Explore the power and flexibility of Arch Linux with the best Arch-based Linux distros

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(Image credit: Pixabay)

The best Arch-based Linux distros provide impressive customizability. Arch adheres to a rolling release model, which means you can install it once and keep updating it till eternity.

For all its advantages, Arch remains one of the most cumbersome distros to configure and install. In fact, even though the installation process is one of the best documented ones, it’s elaborate and involved enough to scare away everyone except hardcore geeks. 

Arch’s daunting installation process has given rise to a number of distros that go to great lengths to help new users experience the power of Arch Linux without going through the rigmarole of building an Arch installation from the ground up. 

Here’s some of the best and unique options on offer.

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(Image credit: Manjaro)

1. Manjaro

Reasons to buy

+

Helpful custom apps

+

Good choice of desktops

+

Attractive themes

Manjaro is available in three officially supported flavors (Gnome, KDE Plasma, and Xfce) and over half a dozen community-supported ones. Besides the 64-bit ISOs, you can also download images for dozens of ARM-based devices such as the Raspberry Pi 4, Pinebook, and the Pinebook Pro.

Unlike Arch, Manjaro uses a customised Calamares installer, which makes it fairly easy to anchor the distro to your computer. The installer gives you the option to choose between LibreOffice and FreeOffice as the default office suite, if you want to install one. 

Manjaro includes all the usual mainstream popular apps such as the 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, especially 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 a ready-to-use desktop distro that scores highly in both form and function, and is currently one of the most popular Linux distros overall.

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(Image credit: EndeavourOS)

2. EndeavourOS

Reasons to buy

+

Dual installers

+

Useful Welcome app

+

Vibrant community

Reasons to avoid

No graphical package management app

Considered by many as the spiritual successor to the once-popular-now-disbanded Antergos project, EndeavourOS is the newest distro in our list.

In its bid to cater to a vast number of users with different use cases, the distro ships two flavors of the distribution-agnostic Calamares installer. There’s the offline installer, which as the name suggests doesn’t need 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 the Gnome, KDE, Deepin, Budgie, Cinnamon, Mate, LXQT, i3 desktops.

If you use Nvidia hardware you’ll appreciate the efforts put in by the developers to help you enjoy your graphics hardware. In terms of apps, EndeavourOS ships with many of the desktop essentials. However, the intention of the developers is to give you a usable base that you can flesh out as per your requirements.

One of the distro’s best features is the welcome application that has links to documentation, and several crucial post-installation tasks including the ability to add popular apps such as LibreOffice, and the akm kernel manager to switch kernels. 

The distro’s only failing for the time being at least is that it lacks a graphical package manager. But for what it’s worth it does have very easy-to-digest information on using the command-line-based package management systems.

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(Image credit: ArcoLinux)

3. ArcoLinux

Reasons to buy

+

Attractive looking desktop

+

Lots of documentation

Reasons to avoid

Website could be better designed

Unlike other Arch-based projects, ArcoLinux is pitched as a learning platform that hopes to transform new users into Arch masters. To that end the project produces not one but several distros.

The ArcoLinux learning process has been broken into six phases, and the various ArcoLinux distributions are part of those phrases. 

There’s the minimalist ArcoLinuxD release, which ships with just enough components to help you build your own custom ArcoLinux installation. Then there’s ArcoLinuxB that enables you to modify the stock ArcoLinux ISO and build your own custom image. The project hosts a string of such customised ISOs as contributed by its community.

The main ArcoLinux release comes with three desktop environments, is chock full of productivity apps and is designed for the average desktop user. This is the release that’s designed to be used as a regular desktop. Virtually all aspects of this distro have been tweaked and the customized desktop looks inviting, with its attractive icon theme and the Plank dock.

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(Image credit: Parabola GNU/Linux-libre)

4. Parabola GNU/Linux-libre

Reasons to buy

+

Endorsed by the FSF

+

100% free yet functional

Reasons to avoid

Limited hardware support

Designed for experienced users

One of the few distros that are endorsed by the GNU/Linux project, Parabola GNU/Linux-libre goes to great lengths to ensure it only includes free as-in-freedom components. That covers everything from the kernel and the hardware drivers to libraries and applications. 

Instead of the standard Linux kernel, Parabola uses the version from the GNU Linux-libre project that’s been stripped of all proprietary and non-free firmware blobs and code. Thanks to this philosophy it won’t support many wireless cards and top of the line graphics hardware. 

This respect for freedom is also applied to the official Arch repositories from which the distro sources its packages. In fact the project maintains a list of packages in the Arch repos that don’t adhere to the free software specifications, which currently lists over 800 packages. 

Unlike some of the other projects in this list, Parabola puts out several releases. The distro is one of the few distros that continues to support the 32-bit architecture. It is also one of the few that supports multiple init systems, systemd and OpenRC. There are also editions that boot to a command-line environment and others that boot into an LXDE desktop.

The good thing however is that you can use any of the ISOs to install any variant of Parabola. For instance, you can use the CLI OpenRC Live CD to install a system with the Gnome desktop that uses systemd. 

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