Manjaro Linux 17.0.2 "Xfce"Manjaro Linux is an Arch Linux-based desktop distribution. Like its parent, Manjaro features a rolling release approach to software updates, providing its users with cutting edge applications. Manjaro is currently available in 32-bit and 64-bit builds and there are several desktop editions from which to choose. New Manjaro users can download the project's Xfce, KDE or GNOME editions as well as a wide variety of community editions. Most of these editions feature the systemd init software, but a handful of the community editions feature the OpenRC init technology, though it can take a little digging to find the OpenRC editions among the other installation files.
For the sake of my experience, I decided to download Manjaro's Xfce edition for 64-bit computers. The download for this edition was 1.5GB in size and booting from the media presents us with the Xfce 4.12 desktop environment. Xfce is presented to us with the application menu, task switcher and system tray placed at the bottom of the screen. Icons on the desktop are available to open the Thunar file manager, a user manual, the HexChat IRC client and the project's system installer. The user manual is a 134 page PDF document that explains how to obtain a copy of Manjaro, install it, change settings and perform some common tasks. The HexChat application will, by default, open a connection to the Manjaro support channel so we can get help. Shortly after the Xfce desktop loads a welcome window appears. This welcome window supplies us with buttons we can click in order to get access to support, documentation and release notes.
Manjaro Linux 17.0.2 -- The Xfce application menu (full image size: 277kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Manjaro uses the cross-distro Calamares system installer. The installer begins by asking us to select our preferred language from a list. We are then walked through selecting our time zone from a map of the world, confirming the keyboard's layout and partitioning the hard drive. Calamares has a fast and simple built-in partition manager that supports working with ext2/3/4, Btrfs, XFS, JFS, f2fs and Reiser file systems as well as LVM volumes. For my experiment with the distribution I decided to use the ext4 file system for my partitions. The Calamares installer then asks us to select a username and password for ourselves and copies the distribution's packages to our hard drive.
The fresh, new copy of Manjaro boots to a graphical login screen where we can sign into our user account. Signing into my account launched the Xfce desktop again and presented me once more with the welcome screen. A few seconds after signing in, a green icon appeared in my system tray which was accompanied by a small notification window that told me there were software updates available. Clicking on the green icon opened a graphical update manager which displayed a list of available package upgrades along with their total size. We can click a box next to each update to enable or disable it. During my trial I performed two batches of updates, the first included 19 updates totalling 146MB and the second featured 25 updates totalling 111MB. Both groups of updates installed without any problems.
Manjaro features a graphical package manager called Pamac. The Pamac application displays a simple list of available applications in a pane on the right side of the window. On the left side we can provide search terms or category filters to narrow down the list of packages shown to us. Right-clicking on a package gives us the option of seeing more details about the selected software. We can click a box next to a package to mark it for installation or removal.
Manjaro Linux 17.0.2 -- The Pamac software manager (full image size: 829kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
People who prefer to use the command line can use the pacman software manager from a terminal. Both Pamac and pacman work very quickly. I find pacman's syntax to be relatively short and cryptic when compared against other package managers, but it is fast and worked well for me.
Manjaro is based on Arch Linux and can make use of the Arch User Repository (AUR) of contributed software. However, Manjaro draws binary software packages from the project's own repository servers.
There is one more software management utility built into Manjaro: the kernel manager. When new versions of the Linux kernel become available in Manjaro's repositories, a notification will be displayed on the desktop. The user then has the option of opening the kernel manager (which is also available through the settings panel). The kernel manager lists the available kernel versions and we can click a button to install new kernels or remove old ones. For the most part, Manjaro provides long term support (LTS) kernels, but there are some newer, development kernels present too. I took the opportunity to install a newer kernel during my trial and found it worked well. Though the kernel was bumped up a version, the new kernel worked (as far as I could tell) exactly the same as the default kernel.
As I mentioned previously, the kernel manager utility can be found in a second settings panel and that is one of the few odd design choices I ran into while I was using Manjaro. The distribution features a settings panel which is pretty standard for distributions running the Xfce or MATE desktop environments. From the settings panel we can adjust the window manager settings, change the look of the desktop, configure the firewall and change notification settings. One of the modules in the settings pane is called the Manjaro Settings Manager which opens a second control panel. This second panel provides us with utilities for working with user accounts, installing language packs, changing the keyboard's layout and installing new kernels.
