Manjaro Linux is based on Arch Linux. Arch Linux provides a very stable, speedy, customizable and up to date Linux environment but  the users may need to edit some configuration files to get all these advantages. I’ve had a great experience with Arch Linux and long expected a distribution that can bring these advantages to the masses (like what Ubuntu achieved from Debian).

The goal of Manjaro Linux is to be user friendly besides all the advantages of Arch given above. This review will look into how Manjaro adds to Arch with respect to user experience.

Test machine setup:

For this review, I’ve used the HP Pavilion DV6TQE with the following configuration.

  • i7 Sandy Bridge
  • 8GB RAM
  • 7200 RPM HDD
  • Switchable graphics between Intel Sandy Bridge and Radeon 7690M
  • 1366×768 screen

Manjaro Quick Specs:

Manjaro Linux uses Xfce as the primary DE (Desktop Environment) but GNOME and KDE versions are also available as of Manjaro 0.8.0. The latest version is 0.8.0 which is still a beta release as per the developers. The following are the major additions to the Arch base,

  • A customized CLI installer ( A GUI installer is planned for future releases)
  • MHWD (Manjaro HardWare Detection) scripts
  • A customized DE (Xfce/GNOME/KDE)

Installation:

I downloaded the GNOME live DVD image (~1.2GB) as I prefer GNOME DE. The booting process was a standard one like any other Linux live systems. The booting ended up in a console login as the MHWD did configure neither Intel nor AMD card. After the login, I was offered to use the setup command to start the CLI installation as it would happen in Arch.

The CLI installation did not offer anything unique (that I can notice of) but went smoothly. After the installation and reboot I was able to see all the installed OS entries in the GRUB boot menu.

Hardware Detection:

I understand that complaining about a distribution based on its ability to detect a particular hardware is not fair. The distribution might work well in different configurations but may not work for the reviewer’s. For a distribution which tries its own hardware detection methods and which is still in beta stages, Manjaro fares well on this area. That’s said, I’ve listed some of the problems I’ve faced with Manjaro since being ‘user friendly’  majorly depends on how well a distribution detects the available hardware components.

The DE(GNOME) was not working after the installation so I tried to update the system using ‘pacman -Suy’  hoping that it might somehow solve the issue.

The kernel as well as the Intel graphics drivers were updated but the after the reboot the other OS menu entries were deleted. I had to run ‘grub-mkconfig’ and edit the grub.cfg file to get all the OS entries. I was not sure if a simple ‘update-grub’ would have solved this issue.

The GUI was not started after the update also and I tried some of the options given in the MHWD scripts but none of these worked. I decided to give up on this and tried the good old method.  I just copied the xorg.conf from my existing openSUSE installation, and after two reboots I was able see the DE. There was some error message but at least I had a working DE. The screen resolution was detected properly.

There was no audio when using the headphones. After installing ‘pulseaudio-audio control’ and changing the sound port to ‘speakers’ from ‘headphones’ solved this issue. The webcam, finger print reader and screen brightness control were not working but with some online searches, these can be fixed.

The other distributions based on KDE I’ve tried recently drained the battery dangerously  fast but Manjaro with GNOME/Cinnamon was very respectable on this aspect.

Desktop:

The GNOME desktop uses Cinnamon instead of the default shell that comes with GNOME. The Cinnamon was usable but some important things were not working. For example, the battery monitor was not responding to user inputs. Also it was showing wrong charge estimations when run on battery. Also, the fonts did not look well. The objective of this review is not the usability of Cinnamon and hence I’ll skip on this just by saying that the desktop is usable with some exceptions.

Applications:

Manjaro comes with the media codecs installed. I was able to watch Youtube videos with the included Flash plugin. The 1.2GB DVD image had most of usual applications found in any distribution with the exception of no dedicated audio player. I was not able to play videos using the included ‘Video Player’. I had to install VLC to use audio and video files.

I was not able to access the webcam using  ‘cheese’. I was not sure if  it was a hardware problem or a bug with the application.

The applications AMD driver configuration tool and HP software manager(?)  did not open.

I’ve also tried to install some Cinnamon applets and extensions but none of them worked. These applications might work with further investigation but I was not willing to do.

There was no common place to edit all the system settings. There are at least three major menu entries to edit the system settings. As per the developers, a new tool to edit the system settings will be created in a later stage.

Overall I would say, the applications included were enough and worked mostly.

Package Management:

I’m a great fan of the console based ‘pacman’ as it provided greater control. Manjaro included ‘packagekit’  as the package management application and it worked as expected. This simple tool handled the common tasks such as install update and remove applications. The packages come from arch repositories mainly. I was able to find the my favorite applications like ‘Mediainfo’, ‘VLC’, ‘Powertop’ etc.

There were two notable issues. When I tried to remove the unneeded Nvidia related drivers, the dependencies showed everything related to Cinnamon desktop. Proceeding with this would make the desktop unusable for a casual user. The second(minor) issue was that the ‘packagekit’  was showing the wrong status when installing an application. The progress bar was moving but the status text showed ‘Waiting in queue’.

Conclusion:

Manjaro Linux is definitely an interesting project but the success of the project depends on the following items.

  • Improving the MHWD
  • Creating a clean and simple GUI that will work across all the editions (Xfcs, GNOME and KDE)
  • Creating a useful system control center

Manjaro is not suited for the beginners as of now but I hope the developers would achieve their goal eventually. Those who are not  afraid of tweaking the configurations and applications can give it a try. Also, those who want an Arch based system for whom some of the Arch based distributions did not work, they must give Manjaro a try.

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