Exploring the world of Arch Linux derivatives

Chakra

Chakra was originally created in 2006 under the name KDEmod with the aim of offering a simple Arch installation with KDE. In 2010, the Chakra project, as it was called from then on, separated from Arch and founded its own distribution. The Chakra developers decided to concentrate on KDE and Qt and to provide users with a user-friendly environment that contains graphical tools for system administration.

The distribution transfers GTK applications to its own archive so that it is possible to easily implement a pure Qt system. The developers also clear the Qt packages of any GTK dependencies. Chakra is going its own way and breaking further and further away from Arch Linux (Figure 4). Pacman and Pkgbuild are currently still used for package management and as a build system; however, the Chakra project has been working on its own package manager for some time.

Figure 4: Chakra is moving further away from Arch, but the Chakra developers don't want to abandon the KISS principle.

Chakra describes itself as semi-rolling, which means the base system is updated with care and control, while the majority of applications roll. Just recently, Chakra started the transition to the fifth generation of KDE and is simultaneously changing its infrastructure, with the goal of simplifying the repositories. In addition to the GTK archive, you will find a core and a desktop repository. The packages are repackaged for Chakra.

The core repository remains rather static: Updates to the main system components, such as the kernel, graphics stack, drivers, toolchain, and all major libraries, are all done in one go. The platform-independent Calamares is used as the installer. The Pre-installed Software selection makes it possible to get started and be productive immediately. Qupzilla [13] is used as the browser; Firefox is also ready when needed. KDE's Calligra office suite is used for office work – supplemented with the KDE Kontact personal information manager.

Chakra is moving closer to the edge of the Arch universe and, once the work on the self-made package manager Akabei is finished, will catapult into the broad expanse of the distribution cosmos without completely renouncing its roots. The developers assured us that, even if Chakra doesn't really look much like Arch, you'll still find plenty of Arch-specific mechanisms inside Chakra, and the project still believes in the KISS ("Keep it simple, stupid.") principle.

Chakra 2015.11 Fermi with Plasma 5 has only been available recently. If your priorities for Qt software are having a user-friendly environment with a helpful and friendly community in forums and IRC, you should feel like you're in good hands with Chakra.

ArchBang

The minimalist ArchBang is rather different from the other distributions presented in this article: The aim of ArchBang isn't to make it easier to install Arch Linux or to use parts from the Arch infrastructure in other contexts. Instead, ArchBang is geared towards experienced users who like Arch and are looking for a very lightweight distribution to use on older hardware.

The ArchBang image, which is smaller than 500MB, uses the pre-configured window manager Openbox [14] for the work interface (Figure 5) and comes as a live medium with a customized version of the Arch installer script. The ArchBang wiki includes instructions that describe the installation and show how to use the system once it is installed [15].

Figure 5: With Openbox as a window manager, Archbang is suitable for older machines and for fans of slim desktop environments.

ArchBang emerged from the well known light Linux distribution CrunchBang early in 2015. CrunchBang, which goes by the popular abbreviation #!, was based on Ubuntu and later Debian, and it used a preconfigured Openbox as a window manager. ArchBang took over the configuration and placed the more recent and constantly rolling Arch Linux as a base under it.

When starting the live medium, the system provides the option to run ArchBang completely in main memory with optimum speed (as well as the normal start option). However, this option requires a computer with at least 2GB RAM. If the system doesn't have enough USB ports, you can pull out the flash drive in this mode after booting. The memory requirement after a normal start is around 130MB; however, if you start ArchBang completely in RAM, the system initially occupies about 500MB, which corresponds to the size of the image.

After the start, you'll find yourself on a desktop again, which just shows a few system parameters and shortcuts via the system monitor Conky. A panel loads on the bottom edge with a status icon that provides space for active applications and background apps. Right-clicking the desktop (or the keyboard shortcut Super+Space) conjures up a sparse menu. In the menu, you'll find the options for shutting down the system and opening the installer, as well as documentation and menu items for the few pre-installed applications. These applications include Firefox, the editor Geany, the image viewer Feh, the system display Htop, and the LX terminal.

ArchBang is geared towards advanced users or those who want to be. Anyone who's familiar with Arch will quickly feel at home with ArchBang: The semi-graphical installer is a subset of the Arch installer and Pacman is initially the only way to expand the system. Like Arch, ArchBang lets you set up compact and, with the help of the slim Openbox window manager, fast systems and customize them to your own needs. Detailed installation instructions are available for less advanced users. However, the likelihood of beginning Linux users taking a liking to ArchBang (or Arch Linux) is rather low.

Conclusions

Arch Linux is a popular platform that plays host to several interesting derivatives. If you're looking for a derivative as close to the original as possible, you should consider Antergos. Manjaro is a little more removed from Arch, but it makes a good desktop system. Apricity, which is geared towards users who like working with web applications, is similar to Arch but the design is more modern.

Chakra is only very loosely based on Arch, but it follows Arch principles and favors KDE and Qt. Most of the derivatives are easier on beginners than the main Arch distribution, but ArchBang is pure Arch Linux, small, lightweight, and intended for advanced users with Arch experience.

Other Arch derivatives include the Indie box distro UBOS [16] and the Cygwin-based Msys2 [17]. Another promising newcomer is VeltOS [18], a new system that aims to leave all decisions about design and package selection to the community. The range of Arch derivatives offers something for everyone, and all the derivatives exist as Live media, so you can easily test them all and decide which one you like best.

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