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Old 11-07-2016, 08:55 AM   #1
gkun
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Arch's supposed instability


I would like to understand why so many people around Linux forums keep saying Arch is unstable, better not used in a "production" desktop, and similar.

I am a previous Ubuntu user. I installed Ubuntu 13.10 in March 2014. It was fine, but many packages were old and I started installing things from source. I did experience few breakages, in fact so few I was surprised since my last experience with Linux hadn't been so easy (but, old Mandrake install in the nineties?).

Then when I tried to upgrade to 14.04, upgrade failed due to many packages not being recognized. This is why I looked into installing some rolling release, and Arch was the obvious answer, but I rather kept using the good old salamander until May 2016, updating packages manually cause Arch looked dangerously unstable and difficult.

Then I did it. Downloaded, kept a free night and some mugs of coffee ready, and there it was. Easy install, maybe marginally more difficult than the Ubuntu one. Wonderfully quick, zero graphics bugs compared to the Ubuntu I had used. Since then, not once I had a serious breakage. The two (minor!) problems I had were due to -temporarily- broken packages (hplip and a python package) which I installed without due research. Both easily solved. Everything has worked "out of the box" and extremely reliably. Only things I have had to compile from source has been Ofono to use Bluetooth headsets with a Bluetooth adapter (a testament to how easy Linux became these days is that I just bought a very cheap bt adapter online and it took me a couple hours to have everything working).

So why all the caution online?
 
Old 11-07-2016, 09:33 AM   #2
snowpine
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"Stable" and "unstable" have a specific meaning to Linux users, a little different than how the words are commonly used by lay people.

In common everyday usage, we might say that an operating system is "stable" if it runs reliably, or "unstable" if it is buggy or crashes a lot.

However in Linux, the words have more specialized usage: A distribution is "stable" if the package versions don't change over time (staying at a fixed version and receiving only bug fixes and security patches), or "unstable" if the package versions do change (keeping pace with the latest and greatest).

An example of a "stable" release is Ubuntu. Once you install Ubuntu, it doesn't change much for the lifespan of the release. For example, if you installed 16.04 LTS ("long term support") in April 2016, you can keep using it for 5 years, and the software versions will never change. To the extent Ubuntu 16.04 met your needs in April 2016, you can confidently depend it will continue to perform as expected through April 2021. The desktop environment isn't going to change, your icons aren't going to move around, your applications aren't going to magically add/subtract features; in other words a "stable" distribution means "static, unchanging."

A "rolling release" distribution like Arch is, by definition, "unstable" according to the specialized usage of the term. Who knows what your Arch install will look like in 2021? It might be very different than it looks today, with a different user experience and newer applications. Imagine a rock that is constantly rolling down a hill. Would you say that that rock is "stable"? Of course not! (But, that rolling stone might still be considered "predictable" in that it follows the laws of physics.) In other words an "unstable" Linux distribution means "dynamic, ever-changing, in flux."

In actual practice, it is completely plausible that a "stable" distribution might be "unstable" (in the layman's meaning that it is buggy or poorly engineered) whereas an "unstable" distribution might be perfectly "stable" (in the layman's sense that it is reliable and dependable). Your observation that Arch (an unstable distro) can be less buggy than Ubuntu (a supposedly stable distro) is not an uncommon experience.

Last edited by snowpine; 11-07-2016 at 09:46 AM.
 
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Old 11-07-2016, 09:45 AM   #3
gkun
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I am aware of the particular meaning of "stable" in the Linux world, but I refer to a different thing. It's not too difficult to find people recommending not to use Arch Linux because "updates break the system". Which isn't really the case, at least in my experience. There is then the very long list of reasons why Linux is not ready for the desktop in some famous, often referred to, website, which keeps scaring users away from Linux in general. I just think Arch would have many more users if just people knew. I think the average experience is more like mine than like the "I updated a package, system stopped working" horror stories around. Basically I post this cause I hope someone will read this thread and have less worries about going the Arch way.

Last edited by gkun; 11-07-2016 at 09:46 AM.
 
Old 11-07-2016, 09:53 AM   #4
snowpine
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The thing is that support for Ubuntu 13.10 Saucy Salamander ended in July 2014. You mention that you continued to use the unsupported release until May 2016, manually upgrading applications from source. Since you were using an obsolete Ubuntu in a completely unsupported/unrecommended way, it is not surprising you experienced many problems. It's like if you tried to bake a cake using expired milk and rotten eggs. The cake isn't going to taste very good! (But maybe it's not the cookbook author's fault?)

If you want to do a fair comparison between Ubuntu and Arch, then you should be comparing a currently-supported (and properly-maintained) release. You might still find that Arch is the winner, but at least you'd be comparing apples to apples.
 
Old 11-07-2016, 10:52 AM   #5
gkun
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Yes, that is true. It's also true that the worst problems I had with Ubuntu weren't from packages I upgraded (ok, the worst "damage" I made by upgrading packages manually was that the system upgrade to the next version did not work): rather there were some glitches with the video driver changing resolution randomly when the screen went to energy saving. Or, unexplained sluggishness of the graphical interface (also quite random). Those were like, from the day of the install. But I am not complaining Ubuntu sucks. More like feeling surprised about how good Arch is.
 
