Manjaro Linux 19.0Manjaro Linux is one of those distributions I have tried many times over the years but was always unable to keep for any length of time due to this or that issue cropping up. Either package management was limited, it wouldn't boot up after the install, or even straight away. Whatever the issues I don't exactly recall, because the last time I tested it must have been around 2014 or even 2013, which would have made this Manjaro 0.8.x. Has it really been around this long already? My, I'm getting quite long in the tooth. Manjaro 19.0 looks really interesting and it's brand new. I'm sure lots has changed so, in somebody else's words, test we must.
Many of the people behind Manjaro are the same that are, or at least were, behind the Chakra distribution, a KDE-centric distribution I really liked and found interesting back in the day but which appears quite dormant. Developers moved on. I recall getting an e-mail once about this new project they were going to start called Manjaro and asking if I wanted to do an early review but unfortunately time didn't permit back then. And when I did it appeared not mature yet so it seemed better not to write anything. But an incremental number 19 seems plenty mature. Enough of the babble, let's go.
The release announcement for 19.0 informs us that it comes in three desktop variants with GNOME 3.34, Xfce 14.4 or with KDE Plasma 5.17. Cutting edge stuff. Also with something called Architect which as it turns out is included in all editions as a shortcut on the desktop, similar to the install button, and allows us to customize installations. Architect can also be downloaded on its own and is basically a net-install image to install the latest available packages and set up and configure Manjaro in every detail using the command line, custom setup tool included. We'll be looking at this in more detail later.
I opted to download the KDE edition via a torrent which is clocked at 2,892MB (about 2.8GB) but which took up 3.0GB on my hard drive. I guess it depends on what cluster size one has used for formatting.
The release announcement includes a 43 minute long video walking us through all the editions which is a really nice introduction to features and looks and can help decide which edition is for you.
This release is underpinned by the latest LTS Linux kernel 5.4 to have the most up to date drivers available. Looks-wise Manjaro has updated Xfce with their own new theme called Matcha, the Plasma desktop has received a fully integrated look with a comprehensive and all-encompassing set of themes called Breath2 in light and dark variants. And yes, it looks slick if that is your style but personally I'm not one for the abstract wallpapers and flat looks in fashion nowadays. Not a biggie, can be changed.
It is quite evident though, even at this stage, from looking at the website that Manjaro has a lot of resources behind it and a lot of people must be committing time to this, so it's certainly not a project in danger of withering away over night in case people are concerned about long-term viability and support for their installs. Plus, Manjaro is of course based on Arch Linux which has been around since the early 2000s. Packages from the official Arch Linux repositories and user contributed packages and build scripts should be working fine. Like Arch Linux, Manjaro is also a rolling release distribution that should not require a reinstall if everything goes well. The team behind Manjaro go to some lengths to make sure it does, by tweaking and moderating changes from upstream and channeling packages through their own repositories.
By the way, downloading any of the images or torrents mentioned above redirects to OSDN.net, with the following product description on the download page:
Manjaro is a user-friendly Linux distribution based on the independently developed Arch operating system. Within the Linux community, Arch itself is renowned for being an exceptionally fast, powerful, and lightweight distribution that provides access to the very latest cutting edge - and bleeding edge - software. However, Arch is also aimed at more experienced or technically-minded users. As such, it is generally considered to be beyond the reach of those who lack the technical expertise (or persistence) required to use it.
Developed in Austria, France, and Germany, Manjaro provides all the benefits of the Arch operating system combined with a focus on user-friendliness and accessibility. Available in both 32- and 64-bit versions, Manjaro is suitable for newcomers as well as experienced Linux users. For newcomers, a user-friendly installer is provided, and the system itself is designed to work fully 'straight out of the box.
In contrast to the above statement only aarch64 and x86_64 architectures are currently supported, although the older 18.04 with Xfce can be downloaded for 32-bit machines. Also available from the main page are ports for several ARM boards like the Raspberry Pi 4 and the Pinebook Pro (KDE Plasma and Xfce 20.02) and Community Editions for x86_64 with the Cinnamon and MATE desktops and for the i3 and Openbox window managers. These options are tucked away under Editions at the top of the page and would likely not confuse newcomers, with the emphasis being on the main editions on the download page.
