Artix Linux in 2021Artix Linux is a fork (or continuation as an autonomous project) of the Arch-OpenRC and Manjaro-OpenRC projects. Artix Linux offers a lightweight, rolling-release operating system featuring alternative init software options, including OpenRC, runit, and s6. The distribution is available in many editions, including Base, Cinnamon, LXDE, LXQt, MATE, KDE Plasma and Xfce. With all of the desktop options, combined with the available init choices, there are 21 editions, not including community spins from which to choose. All editions appear to be built for 64-bit (x86_64) machines. Picking randomly, I selected Artix's Plasma edition featuring the runit init software. The download for this edition is is 1.3GB. Browsing the other editions it looks like most flavours are about 1.1GB to 1.3GB in size, though the minimal Base edition is a compact 618MB.
The project's live media boots to the KDE Plasma desktop. On the desktop we find multiple documentation and README icons. There is also an icon for launching the system installer. The default layout places a panel at bottom of the screen where we can find the application menu and system tray. The default wallpaper is a soft blue while the theme for windows and menus is dark with high contrast fonts.
There isn't much in the documentation text and PDF files linked on the desktop. There are some notes on installing runit, which is already done for us, and one file just contains the name of the log file for X.Org. The one documentation file on the desktop which stood out was the troubleshooting PDF which is helpful and includes several explanations and workarounds for common issues. Another useful piece of information is that the password for the live session is "artix" which is needed to unlock system if it is left idle.
Artix Linux 20210101 - browsing the application menu (full image size: 442kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Artix Linux uses the Calamares graphical installer. The installer begins by asking us for our preferred language. This first screen of the installer features buttons for accessing release notes, support, and a list of known issues. Clicking on any of these three buttons did nothing during my trial. However, once past this initial screen things were smooth sailing with Calamares. The installer quickly helped me pick my time zone, select the keyboard layout, and create a user account. When it comes to partitioning Calamares provides both a friendly manual partitioning screen and a guided option. The guided option defaults to setting up the operating system on an ext4 filesystem which takes up all available disk space. The guided option will offer to create either a swap partition or swap file for us which is a nice touch. Calamares quickly copied Artix successfully to my hard drive and offered to restart the computer.
Artix boots to a graphical login screen where we can type our username and password as well as select our preferred desktop session. By default the Plasma edition, appropriately, only provides a Plasma session. The installed copy of the operating system does not feature any desktop icons. The environment is fairly bare, offering no welcome window, no initial configuration, and no pop-up notifications. The desktop is, in short, pleasantly quiet. The theme is dark with a strong contrast and nice, large fonts. This made Artix pleasant to look at right from the start.
I began testing Artix in a VirtualBox environment. The operating system performed well in the virtual machine. The Plasma desktop was responsive and dynamically resized to match the VirtualBox window's dimensions. The system performed tasks quickly and was stable. When I switched to running Artix on my laptop I enjoyed a similar experience. Artix was again fast and ran smoothly. The distribution recognized all my hardware and I encountered no stability issues with the included applications or the system as a whole.
Artix is a relatively light distribution. A fresh install used 4.5GB of disk space, less than the average Linux distribution. Memory usage was also trim, even when logged into Plasma Artix only required 370MB of memory. This is about half the RAM usage I experience on most mainstream Linux distributions.
Artix Linux 20210101 - browsing desktop settings in System Settings (full image size: 397kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Artix ships with a relatively small collection of desktop software. Looking through the application menu we can find the Falkon and Konqueror web browsers. The Okular document viewer and the Gwenview image viewer are present. The mpv media player is included and is equipped with a full range of multimedia codecs. The Dolphin file manager and KSysGuard system monitor are installed for us along with the KGpg encryption tool and a text editor.
Desktop settings are managed by the System Settings panel which provides a fantastic range of configuration options. The settings panel includes a search feature to help us locate specific desktop functions and tweaks. In the background we find the runit init software (though each edition is available with alternatives). The distribution is a rolling release and new versions of software become available regularly, but the install media I started with included version 5.9 of the Linux kernel.
Since Artix starts us off with a minimal collection of software, enough to get on-line and perform some basic tasks, but not a full suite of tools, we will likely need to install additional packages. I added a handful of common programs to Artix such as LibreOffice, Firefox, and the GNU Image Manipulation Program. Each of these were added without any problems. The Firefox browser automatically comes bundled with a few extensions, including Privacy Badger, a spell check extension, and a tool for working with mouse gestures.
Artix Linux 20210101 - running Firefox and LibreOffice (full image size: 306kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Speaking of software management, there doesn't appear to be any graphical package manager included with Artix. There are some graphical front-ends we can install from the project's repositories, but that clearly involves using another package manager to get us started. Artix ships with the pacman command line package manager. I find pacman to be fast, flexible, and oddly cryptic in its syntax.
Despite the unusual syntax, pacman gets the job done. I was able to download new packages, perform upgrades, and clean out the package cache without any significant issues. All the while pacman performed its tasks quickly.
There was one minor issue I tripped over early on. When I first installed Artix there were 263 packages available I could upgrade, totalling 530MB in size. Clearly a lot of new updates had come out in the weeks since the last ISO snapshot. When I ran the upgrade process, I was asked if it was okay to swap out one package with another. I opted to keep the original package and, a few minutes later, this caused the entire upgrade to halt with an error. Apparently the new package was a dependency of other items. I ran the upgrade again, this time allowing the replacement to happen and the upgrade completed successfully.
Artix Linux 20210101 - checking for software updates with pacman (full image size: 547kB, resolution: 1360x768 pixels)
Another feature of pacman some newcomers might find alien, though not a bug, is that the package manager will sometimes pause and clarify which package we want if it finds multiple potential candidates. For instance, LibreOffice is available in development and stable flavours though the package names aren't particularly descriptive.
Artix Linux is one of those distributions I really enjoy using and yet struggle to review in a meaningful way because it doesn't really go out of its way to introduce new or exciting features and everything works smoothly. The distribution is wonderfully easy to install, offers top-notch performance, and is unusually light on resources. Artix is somewhat minimal, but still ships enough software to be immediately useful right out of the gate. We can browse the web, install packages, view files, and play videos. Meanwhile the application menu isn't cluttered with a lot of extras. The developers clearly expect us to install the functionality we need, while doing a really good job of providing enough for the desktop environment to feel base-line useful right from the start.
Artix does a nice job of balancing performance and functionality while also juggling ease of use against not getting in the way. There is a little documentation, but no initial welcome screen or configuration wizards that might distract the user.
The one piece I felt was missing was a graphical package manager which would have made it easier to build the extra functionality I wanted on top of the base distribution. However, that one piece aside, I felt as though Artix was really well designed and put together, at lease for someone like me. It's not a distribution geared toward beginners, it's not a "first distro". It is a bit minimal and requires command line knowledge. However, for someone with a little experience with Linux, for someone who doesn't mind the occasional trip to the command line or installing new applications as needed, then Artix provides an excellent experience. It's fast, light, looks (in my opinion) great with the default theme, and elegantly walks the line between minimalism and having enough applications ready to go out of the box to be immediately useful. I'm unusually impressed with how smooth and trouble-free my experience was with this distribution and the fact it offers such a range of desktop and init diversity is all the more appealing.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast