The best Arch-based Linux distros offer impressive customizability. Arch follows a rolling release model, which means you can install it once and keep updating it for an eternity.
For all its advantages, Arch is one of the most cumbersome distros to configure and install. In fact, even though the installation process is one of the best documented, it is detailed and enough to scare everyone except hardcore geeks.
Arch’s arduous installation process has led to many distros that go to great lengths to help new users experience the power of Arch Linux without going through the rigors of building an Arch installation from the ground up.
Here are some great and unique options.
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Manjaro is available in three officially supported flavors (Gnome, KDE Plasma, and XFCE) and over half a dozen community-supported flavors. In addition to the 64-bit ISO, you can also download images for dozens of ARM-based devices such as the Raspberry Pi 4, PineBook, and PineBook Pro.
Unlike Arch, Manjaro uses a customized Calamares installer, which makes it fairly easy to anchor the distro to your computer. If you want to install one, the installer gives you the option to choose between LibreOffice and FreeOffice as the default office suite.
Manjaro includes all the usual mainstream popular apps like LibreOffice Suite, GIMP, VLC, Firefox, Thunderbird, Steam client, and more. You can pull in additional apps using the intuitive Pamac package manager, which can grab apps from Manjaro’s official repositories as well as the Arch User Repository (AUR). Manjaro also supports both Flatpaks and Snaps and you can install apps from their respective repos using Pamac. Another plus are the project’s custom tools, specifically the Manjaro Hardware Detection Tool (MHWD) that you can use to install the correct drivers for all attached devices.
All things considered, with its bundled apps and custom tools, Manjaro is an easy-to-use desktop distro that scores highly in both form and function, and is currently one of the most popular Linux distros overall.
Considered by many as the spiritual successor to the ever-popular now-defunct Antergos project, EndeavorOS is the newest distro on our list.
To cater to a vast number of users with different use cases, the distro ships two flavors of the distribution-agnostic Calamarese installer. The offline installer is, as the name suggests, does not require an active connection to the Internet and installs a customized Xfce desktop environment. If Xfce doesn’t work for you, use the online installer that lets you choose between Gnome, KDE, Deepin, Budgie, Cinnamon, Mate, LXQT, i3 desktops.
If you use Nvidia hardware you’ll appreciate the effort the developers put into helping you enjoy your graphics hardware. In terms of apps, EndeavorOS comes with several desktop essentials. However, the intention of the developers is to provide you with a useful base that you can tailor to your needs.
One of the best features of the distro is the welcome application that contains links to documentation, and several important post-installation functions including the ability to add popular apps like LibreOffice and AKM Kernel Manager to switch kernels.
The distro’s failure, at least for some time, is that it lacks a graphical package manager. But for what it’s worth, it has a lot of easy-to-digest information on how to use command-line-based package management systems.
Unlike other Arch-based projects, ArchLinux is pitched as a learning platform that hopes to convert new users into Arch masters. For this the project produces not one but several distros.
The ArchLinux learning process is divided into six phases, and the various ArchLinux distributions are part of those phrases.
There is at least the ArcoLinuxD release, which ships with enough components to help you build your own custom ArcoLinux installation. Then there’s ArcholinxB which enables you to modify the stock Archolinux ISO and create your own custom image. The project hosts a range of customized ISOs as contributed by its community.
The main ArchLinux release comes with three desktop environments, loaded with productivity apps and designed for the average desktop user. This is the release that is designed to be used as a regular desktop. Almost all aspects of this distro have been changed and optimized desktop looks beautiful, with its attractive icon themes and plank dock.
One of the few distros supported by the GNU/Linux project, Parabola GNU/Linux-libre puts a lot of effort into making sure it only includes free-in-freedom components. This includes everything from kernel and hardware drivers to libraries and applications.
Instead of the standard Linux kernel, Parabola uses a version of the GNU Linux-libre project that has been stripped of all proprietary and non-free firmware blobs and code. Thanks to this philosophy it will not support many wireless cards and top of the line graphics hardware.
This respect for freedom also applies to the official Arch repositories from which the distro gets its packages. In fact the Project Arch repo maintains a list of packages that do not comply with the Free Software Specifications, which currently lists over 800 packages.
Unlike some of the other projects on this list, Parabola makes multiple releases. The distro is one of the few distros that continue to support the 32-bit architecture. It is one of the few that supports multiple init systems, systemd and openrc. There are also versions that boot into a command-line environment and others that boot into the LXDE desktop.
The cool thing though is that you can use any ISO to install any version of Parabola. For example, you can use the CLI OpenRC Live CD with Gnome Desktop to install a system that uses systemd.
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