Manjaro Linux - the ugly duckling

As I wrote last summer, desktop Linux computing has reached a state of boredomness. Just pick your favorite flavor of Ubuntu, or maybe Linux Mint, and start using it with minimal fuss and excellent stability. The availability of choice has actually decresed, at least from my point of view, as the Ubuntu family of Linux distributions is so far ahead of the competition. Back in the days it was different when a number of desktop oriented distros (Mandrake/-driva, SUSE, etc) were competing neck to neck to win the harts of the regular users. The alternatives still exist, but lack behind in stability, support channels and attention to detail. But luckily every now and then new interesting Linux distribution projecst arise that are doing some things differently and a lot of things right. I am writing this post on one of them.

Manjaro Linux

I’ve been keeping an eye on Manjaro for some time as it has been a rising star in the Distrowatch popularity contest. They have been very productive since their 1st release (2013) with remarkable results. In two years they have produced a credible distribution, developed Manjaro specific features, grown a large user community and gathered a great amount of high quality documentation. Most distro projects often forget about the documentation part altogether. And from technical perspective the Manjaro has a lot going for it:

  • Manjaro is based on Arch Linux but they host their own repositories. They do not inherit Arch updates directly, but provide an additional layer of quality assurance and release the updates in semi-rolling fashion. Downloadable snapshot releases are published few times a year, but in theory there is never a need to re-install a newer release.
  • Being Arch based, the Manjaro is compatible with the AUR repository which, provides tons of pre-packaged software.
  • There are three official flavors: XFCE (flag ship), KDE and a bare bones Net install. Community variants are provided for just about every desktop environment out there. Personally I feel it is a shame that Gnome is not one of the official ones.
  • Manjaro provides in-house developed tools for switching and using different Linux kernel versions. You can go for the latest or choose a more stable but older LTS version.
  • Unlike Arch, the Manjaro comes with a very user friendly installer that is very similar to Ubuntu.

KDE Plasma 5 - don’t even bother…

I started with the KDE edition, which provides a visually quite pleasing desktop. Plasma 5 is a hugely improved from the 4.xx version in terms of look and feel. Manjaro’s green-gray color palette reminds me of OpenSUSE or Linux Mint.

For me however, the Plasma 5 desktop was uselessly unstable. it started producing errors repeatedly just by sitting idle in the Live DVD session and installation did not really improve things. I am not sure whether this is something that is Manjaro (or Arch) specific or due to the general pre-maturity of the Plasma 5, but I am guessing the latter. It took the KDE project literally years to stabilize KDE Plasma 4 and the version 5 seems to repeat the pattern. It is really a shame as this desktop environment has great potential.

XFCE - stable but ugly

So I switched to the XFCE version, which seems to be the primary/default edition of the Manjaro. The XFCE project provides a simplistic but somewhat spartan desktop experience. The basic environment has remained the same for years, only providing small gradual improvements with each new version. Based on few days of active usage the XFCE edition runs stable. I had also the opportunity to try one of the Manjaro release update hops, and it went smoothly (version 0.8.13 to 15.09 RC). The system is responsive and runs snappy, but its worth noting that Manjaro is not a feather weight distribution in terms of system RAM footprint, consuming about 310 megs after boot. This is comparable to other feature packed XFCE distributions, such as Xubuntu. So if you are searching for an ultra light distribution, then look elsewhere or build your Manjaro from ground up with the Net Installation media.

The downside of Manjaro XFCE is the looks. Out of the box just about everything on the desktop seems to be a bit off. The icons and fonts really do not match the theme at all and this has to be one of the ugliest distros I have seen recently. For example Xubuntu is miles ahead in terms of visual design. I find it very odd that the Plasma 5 offers such a nicely configured default interface, while the XFCE is just about the opposite. If the XFCE edition is considered to be the flagship, please give it the attention it needs.

The good thing is that this is Linux and you can fully customize the user interface based on your own preferences. Personally I like distributions that look good out of the box and need minimal tweaking afterwards.

