Why I love Manjaro
Disclaimer 1: This is not a review of Manjaro Linux distribution, this is my personal opinion on why I feel Manjaro is the best among all the distributions (distros in short!) I have tried so far. The opinion I present here is biased and limited by my knowledge of Linux, my aesthetic sense and my Laptop’s performance. So, read this post keeping those things in mind.
Disclaimer 2: I am not a programmer or software engineer - I am a postdoctoral researcher working on animal behaviour and ecology, who is very interested in open-source software. Therefore, do not take this post as an expert critique.
Disclaimer 3: I am using a fairly old and low-powered computer, as you can see from the screenshot in the featured image. My laptop is a Lenovo G50–70 bought back in 2015, with Intel i3 4th Gen processor, Intel HD integrated graphics 4400, 8 GB DDR3 RAM and 1 TB Samsung HDD. So if I am saying that Manjaro flies on my machine, it will achieve warp speed in any modern well-powered laptop!
With these things out of the way, let’s start!
When it comes to linux distros, people are pretty divided over their choices and online wars keep on continuing between fanboys! There are thousands of articles, posts and videos on review of distros and comparison between different distros. Reading/viewing them makes one more confused than informed, and damages the brains of people who are trying to use linux for the first time. But even though fanboys will defend their choice of distro to the grave, there seems to be some clear winners among the hundreds of options available. Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros like Linux Mint are generally considered ideal for beginners, and advanced users vouch for Arch Linux [For newbies: there are three independent linux distros — Ubuntu (itself based on Debian), Fedora and Arch Linux — which are the most widely used, and has several offshoots based on them; although there are several other less popular independent distros like Gentoo, Solus, OpenSuse and CentOS]. I also started with Ubuntu when I switched from Windows to Linux (back in 2014 with version 14.04 LTS), and then experimented with different Ubuntu-based distros such as Linux Mint, Elementary OS and Pop! OS. While I liked them all, I was never satisfied and continued distro-hopping, till I met Manjaro! This distro has received the love it deserves in recent times, and during the time of writing this article it was ranked second according to page hit rankings on Distrowatch. Below I discuss all of the reasons I loved the distro and stuck with it.
Reason 1 — Ease of software installation:
Installation of the OS is pretty easy nowadays, and installing Manjaro was as easy as installing Ubuntu and derivatives. One of the main reasons newcomers are suggested not to begin with Arch Linux or refrain from installing it is that the installation process is relatively complicated. Manjaro drives away all that complications and gives you a beginner-friendly installation process with the Calamares installer, so that is good. One small complaint about the installation process though — it asks whether you want a swap partition or not, and gives you three options — no swap, swap without hibernate and swap with hibernate. Absolute beginners may not have enough idea about what a swap partition is and whether to enable it or not. Though one can leave it at the default ‘no swap’ option, I feel the Ubiquity installer of Ubuntu is even easier in this respect. One great option Manjaro installer has added though is the option to choose between installing Libreoffice, Freeoffice or not installing any office suite at all. Most other major distros come with the office suite, mostly Libreoffice, preinstalled.
But I do not want to talk about OS installation in this section, I want to talk about what I felt was the greatest strength of Manjaro — The package manager. For the uninitiated, a package manager is an app — like the Play Store in Android or the App Store in Apple — a place from where you can install all the apps from. The package manager in Manjaro — named Pamac — is so simple and packed of software. I love it and personally feel it is the best one I have used. It is not bloated and flashy like other distros, and is very clean and minimalistic looking — thus is much more responsive and fast. The categories of softwares are also nicely packed into the left sidebar, and the top bar nicely has tabs for you to search for software in its repo, look for installed software on your machine, or see if there are any available updates. Overall, it is a very intuitive package manager to use.
Manjaro is based on Arch, but maintains its own repository. Arch is known as a “bleeding-edge” distro, i.e., it delivers updates to the users as soon as they are available, and sometimes that can cause compatibility issues and other problems in the system. Manjaro does this better by being almost bleeding-edge — by holding off updates for a little while to make sure the updates would not cause any problems (See LinuxInsider’s old post). But that is not the only good thing. Manjaro’s repo has much more software available compared to the repo of any other distro I have seen. If a particular software you are looking for is not available, then do not worry — the package manager has AUR as well as Snap and Flatpak support built-in.
AUR or Arch User Repository is a heaven for Arch users — a repository of software maintained by the user community, a place where you will be able to find any software under the sky. Sure, there may have been security concerns over AUR, and as users can upload packages in the repo, there is also concern over presence of malwares. But people generally trust the packages in AUR, and always look at the reviews and ratings of packages and developers before installing a software — just to be safe.
There are currently various application distribution systems available in the Linux world. Apart from packages from the distros own repos, you can add PPA repos (Personal Package Archives, for Ubuntu based distros) and install packages in them, or download appimages, .deb or .rpm installers, tarball installers (.tar.gz or .tar.bz2 files), and recently snaps and flatpaks. Having options are fine, but it always is much simpler to just go to a default package manager, search for a software, and just install it with a click. I personally dislike going to a website to download an installer file, then having to learn commands to install the package (tarball installs always confuse me, sometimes the
make install option is available and sometimes it is not!) or install additional softwares to install the one I just downloaded (installation of .deb packages previously required gdebi, and now some distros use eddy). I know what people will say — “why don’t you just download from the official repo itself?” Many softwares I need are not available in the official repo of many distros (I mostly refer to Ubuntu and derivatives because that is what I have used!), and are only available in the formats I mentioned. Updated packages are also not immediately available in the official repos of distros like Ubuntu that update after every six months or so, and I always like to use the updated version of softwares!