Let's see how it fares.
Boot up and GRUB2 menu
Manjaro booted fine and leads us into a Welcome screen where we can set various boot options. The usual options to set time zone (not present in all distributions), language and keyboard layout are present. Also the usual memtest at the bottom of the screen. Language selection works and the system booted with the right language packs for the Plasma desktop and applications and the chosen keyboard layout (German, de_DE for the test).
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The GRUB boot menu (full image size: 129kB, resolution: 1024x768pixels)
Slightly out of the ordinary is the notepad or edit icon with no description, which allows us to edit boot parameters at the command line. Manjaro boots with free video drivers by default, but if we choose "nonfree" in the driver sub-menu the proprietary NVIDIA driver is used. This should help users get the most out of their graphics cards if they don't mind using what some consider tainted software, but Manjaro appears to be a pragmatic distribution with users that are more interested in their hardware working to the full extent.
Changing the keyboard layout does not change language automatically so this will have to be done separately, if desired. Manjaro booted into live mode from here without problems. There is no option to launch into the installer straight away so this will have to be done from the desktop. Hitting the respective entry started the boot sequence and something displayed about a job running told me that systemd is the init software in the background. Manjaro does not obfuscate the boot process which is very welcome here. Also AppArmor and snapd loaded.
Test run in VirtualBox
My first attempts at using Manjaro 19.0 were in VirtualBox, as I suspect is the standard way now for most people to get a first feel for a new release. No surprises were encountered. Mouse integration was on by default.
One has to set the graphics adapter to VBoxSVGA and activate 3D acceleration to get full desktop size, full screen or a scalable window, but once I had restarted with those settings it worked flawlessly.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- Resizing the desktop inside VirtualBox (full image size: 2.9MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
One thing I noticed when poking around is that the distribution comes with a myriad of wallpaper backgrounds, 148 to be exact, probably too many. Ok, ISO size isn't really an issue anymore but if it was, here is definitely potential to save space given that most people have their own extensive collection by now.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The large collection of wallpapers (full image size: 908kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
While in VirtualBox the search field in the Plasma menu did not let me enter any text when looking for the screenshot utility but I was able to start Krunner from the shell menu and launch the Spectacle tool from there.
I tried Manjaro on two laptops, an ASUS Vivobook with and an old Dell Latitude without UEFI. Manjaro booted on both from a Corsair Flash Voyager USB without problems.
Manjaro's default desktop features an abstract wallpaper as is the current style of the Plasma desktop and the Breath2 theme as noted in the introduction, which appears to be a variation on the Breeze Dark theme, utilizing the trademark Manjaro colours.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The welcome window (full image size: 425kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
As has become good practice with the more user-friendly distributions, a welcome screen opens on the desktop straight after booting with links to important documentation like a user guide and Readme. The user guide is a hefty 130 pages and can also be accessed from the utilities menu later on. It's an introduction to getting Manjaro, which at this point people would have done, installing and using the distribution. It should also be fine as a good enough introduction to the Linux desktop, important applications like Thunderbird for e-mail and to package management in general as the principles are the same. However, it has not been translated and remained in English during my test when booting into a German language desktop.
There are further links to the Manjaro chat room, wiki, mailing lists and to the forum to get support or to get yourself involved. We can also launch the installer from here which seems a bit unnecessary given that an icon for this is also on the desktop.
Manjaro had performed well in VirtualBox but the desktop responded faster in the live session, very fast indeed on the ASUS 8 x Core Intel i7 with 16GB RAM. It better at these specs! The logout screen blurs into a nice fade out, just long enough to notice it which is a cool visual. However, the shutdown sequence detracted from this. I was advised that a stop job could not stop SDDM and that I needed to wait the infamous 1:30 minutes. This then extended to 3:00 minutes as apparently systemd had such a hard time terminating the login manager. Following this systemd-shutdown ran into several errors and refused to shut down at which point I had to hard kill the power. The second time however the shutdown from live session was smooth and fast, a matter of one or two seconds, literally.