The verdict

Overall the Manjaro is a very interesting project. It has a lot to offer from technical perspective and it’s biggest cons (visuals) are rather easy to work around. It is a huge shame that the Plasma 5 is not ready for daily use, but most likely Manjaro project is not to blame about that. Personally i am a big fan of Gnome, so I would love to see an official Gnome edition rather that the simplistic XFCE desktop.

I would recommend everyone to check out Manjaro, with the exception of absolute Linux beginners. It offers an easy gateway to the Arch Linux platform and offers the benefits of a rolling release model. There is plenty of good documentation readily available and a blossoming community to support you further. In addition you can utilize Arch Linux documentation, which is most likely the best available among any Linux distribution.

Give it a spin and please post your feedback below. I am going to use Manjaro XFCE for a while as my production environment and most likely will be posting further updates later this fall.

Test hardware used:

  • Thinkpad X301
  • Intel HD 1440x900 graphics
  • Centrino 2 vPro CPU
  • 4GB RAM
  • 64GB SSD

Plasma 5 has been my daily driver for a while now, and it’s stability greatly improved following the 5.4 release, as well as the Manjaro devs fixing some Intel GPU related bugs.
Overall, it’s nice looking, reasonably stable and packed with features.

Its great to hear that the Plasma 5 instability is not universal. Do you have any ideas what might cause the constant crashing on my old slab? I have installed just about every Linux distribution available on this old Thinkpad and to my experience the HW is very Linux friendly.

As said the 0.8.13 live session started repeatedly crashing just by idling on the desktop. There was a stack of application crash notes on the screen when I came back to the PC after a while. I did not make a not of the error though. I rebooted, installed, and tried again but still bad results. I got crashes just by douple clicking the items of the task bar. At that point I gave up and moved to XFCE edition.

The previous Plasma 5 distro I’ve tried was Kubuntu 15.04 which also had issues, but definitely not as bad I am seeing with Manjaro.

Well, based on your encouraging feedback I decided to give the KDE edition another try. Especially now as there is a new Release Candidate available (20th of September).

I booted the Live DVD, played around with it and let is run for several hours to see whether it was stable. It seemed to be OK, so this morning I decided to give the installer another go. However the system froze at the point ot choosing the keyboard language. Installer UI froze and at least Network Manager applet seemed to crash in the tray.

At the same time the XFCE edition is running fine on the very same hardware, so there is definitely something fishy about the KDE edition. Man would I love an official Gnome edition of Manjaro!

Manjaro 15.09 stable version was released on 27th of September.

I decided to give KDE edition yet another spin, and this turned out to be the first time I was able to install it, without KDE crashing before, during, or after the live session. Based on couple hours of usage, it seems to function as expected, but I have not had the time to do any proper testing on it yet. Still it is very unclear what has been causing the instability I have experienced before. One change I have made is that this time I used a USB-stick rather than DVD media for the live session. - In theory it might be possible that the system has had problems dealing with the longer read delays of an optical drive, or perhaps an configuration error relating to the read-only nature of a DVD-R disc.

I repeat that this distribution is definitely worth looking into, and now it seems to be possible also using the KDE Plasma 5 environment. Give it a shot!

I have been poking around with Manjaro during the fall 2015, and I still think that this distro has a lot to offer. If you are interested in the Arch-world, rolling release model and running latest versions of everything, then Manjaro should be your first choice, unless you are comfortable to to go with pure Arch, of course. Manjaro has a broad selection of community editions that offer the same Manjaro core features but offer different desktop environments. At least the Gnome and MATE editions seem pretty good and you should consider them instead of the official KDE & XFCE versions.

Here are some tips of things to do after installing Manjaro Gnome:

1. Rank mirrors

Automatically ranks and configures the fastest mirror to be used for updates.

sudo pacman-mirrors -g

2. Update

Manjaro is a rolling release with frequent and large updates.

sudo pacman -Syu

3. Install Google Chrome browser

Still the best browser available and needed for native Netflix support on Linux. It is available via the Arch User Repository.

yaourt -S google-chrome

4. Customize the Gnome Shell to your preference by adding some extensions

Using Firefox browse to Always add Dash to Dock and TopIcons for improved usability.

