Parabolic for a year

I've now been using the Parabola version of GNU/Linux for just over a year. Parabola is a fully free-as-in-freedom distro based upon Arch and uses the Linux Libre kernel.

I've been running it both on a desktop machine with multiple monitors and also on a laptop, and over the last 12 months I've not had any major problems with it which weren't fixable in a short amount of time. The version I've been using is the one with the MATE desktop and systemd.

Initial installation was a bit more fiddly than something like a Debian install, but it didn't require any messing with the command line. Once installed the default desktop is very pink. I don't really have anything against pink desktops but as always you can change the desktop background to anything you like. Most of the time my desktop background is some sort of space thing. Hubble photos. Rover photos. Planets. Stuff like that.

For me the MATE desktop is fine because it is very minimal and just gets out of the way. Most of the time I live inside of either Emacs or a web browser and so fancy desktop themes or widgets are not of a great deal of interest.

The package manager in Arch based distros is pacman and if you're coming from Debian or Ubuntu the differences are basically:

Upgrade: sudo pacman -Syu
Search:  pacman -Ss [package name]
Install: sudo pacman -S [package name]
Remove:  sudo pacman -R [package name]

There is also a pacman icon on the taskbar which you can click on to upgrade the system in a graphical way rather than via the command line.

Arch being Arch, the packages all tend to be very close to the development repo heads, and logically you might think that this isn't a recipe for stability. But after a year neither of the installs I've done has self-destructed, which can't be said for many other distros I've used. I havn't needed to do any reinstalls either.

Having up to date packages also reduces the attack surface, since there will be fewer known N-day exploits and any serious adversary trying to carry out "equipment interference" would have to fall back upon expensive and risky zero days.

So after a year Parabola appears to hit the sweet spot of:

  • Not having any closed proprietary stuff
  • Being stable
  • Having packages based upon very recent releases
  • Requiring no significant maintenance other than occasional upgrades
  • Rolling release with no discontinuous version jumps

Being a rolling release definitely seems like a good way of doing things. There was a new stable release of Debian this year and the differences between versions were big enough to need some server software re-engineering, but situations where you have lots of incoming changes all at once doesn't seem to happen much on an Arch based distro. Smaller more incremental changes are easier to manage day-to-day. More evolution than revolution.

It's unusual for me to stick with one distro for a year. Typically I am much more of a distro hopper, depending upon mood. I notice there's now also another derivative of Parabola called Hyperbola which includes some Debian patches, but I think I'll just carry on with Parabola for now.

Would I recommend Parabola to a new GNU/Linux user? I don't think so. I no doubt have lots of internalized assumptions accrued over too many years, such that running Arch ain't no biggy to me. For new users though I think I'd still recommend the MATE version of Ubuntu for maximum hand-holding and driver support.