Suspend and resume worked well in the live session and the system came back up instantly.
Desktop and installation
Manjaro uses the Calamares installer which is quite well-known now. It runs through the usual steps and allows us to install either alongside an existing system, replace it, fully erase the disk and then take it over, or partition manually. My setup isn't too complicated. There's also an option to encrypt partitions.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The Calamares system installer (full image size: 92kB, resolution: 1027x552 pixels)
The installer guessed my computer model correctly and then offered to install LibreOffice, FreeOffice or no office suite at all. I opted for LibreOffice.Going through the dialogues took about a minute, the install itself a further five. GRUB2 was installed to the MBR and the reboot went smoothly. Manjaro played well with my other install and added the correct menu entries for Debian. Manjaro used about as much time to the desktop as Debian 10 does with KDE Plasma.
What I found noteworthy was that despite my language selection (British English) Manjaro had installed in German, probably taking its clues from the time zone. I went again, setting my time to London/UK and this time it worked.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- Displaying system information (full image size: 73kB, resolution: 801x629 pixels)
Manjaro comes up with a clean desktop with no icons. Settings from the live session did not carry over. I won't go too much into the default installed applications as you get more or less the typical suite of a Plasma desktop, with Firefox and a few more applications on top. Applications can easily be changed. SUSE Studio USB key writer is included. The Manjaro Application Utility, which gives access to install or remove oft used and popular programs without having to launch the more fully fledged package manager, Pamac, is included too. When installed the button in the welcome screen that used to launch the installer is replaced with a link to this software management tool. Pamac however, apart from being used to update the system, also allows us to install locally downloaded programs.
Also noteworthy is the inclusion of Timeshift for backups, Steam being already pre-installed for gaming, qBittorrent instead of KTorrent and VLC instead of any KDE player.
Another thing of note was that the double prompt to save the password in Kwallet when setting up wireless networking is gone. Not sure whether this is an improvement in KDE or something Manjaro-specific, but this has been really annoying for a long time.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- Updating the Steam gaming portal (full image size: 3.0MB, resolution: 1920x1080pixels)
On the first day Manjaro had one update available, two days later there were 154 updates. The next day there were a further three updates. This is quite a lot for a distribution that has just been released, but is to be expected with a rolling release and in line with my experiences with Arch Linux with very frequent updates, and loads of them. For this reason I would not recommend Manjaro or any rolling distribution to people who just want to use their desktop workstation and get on with their lives. If you're using your machine for any serious work or for a particular application like a media centre chances are you do not want to constantly update your machine almost every day but are looking for a stable base that you can log in to and get the job done. On the other hand, the updates installed cleanly and the system remained stable and responsive.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The software centre (full image size: 380kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Manjaro also supports Snap packages, Flathub and AppImages. It even includes a graphical manager called bauh to install from these additional sources as well as from AUR, along with a symbol to identify to the user where each package comes from. There is also AppImagelauncher for, you guessed it, AppImages, and an interface that can be started from the settings manager in the system tray to up- and downgrade kernels. My only concern is that, in particular, less experienced users may get lost in the many options to manage software - six if including the updater and the kernel installer. But then there is also a separate updater for language packs.
In the past I had a Chromium Snap package running on another distribution which inexplicably one day failed to start. I suppose it could not have been dependencies as Snaps are supposedly self-contained. Whatever the reason, I gave up and moved on because these new solutions are supposed to be better than the proven package management. Only that they aren't, so what's the point? And that's if you don't care about Snap being controlled by Canonical and lack-lustre integration - which in the case of Chromium was most likely due to sandboxing.
Snaps and others may be a way out of dependency hell and guarantee availability of new software updates but are far from proven and a rolling distribution should not have problems with outdated libraries preventing, for example, the latest Chromium from installing. Once installed the Chromium Snap worked - for now.
Right after boot Manjaro Plasma edition took about 545MB RAM initially with only the default desktop and services running, and the two cores idled around the two percent mark each, even dropping to 0.7 or 1.3 percent at times. Chances are you will not install this distribution to look at htop but also to actually run some applications so this will quickly go up.