Snaps and Flatpaks are being considered as the future of application distribution nowadays, but I personally avoid them unless necessary because of three reasons — (1) the packages are larger in size because of all the dependencies being contained in a single file, (2) I have found the opening time for certain apps to be pretty slow, and (3) the user interface of certain apps does not follow the system theme or look. While using Manjaro, I never have to use any of these formats as everything I need is present in either the default repo or AUR. If you don’t find a software in these two places, there is always snap and flatpak support built in!
Reason 2 — Snappy performance:
I prefer using the Gnome 3 desktop environment. The way of interacting with the desktop really feels modern, and I love using keyboard shortcuts instead of clicking with the cursor. The major problem Gnome 3 had in the past was UI lag and excessive resource usage, but the developers had fixed it to a great extent in the past updates. I have used Gnome in the past with distros like Ubuntu 18.04 and Pop! OS 18.04 and 19.10, and the DE have always felt laggy and RAM usage was always pretty high in my laptop. Recently I have also used Gnome 3.36 in Pop! OS 20.04, and the same problem persisted. On the other hand, Gnome have always felt snappy and fast in Manjaro. I have been using Manjaro since version 18, and have used Gnome versions 3.32, 3.34 and 3.36. Across all these versions, I have never had an issue with Gnome — the performance was snappy, and RAM usage was comparatively lower than Ubuntu and Pop! OS with the same applications installed (I do not have any screenshots to show, so you have to ). One other problem with the latter was the fan in my laptop used to crank up and the laptop used to get pretty heated even while doing light tasks, but none of these problems have ever popped up (or if you want a timely pun — ‘Pop!’-ped up) in Manjaro.
Reason 3 — UI look and aesthetics:
I love themes with shades of green in them. Though I have to give the best theme award to Ubuntu and Pop! OS, I have always preferred the theming of Linux Mint because of its use of dark grey and green. I have found the perfect theme now in Manjaro, with its excellent use of an even darker grey and bottle green. Previously I used spend hours looking for the perfect theme in Gnome Look and elsewhere, but the default Matcha-sea theme in Manjaro is so perfect that I have stopped theme-hunting completely. Even the icon theme is almost perfect!
Another awesome part of the default UI is the preinstalled ‘Dash to Dock’ extension, which is much better looking and customizable than the giant default Gnome 3 dock. The deault dock can also be invoked when you go to the ‘Activities’ section, while the ‘Dash to Dock’ dock can be invoked just by moving your cursour to the left side of the screen.
Gnome developers decided to remove system tray from the Gnome shell, which got some backlash from users. System tray is a part of the desktop where you get status from several applications like Slack, Skype, Dropbox, TeamViewer etc. which run in the background. Without the system tray, there is no way to get notifications from these apps without opening the application window. Luckily, there are several Gnome shell extensions which provide system tray functionality, but many of them either is not developed any more or are not supported in newer Gnome versions. The one which I found to work, while using Pop! OS, was the ‘KStatusNotifierItem/AppIndicator Support’ extension. Manjaro helps the user by including the extension out of the box, and saves them the pain of searching for and trying different ones.
(Small) Reason 4 — Colour calibration:
My cheap laptop comes with a screen, that in its default setting has washed out colours and a bluish tint, probably due to the poor contrast. I won’t say its a terrible screen, but if you are editing photos or making digital art — both of which I do — then you see colours which are inaccurate. In Windows, there is a great inbuilt colour calibration tool which can be used to tweak the settings. Back when I was using Windows, the only things I used to do was to lower the gamma and reduce the saturation of the blue channel — which used to make a huge difference. In Ubuntu and derivatives, there is no graphical tool available to do colour calibration, though there is a command line tool called
xgamma which can be used to control the gamma level of RGB channels. The problem with this tool is that you have to go through a trial and error process to get to the perfect setting. Furthermore, you have to write the setting as a startup command to set the screen to the calibrated values at each startup. Manjaro bypasses this problem by having a graphical tool named ‘Monica’ in the repository, which is basically a GUI for
You can look at the colours and patterns in the Monica window, and adjust the sliders either together or independently to set the colours and patterns to what looks best to your eye. When you save the settings, it gets saved to .monicarc file in your home folder. Open the file, copy the settings, and paste it into the end of .profile file in your home folder. That’s it, you’re done! One reason for why this useful tool is not available for other distros, at least the Ubuntu based ones, is maybe because the tool is old and is not actively developed anymore. But Manjaro at least saves my day by including it in their repo.
There may well be several other reasons why Manjaro is great, and people love the distro. While writing this post, Manjaro was 2nd in ranking in terms of website visits — according to DistroWatch. Ofcourse, higher page hit ranking does not mean that the distro is great, but it does mean the global interest in people towards the distro.
I have listed some of the reasons I love Manjaro Gnome in this post. Hope it will be helpful to people looking to try the distro.