Old 11-07-2016, 10:57 AM   #6
Emerson
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In Gentoo stable and unstable mean you can experience build problems with unstable. It runs rock stable. I switched over to unstable soon after installing Gentoo first time. Running unstable since 2004 and have to say nothing beats custom built applications stability-wise.
 
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Old 11-08-2016, 12:44 PM   #7
ondoho
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snowpine View Post
Imagine a rock that is constantly rolling down a hill. Would you say that that rock is "stable"? Of course not! (But, that rolling stone might still be considered "predictable" in that it follows the laws of physics.) In other words an "unstable" Linux distribution means "dynamic, ever-changing, in flux."
this image would apply to a "distro" that has no precompiled packages at all, were you install everything directly from upstream (jargon: the software developers).
in this sense, maybe archlinux is rolling, but rolling controlled.
packages are created & tested (there's a [testing] repo, which i wouldn't use) and released when they are deemed stable enough.

all in all, i agree with the op; my desktop has been pretty stable with archlinux for years now, and the few annoyances i had - well i would have some annoyance with any distro, nay, operating system. same same. yet, the advantages - hardware support, and a few select applications i am really happy to have the newest version of (mostly mpv actually), and the whole community is really quick when something needs fixing.

but still, my server is running debian stable.
 
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Old 11-08-2016, 01:04 PM   #8
snowpine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ondoho View Post
this image would apply to a "distro" that has no precompiled packages at all, were you install everything directly from upstream (jargon: the software developers).
in this sense, maybe archlinux is rolling, but rolling controlled.
packages are created & tested (there's a [testing] repo, which i wouldn't use) and released when they are deemed stable enough.
There is no "in this sense, maybe archlinux is rolling" about it. Arch is the iconic rolling release distribution. If Arch isn't rolling release, then I don't know what is.

Nobody in this discussion is arguing that "Arch Linux is a crappy distribution full of buggy and untested software"! That's not what "unstable" means in this context.
 
Old 11-08-2016, 01:04 PM   #9
notKlaatu
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In a production environment, the most cautious admin basically wants as few changes as possible, because changes threaten breakage. So any Linux (or OS in general), if you keep changing it (or if it keeps changing itself), can be bad for a production environment. I think that's often what people are driving at when they say that Arch is not good for a production environment.
 
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Old 11-10-2016, 01:46 AM   #10
gkun
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snowpine View Post
There is no "in this sense, maybe archlinux is rolling" about it. Arch is the iconic rolling release distribution. If Arch isn't rolling release, then I don't know what is.

Nobody in this discussion is arguing that "Arch Linux is a crappy distribution full of buggy and untested software"! That's not what "unstable" means in this context.
Right. Nobody is in this discussion. My point is too many people are arguing exactly that, outside of this discussion. Positive stories are difficult to find (mostly because happy people don't usually write about that) horror stories too easy to find. I think many people are going on telling the same experience they maybe had with Arch many years ago, meanwhile the whole experience has become something different.
 
Old 11-10-2016, 10:26 AM   #11
kilgoretrout
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There's a reason why the Arch forum has an entire section entitled "Pacman & Package Upgrade Issues":

https://bbs.archlinux.org/viewforum.php?id=44

And there's a reason why it's not empty. That doesn't mean Arch is a bad distro; it's not. In fact, it's a very good disto for its use case - deliver the latest and greatest software ASAP. But if that's what you're going for, the testing of software updates can't be as thorough as with more slowly evolving distros. As a result you're likely to get more breakages/problems in Arch. That's simply unacceptable in a production environment. For a home user, downtime caused by occasional breakage from updates is not that big a deal, provided the user is technically capable enough to deal with the issue and doesn't mind getting his hands dirty.
 
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Old 11-10-2016, 01:48 PM   #12
ondoho
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kilgoretrout View Post
its use case - deliver the latest and greatest software ASAP.
i can see another use case:
install a distro that you will never, ever have to reinstall again.
that was the turning point for me.

i consider the "cutting edge" software a bonus.
 
Old 11-10-2016, 07:37 PM   #13
Captian Kangeroo
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Hi/
I been using arch for over a year a have had fewer issues with it than many of the other major distros really. If an update causes a problem the fix usually very quickly.
Learning how to install and run Arch has been my greatest enjoyment with Linux. I try the others ocassionaly but always consider Arch my favorite and you learn a bunch.
 
Old 11-11-2016, 06:39 AM   #14
gkun
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Ok, apparently the gods of irony decided to hit me with a gnome session segfault after an upgrade. Well, it's the first time I get this kind of glitch, which is not too problematic for me (I'll just rollback, file a bug, and lock gnome upgrades for a while), but I get how it could be a showstopper for someone not willing to get his hands dirty.

My machine is a production machine in a way anyway, since I tend to do more work from home than I do at office. And I do have a backup install (puppy Linux on an SD card).
 
Old 11-11-2016, 07:01 AM   #15
goumba
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FWIW I bought a new laptop and I have tried on it Arch, Fedora, and others trying to decide what to use on it, and pretty much in every distro I tried, GNOME Shell (3.22, 3.23)crashed fairly frequently using the Intel drivers whereas KDE and Cinnamon did not.
 
  


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