Manjaro Linux 17.0.2 -- The settings panel and kernel manager (full image size: 689kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
This approach to putting a second settings panel inside the first is a bit unusual. To make matters worse, searching the first settings panel for a keyword (like "users") does not indicate the Manjaro Settings Manager contains the module we want to access - the user needs to find the hidden settings through exploration. Another quirk of the settings panel is there is some overlap in functionality and nomenclature. For example, there is a Notification Settings module and a Manjaro Notifier, a Settings Manager and a Settings Editor. There are also two keyboard layout managers. Once again, the user is left to explore and discover the differences through trial and error.
It may seem I was frustrated by the Manjaro settings panels, but on the whole both worked well. Some trial and error aside, I found all the settings I wanted to adjust and found the individual modules easy to use. I especially appreciated how easy it was to disable notifications by enabling "do not disturb" mode and that there is a setting to prevent new windows from automatically stealing focus.
Manjaro ships with a fairly typical collection of desktop software. The distribution features the Firefox web browser (without Flash support), the Thunderbird e-mail application and LibreOffice. The distribution also includes the HexChat IRC client, the Pidgin messaging software and the Guayadeque music player. The VLC media player and Xfburn disc burner application are included. Manjaro ships with codecs which allow us to play most media files. I also found a calendar & appointment application and a dictionary. Manjaro provides users with a document viewer, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, an image viewer and a tool for renaming files. The distribution uses Network Manager to help us get on-line and features a sensors viewer so we can keep tabs on our hardware.
Digging deeper we can find Java installed for us and the GNU Compiler Collection (version 7.1). Manjaro's main editions run the systemd init software, though there are community editions that use OpenRC in place of systemd. The version of Manjaro I installed shipped with version 4.9 of the Linux kernel, but both 4.10 and 4.11 were available through the distribution's kernel manager utility.
For the most part Manjaro's applications worked for me and my experience was generally smooth. There were just two exceptions to this general rule. The first was that the Steam gaming portal, which is included by default, failed to launch. No error was displayed when trying to launch Steam. The other problem I ran into was, when I tried to open the Printer Manager utility, the Firefox web browser would launch and report it was unable to connect to the local service. This would seem to indicate the CUPS web-based service is not running by default. It is possible to work around this, but it would be nice if a local desktop application was present for setting up printers.
Something else I noticed while exploring Manjaro was several command line programs are aliased. For example, the copy (cp) command is aliased to cp -i to avoid overwriting files. The dh, free and more commands are also modified using aliases. These aliases are probably meant to make the commands easier for newcomers to use, but it meant the commands failed to work the way I expected them to when I first used them.
I tested Manjaro in two different environments, a physical desktop computer and a VirtualBox virtual machine. In both environments the distribution performed very well. The distribution booted quickly, was fast when launching applications and completing tasks. The Xfce desktop was very responsive and all of my hardware was automatically detected. When running in VirtualBox, the system automatically detected and integrated with the virtual machine, allowing me to make use of my host computer's full screen resolution. In either environment, Manjaro used approximately 275MB of memory when logged into Xfce.
Earlier I mentioned the default printer manager utility did not work. To work around this I downloaded the system-printer-settings utility which gave me a friendly, graphical tool for setting up printers. Manjaro was able to detect my HP printer and setting up the printer required just a few mouse clicks.
Manjaro Linux 17.0.2 -- Trying to set up a printer (full image size: 262kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Sometimes after I write a review people will e-mail me and ask, in so many words, "Never mind the overview, why would I use this distribution over another one?" In Manjaro's case this is an easy question to answer as the distribution does a lot of things well. Manjaro is a rolling release, cutting edge distribution so the project consistently provides the latest and greatest open source software. Apart from the programs in the distribution's repositories, people running Manjaro can also make use of AUR (the large collection of software submitted by Arch Linux users). This provides Manjaro users with a huge collection of packages, most of them consistently kept up to date with upstream sources.
I found Manjaro's Xfce edition to be very fast and unusually light on memory. The distribution worked smoothly and worked well with both my physical hardware and my virtual environment. I also enjoyed Manjaro's habit of telling me when new software (particularly new versions of the Linux kernel) was available.
I fumbled a little with Manjaro's settings panel and finding some settings, but in the end I was pleased with the range of configuration I could achieve with the distribution. I especially like that Manjaro makes it easy to block notifications and keep windows from stealing focus. The distribution can be made to stay pleasantly out of the way.
In short, I think Manjaro is the ideal distribution for people who like the simple, cutting edge philosophy of Arch Linux, but who would like to set up the operating system with a couple of clicks and have settings adjustable through a friendly point-n-click interface. Manjaro has most of the same capabilities of Arch, but with a friendly wrapper which makes installing and working with software packages a quick, click-and-done process.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: