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9 Months with Arch Linux + i3wm

[Following on from: https://www.olinorwell.com/will-linux-ever-replace-windows/]

I’ve now been using Arch Linux instead of Windows 10 for 9 months straight on my computer. Here are some of my thoughts.

  1. I will never go back to using Windows as my main operating system. I am now 100% converted to this platform and the idea of switching back genuinely never enters my head. I didn’t need any kind of willpower to get to this point, it just became clear once I became comfortable using Arch Linux.
  2. Due to the nature of Linux systems, and in particular Arch Linux, I can accept that the majority of non-“techies” should not move across to using Linux. Even if they are fine 95% of the time, there will be an issue every 6 months or so that needs some solid Linux knowledge to solve.
  3. However having said that, I really believe that all “techies”, should aim to become Linux users. The benefits in terms of speed and control vastly outweigh the disadvantages.

    By “techie” I mean somebody who is probably a computer programmer, but if not then is somebody who enjoys the technical side of computers. By non-“techie” I mean somebody who has no interest whatsoever in knowing how computers works, and just wants to use them.

    It’s fine to be either, but the optimum experience for either in my opinion is found on different operating systems. Windows/MacOS for normal people. Linux for computer lovers.

  4. i3 is the best window manager to run on Arch Linux. I have tried others and think they’re extremely impressive, but time and time again I found myself returning to i3. It just does exactly what it needs to do with the least amount of hassle.
  5. As hinted by number 4, using a tiling window manager instead of a full desktop environment is the way to go. If you are determined to use a full desktop environment then you might as well use Windows 10. Arch+i3 is superior to GNOME or KDE in my opinion. If I need additional functionality then I add it, otherwise my system stays bare and blisteringly fast.
  6. Vim really is great. It’s has a learning curve as steep as most walls and is horrible to use for the first dozen or so times. Unlike with Arch Linux in general, this change did require willpower. I really wanted to be a Vim user, and that desire got me over the initial hurdles to a point where by I use it for all my text editing, and cannot imagine going back. I use it for coding in C++ and PHP without problems.
  7. NeoVim is better than Vim, use NeoVim. It has some key advantages that while reduced in significance by the latest release of Vim, still make it a better overall experience. Don’t worry though, the two are basically identical in looks and usage from the end user point of view.
  8. Other programs that I use on a daily basis are:
    Chromium (a version of Google Chrome – which I also have and run when I need Spotify Web Player)
    PCManFM (a super fast GUI file manager)
    FileZilla (an FTP client)
    urxvt (as a terminal, launched instantly with WinKey+Return)
    ssh (used on the terminal to connect to other machines)
    VLC Player + mpv (two multimedia players that are both fantastic)
    qpdfview (for viewing PDF files)
    Galculator (a GUI calculator)
    Zoom (far better than Skype, great for video chats/calls)
    XnViewMP (for viewing image galleries)
    rofi (for launching programs from a pop-up list
  9. Programs that I don’t use on a daily basis but deserve a shout-out include:
    Firefox (an alternate browser used when needed)
    VeraCrypt (for encrypting files/folders/drives – recommended if you write a personal diary for example)
    Postman (good for testing HTTP requests, for example when building APIs)
    LibreOffice (for when someone sends you a Word or Excel doc, or you need to create one)
    PeaZip (for managing archines)
    Pinta (for editing graphics)
    OBS Studio (for capturing video / broadcasting etc)
  10. Most important of all – the Internet is full of helpful people writing comments to help other people solve problems. If you get a problem with Arch Linux, I’ve found that a quick search of the error message usually results in a discussion thread created by somebody else with the same problem. That’s usually followed by dozens of suggestions on how to solve it. I cannot think of one issue that I’ve had in 9 months that hasn’t been discussed on the Internet by other people on a page I’ve found in seconds. This combined with a little common sense and a reasonable amount of Linux knowledge has solved all the issues that I came across.
  11. As a bonus using Arch Linux means that I can enjoy a blisteringly fast computer experience while using a laptop built in 2011 that I bought second hand for under $300. I’m using a Lenovo Thinkpad X220, the i7 version. It works perfectly for all my development work and Internet browsing. It’s an ultra portable which is great for travel, and connects to my 2 monitors when docked at home. Just remember to get one with an SSD drive – that’s advice that is equally valid whatever computer you’re buying these days.
  12. To balance this out I do have to say that playing games on both Arch Linux and indeed this laptop isn’t an optimum experience. If you’re a heavy gamer then this setup isn’t for you. I have a PS4 for that, and actually having your computer as a work machine rather than a gaming machine probably helps productivity too!
  13. The online versions of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel work on Chromium on Arch Linux – so I’ve had no issues whatsoever viewing and editing files that I’ve been sent. Ironically getting Word, Excel and co into the web browser has been the best thing Microsoft has ever done for the Linux community.
  14. Finally a warning, once you’re using Arch Linux + i3 you’re going to look at other people using Windows 10 and agonise with the delays when they attempt to firstly turn on their computer, then actually load an application. You’ll feel bad for them when you remember they’re using a new laptop. You’ll also chuckle when Windows 10 tells them they have to wait 45 minutes to use their computer due to an update. Once you’ve become a Linux user your tolerance for this madness just becomes less and less. Try to remember to help them rather than wishing they’d just use Linux.

    So all in all, my 9 months with Arch Linux have been some of the least problematic computer times of the last 30 years for me. Super fast, minimal issues, great customisation. If you’re a programmer and computer enthusiast like me, I highly recommend you give the Linux world a chance. If you aren’t and don’t care less it’s kinda odd that you got this far down the blog post! Continue using Windows or Mac, but don’t put up with slowness, expect more from your PC and demand those companies provide a better user experience. Computing in 2019 should be a fast, smooth and pleasant part of life.

 

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