Updated: January 17, 2015
When you wake up in the morning, strut about your apartment listening to Zamfir and wonder about the world, one of the things that itches your brain ganglia is the fact there is a distro there, called Manjaro, which claims to be friendly version of Arch, which is like saying a healthy isotope of Plutonium. Can't be done.
Or maybe? Well, as the explorer of the final frontier called Linux, I set about to do just that, bolstered by love and care and fine, cultured praise from the community. But all seriousness aside, I did play with Manjaro, Xfce version, and it was decent. Not amazing, somewhat confusing and rather buggy, but an excellent starter for the newb-slayer distro called Arch. And so we're back at it again, with KDE this time. Follow me.
Live session - A feast for the eyes
Manjaro booted into a live session without any problems, and right away, I knew there was a lot to do and explore. The thing is, this version of Manjaro, and this particular KDE theme is one of the more unique offerings at the market right now.
The splash screen is colorful and pleasant. The desktop is vivid and vibrant. It borrows from the SUSE theme, which is frankly the best KDE4 spin at the moment, and then extends it with a flavor of its own.
The icons are square, pretty and abstract. Almost Windowsy, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, the somewhat Metro approach is quite welcome. If you glimpse inside Dolphin, your photons will melt, because it's really pretty. In a way, Manjaro 0.8.11 bridges and combines SUSE, Plasma 5 and Windows 10 themes all together.
The bottom panel is centered. Frankly, I'd make it full width. The hardware widget in the top right corner is also quite unnecessary. It feels rather 90s, which goes against the very modern and abstract Nokia-like looks. Furthermore, the basic window decorations can also be improved. However, if you've gotten this far, the rest is terribly easy, because it's just the matter of tweaking a few small things here and there. All in all, lovely jubbly.
Printing in the live session
A bold attempt, a noble mission, but nope. First, Manage Printing opens the CUPS management page in Konqueror, which is not what you want. Moreover, why do you need both Konqueror AND rekonq, which is the default browser? Seems like an overkill. Plus you always get weird behavior, and Firefox or Chrome are better choices.
Going through the system menu, you will have saner options, but Samba printing is out of the question. Why, oh why? More than 90% of all desktops in the world are Windows, so why not be friendly and smart and let people connect to these boxes, allow them to print, and ease the transition instead of antagonizing and alienating potential future users.
Worked fine. Both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wireless, plus Samba sharing. Nice.
I did encounter a few other problems. Despite awesome looks, some things did not really work. For instance, desktop effects, nyet, broken. This could be a simple KDE configuration issue, or more, I did not explore. You also do not have a Touchpad tool to disable taps and clicks, which is quite annoying.
The screenshot issue we have seen in half a dozen other distributions is here, too. If you disable desktop effects, you won't get screenshots showing any new images, only the last buffer saved in memory. So this affects Ubuntu, Kubuntu, openSUSE, and even Manjaro, so it's the whole plethora of kernels, X windows versions, and desktop environments that is affected. Can someone please fix this bug? Thank you.
But at least, you have your music and Flash. VLC is there, and it is wearing Santa's hat during the holidays, and it plays everything. There are several other media programs included, but we will discuss them later on. As far as Youtube and Flash compatibility goes, rekonq does not rescale videos nicely, and you end up with weird artifacts.
The installer still reads beta. The same affair we saw in several distributions lately, including Netrunner Rolling. It's not a bad wizard, but it can be massively improved. The partitions listing is a bit clunky and somewhat ugly. Moreover, in this particular instance, the wizard actually got stuck when trying to mark the root partition. If you use the drop down menu to choose mount points, the wizard will balk and freeze.
Not if you manually type down the desired text, like /home, /var or such. This left a lock file under /tmp, which I had to delete manually before I could restart the installation and try without using the drop down feature. Not really robust, and the beta label does not exonerate the distro.
Eventually, the installation into a quad-boot setup, on my T61 laptop and its two associated SSD, succeeded. However, it wasn't very fast. Moreover, the slide images are actually non-natively scaled screenshots, and they do not render nicely enough. This really needs to be improved, because the pictures, otherwise lovely, look somewhat cheap.
But not everything was perfect. First, all of the images copies from the live session to the Windows share bear the same time stamp instead of the original creation time. Second, the GRUB menu is all garbled. Completely. Looks like someone mangled the screen with a chainsaw. You can't read any text, just blurred lines of green and black. It's a lucky guess the first entry is indeed Manjaro, which then booted fine.
