Manjaro Linux has reached the coveted number 1 spot at the top of the Distrowatch rankings, putting it ahead of the traditional stalwarts, Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, Fedora and openSUSE.
Why is Manjaro so successful and as an average computer user how does it fare in terms of ease of installation and ease of use?
At the top of the Manjaro website are the words “professional and user-friendly Linux at its best. Evolving and giving the Linux world a new face and operating experience”. In truth I believe that Manjaro has become successful because it has bridged a gap between ease of use and performance.
There is nothing wrong with Linux Mint and in my latest review I described it as a straight forward and easy to use operating system. Whether you are from a recent Windows background or you have been using Linux for a number of years you will find that Linux Mint does everything you want it to do. However look at the image above and Manjaro is getting 1640 extra hits per day.
I believe there are 2 reasons for this. The first is that a lot of people have already heard of distributions like Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora and therefore they go straight to the website for the downloads to these distributions. The second reason is that whilst Mint is great it isn’t as up to date as Manjaro and the performance isn’t quite as good.
Manjaro Linux is based on Arch Linux and so you are guaranteed good performance and you have access to the famed Arch User Repository which is one huge software explosion containing every package you can think of and many more that you can’t.
I have been using Manjaro non-stop for about a year on one of my laptops and in this review I will highlight the good and bad. So without further ado let the review begin.
How to get Manjaro Linux
You can download Manjaro from https://manjaro.org/get-manjaro/
There are a number of versions available including KDE, XFCE and GNOME. In this review I will be covering GNOME. If you prefer Cinnamon or other desktop environments then you can look on the Communities download page.
Click on the direct download link of the version you require and then follow this guide which will show you how to create a bootable Manjaro live USB drive.
There are 8 steps to installing Manjaro:
- Connect to the internet
- Run the installer
- Choose the installation language
- Choose your timezone
- Choose your keyboard layout
- Choose where to install Manjaro
- Create a user
- Click install
If you have ever installed any other operating system whether that is Windows or Linux then you will have no issues with installing Manjaro Linux.
The User Interface
For this review I will be focusing on the GNOME edition of Manjaro and as you can see the interface looks very crisp and professional.
GNOME comes with a quick launch bar down the left side of the screen and a panel at the top of the screen.
The top right corner provides system tray style icons. Clicking in that area brings up a dialogue where you can quickly adjust the volume, adjust the brightness. connect to a wireless network, turn bluetooth on or off, adjust power settings, turn the night light on or off, log out and change account settings or open the settings dialogue.
From the left side of the screen clicking on any of the icons launches the application associated with it. To browse or search for more applications you can click on the icon in the bottom left corner or press the super key (windows icon) and “A” at the same time.
You can click on the word “Frequent” to show frequently used applications (not sure why you wouldn’t add them to your quick launch bar?!?) or you can click “All” to show all applications.
You can page through the list by pressing the page up and down key, by using the arrow keys or by clicking on the appropriate dot on the right side of the screen.
If you know the name of the application you can simply type the name or a description of the program in the search bar.
The GNOME desktop provides many different ways to navigate your system and the “Menu” icon in the top left lets you browse for your applications by clicking on the appropriate category. You can then simply click on the icon of the application you wish to load.
The best use for the menu is to navigate to the various folders of your system such as home, documents, downloads, music, pictures and videos.
The menu also includes a search bar which again lets you search by name or description.
By default the following applications are installed with the GNOME version of Manjaro: (note this isn’t a full list but an example of key applications)
- Evolution – Email Client
- Steam – Gaming
- LibreOffice – Office Suite
- Lollipop – Audio application
- Parole – Media player
- Maps – Map application
- Weather – Weather Forecast applications
- Firefox – Web browser
- Hexchat – IRC client
It is worth noting that from the menu there are direct links to the Microsoft Online Office Suite which gives you access to Word Online, Excel Online, One Note, Outlook and Powerpoint.
If you need functionality that isn’t provided by the online Microsoft Office suite then you will find that LibreOffice fills that gap with aplomb and comes complete with a word processor, spreadsheet package, presentation tool, database package and drawing package.
Evolution is the best email client for Linux although most other distributions insist on providing Thunderbird which isn’t quite so intuitive. Connecting to your email provider is generally as easy as entering your username and password as long as you are using one of the major providers such as GMail.
Tools provided include mail, contacts, a calendar, task list and memos.
Manjaro comes with Steam pre-installed and this provides a whole new level of gaming for Linux than was previously available as you can use the Steam player to play Windows games on Linux without messing around with using PlayOnLinux, WINE or Winetricks.
In truth the Steam player is based on WINE but it has been developed in such a way that you do not need to worry about that in the same way you don’t need to know how your engine works in order to drive a car.
The default audio package with Manjaro is called Lollipop.
Visually speaking, Lollipop is very appealing with a list of artists down the left side of the screen and a list of albums and songs in the centre. You can create playlists, search for popular albums, choose to play random albums and filter by year.
There is a feature called party mode which lets you configure your music by genre. This plays the songs from the genres chosen and they can be made to play in order or you can shuffle the songs.
Alternatives to Lollipop include the Spotify player. Spotify is great because you can create playlists and play them on any other device. You can sign up for Spotify premium if you don’t like adverts but if you don’t mind them then you can listen to any tune you like for free.
The default media player is called Parole. It is fairly standard with options for playing local videos or network streams.
If you want to watch Netflix or Amazon Prime you will need to either use Firefox and let it install DRM or install Google Chrome.
There is nothing I have shown you thus far that you couldn’t get from a dozen other distributions. A dozen other distributions, however, do not provide access to the AUR (Arch User Repository).
The AUR is a huge repository giving you access to thousands of software packages.
By default I would always search the main Manjaro repositories first and then search the AUR. The reason for this is that the software in the main Manjaro repositories have been tested and they also take a lot less time to install.
The AUR is generally a great thing but not all packages work and sometimes a package needs to be compiled on the fly and this can take an absolute lifetime.
I have also had issues installing various applications with Manjaro such as Visual Studio Code and the Brackets IDE.
I am running Manjaro on my secondary laptop which I take everywhere with me as it is a sturdy beast and it isn’t worth all that much so if it got stolen it wouldn’t be the end of the world. As such it doesn’t have the high specifications of my main laptop.
This computer only has 6 gigabytes of ram compared to my usual 16 gigabytes. It has an Intel core I3 chip and a standard hard drive.
Manjaro runs perfectly on it even though I am using the GNOME version and not a light weight desktop environment.
I mainly use this machine for programming and it doesn’t lag badly at all. Video playback works well and I can even play games such as Grand Theft Auto III.
I have been using Manjaro for quite some time on this machine, probably well over a year.
If you are a Linux Mint user and you are happy with what you are using then I see no reason for you to instantly swap to Manjaro and whilst I find Manjaro easy to use there are certain times where I have had a challenge.
The main issues I have faced have always been to do with installing certain pieces of software but this really is the exception rather than the norm.
For the average computer user who isn’t necessarily adept at solving computer related issues I would say stick with Linux Mint but if you are a bit more tech savvy then I would go for Manjaro.
There is still just enough of a curve in some areas which mean that I wouldn’t give Manjaro a straight thumbs up over something more straight forward. For me it is the perfect operating system but for others it may well not be.