5. Tweak the settings

Tweak Tool allows you to fine tune Gnome’s settings. Check it out and adjust to your preference. I like to enable the global dark theme and enable traditional Maximize and Minimize window buttons.

6. Install Pidgin chat client

Pidgin is more versatile than the default client Empathy

sudo pacman -S pidgin

7. Install TLP or Laptop Mode Tools to improve battery life

Detailed instructions available at the Manjaro Wiki.

8. Install a nice theme

I like Ceti-2, which is available via AUR. Install and then enable with Tweak Tool.

sudo yaourt -S ceti-2-themes

9. Improve font rendering

Simple instructions on the Manjaro Wiki. I fail to understand why these are not included by default.

As said in the opening post, the problem of the main XFCE edition of Manjaro is the poorly designed visuals. As a desktop environement however, it has some key strengths to consider:

  • XFCE is easy on the system resources and a better option of aging hardware
  • It is very stable, due to slow development cycles. This is an asset for a rolling release distribution as many of the end user problems arise from the instability or change volatility of the desktop environment. You can expect the XFCE to be frozen for a long time or to receive only minor updates, which means that you are basically only rolling the back-end of your system, along with some applications.
  • Luckily XFCE is heavily customizable, so with some effort you can make it look according to you personal taste.

Below are some suggestion for improving the Manjaro XFCE edition visuals.

1. Move the bottom panel to the top

Right-click on the panel, open preferences, unlock it and drag from the end of the panel to move.

2. Install Plank dock

Plank is a simple dock to launch your favorite apps and switching in between programs.

sudo pacman -S plank

Add it to Start up and sessions under auto starting apps to enable it on system boot.

3. Increase desktop icon size

On my 1440x900 screen the default size of desktop icons is too small. Easily adjusted in the Desktop settings

4. Install some theme

If you are unhappy with the default theming, there are a ton of options in at the XFCE-Look website. I am lazy and just pick something from the AUR, like Zen.

yaourt -S zen-gtk-themes

Now you have several Zen theme options added under Appearance menu.

5. Install some icons

Manjaro comes with round icons, which is a brain dead idea in terms of usability - there shape information if all icons are circular. I usually choose the classic Elementary icons.

yaourt -S elementary-xfce-icons

These tipsshould get you started with your Manjaro XFCE desktop. And of course the customization options are virtually limitless.

Based on these steps my current desktop looks like this. This is not yet fine tuned with great attention to detail etc., but just some quick adjustments in 30 minutes. So far from perfect, but definitely an improvement to the original Manjaro theming.

Manjaro 15.12 has been released, just in time for Christmas.

We are happy to announce the stable release of Manjaro 15.12 (Capella)!

After almost three months of development we can present to you now Capella, our latest instance of Manjaro Linux. This release comes with XFCE 4.12, KDE Plasma 5.5, 4.1.0 LTS kernel and all the usual Manjaro and upstream updates. We worked mostly on our tools and the graphical installers.

Noteable changes in our tools:
kcm module of Manjaro-Settings got reworked
several enhancements to Pamac and Octopi
optimizations and fixes to Manjaro-Tools
a lvm issue was fixed within Thus
Package-wise we have following changes:

KDE Apps got updated to 15.12, Virtualbox is now at 5.0.12, mesa is at 11.0.8, wine at 1.8 and the kernel at 4.4-rc6. Bumblebee is now also fixed for OpenRC and small fixes went into our samba-share thunar plugin.

To round-up this update, you find here some additional packages. Some linux3xx kernels got updated, last-minute fixes for Plasma 5, haskell updates, renewed Deepin desktop 2015 and fixes to firefox complete Manjaro 15.12.

Archlinux upstream fixes are now from: Tue Dec 22 12:25:53 CET 2015.

