Arch Linux vs. Ubuntu vs. Gentoo
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Well, the first thing you should know is that Arch Linux and Gentoo are comparable more than any of them is comparable to Ubuntu. Both, Arch Linux and Gentoo market themselves as distributions (Linux operating systems are called distributions or distros, which is the term we will be using for the rest of this piece) for advanced users. In a nutshell, the target user base for both Arch Linux and Gentoo is experienced users. Ubuntu is just the contrary: it is Linux for beginners. Ubuntu is, in fact, the most used distro for Windows users who want to try out Linux. Why? Well, you guessed it right. It is marketed towards users who come from no technical background or little technical background and just want an alternative OS rather than running the Windows for various reasons like speed, change of taste, learning to develop or code, etc.
So, here's what we will do. We will, first of all, compare Arch Linux and Gentoo because that's what advanced users would like to have, especially Linux power users who know stuff about the kernel. And after that, you can learn how Ubuntu is different from these both.
Arch Linux and Gentoo are fast. They are also highly customizable and aim to be.
Customization and speed are two reasons experienced Linux users gravitate towards. That is the market for these two distros.
Let's say if you're an experienced Linux user and want to try out a new distro, then which one should you go for?
- Gentoo supports Gnome and Xfce, so you're in luck if you're a fan of either. It also supports many others like BlackBox, AfterStep, etc. Arch Linux officially supports a number of desktop environments too but there are largely the popular ones only. Arch Linux supports 7 additional desktop environments unofficially.
- Now, let's be frank, you are going to be needing a lot of help, no matter what your purpose is. Driving around the distro will take a lot of getting used to. This means you will need to watch tutorials and get help from the support forums, both official and unofficial.
- Now, how good the tutorials and unofficial support are depended solely on the popularity of the distro. DistroWatch's stats put Arch Linux on the 13th spot when it comes to popularity (last 12 months, check date: March 28, 2019 -- you can check the popularity here). Gentoo ranked 50. This means that a lot of good information is available faster for Arch Linux.
- Quite related to the previous point, the Arch Linux documentation is easy to grasp for even the Linux beginner. On the contrary, Gentoo documentation is known to be extremely difficult to navigate around.
- Simpler documentation can go a long way when we compare different Linux distributions.
- Both use different package managers. Arch Linux uses Pacman. It is a good package management system. It uses the precompiled package system. On the other hand, Gentoo uses Portage. Portage manager is a different kind of package management system that compiles packages from source code. Portage often comes with features that are lacking in Pacman, so that could be a plus point for you. But which one is better is really up for debate and if we go into the technical details, I fear that will make a longer article than this one. In a nutshell, Gentoo provides you source packages. On the other hand, the Arch Linux distro provides precompiled binaries.
- Customizability is good in both of them but at the installation time, Gentoo gives you more options. If you are a power user who knows his or her way around the Linux kernel, you will be happy to learn that with Gentoo, you have the option to almost compile a Linux kernel by yourself. With Arch Linux, it's basically all about the partitioning and then a few other things. Arch Linux uses systemd. Gentoo uses init with OpenRC (although later on, if you need systemd because of its niche uses, you can always install it through Portage).
- For power users: In Gentoo, basically, you have to compile everything. But in Arch, a lot of stuff is done for you. You would think that because Gentoo is source-compiled it will be better maintained. Well, you would be wrong. Actually, Arch Linux is very stable and up-to-date. More so than Gentoo, I strongly believe.
- Let's look at the porting stuff now. Gentoo is by default from-source. So, if you have specific hardware, then porting for it is extremely easy with Gentoo. It's just too flexible. From Raspberry Pi and OpenVZ to gaming platforms like the Xbox, PS, Gamecube, Wii, GBA, etc. -- it's a breeze to port for any hardware. Arch Linux only supports x86_64 architecture, though ARM has community support (it was also supporting x86 before the recent news of phasing out).
Both are rolling releases. Both focus on bleeding edge while Gentoo respects your preferences and can work as a more stable distro. Arch is always bleeding edge. Gentoo goes "compile this new bleeding edge stuff yourself" and Arch goes "here's the new bleeding edge stuff -- install the package".
Now, enter Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is a distro for the common people. Non-technical, non-power users. If you have no clue about the Linux kernel, don't worry! Ubuntu is fully GUI-based. From installation to usage to tweaking the various things -- it's all graphical. Yes, a faster way to install software and packages is using the command line but you can still do that with the Ubuntu's own software repository which is, well, totally graphical.
Ubuntu is especially for people who are switching over from Windows and are not power users with a lot of experience. Ubuntu's design, look, and functionality is for the general user who just wants to surf the web, use his or her apps, download stuff, do a little bit of technical stuff, do some coding, and so on. Light, fast, graphical -- that's what Ubuntu is. Also, Ubuntu is well-maintained and AskUbuntu (a Stack Exchange) website is more reliable than many other official forums of other Linux distributions. I've seen people post general Linux questions on AskUbuntu without revealing their exact distro because it's quicker to get an answer there than their distro (probably due to lesser usage and popularity).
Ubuntu ranks #5 on the DistroWatch popularity page.
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