Maybe we need a new term like "Heritage Distro" to describe the likes of Arch and Gentoo

I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now, as to why relatively smaller (in popularity) distros like Arch and Gentoo have such loyal communities. I’m trying to understand what those communities find so important, rather than trying to offer the best in convenience in reaching out to new-to-Linux users (as is usually the case with most distros).

I think they are being loyal first and foremost to a set of ideals. It’s a loyalty to a process, namely that of compiling things yourself, and having a deeper understanding of the underlying system, with its many byzantine layers and libraries (which are about as well-organized as you could realistically ask, in comparison to, say Windows).

An analogy occurred to me. Imagine a museum which showcases Steam Engines. Steam Engines were a cool technology a long time ago, but have been completely eclipsed today by internal combustion engines. You may think that the internal combustion engine is deeply problematic, what with climate change looming, but setting aside the moral implications, for the sake of comparison, it’s not controversial to say that the internal combustion engine is the current dominant and popular way to do vehicle engines.

So to me, distros like Arch and Gentoo are like those Steam Engine museums. They enshrine an older way of doing things (compiling from source, at a great expense in time, compared to installing pre-compiled packages), wanting to preserve, and never lose the highly-nuanced knowledge of how that method works.

They preserve a heritage that they don’t want to forget. Thus my suggestion of the term “Heritage Distro.” This is in juxtaposition to an obvious term like “Popular Distro” (for distros like Ubuntu, Debian, and Linux Mint).

So those “Heritage distros” are actually kind of praiseworthy, when you realize the ideals that they are working very hard to uphold (despite the loss in convenience to the end user). These distros aren’t my cup of tea, having said this.

Having considered these things, now I won’t laugh at them any longer, but will rather just say “it’s not my cup of tea”. I feel this is my more mature response.

I offer this for your reflection. The next time someone announces, unasked, that they use Arch, I feel a possible mature response is “…not my cup of tea, Thanks”.


@esbeeb When I had my first role in industry back in 1994, I had to install Unix on a computer, from floppy disk and remember laughing at having to compile the kernel manually as a part of the installation process - saying “how quaint” out aloud!

I think the first Linux installation I did (Slackware, back in 1995) included a pre-compiled kernel as a binary that would fit on a floppy disk and could be booted from that disk and I’m pretty sure the packages were distributed as zipped tar files that installed straight into the file system without compilation…

I’ve not installed Arch the Arch way or Gentoo yet, though I plan to do both, for the purposes of learning and understanding, but I’m much more keen to start with Linux from Scratch and Beyond Linux From Scratch, because the whole system’s specifically designed to learn from. The more I learn, the more useful I think I can eventually be to the community, by giving back by contributing as a developer and helping-out newer users with sysadmin tips, I think, so it will be well worth it - after all, as users I’m sure much of what we benefit from comes from people who know those innards inside out, which is why they’re able to produce such incredible work :slight_smile:

@astronautsupplier I’ve not engaged with the Arch community but there have been times, especially long, long ago, when I used to get the impression that some Linux users just wanted to (subtly at least) hint at their superiority by responding to request for help with enough information to show they knew the answer to the problem, but short of enough detail to actually be helpful to the user who needed help. From what @MichaelTunnell said about the Arch Wiki some episodes ago, I hope that’s not the kind of elitism they have in their community. I know @dasgeek loves Arch and I don’t get an elitist vibe from him at all - rather the opposite and hopefully the community grows more like that. ( BTW missed your Freud reference first time round - funny :wink: )


Having been a longtime user of Debian, I was still gradually, over the years, pulled into learning a whole bunch of things about the underlying operating system, such as managing system files like:

  • /etc/apt/sources.list
  • /etc/hosts
  • /etc/services, to learn the right ports
  • /etc/passwd, /etc/group
  • /etc/fstab
  • /etc/rc.local
  • /etc/network/interfaces
  • crontabs

etc., etc., etc…

The point here is that, even without learning a whole bunch about painstakingly configuring and hand-compiling all my software (and I’ve hand-compiled things on many occasions, when there was no Debian package for it, including the kernel), plenty of problems still found me, without me needing to go looking for them.

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@esbeeb I hear you, esbeeb. Nice to have a system that just works without the hassle of having to configure it, I know. I think one of the most valuable things in the Linux community though is diversity and I think there is value in those people who want a system they can tinker with for whatever reason - hopefully without becoming elitist about it. I’m not knocking your original post or this one either about the config files you had to learn about! I still remember having to manually configure X before risking starting it so that my multi-sync monitor wouldn’t fry, when I first installed Slackware in '95. A friend of mine at uni had bought a new Dell and destroyed his monitor by not being careful about that when he installed Linux!