Manjaro Gnome 15.12 released!

Okay, it’s January but who’s counting. The Manjaro team just announced the latest version of their Gnome edition. I have personally been waiting for this one, as I had already made the decision to use Manjaro Gnome on one of my Thinkpads, but I decided to wait for the December version.

Unlike their main editions, XFCE and KDE, the Gnome version is highly vanilla. I has virtually no visual customization and you are greeted with Gnome default theming and icons. This is a good thing as Manjaro teams eye for UI design leaves a lot to be desired. Gnome is very easily customized and personally I just did the few usual tricks.

  • Added Dash to Dock and TopIcons shell extensions.
  • Installed Ceti-2 theme from AUR

And thats about it!

I have only been using this for couple of hours, and so far I have zero complaints. It performs well and Gnome 3.18 is a highly mature desktop environment. I highly recommend everyone who has already learned the basics of Linux to check out this release.

Manjaro Settings Manager is one of the cool features of this distribution and especially the way it handles Linux kernels. With the recent updates the Linux 4.4 gained a default/recommended status. The Settings Manager shows a notification about the new default kernel, and brings the user to the kernel selection menu.

Very user friendly and convenient. Switching to 4.4 now.

It’s been a while since I have played around with Manjaro Linux, but their release on Halloween got my attention. Manjaro 16.10 “Fringilla” is out: Release notes

The original statements in this thread pretty much hold true, even a year later. During 2016 the Manjaro project has pushed a release after release at a steady pace, while holding on to the core principles and components of the distribution. Updates keep rolling in as snapshots every two weeks or so.

The aging Xfce desktop is still their flagship of choice, followed closely by the KDE edition. Virtually nothing has happened in the Xfce development during this time, but KDE has been busy stabilizing their Plasma 5. It was pretty bad when this thread started, but should now be in a rather good state. Manjaro continues to support more than ten Linux kernel versions, currently defaulting to 4.4 LTS (Long Term Support), the same version that the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS ships with.

The visual design continues to be the weak spot of Manjaro, especially with the Xfce edition. They insist on shipping with questionable theming, bad iconography and sub-par fonts. All this is can be customized and tweaked to perfection, but if you like a good turnkey out-of-the-box solution, then simply choose Xubuntu (see screenshot)

Manjaro keeps offering a low learning curve entry to the world of Arch Linux ecosystem and has a solid track record of releases and updates. You’ll enjoy the latest versions of core system software as well as applications and you have the massive selection of the AUR repository at hand. Manjaro is an interesting choice for Linux tinkerers and well worth a look.

If you have an eye for graphics and UI, please contribute to Manjaro project…

I tried to propose he Manjaro project that the visuals should be improved for better first impression and new user traction. Unfortunately no real discussion came out of this and it turned quickly into a troll fest.

Two conclusions can be made out of this:

  • Manjaro project does not care about the visuals. They wan’t to look different from other Xfce based distributions, but ignore the opportunity to look good while at it.
  • It also tells something about the community as a lot of effort was put to downplaying the idea, deliberately not understanding the issue and just plain trolling.

Oh well. From technical perspective is a great distribution anyway, and the maintainers are doing a good job. Making it look good remains to be the responsibility of the end user. There are some quick tips in this thread how to do it, and who knows if I’ll publish some new ones when I have time to drill into this.

This is the cool thing about Manjaro:

  • Since it’s Arch based, it is rolling. You’ll be up to date “forever”, without performing any major version upgrades or re-installation of the system.
  • Since it’s Manjaro, the updates are released in chunks, every 1-2 weeks or so.

Now what this means, is that when ever your see that “Updates available” light turn on, you can head over to the Manjaro forums. There you can study whats new and read maintainers comments, instructions and warnings of potential breakage. And what is really cool is the user vote whether the update caused issues and potential solutions for those issues. So there is good smoke testing data available before you apply the update yourself.

I suggest simple styling, without need to install something, using tools out of the box in xfce:
(Lenin is optional)

In co-operation with - get $10 free credits!