If first impressions can be trusted, Manjaro Linux would seem to be a Linux lover’s dream. But how much can you really tell about a distro on a short test drive?
Distro of the Week
Wow! It’s a good thing I never act on love-at-first-sight impulses. About an hour ago, as I’m writing this, I rebooted the old System76 laptop we use for testing after downloading and installing Manjaro 16.06.1 “Daniella.” First impressions are everything, it’s said, and I am completely wowed.
I’m not sure why. There’s nothing particularly striking about the Xfce desktop that’s staring back at me. In fact, to my eyes Manjaro’s default look is rather ordinary, which doesn’t matter since I’ve never been one to go with the default when all it takes is the installation of an image from my collection as wallpaper to make it mine. But even though I’ve only been poking around for a few minutes with no programs open — no load at all in fact — I am impressed by the responsiveness of this distro.
I’m being irrational, of course. The impression — that ever important first impression — that this is a very stable and well oiled distro that’s capable of taking whatever’s thrown at it, is based on whim and whimsy and not fact. It also goes against the grain of what I know about the distro. Manjaro is based on Arch, a distro that’s not primarily known for being stable — especially not out-of-the-box — without more than a little tweaking.
Warm and fuzzy good feelings are not what I expected going in. I was prepared for the worse — even after looking at the identical-in-every-way live version. When I booted to live and went to install to the hard drive, I was offered three choices, with no further explanation: Install with Thus, Install with Calamares and “Cli Installer.” At least I knew what the last one was. The other two had me running to Google. As figured, they are both graphical installers. Thus is something the Manjaro folks are developing on their own and which is evidently still in beta. Calamares is a third party installer that’s used by a handful of other distros, including OpenMandriva and Sabayon.
There are a couple of partitions on the laptop that I want to keep intact. Nothing important: a Windows 7 installation that I keep around to boot once yearly at tax time and recently installed Mint 18 Cinnamon that I’m still not through playing around with. If I didn’t care about keeping the existing partitions, I’d have a try at the command line install, but I didn’t want to risk evoking the “user error” monstor. As it was, I wasn’t even willing to trust the beta installer, even though I’d found an article on ZDNet saying it worked fine, and chose Calamares which I’d never to my knowledge used, but figured an installer is an installer.
The Calamares installer worked quite well. The welcome screen prompted for the language, and had already selected U.S. English for me. The next screen set the time zone using the typical world map setup. After that was keyboard, followed by partitioning.
The way Calamares handles partitioning is pretty sweet. It offers four very sensible choices:
Install alongside: Installer will shrink a partition and make room for Manjaro 16.06.
Replace a partition: Replaces a partition with Manjaro.
Normally I would have done a manual partition, but “install alongside” seemed to fit the bill for me, so I went that route. I was shown a color bar map of the hard drive, showing the rather small Windows partition and the Mint partition taking up the lion’s share of the disk, along with instructions to click the partition I wanted to shrink. After choosing the partition, there was a slider to use to indicate how much should go to Mint and how much to Manjaro. I accepted the default, which split the partition down the middle.
Unlike many installers, Calamares didn’t partition the disk right away, but went ahead and prompted for the rest of the information it’d need for the install — stuff like user password, did I want to use the same password for the administrator, and did I want to login automatically. After that was a location/keyboard/partitions overview with a warning that once I clicked “next” nothing going forward could be undone. After that there was nothing to do but read the advertisements scroll by about how Manjaro is the best Linux distro in the history of computing. Rather than do that, I went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
Before the pot had finished brewing, I received the “installation complete!” notification and was offered the choice to either continue to play in the live version or reboot to the installation on the hard drive. I clicked “reboot.”
I have never seen an operating system boot as quickly as Manjaro. After the bootloader went through the ritual offering of operating systems, I was up an running before I’d normally expect to be seeing the first sign that the operating system was indeed booting.
Like Antergos, which I reviewed back in May, Manjaro bills itself as a user friendly way to harness Arch Linux. Both use the Pacman package management system and are compatible with the Arch User Repositories, which is a good place to go looking for user packaged apps that haven’t yet made it into the official repositories. In addition, Manjaro maintains three sets of its own repositories — unstable, testing and stable.
Although the two distros are both based on Arch and developed to take advantage of Arch’s bleeding edge nature, the two distros are very different in ways that go beyond the cosmetic to touch upon basics like design philosophy.
When I was putting Antergos through its paces, it felt as if I was driving a fast Italian sports car that’ll get from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye but which requires much tinkering to keep on the road. That may not be true — it was just my impression. It never crashed and burned when I was driving it, but it always felt like it was a little on the breakable side — maybe because of stories I’d heard.
My first impression of Manjaro is just the opposite. The power and performance are obvious, but it feels as if it’ll run with the dependability of a well oiled sewing machine. I think that if I were a gamer, which I’m not, I would try this one on for size. Out of the box, it comes Steam ready, and gaming would offer an ultimate test on how it performs under pressure.
The trouble with impressions is that they come from a place that’s devoid of any experiences other than the educated guess, a lesson I learned back in the ’70s when I blew every dime I had on a cute little underpowered Opel Kadett. Because I knew the Germans’ reputation for building fine automobiles, I had the impression that this would be a car that would keep me going for a while. The day after I bought it, I ran across a friend — a mechanic friend, I might add — who’d once owned the very same make and model. “Get rid of it,” he said. “Now, while you can. They’re junk.” I didn’t listen; I’d already fallen in love with the car. A week later I was walking.
That’s why I never act on love-at-first-site impulses, which is the ultimate first impression. Tomorrow morning I’m going to destroy the Manjaro partition and return the disk space to Linux Mint, a distro that has served me faithfully for several years. I’ll do so without looking back or wondering about the distro love that might have been.