Recently, I’ve taken to scanning a selection of subreddits on reddit.com covering my interests in tech, photography etc. Today, on a Linux subreddit I saw the comment that titles this post, “Arch is for Pros”. The Arch, in this case is Arch Linux, a notoriously tricky to setup Linux distro for those who like to live on the bleeding edge of technology (and Linux YouTubers). However, it got me thinking about the mis-appropriation and mis-use of the term “Pro”. Here are my thoughts on the matter.
Many years ago I had a part-time job in a high-end HiFi equipment shop in Glasgow. We took pride in our approach, often lending equipment out to prospective customers to ensure that they found the right match for their musical appreciation.
Sometimes we would get customers in the shop, HiFi magazine in hand, demanding to hear (even to buy, unheard) the device reviewed in said magazine because it was labelled “Professional”, therefore it must be good. Our showroom manager would gently bring them down to earth by asking “Do you want a car or a truck? The vast majority of professional drivers are truck drivers and bus drivers, they drive professional vehicles. Trucks or buses. Would you buy a professional driver’s vehicle?”
Getting back to technology, the majority of professional use cases for Linux are in the running of servers: Database, Email, Web, etc. Whether they are running on-premise, in large managed datacenters or in “the cloud”, the two things that the professionals who run these servers value above all else are availability and security. It’s not uncommon to find servers on years-old operating systems and apps where only critical security patches have been applied.
I’ve been working in cloud computing since 2013. I wrote software that ran a daily security and configuration audit on over a thousand managed servers. Most of those servers were running CentOS or Amazon Linux, a significant minority were running Ubuntu. There may even have been a few running Debian, though I can’t remember ever coming across one. But one thing is certain, none were running Arch or Arch based distributions. Why is this? Put simply, Arch doesn’t support partial upgrades. There’s no way to just apply security patches. With Arch it’s all or nothing and, the longer you leave it, the higher the probability that something will break.
For a professional, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
I use an Arch distro as my daily driver (ArcoLinux), does that make me un-professional? Perhaps. My laptop is not a mission-critical device. I like to tinker with it, installing things, tweaking things, breaking things. I know that I can completely re-install with a fresh OS and be back up and running in a couple of hours. However, that’s not a luxury afforded to the true professional Linux users.
I’m reminded again of something else my showroom manager back in the HiFi shop used to say: “I’m not an audiophile. Audiophiles like to listen to equipment. I like to listen to music”.
Maybe Arch is for audiophiles.
Enjoy the music.