From Arch to Ubuntu?

As the few, but loyal readers of my blog now, I’m a big fan of Arch. It’s the Swiss army knife of Linux distributions, with the possibility to install as little or as much as you want. However, I’m also a fan of Ubuntu and when I install Linux on the PC of a friend who wants to try it, that’s the distribution I’ll use. These two distributions have two very different goals: Arch wants to give the user complete freedom over his install, Ubuntu wants to provide a complete, easy OS. But of course, both use the same, open-source building blocks.

Now, one of the reasons I love Arch is Openbox. Many Archers list it as their favourite window manager, and the monthly screenshot thread really showed me how beautiful it can be. What’s more, it loads much, much faster than GNOME, even when you basically use the same applications, and as a window manager it’s (in my opinion) far superior to Metacity or Compiz. Openbox has pipe menus, can keybind anything to anything, opens applications in the virtual desktop you want it to open, and lets you set borders that applications can’t overlap, which you can define to the pixel, which are all features I miss in GNOME’s default window managers. Arch’s excellent wiki, together with Urukrama’s incredible Openbox guide, helped me through the initial hurdle of editing the configuration files by hand, and afterwards I never looked back.

However, Openbox is available in other distributions too. I installed it in Fedora and Mandriva when I tested those (it comes as the default window manager of LXDE). I thought about copying my configuration files to Mandriva to compare it with Arch, but I don’t have that much interest in Mandriva to be honest. Ubuntu is another matter though, so I installed 9.04 on my spare partition, then installed Openbox together with wicd, galculator, emesene, conky, obmenu, leafpad, catfish, thunar, mirage, emelfm2, trayer, xcompmgr, gnome-player, gecko-mediaplayer, lxappearance, comix and audacious, which were all available in the repositories. Bmpanel I had to hunt down on, but sakura (my favourite terminal) proved to be a bigger challenge. In the end I settled for the Debian package. Not ideal, and it won’t be updated, but it works just fine.

Configuration was easy. I simply copied all the point directories from my Arch install, so all my settings were saved. Installing wicd automatically got rid of networkmanager. Replacing the totem-plugins with the far better gecko-mediaplayer (with mplayer as the backend) I had to do myself, but was easily done. Only the fonts were a bit messy, and the Arch lcd packages for font smoothing weren’t available. However, Ubuntu fonts look good out of the box, only subpixel hinting isn’t applied automatically everywhere in Openbox. A quick edit of ~/.fonts.conf took care of that, and after a bit of icon- and theme-tweaking I was all done.

So now that I’m using the same window manager and the same applications, what are the advantages of Ubuntu over Arch?

  • Just as fast. Of course, Ubuntu has an unfair advantage here. It’s on an ext4 partition, while Arch is still on ext3. Furthermore, I tested all possible desktop environments, window managers and other kinds of software on that Arch install, and I shudder at the thought of all the clutter I must have left all over my system. Still, Ubuntu boots and feels as fast as my Arch install now.
  • Less, and easier configuration. Of course, that’s an advantage Ubuntu has by design. Still, it’s nice to be prompted to install the nvidia driver, flash player, and various codecs, without having to do any kind of configuration afterwards.
  • Kick-ass looking notifications. I don’t care how childish this is, those transparent black popups look sweet.

But of course, Arch still has many advantages too:

  • Less is more. In Arch I would only have installed that list of applications I mentioned above. In Ubuntu, I have the entire GNOME desktop environment installed too. I probably could have kept things minimal, but for convenience sake, I started from a regular GNOME install.
  • People install arch just because they want to be able to configure anything. Total control is important for an Archer.
  • The rolling release model means I don’t have to worry about new releases breaking my system. Software’s more up to date too.
  • Thanks to the PKGBUILDS, packages are much easier to patch in Arch. I can’t run my patched version of wine in Ubuntu.

In the end, it’s a trade-off…ease of use versus control over your system. In any case, my Arch install needed to be updated, because of the whole ext3 thing, and the fact that I just want to clean it after trying to install every possible open source application on it. Installing and configuring Arch still takes me something like an hour though, so I’ll stick with Ubuntu for a while. Knowing me, I’ll get bored of it soon enough.

Now for some screenshots:

My Arch install

My Arch install

My Ubuntu install

My Ubuntu install

It’s a world of difference!



24 Responses to From Arch to Ubuntu?

  1. Mesanna says:

    Interesting article. I’ve never tried Arch though I’ve read a bit about it. I definitely prefer the *buntu-based distros. I think it’s easy enough to tweak Ubuntu to be what you want, without having to reinvent the wheel every time. You can have as much or as little control over your system as you need. Of course, maybe I’m just lazy ๐Ÿ˜€
    PS I like your desktop image!

  2. niko says:

    I dont remember the last time i read an interesting article on your blog. It must have been…never.
    I wonder why tuxmachines keeps adding your posts on their feeds.

  3. GregE says:

    Interesting post. This approach to a minimalist setup would be good on a netbook.

