Anarchy Linux 1.0.10Anarchy Linux is an Arch-based distribution that provides a custom installation script designed to quickly configure and install Arch. The Anarchy Linux ISO is 665MB and the installation process requires an Internet connection to download packages. Basically, Anarchy fully automates many steps of the Arch install process. Selecting options in Anarchy's installer is all that is required to get a system up and running. Most of the steps in the text-mode installer are the same as the ones presented when installing almost any Linux distribution, but Anarchy does provide more customization options when it comes to software selection and configuration.
Anarchy Linux 1.0.10 -- Menu with installer and other options (full image size: 7kB, resolution: 800x600 pixels)
The Anarchy installer provides a wealth options, but the five main choices are: Anarchy-Desktop, Anarchy-Desktop LTS, Anarchy-Server, Anarchy-Server LTS, and Anarchy-Advanced. The difference between the LTS and non-LTS options are mainly which version of the Linux kernel gets installed. The LTS options use version 5.4.x of the kernel. The non-LTS versions use the latest version of the kernel (when I was working on this review, that was version 5.5.x, but 5.6.x will probably be what is current by the time you are reading this). The Desktop options provide a choice of five customized desktop environments: Budgie, Cinnamon, GNOME, Openbox, and Xfce. The Server options do not install a desktop environment and provide a very bare-bones default selection of software. The Advanced mode lets the user pick options far beyond what is offered by either of the other installation styles.
For this review, I will look at desktop installations with GNOME and Xfce, a server installation, and a GNOME desktop installed using the extra options available in the advanced installer. This barely scratches the surface of the many, many different ways an Anarchy Linux system can be configured using the installer, but I hope that it will provide a decent overview of the options. I should also note that Anarchy, like Arch itself, is a rolling release, so things are constantly changing. It is possible that issues I had during my experience are already fixed by the time you read this, and it is also possible that new issues have developed.
I started by trying out Anarchy in VirtualBox, and the first time I tried to install it I ran into problems. The version of the package Anarchy was trying to install to enable VirtualBox support was not available on the mirror the installer was selecting (the package had just been updated in Arch, so the mirror had a newer package than what the installer was looking for based on what a different package required) which caused the entire installation to fail. This issue fixed itself in a few hours when the mirrors were completely updated, but an installation process failing completely because one package was not available after three attempts to download it was not a good first impression. I would have a repeat of this issue a few days later when I tried to install the GNOME desktop and the Epiphany package on the mirror selected was, again, the "wrong" version.
Aside from those two flukes, the Anarchy installation process worked well. The Desktop and Desktop LTS options provide an installation process not much different from the installation of other distributions. The installer prompts the user to configure language, keyboard layout, location, partition the hard drive, set up a user, and other basic configure options. The only major choice presented is which of the five desktop options to install. The options, as noted above, are Budgie, Cinnamon, GNOME, Openbox, and Xfce, and all the options provide a decent selection of software. However, not all software package selections are equal; the GNOME desktop option provides a ton of software, including almost all GNOME games and utilities, but Xfce did not pre-install nearly as much software. Xfce had a browser, LibreOffice, and software for performing many tasks, but seemed to be missing some basic utilities. The default PDF viewer on the Xfce desktop was LibreOffice Draw. Evince (or any other option) was not installed.
The Desktop installer lets the user install additional software as a step after installing the desktop, but it does not identify which packages are already installed by the desktop environment. For example, both GNOME and Xfce come with LibreOffice, but LibreOffice, like all the other software listed, is unchecked in the list of options, so the first time I tried the GNOME desktop, I opted to "install" additional software that was already included as part of the base package selection. On all of my subsequent installations, I skipped the additional software step and installed software post-reboot, which I could do with the GUI package manager provided by the desktop environment I had selected. In the case of GNOME, the GUI package management tools were GNOME Software and GNOME Packages.