I know Debian so I cannot speak about Arch or Gentoo and I learned a lot by just using it, especially Debian sid. More people should use one distro or their distro of choice for longer. You do not need Arch to learn about Linux and not everything Arch does is necessary, there I agree with one of the podcasts where @MichaelTunnell was mentioning the Wiki and the new install process.

I would say Debian is popular but only because it is either used as a server or as a base for other distributions. I can live with it. But if you look at some of the forums about Debian you can still find this so called elitism speaking of their percieved ‘Debian way’ of doing things that I do not share.


Totally agree. I find that training and learning in the areas of networking are the most useful in my life. Learning about things like Wireguard, firewalling, firewall punching, SSH server, DNS servers, web servers, email servers, etc. are the things that have a far larger impact in my life. The underlying OS is just that which supports those services.

I would prefer not to get bogged down in the minutiae of how the OS works, because all the sophisticated networking to various cloud servers I run is where all the “real action” is at in my computing life.

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I think OP fundamentally misunderstands the reason why people use Gentoo or Arch. If it was really ‘obsolete’, people wouldn’t use it on their main machines, just like people don’t ride steam engines to work. OP also misunderstands that all (or most) Linux distros aim to get as big slice from the pie as they can. That is not the case. Mint definitely targets newcomers, Solus is also in that category. Manjaro is better for people who are more technically versed, but still aim to get popularity in the general user base. Other distros focus on other use cases. Arch and Gentoo are for people who want to be highly involved in how their system works, and are willing to do the tinkering. You can argue that having only command line install scripts is ‘archaic’, but there are use cases where simply it is the most efficient way to do it. Compiling from source may look like a waste of time, but maybe there are people who like to have control over every minuscule aspect.
I have installed Arch in a VM with the explicit reason of wanting to challenge myself as everyone’s saying it’s difficult. If Arch wouldn’t have been a good, useful distro that works for me, it wouldn’t have become my distro of choice (I switched from Win10 directly to Arch).

I think the “elitism” accusation for the Arch community is more stemming from misunderstanding than real elitism. It might come from the fact that people who might want to try Arch but has no patience or willingness to adapt, might have gotten the ‘use Ubuntu instead’ suggestion, which might sound condescending (if you yourself believe Ubuntu is the inferior distro :stuck_out_tongue: ). I think it is though as condescending as suggesting someone to not buy a huge ass Diesel van for commuting 10 minutes because it is not the correct tool for your use case. There are many people, for whom Arch is not the proper tool. And Arch is the proper tool for certain people, and Arch is developed for them, not for the general public. Such as minivans are not developed for the general public.


I applaud your use of debian, and it’s debian derivatives. It’s a fantastic system that even on the unstable branches is surprisingly stable. If stable is what you’re looking for, you can do no better for the most part.
But I wasn’t really looking for stable on my computer, I was looking for speed and bleeding edge.
Continuing the car analogy above, My choice isn’t old. My choice is to tweak every aspect of the system to meet my desired needs. I wanted a muscle car, tuned precisely to my needs. Debian, and by extension all the systems that use apt and deb packages, are more akin to a family station wagon. Absolutely amazing work, but it’s one size fits all, made in a factory with every feature you could ever need built in, even if you don’t.
I don’t think arch, or gentoo, are looking for a million strong army of users, the idea of reaching the masses isn’t really a big pull for either distro. It’s not about marketing the system, it’s about using the system that does what you want, how you want it. Sometimes that means doing things the hard way, or at least the way that isn’t double click some thing you downloaded off the net.
I don’t think it’s about elitism for the most part, though I do think feeling proud of what you’ve done is perfectly valid. I think it’s about enjoying what you are doing. So if messing with config files and command line isn’t your thing, then sure. Use debian. But I personally quite enjoy it…
BTW, I use arch. At the moment. Who knows what tomorrow brings?


Well I’m currently using arch and I love it. Have used centos, Ubuntu and some derivatives, fedora, and opensuse. I don’t feel I’m elite because I use arch. I just like it. Use what works for you.

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YES. Totally 1+ on @Friartech.

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Very interesting take on your view of Gentoo or Arch. I can see where you are coming from on this, though, I wouldn’t agree 100%. I am thinking it’s more like, how deep do you want to go into the tech. Gentoo and Arch go in a lot deeper than I am willing to on a day by day basis.

Any computer you run has a level of technical debt to it. You have to ask yourself, what kind of relationship you want with your computer. I am not willing to have an Arch level relationship for multiple computers so that just doesn’t work for me. Gentoo, certainly not. For me, my computer is a tool that needs to work for me in the manner for which I need it to accomplish my tasks or explore my curiosity. Arch won’t do that because of my lack of discipline. Sure, I could probably automate it but then I would have to [arguably] avoid the AUR and that certainly won’t work for me.

A side note, I know it’s not considered Arch, but Manjaro does seem to old up to my negligence quite well.