Introduction to Arch Linux
Linux users tend to become fan boys of their favorite flavor of Linux. Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora tend to lead the distributions lists (Distro Watch), because of their ease of installation and use. The other type of distribution targets users who desire a highly customized and fine-tuned system, an example of which would be Gentoo. While both extremes have their pros and cons in terms of customizability and ease of use, neither group targets users who desire easily customized systems that expose the lower-level workings of Linux. Arch Linux fills this void with a distribution that uses the bare-bones approach of Gentoo, but without requiring every package be compiled from source. It also shies away from GUI-based configuration tools in favor of directly editing text files, although GUI-based configuration tools do exist. This makes Arch an excellent distribution for older or low-end hardware. Although the installation lacks the glitz of Ubuntu or OpenSUSE, it still detects nearly all modern hardware and automatically installs drivers. Virginia Tech's mirroring of the Arch repositories also benefits VT Arch users, because it ensures fast installs and updates.
When to Use Arch Linux
Arch Linux targets enthusiasts who want to better understand the
Linux Operating System. It maintains a level of abstraction above
Gentoo and Linux From Scratch by reducing the amount of manual
configuration. Also, the distribution excels on lower-end machines,
because it installs only the packages required to boot and install
additional software. It does contain excellent package management
software in the form of pacman archives, which are officially
supported packages and works similar to Debian's apt-get program.
Community maintained packages for more esoteric software can be found
in Arch's AUR repository.
The distributions command-line installation limits its appeal
for first-time Linux users, so this is not a distribution to use when
trying Linux. Also, there is a slightly steeper learning curve in
understanding the package management, which could deter users used to
Ubuntu's GUI-based package management. That stated, Arch Linux is
overall an excellent, easy-to-use distribution, and could be
recommended to any Linux user who understands the command line.
Getting Started with Arch Linux
You can find documentation and mirrors of Arch Linux on their homepage at http://www.archlinux.org, although using the mirror at Virginia Tech would be much faster. The network-based installation is recommended as it installs the most up-to-date version of Arch with all the updates. During installation, be sure to remove the default mirror because it is rate-limited.
Following their Beginner's Guide painlessly walks you through the process of setting up your system and getting into X. There are also more targeted installation guides that can be found through Google for specialized hardware, such as the Eee PC. Because Arch Linux uses a command line-based installation, it is highly recommended to either have another computer nearby or print out a copy of the Beginner's Guide.
Until Pacman 4, Arch did not support package signing . As a result of this, an insecure mirror (including any mirrors upstream of the one you are synching from) or a untrusted connection (such as a man in the middle attack between you and the mirror, or any hops between mirrors) could result in your system's security being compromised. There has been some work towards adding package signing functionality to Arch , however there have been claims that the developers are not concerned with the security implications and are reluctant to accept improvements from outside of the core team .