Anarchy Linux 1.0.10 -- GNOME desktop with Terminal showing zsh plugin error (full image size: 2.0MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
All of the customized desktop options provide Anarchy-specific tweaks. These tend to be the same across all the desktops, so all five of the options provide experiences that are identifiable as Anarchy Linux, which is great for branding. However, I did not like some of the choices made by the developers. The icon set, coloring, and default background were fine, but the font used for the interface text, Zekton, is way too hard to read. It looks cool, but it is not a font that I want to spend all day looking at. Thankfully, the document and monospace font used in the terminal are more traditional and easier to read.
Unlike the Desktop option, the Server option is very, very frustrating. I selected the defaults for most steps, configured a user, and let the installer install the packages it wanted, but I did not add any additional packages. When I rebooted the virtual machine and logged in, the system complained because the .zshrc file could not find the hostname program. When I tried to use the pacman package manager to install the package with hostname in it, I found that the network connection was not enabled. Rather than try to fix this by enabling the network connection, I opted to reinstall the system from scratch to see if I happened to miss something during the installation process. Unfortunately, I did not missing anything, so before I rebooted the system, I used the "Anarchy-Chroot Into Installed System" option to install the packages that provided hostname and nmtui, so I could solve the hostname issue and easily enable the network interface.
Once I had a system that worked without showing any errors, I had a server installation that worked, but the experience was nothing special. It was a typical GUI-less Linux installation that used zsh as its default shell. I could install packages using pacman or yay, a wrapper with AUR support. The system worked, and I could install and configure various services, but the experience was just ordinary. I like the Anarchy Desktop experience, but was not impressed the the Server experience. Broken installation issues aside, the Server option just does not offer enough to recommend it over something like CentOS or Debian.
Now that I had a feel for how Anarchy worked, I opted for a bare-metal installation for my test of the Advanced installation option. This is where Anarchy gets interesting. The Desktop/Desktop LTS options pick sane defaults for many options, but the Advanced installer lets the user pick from several advanced options to build the system the user wants. The kernel can be the vanilla (newest) version, long-term support, hardened, or zen. The default shell can be bash, dash, fish, mksh, tcsh, or zsh. The bootloader can be GRUB (which is used by the Desktop/Server installations), syslinux, systemd-boot, or efistub. Networking can be handled by Network Manager or netctl. There are way more desktop options in the Advanced mode. In addition to the five customized desktop available in the Desktop install, there are non-customized version of those five desktop and several more options. If there is a major desktop environment packaged for Arch, there is a good chance it is included in Anarchy's extensive list of desktop options.
Anarchy Linux 1.0.10 -- Customized GNOME desktop showing GNOME Tweaks font options (full image size: 934kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
For my bare-metal install I opted for the vanilla kernel, zsh with Oh-My-Zsh as the zsh configuration option, systemd-boot, Network Manager, and a non-customized GNOME with GDM as the login display manager. The installation process worked perfectly on the first try, so, thankfully, I was not stuck with a non-working laptop while I waiting for the mirrors to sort themselves out. When I rebooted, the system booted quickly and almost everything was configured correctly. My hardware all worked, but on the software side, there was a minor issue with zsh complaining about not being able to find the zsh-syntax-highlighting plugin. This should have been correctly configured when I picked the zsh and Oh-My-Zsh option during install, but it was not. However, that is the only issue I ran across when using the system. Aside from that one minor issue, I had a well configured Arch Linux-based system that I was able to set up in under 30 minutes by just selecting options and entering options in the Anarchy installer. Anarchy Linux is not perfect, but it does do a good job of making Arch super easy to install.
Anarchy Linux is a good way to quickly get Arch installed and configured. I have some issues with some of the customization choices made in the customized desktops, and not all the desktop options are equal, but the Desktop and Desktop LTS options do provide a good experience. The installer could fail a little more cleanly when it cannot download a package, but when the installer works, it works well. However, the Server and Server LTS options need work. Finally, the Advanced option works great (though the same "fails completely when it cannot download a package" issue also applies here) and is perfect for users who want to customize an Arch install without having to do all the work by hand. Overall, Anarchy Linux a good distribution that needs just a little more polish, which, hopefully, will come as more people use Anarchy and file bug reports.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was an ASUS VivoBook E406MA laptop with the following specifications: