IMHO it really shines on dedicated, small VMs or for headless SBC use cases.
There's only 5 daemons running after the installation (provider in brackets, the installer asks which one for ssh and ntp):
- init (OpenRC)
- ssh (dropbear or OpenSSH)
- ntp (chrony or busybox)
- crond (busybox)
- syslog (busybox)
The diskless mode it offers is ideal for SBC's or other use cases with SD-cards or such.
So it's niche seems to be with very lightweight or hardened servers.
also, instead of Glibc, it uses musl, which although is supposed to be binary-compatible, does have some gotchas, so the larger the system, with more apps and libraries running on it expecting glibc, will have issues.
My biggest issue was with the 3.12 -> 3.13 transition, when musl got upgraded to 1.2 and with it "musl 1.2 uses new time64-compatible system calls". This broke so many things for me without me knowing, like nginx having as the datetime in the logs the unix epoch. All continued to work, but everything related to timestamps was completely messed up, on 32 bit OS due to running on Raspberry Pis.
This was the moment where I decided to stick to debian-slim, and only very specific containers will continue running on Alpine. Before that it was my default container OS.
Also there is no reliability in packages getting updated, sometimes they just disappear in the next version. But these things are rare occurrences, which only are then nerve wracking when you are confronted with them. For 90% of the cases Alpine is one of the most awesome container OSs.
Sometimes it's better to power through with a massive labor effort than to try to use fancy hacks to shield people from latent problems. All things considered, it doesn't sound like the Alpine transition was that bad. But it's the type of thing that most Linux users and developers are not accustomed to, at least those who don't remember the very early years. Ironically, musl libc might not exist if glibc hadn't accumulated so much complexity trying to maintain strong ABI compatibility.
IMO, small prices to pay for free software and Free Software.
I build my entire development stack from source and don't rely on OS packages for it, and I absolutely refuse to use binary compiled Python wheels, so Alpine's lack of them is actually a feature as far as I am concerned. I dealt with the musl quirks.
musl wheel support was added some time ago:
No idea how many packages actually build musl wheels though. From a quick glance at least cryptography and lxml has musl wheels.
EDIT: I spoke too soon. Apparently, they have decided to amend the patch in a way that is both backwards-compatible and compatible with musllinux wheels. Hopefully, it will roll out soon.
But I haven’t tested today’s version yet.
You just need to know how :)
Regarding the "runs just fine", this is not guaranteed. I certainly do check if it is working, and if it is, and it is a small service or just a containerized tool, then I'll use it. Like using GDAL to perform some reprojections and renderings where a throwaway container is called from a shell script, if it works once, I'll keep using it, but I won't use it to run a Python server which also makes use of Matplotlib and other big dependencies.
Alpine is supposed to be a small, stable and secure general purpose base.
I don't think there's much credibility to saying it's not "meant to be used" as a desktop; since the packages available suggest to me there's clearly a bunch of people doing just that.
What you can expect is more manual setup (compared to say, OpenBSD, where things work really well out-of-the-box on this hardware). But I took this opportunity to set up an encrypted disk. This is with no "desktop environment", just a window manager and X.
I thought BusyBox would be a pain, but the GNU tools can be automatically installed. Same with musl, which was much less of a big deal than I thought. I can even suggest things feel faster with it, but it does mean staying within packages from the Alpine ecosystem.
I'd be interested if anyone is doing a glibc fork of Alpine (or a way to run the 'full fat' glibc seamlessly, like it does with the GNU tools). Also worth experimenting with Alpine's glibc emulation; I was amazed how good it was, as it runs almost all of a closed-source music production tool that I use.
One thing that surprised me is that KDE's software center gives package update notifications for Alpine packages OOTB, and the GUI Just Works(tm) for installing and upgrading.
? Like most distros that start you off but nothing but a minimal base, you can choose whether to install DBus or not. Almost everyone using Alpine as a daily driver on their PC probably has DBus installed and enabled.