GNU/Linux Distribution Test: Manjaro Linux 21.0 “Ornara”

Currently being the second most-visited page on DistroWatch, the Arch-based Manjaro Linux is a favorite within the Linux community. Despite being the furthest away from a pure “Arch experience”, the project brands itself as being “a professionally made operating system that is a suitable replacement for Windows or MacOS”, offering a variety of desktop environments to choose from and “being suitable for newcomers and experienced computer users”.

At the time of conducting this test, all Community Editions still need to be updated to 21.0, so I choose a live disk shipping with the GNOME environment, one of Manjaro’s three official flavors.

Live System

Manjaro’s Live ISO grants users the option to select their language, keyboard layout, and timezone before booting the live system. As the live image showed no signs of bugs or glitches, I proceeded to the installation.

Installation

Like the majority of Arch-based distributions, Manjaro provides the graphical Calamares Installer for make installation as easy as possible. Interestingly enough, I had to manually select my location and keyboard layout again, as the installer failed to detect these. Another thing I would notice at that point was the clock being one hour ahead of my timezone, despite selecting CEST (Europe/Berlin) before booting Manjaro. To figure out whether the installed system would demonstrate the same issue, I decided to ignore it, select my test partition, and let the installer handle the installation, which took six minutes.

As Daily Driver

A common issue I encounter on this test machine in particular affects the loading of customized boot loaders, which usually is limited to live disk’s GRUB not loading as intended but working flawlessly when installed. This time, however, I would encounter the opposite, with the installed boot loader’s being kept in its standard CLI style, instead of loading Manjaro’s configuration. Before the GNOME desktop finished loading, the system briefly disconnected the monitor from itself before Manjaro became ready to use. As expected, Manjaro kept the wrong time and did not rely on the date and time set in the machine’s BIOS at any point to check whether both are correct.

While the live disk detected the wired internet connection without any issues, the installed OS failed repeatedly at connecting itself to the internet and refused to connect even after manually configuring it, forcing me to stick with an offline system until I would find the time to figure out the cause of this issue. Ironically, just after failing three times to connect to the internet, Manjaro notified me of seven available updates.

A solution suggested by a community member

Later on, I checked the the forum to notice that Manjaro installing the wrong network drivers seems to be more common than expected and occurred after every (re-)boot due to the standard kernel 5.10.23 not offering r8168 drivers, forcing me to briefly settle with kernel 4.14.225 — as the first option is being recommended — to obtain the latest LTS kernel afterwards. This, however, also proved to be a short-term solution only and was forced to stick with an offline system for the rest of this test.

Available Programs & Software Management

After manually adjusting the time via GNOME Settings, I proceeded to take a closer look at the installed programs. Due to Manjaro not leaving the user a choice of programs to install when using one of their live images, I quickly spotted applications that were completely useless to me, including Gestures (which is a waste of space when using a classic Desktop computer from 2014), Caffeine-ing (which might be useful for those that usually forget to take breaks from their work), HP Device Manager (which requires the user to own a printer by HP), and Weather (despite most free Weather apps being unreliable).

Nevertheless, Manjaro also offers some tools out of the box that other Arch-based distributions tend to miss, most notably the system backup and restore tool Timeshift, the hardware lister LSHW, and, instead of LibreOffice, ONLYOFFICE. Among the tools exclusive to Manjaro are Manjaro Log Helper and Manjaro Settings, a graphical tool to manage users, installed kernel, hardware drivers, language packages, and keyboard layout.

The graphical software manager Pamac not only makes installing and removing packages less time-consuming but also can be adjusted to allow access to the Arch User Repository (AUR) and support flatpak, with the latter having to be configured manually to access flathub.

Wanting to remove unnecessary software, I first selected HP Device Manager and Document Scanner, and encountered no issues. Selecting Cheese for the second run, on the other hand, would prompt a warning that notified me of Cheese sharing dependencies with gnome-control-center and gnome-shell-extension-pop-shell. This dependency issue is far from new and not limited to Cheese.

