First of all, when did you start Arch Linux and why?
Judd: Arch Linux had its first release in March 2002. At the time I was doing some sysadmin work for a small dot-com company, and most of our servers were using RedHat. I was frustrated by the upgrade procedures RedHat used at the time and started looking around for other distributions that did the job better.
I was always a Slackware fan due to the simplicity of the system, but Slackware didn’t seem to have a very good set of package management tools. Then I found CRUX, which was even simpler than Slackware. For a newbie, it was difficult to understand as you had to do everything yourself. But once comfortable with the system, it was faster than most “user-friendly” distributions. The package management was still lacking a bit — at the time, CRUX did not provided any system-upgrade features, and there was no notion of dependencies. If you wanted to install XFree86, you had to read a line in the package’s README file and manually install each dependency from their respective packages. Not a big deal for smaller packages, but when trying to install something with many layers of dependencies, it became a time-consuming issue.
That’s when I started Arch and Pacman. The two grew together — Arch started as a sibling of CRUX and pacman started as a sibling of pkgtools. The two did not share code with CRUX or pkgtools, only philosophy. Eventually, Arch started to diverge from CRUX in functionality and size. It is still lightweight, but we’ve grown to have a larger number of packages and developers, as well as more features in our package manager.
What are the main benefits of Arch compared to other distributions?
Judd: Simplicity, flexibility, and transparency are tenets of Arch Linux. We try to stick to the KISS principle whenever we can. The transparency of the system makes it easy to learn, and competent linux users are constantly thanking us for this reason.
Users also tout pacman as one of the greatest features in Arch. It makes package installation very easy, and package upgrades are a lot easier than most RPM-based distributions, or even dpkg ones.
What about pacman? Is it the main feature of Arch Linux? Can you tell us something about its features and development status?
Judd: Pacman is definitely acknowledged as one of the main features of Arch Linux. It has a simple commandline interface, handles dependencies automatically, and provides a simple facility for full system upgrades. Like any package manager, it needs improvements in some areas, but that is an ongoing effort in the Arch development circles. Pacman3 is ready for beta usage now, large in thanks to Aurelien Foret and Aaron Griffin. We also collaborate with the development team at Frugalware Linux. They have adopted Pacman as their package manager as well, so we share patches on a regular basis.
What is Arch’s approach to “stability”? I see that the current branch seems to be fairly up-to-date and I want to know something about this: A bleeding-edge tree will entail hard debugging and testing sessions, isn’t true?
Judd: We do try to stay quite up to date with our package versions, and sometimes we get bitten by it. But our successes outweight our mistakes in this area. We have a Testing repository where most packages will go if they’re at all suspect to have bugs or upgrade issues. For example, a minor upgrade to liferea may go directly to Current, as it should be a simple upgrade with no additional installation steps or new versions of libraries. But when a new version of GNOME comes out, or bash, or glibc, or anything that is fundamental to other packages and typically warrants additional QA and/or package rebuilds, the package always goes to Testing first. Developers use the Testing repository as do some brave community members. They help us find and eliminate bugs in the packages before they are released to the general public in Current. We also have an Unstable tree that houses packages that are in a long-term “development” quality. For example, we have CVS/SVN versions of many packages in there.
Is Arch Linux suitable for servers? Do you running Arch Linux on your servers?
Judd: Yes, I use Arch almost exclusively on servers I own and servers I maintain for clients. Sometimes it’s not feasible to install Arch if the server is colocated elsewhere, but whenever I can, I use it.
Arch is suited for servers as well as desktop machines, but I recommend that you don’t try to stay as bleeding edge with it. Unless there are known security vulnerabilities in a piece of software I use, I only upgrade my servers once every month or two.
Can you tell us something about the next release called “Voodoo”?
Judd: We’re hoping to have it out the door by Christmas, but we’ll see. It largely depends on how much free time we developers have. Lately I have been inundated with pay-the-bills work, so I haven’t had much time for release engineering.
Voodoo (Arch Linux 0.8) will sport a new installation CD layout, as well as a new early-userspace model mostly developed by Aaron Griffin. It employs the use of “hooks” to enable various features at early boot-time, such as full hard disk encryption.
How many developers work on Arch Linux?
Judd: There are about 25 core developers in Arch Linux right now, with many more Trusted Users (TUs) in the community who assist with packaging.
How may people have downloaded Arch Linux so far?
Judd: Very tough to say. We have a large mirror network and don’t have access to any of the download statistics from them. Also, we provide download links for BitTorrent and Metalink so it is nearly impossible to collect stats for these.
Let’s just say “a lot.”
Do you know of any large organization that is using Arch Linux?
Judd: Not off the top of my head, though I’d bet there are a few. Arch Linux has become an attractive choice for tech-saavy linux people, and these people often give advice to higher-up, decision-making individuals. Arch is probably around more than we think.
What do you do in your life? Study, work?
Judd: I offer web development and linux system administration services on a contract basis. When not busy with work, I enjoy things like hiking, swimming, or playing guitar.
Thanks Judd for the interview and good luck with your project.
Judd: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.