X – Galternatives http://packages.debian.org/search?keywords=galternatives

  4. 5 roland 2011/03/29 at 11:18 PM

    What are ur thoughts on slackware? I use it on my p4 box and works great whereas arch was a little buggy with some x driver.

  5. 6 anticapitalista 2011/03/30 at 3:08 AM

    You could use grub-legacy instead of grub2 on Debian to solve the first issue you have.

  6. 7 tidux 2011/05/06 at 8:13 AM

    Part of what makes Debian special is the WM-agnostic menu and the list of alternatives. Instead of doing a bunch of if-else checks every time something that’s not a browser passes an http:// URI to “the browser,” or risk having inconsistent behavior, just point it to x-www-browser. Use a lightweight window manager but hate hand-hacking menus in various obtuse configuration formats? That’s where the Debian menu comes in handy. It’s a little extra complexity if you know up front what programs you’ll use, but it’s a godsend for people who like trying out different environments like me.

    tl;dr
    # update-alternatives –config x-terminal-emulator
    select the relevant number

    and presto changeo, your default terminal has changed in GNOME, Openbox, Fluxbox, Window Maker, wmii, and any other wacky environment you use. All at the same time.


  1. 1 Links 1/4/2011: Linux 2.6.39 Previews, GNOME 3 Live Images | Techrights Trackback on 2011/04/02 at 5:34 AM

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Some recent desktops


May 6, 2011
Musca 0.9.24 on Crux Linux
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May 14, 2011
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