Performance

With GNOME Shell as my desktop environment, Manjaro requires roughly 1 GB of RAM, making relatively great usage of RAM cache and only spiking to 60% CPU usage when accessing the web with Firefox. Boot times varied between 35 and 45 seconds due to GNOME loading rather poorly during boot. In contrast, overall responsiveness of the desktop environment was fairly high, though not as smooth when executing non-GNOME packages. Idle CPU frequency shifted between 2.0 and 3.0 GHz when relying on Bashtop, only going as low as 1.7 GHz for less than a second as a result of mandb being an autostart process that would be ended automatically after eleven minutes. Shutdowns consistently took less than three seconds.

Hardware Detection

After ejecting a test DVD, the icon does not disappear from the left dock.

Manjaro failed to detect my Canon EOS 700D and only briefly detected my iPhone 6s, no longer recognizing it after confirming that I trust this computer.

Documentation

Due to the relatively large size of its community, Manjaro offers a decent amount of forums in eight languages, including English, Portuguese, German, Turkish, Finnish, and Chinese. A Wiki similar to, yet not as technically complex as ArchWiki and also relying on Cookies, offers users the guidance and explanations, including a separate page dedicated to how to install Spotify.

The quality of forums varies greatly, with the German forum in particular not paying much attention to Manjaro’s Community Editions and has not seen any activity in its News category since August 2020. The English forum provides a more active community that is required to follow a strict set of rules. Merely judging by the front page of the forum, beginners in particular will get overwhelmed by the huge amount of subcategories and the overly technical questions being asked regularly.

Other Findings

I encountered several graphical glitches that probably has to be unique to Manjaro’s GNOME Edition. The oddest one can be witnessed when running Manjaro Log Helper: Since the window requires more height than my monitor can offer, this resulted in me not being able to create a log with this tool. When trying to adjust the window size, the window moves to the left side of the desktop and would move further left with each attempt at resizing the graphical log tool.

Most glitches occur shortly after booting the system, with the desktop environment either being slow at responding, the left dock glitching, and the Activities tab reloading itself when accessing it.

TL;DR

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. — Jesse Smith’s Review of Manjaro Linux 19.0 (DistroWatch Weekly, Issue 857, 16 March 2020)

Judging from my experiences with Arch Linux and other Arch-based distributions alone, Manjaro can not be considered an operating system for beginners, and even might annoy users that already are familiar with Arch. The network driver issue I would encounter just after installing the OS should prove that, as the solution provided by community members involved changing the driver via command-line. Even finding the solution that eventually turned out to be useless would have been very time-consuming, if somebody else would not have opened a thread just minutes after I decided to figure out what the cause of this misconfiguration is.

Despite offering Manjaro Architect for more experienced users, there is little point in using that for those seeking an “Arch experience”. All software and updates provided by Manjaro’s own repository undergo a separate check before being made available to users, apparently assuming that Arch Linux’s official repository mostly offers unstable software. The Log Helper glitch demonstrated nearly perfectly that Manjaro ships with bugs that easily could have been fixed by the developers instantly, if they would not have settled with a steady rolling release model. The additional bloat that cannot be removed due to unnecessary dependencies makes Manjaro even more unattractive to advanced users, especially those valuing the “KISS principle” promoted by Arch Linux. In terms of stability, there is no difference between Manjaro, Arch Linux, and other Arch-based distributions, though I did encounter more issues with Manjaro than I did with EndeavourOS over the course of three months.

Personal issues aside, there are some things Manjaro does better than other Arch-based distributions, including offering support for Snap and Flatpak out of the box. The large size of the community and the variety of available desktops put Manjaro on par with the Debian-based Ubuntu, yet overall, “Ornara” suffers from too many issues not even the large community and access to flathub can fix.

Hardware

HP Pavilion 500–344ng

Processor: AMD A8–6500 APU @ 3.50 GHz

Display: ATI Richland Radeon HD 8570D

Memory: 8 GB RAM (7.18)

Storage: 1 TB WD10EZEX-60M HDD

Network: RTL8111/8168/8411 PCI Express Gigabit Ethernet Controller

If you want me to be able to continue reviewing distributions, provide some tips for beginners, and perhaps even become independent from Medium, please consider supporting me. Any advice and critique is also appreciated.

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Maria M.

Maria M.

Migrated to WriteFreely: https://paper.wf/magda

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