It seems I ran into the well-known man-db bug discussed in the forum, in the way that after the first boot of the day CPU usage spiked to 65-80% and remained at this reading until the machine was shut down, trying to kill the process did not work for me. I was only able to kill this with a cold boot, after which processor utilization presented normal once again.
As alluded to, Manjaro Architect is both a standalone net-install ISO image and is also included in the main editions to customize installations. It is prominently linked on the desktop.
At launch the Architect updates itself and then after choosing the language does a quick sync with the repositories. Then the main menu appears. From here we can prepare the disk for an installation which leads to the below sub-menu which allows us to have a look at available devices and complete tasks like partitioning, opt to set up LUKS encryption, mount partitions or refresh repository keys and choose or set custom mirrors.
Manjaro Linux 19.0 -- The Architect installer (full image size: 55kB, resolution: 641x508 pixels)
We also get the option to install a desktop system from scratch rather than using one of the pre-built images, a command line system, a completely custom system with no pre-defined package set, or (under data recovery) launch into a rescue mode which includes Clonezilla. Thus Architect also doubles as a rescue and repair tool. One can also chroot into an existing install or re-install the boot loader from here.
Manjaro KDE Plasma was immensely fast both on an eight-core i7 and on the older Dell Latitude Core2Duo. It also presented a rock-solid experience in terms of daily use. It's a nice rolling distribution if that's what you're looking for, but the multitude of updates can quickly get too much. If you're just looking for a system to actually get work done then being on the leading edge and having the latest version of Plasma, which changes over time, seems less important.
The front page of Manjaro's site claims "Manjaro is a professionally made Linux based operating system that is a suitable replacement for Windows or MacOS. Multiple desktop environments are available through our Official and Community editions."
That's a bold statement because in my experience none are completely like the other and operating systems rather compliment each other. Therefore none is a suitable replacement for the other. Of course it depends on your needs. If all you do is browsing and Internet-related stuff, a bit of word editing or anything that LibreOffice or Abiword can fulfill, fine. Even file-sharing with Samba or FTP, can do, plus a million other things like showing blingy wallpapers. Can I get constant pop-ups nagging me about updates to this or that or that my firewall or virus scanner are not on/installed, sudden reboots in the middle of working that take forever to install the latest service pack? No. Is it likely I'll even download an executable virus or worm in Linux? No. Can I play the latest and most graphics intensive games that in the PC-market are still made only for Windows? No. Can I just drag an application to the Applications folder to install? No. And security-wise it's a bad idea too.
I really wish Linux distributions would stop pretending to be something that they're not, i.e. el cheapo alternatives to the supposedly grown-up, proprietary desktop systems. Linux is not inferior, trying to catch up with the big guys. It can do many things those other operating systems can do and more, even better, but it is different, therefore it is not a replacement. Of course all it needed would be for big companies to code their games, their photo editing, tax or enterprise software for GNU/Linux and for others to have their custom in-house software written for or ported to Linux and switch, but that is not going to happen for a while. So, although Linux could do all that, for all practical purposes it is not a suitable replacement.
I'm not arguing with the "professionally made" claim. Manjaro Linux as presented in its latest incarnation is a very nice and well thought-out Linux distribution that is polished, includes many tools for the advanced user and simply works if you want a rolling, always updating operating system to stay current, and it looks good while doing that. It brings something unique to the table in the vast universe of GNU/Linux systems, has forged its own identity and presents a polished and helpful interface to newcomers. Hopefully helping to make Linux a more popular alternative. I like it very much. It is only slightly let down by having embraced some trendy, arguably ill-advised, technologies that do not work reliably.
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Hardware used in this review
Dell Latitude E4300, 13.3" notebook display 1280x800 (WXGA) used with external monitor
6GiB DDR3 RAM
250GB Samsung SSD 860 EVO,
Intel Centrino Core2Duo 9300 @ 1.6GHz (up to 2.26 with Boost)
1066MHz FSB, USB 2.0
Intel Mobile 4 Series Chipset integrated graphics
Intel Corporation Ultimate N WiFi Link 5300 wireless