A Manjaro Review

I’ve primarily run Fedora on my desktop since it became clear that Windows 10 was going to be persistently buggy on the little HP Slimline Desktop 270-a016 (AMD A9-9430 with eight gigs of RAM). Fedora runs like a champ on the unit so long as I’m using xorg instead of wayland but I got a wild hare and took off distro hopping.

I tried CentOS for a few days and liked the stability and long-term support aspect of it. I was able to get the applications I wanted via a combination of EPEL, RPMFusion, and the nux repo. All was going well until I saw that Red Hat had agreed to be acquired by IBM. Who knows what IBM will decide to do with CentOS, it being a RHEL clone and all? With a hearty cry of “Freedom!”, I renewed my distro quest.

Manjaro has been at or close to the top of the popularity list at distrowatch.com for a while now, so I decided to give it a shot. My first hurdle was getting a functional version of the darn thing on my hard drive since it steadfastly refused to boot up after installation. I had been able to reuse the same partitions when installing Fedora or Ubuntu on the machine but finally gave up, copied my music and documents to a thumb drive, wiped the drive with a GParted live disk, and was then able to successfully install Manjaro with the XFCE desktop.

What’s a little different about Manjaro (maybe a lot different, depending on where you’re coming from) is it’s a rolling release. So, instead of having to upgrade every six months, nine months, two to 10 years, whatever, the version you have now will be gradually upgraded to the latest, greatest version a few pieces at a time. In other words, so long as you regularly install package updates, whatever rolling release you have now will gradually become version next over the course of time.

Trying to avoid the potential hassle of a big system upgrade like what you would have to deal with when running Ubuntu or Fedora sounds like a good idea but it comes with its own set of drawbacks. Prepackaged OS versions go through extensive testing to be sure all the pieces play nicely with each other in order to produce a functional, cohesive whole. (Note Microsoft’s recent epic fail regarding Windows 10 regarding same). However, when your rolling release installs a handful of the latest, greatest, versions of packages of X,Y, and Z, the other files on your system may decide they don’t want to play with these new packages. Stuff may break. Some stuff may break badly. And then you better have a live CD to access your files and the gumption to figure out what the heck just happened and the best way to fix it.

Manjaro is based on Arch Linux*, the current king of DIY, bleeding edge rolling releases. I installed and configured Arch twice in years past and it was adventure both times. I liked the extreme configurability Arch offers but maintaining the system for daily use just became too much hassle so, after a few weeks or months, I had moved on. Manjaro brags about simplicity but I think it’s only simple when compared to its daddy. You still need to know what to do when pacnew files are created and it’s good watch the forums for any problems caused by the latest bundle of updates. (Manjaro’s maintainers release package updates in batches that have supposedly been tested to keep from breaking anything too badly.)

Manjaro uses Arch’s versatile pacman package manager in the terminal. Manjaro also adds a GUI package manager (Pamac on XFCE) that doesn’t suck up the system resources that the Gnome Software Center does. You might not think got Arch or Manjaro would have many packages in their repos compared to larger distros but Pamac on Manjaro gives you access to the Arch User Repository (AUR). The AUR contains a slew of community-contributed applications. So far, I’ve installed Chrome, Dropbox, and Signal Messenger from the AUR and they all work just fine. Something to note is that the AUR consists of packages which need to be downloaded and compiled on your machine. No binaries to be found there.

I’ve been running Manjaro for a week and all is well at this early stage. I blacklisted a file after a kernel update as per the terminal recommendation, took care of a pacnew file generated after a grub update (don’t jack up your boot loader), and got some advice on the user forum regarding how to make Perlbrew compile new perls (use –notest option during Perl install due to the bleeding edge bugginess of some files). MP3 and mp4 playback works fine out of the box. Suspend and resume work great. I’m not a huge fan of any of the default color themes but I’ll get over it.

I’m hopeful that Manjaro and I will get along well for the foreseeable future. It will require some care and feeding to keep rocking along smoothly but I like distros where I get my hands dirty a little and it’s nice to see what the latest versions of various applications are without having to deal with a full-on Arch installation. Who knows, this may be the first time I contribute $$ to a distro. I can’t see these guys getting bought out by M$, Apple, Google, or Facebook for 34.5 billion but one never knows.

* (Using Arch is an adventure. The installer is really just a collection of shell scripts. You the user install every blessed application you want with the exception of the most basic, low-level stuff. And you edit text files to configure that. Better keep an eye peeled for potential show stoppers with every significant package update.)