    You might like to look at this distro they seem to be “on the same page”.

  4. angelblade says:

    I use both ๐Ÿ˜›

  5. GregC says:

    While I think its great that you brought attention to a great distro ( Arch ). I fell you did it a disservice by mentioning it in the same article with ubuntu. Arch is a very stable, very configureable and just all around great distro. While ubuntu is just an overrated broken copy of Debian with delusions of grandour and a user base of the most tech ignorant rabid fanboys imaginable.

  6. celettu says:


    I tried Arch once when I had nothing to do for a couple of weeks (confined to my chair after a traffic accident). It’s really not that hard, especially not with the Beginner’s Guide available, but you need some time to learn it.


    And yet you took the time to read this and post a comment. How sweet ๐Ÿ™‚


    It crossed my mind, but I can’t test it. I don’t own a netbook at the moment.


    Ah, the choice of the true Linux fan ๐Ÿ˜‰


    I disagree. Last year somebody started a thread on the Arch forums titled “Why I love Ubuntu”, which really showed the openmindedness of the Arch community, because that one got a lot of responses, all with different reasons for Ubuntulove. The thread made the newsletter that month.
    I think it’s possible to like more than one distribution.

  7. Butler says:

    Good post…
    Do you have a link for your desktop background?

  8. celettu says:


    Thanks. Unfortunately not…I downloaded it from 4scrape, but I don’t have a link.

  9. Easwar C.E. Hariharan says:

    Linux+Naruto+A propensity to tinker with different WMs=Startling similarity.:)

    I just want to know where you get your wallpapers,they’re awesome,and how did you install OpenBox on Ubuntu.I’m running 9.04,and tinkered with Fluxbox for a time,but it ran GNOME on top,and there wasn’t much of a performance boost.

  10. celettu says:


    I get most of my wallpapers from 4scrape ( although it seems to be down at the moment). There’s a lot of crap there, but some real gems too.

    I installed Openbox either with Synaptic or aptitude…I used both. Make sure you choose Openbox in GDM (and not GNOME/Openbox), and don’t run gnome-panel or things like that.

  11. semko says:

    Have you tried this one.
    ubuntu base + openbox + nice artwork + everything out of the box

  12. celettu says:


    I have ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve been planning to try it out for some time, but I had an Ubuntu 9.04 CD ready, and all my openbox config files…I took the lazy way out ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. semko says:

    I’m glad you did it. ๐Ÿ™‚
    I would be very happy to see your review of Crunchbang linux, if that’s not too much asked.

  14. Mohan says:

    Awesome setup on both desktops, I am more of a Ubuntu user nowadays came from Red Hat (way back in the days). I do want to mess around with Arch one of these days. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Mesanna says:

    @Semko I installed Crunchbang on my EEE netbook (actually, I installed Cruncheee – the tweaked distro specifically for the EEE) and boy was it fast! I’ve tried a number of different distros on my EEE and it was noticeably faster than anything else.

  16. BTW: I actually packaged sakura, and it is now sitting in the NEW queue for Ubuntu Karmic. I’ll try to get it into jaunty-backports after it is accepted.

  17. […] From Arch to Ubuntu? In the end, itโ€™s a trade-offโ€ฆease of use versus control over your system. In any case, my Arch install needed to be updated, because of the whole ext3 thing, and the fact that I just want to clean it after trying to install every possible open source application on it. Installing and configuring Arch still takes me something like an hour though, so Iโ€™ll stick with Ubuntu for a while. Knowing me, Iโ€™ll get bored of it soon enough. […]

  18. W says:

    I use Arch Linux and I’m very pleased with it. Once it’s set up I don’t have to worry that in 6 months there will be new release and I have to configure it again, or I don’t have to waint 6 months for a new version of some program e.g. The fact is that it takes much longer to set it up and this process is not siuted for beginners. But once it set up, that is it!

  19. Arch is totally not a swiss army knife… I use it, also use opensuse, but I come from gentoo originally which is much more swiss army than arch. I wish there was a ‘ubuntu’ for rolling advanced user distro. I kinda hate that all distro’s I like still take quite a bit to set up.

  20. Gary says:

    just wondering, what panels are you using for each? The arch one looks great, especially

  21. celettu says:

    Gary: That’s bmpanel with the arch theme in th efirst screenshot, and carbon theme in the second.

  22. 2 great distro’s. Ubuntu for being the most user friendly one I’ve found so far. Arch for being totally controllable and lightning fast and for including ossv4 in the repositories.

  23. Riz says:

    I have using Ubuntu for few years now exclusively but loosing my patience with it slowly. Every new release seems to be buggier and clunkier than the previous. Karmic (I understand it’s not released yet but what worked before should at least work here) broke my X more than once.

    I have been thinking to move to Arch for a while now due to mainly three reasons.

    – rolling releases
    – configurability
    – init system (debian style just doesn’t cut it for me even though I used it more than the other) ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. open source says:

    open source…

    […]From Arch to Ubuntu? « Celettu’s Weblog[…]…

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