I expected more drama when Phoronix did the smart thing, and finally put numbers to the Arch-over-Ubuntu rumor, and branded it as a myth. But for what I’ve seen, users on both sides seem to nod and accept the results, without too much scuffling.
For me, it was good to see that (with very few exceptions) performance in Ubuntu and performance in Arch are pretty much identical, and rely more on hardware than the actual software that runs it. On the other hand though, there are some differences between Arch and Ubuntu that Phoronix didn’t (and can’t really, so it’s not their fault) test, and I guess most Arch users would cite these as big reasons for using it.
- AUR. Until you’ve used it, it’s hard to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of a community-maintained repository of installation scripts. Ubuntu, with its Debian roots, inherits a huge list of software and that’s a good thing. But for example if you want to install an esoteric addon to xmms, you’ll have to go it alone — even more so because Ubuntu hasn’t offered xmms for years now. Having a script-based system that allows you to confidently build software — and customize it before you do — is a huge bonus for me.
- pacman. In terms of number crunching, the two operating systems run hand-in-hand, but putting aptitude next to pacman is a completely different race. For all its virtues, history and accomplishments, aptitude is just nowhere near as fierce an animal as pacman. The time it takes to refresh, download and install new software in Ubuntu is ridiculous when it’s compared with Arch, and that’s not because Ubuntu relies on a GUI — it takes a long time to do those things at Ubuntu’s command line. pacman simply runs circles around aptitude, and there’s no polite way to say that.
- Svelte. Svelte isn’t an application, it’s a philosophy. Ubuntu is a top-down system, giving you everything at once and then sitting back to watch the look on your face. Arch is a bottom-up system, where you’re given the tools to assemble a system, and the opportunity to let your imagination run wild. Arch’s reputation for speed might not rely on performance at the hardware level, but simply in the fact that you don’t get any bloat, unless you install it. Those ringing praises for Arch’s speed aren’t because it moves faster at the core levels, but because the systems you build yourself are innately faster than the ones Ubuntu releases. Look around this site for a few illustrations of that. (And yes, you can do similar things with Ubuntu.)
This isn’t an Ubuntu-Arch flame war, and I am not necessarily a proponent of one or the other. I use whatever suits my fancy on any particular day of the week, and if you want to know the truth, the longest-running, most stable systems I have don’t run either Arch or Ubuntu.
I am happy to know that at their most fundamental levels performance is roughly equal, but the reason I use one over the other has more to do with the way they are managed, and the tools they offer. And if most Ubuntu users and most Arch users thought about it the same way, then maybe that’s why there wasn’t any drama.