Playing with Manjaro
Anyhow, once inside the installed session, I continued testing and exploring. Beauty is everywhere. This is indeed one of the strong side of this distribution, and even after a couple of hours, you do not lose interest. You have the settings menu, which is pretty, and then rekonq, which is also very pretty, and it's all very pretty. But the question is, do you also get all the necessary functionality, which is critical.
The arsenal is very rich and colorful. Literally. Look at all those pretty icons. You get the Calligra suite, Kopete, Krita, aforementioned Santa VLC, several SUSE tools, several more programs that start with the letter K or have one in the name, which makes them part of the KDE suite. Not bad, but it's a little unfocused. GIMP is there, too.
Because the default browser(s) are inadequate, I installed Firefox. Quick and simple. Remember, someone is mashing living goats with a 100KN press to produce enough blood for your Arch Linux altar, all this to make the miracle of Manjaro work, and so far, it does.
And one small bug here is that Marble shows four times in the menu. Why?
Package management & updates
I struggled here quite a bit. First, I wanted to check updates and such. This part really worked well. Octopi, the GUI frontend for pacman and whatnot behaved nicely, even though it has two icons, one in the system area and the menu, and one in the favorites. But overall, software installations and updates were fast, precise and successful. Good.
But then, I tried installing Skype and Steam. Both are available in the repos, but Steam is not officially supported in Arch, and I was not able to get this program correctly installed and running. Several 32-bit lib dependencies are missing, the most critical libGL.so, upon which steamui.so depends. The libraries are there, all right, but not properly linked.
I tried resolving dependencies, playing with symlinks, cheating the system, and whatnot, but nothing helped. Unfortunately, the repos are partially broken, and this is a big no-no, because this has to be the most robust piece of the system code. If you don't use Steam, you might never notice, but it should not end up with a failure. At the very least, when installing 32-bit stuff, you should get all the necessary packages in one go. And this goes specially for audio and video libraries, without breaking any MESA, Intel, ATI, Nvidia, or other drivers.
We're covered all right, but JuK wouldn't play MP3 files. Just wouldn't. It's unnecessary as a second media player, and a faulty one at that. So this one should go straight into the recycle bin.
Still no luck. I tried all sorts of packages. Nope.
Did not work, at all. Again. Sad.
For some unknown reason, must be all that goat blood, Manjaro 0.8.11 KDE is one of the hungrier desktops around. It demanded 850 MB of RAM on idle, and it did not detect any swap at all, even though there are two partitions. I did not manually mark anything during the installation, and if the wizard expects me to manually mount swap, sorry no, this is a user-friendly version of Arch, and year 2005 is long gone. The CPU wasn't very calm either, puttering at some 6-7% of average, which is a bit high. Overall, the desktop response was decent. But it can be trimmed down. All of it.
Stability, suspend & resume
Beyond all the bugs and issues we already discussed, there were no others. The system was stable, without any unexpected crashes. For most part, bad stuff would simply not run, but it would not suddenly die or hiccup. Likewise, sleep & wake worked fine.
And I got this beauty configured. Truly an awesome looking distro. Resize the panel, full width, no desktop widgets, a light-colored wallpaper, and that's it. Transformation complete. Narrate that in Command & Conquer Red Alert Russian accent.
How shall I put it? Let there be no doubt. Manjaro 0.8.11 is a better version than 0.8.5 that I tested a while back. But calling it the best and most awesomest KDE around, as I've seen here and there in various forums and social media sites is literally pushing it. Now, it does deserve a lot of praise, A LOT, regarding its visual appearance. However, that is not enough to distract from or reduce the impact of the underlying system bugs.
Desktop effects, printing, broken Steam packages, weird menu entries, misbehaving media player, an identity-confused collection of software, installation issues, missing swap use and very high memory consumption, all of these are big problems that the Manjaro dev team needs to address. But overall, the important thing here is progress.
But if you're asking me, the distro needs to simplify its mission statement, and focus on the core message of practicality. Hopefully, we will see that happen soon. Let's call it the emergence of Manjaro into its own rightful place. At the moment, it's trying to do so much, at the same time, it's like a juggler with one ball too many. Grade wise? Hmmm, well, something like 7.5-8/10, and I am being generous. However, if all else fails, it so damn beautiful. Definitely one of the top three. Imagine Plasma 5 there. Looking forward to the next version. Ciao!