Updated: December 10, 2016
I'm hungry, so it's time for some Manjaro! Oh, that was probably the worst joke ever. But this might be a decent review still. Hopefully. It all depends on how Manjaro 16.10, our scapegoat de jour, hmm I love goats, will behave today. In the past, this Arch-based distro has given me tough love.
Manjaro 15.12 Xfce was an okay beast, but it failed to deliver a super-mighty punch. Still, it was a very capable product. But it sure can do better. We will commence our barbecue on the G50 machine, which comes with a fairly complex setup - UEFI, GPT totaling sixteen partitions, and then Windows 10 and some 6-7 Linux distributions and such. Quite hectic. Let us proceed. Some ketchup please. I mean blood.
Launched fine, no complaints. The desktop has a green and gray scheme, and it's quite decent visually, but then, the devil is in the details. Look at the system area. You get two power icons, one of which does not conform to the Numix theme. The icons have all sorts of shapes and sizes and heights, and that bothers me. There's some sort of text or such beneath the Wireless icon. Say what?
Wireless worked fine, to a point. When I connected my iPhone, which we will talk about shortly, the whole desktop froze, nothing would respond to my mouse clicks or pleas, I mean swearing, and eventually, after the desktop grudgingly relinquished control back to me, the network was all buggered. Of course, Linux does not love my Realtek card, and so my Lenovo G50 box gets all jelly. I had to remove the RTL8723BE module from memory and re-insert it, but then ALSO restart the network manager. More on this later.
Bluetooth cannot be activated, Samba sharing only works with IP addresses, and then it prompted me twice for password, and Samba printing does not work, and the button is grayed out. Not the most promising of test sessions, I must say.
Good. MP3 songs played just fine, although the default media player is a little ugly. It comes with all sorts of tabs in the right pane, where you can listen to radio, Last.fm, check song lyrics and such, but the interface does not proportionally resize with the player window, and stuff gets truncated in a very ugly way. So ugly that I had to remove everything before I was willing to take a screenshot.
HD video also plays fine - VLC is the default choice - but it is configured to open files in their full size, which means, it may be bigger than your screen, so it could be a little awkward grabbing the controls and re-positioning the window. No biggie, though. Hi hi.
Now, here's a terrible thing. You have no less than THREE installer options, including one command line and two GUI tools, a non-named one and Calamares. I decided to go with the last, simply because it's the prettiest, but this is quite risque. It is also very similar to the experience I had with Netrunner 16.09, so if you feel like you've missed on some of the screenshots in that review, here comes Johnny! I mean screenshots.
BTW - the installer reads Manjaro 16.06.1 Daniella. But the stable release I downloaded reads 16.10 and has no apparent name on the website. This gives me the jeepers. If such an omission managed to creep past the QA team (citation needed), then there might be other big, cardinal issues in the distro. But then, this is nothing specific we should blame the Manjaro team, this is the woe and plague and Armageddon of the entire Linux world.
The installer is pretty and fairly functional - quick, too. It detected the partitions without any big delays, although there's no indication the GUI has advanced to the next step when you click the button. The downside of this speed is, the partitions have no names or labels (like that Western movie - The Distro with No Name - A Fistful of Distros), so you really need to know what your target is going to be before you choose it. And then, you must also manually select /boot/efi, otherwise the installation will fail.
The setup was fairly long. The bootloader part took almost 40 minutes to complete, and I thought it was stuck, and the whole thing was going to explode, but then it finished without issues. It also did NOT reboot my box, unlike Netrunner. If you pay attention, the final step has a selectable checkbox, allowing to choose whether to reboot your system or not once the installer quits. This invisible options is probably pre-selected in Netrunner, hence the sudden restart, poof all me screenshots are gone fiasco that I had.
Fiddling la distra loca
Manjaro! Food time! Or something. Anyhow, the desktop launched fine, I was able to connect to my Wireless network without any problems, and then I started testing and tweaking, getting annoyed and delighted. But first thing first.
Package management & updates
Despite the geeky nature of the distro and the plethora of tools designed for the same task, the distro did not stagger, hiccup or confuse, and it completed its tasks without undue pain. The downloads were slow, probably due to the scarcity of global mirrors, but the update process, a hefty 900+ MB worth of stuff, completed without any issues.
Kernel 4.8.7 - fixes my Realtek woes!
As I've proudly and cheerfully and merrily reported in my standalone article on this topic, the new kernel 4.8.7 fixes the Realtek RTL8723BE disconnects. Booya! I was able to download and install the package without any problems, and after rebooting, all those fine entertainment videos were streaming like finest Irish butter, melted, of course. Nice. Awesome stuff. Plus, we finally see added value to nerdy distros like Arch and its siblings, as they are not shy in offering brand new kernels to their masses.
I made a few innocent mistakes here, like deleting a fully expanded separator, which caused the panel to collapse, becoming ugly and annoying. This is not something that I've encountered before, and it took me a few seconds to figure out how to expand the separator so that the clock would be pushed into the far right corner.
I also played with the icons, themes and such, and while the new default selection is cool, it only comes in one flavor, and if you go for a light-colored panel, there will be a conflict of colors, especially in the notification area. The ugly little bar under the Wireless icon disappeared eventually, but the inconsistency in the shape and styling remains. Also, I learned that what I thought was the second power indicator is actually a clipboard applet. Go figure. Some visual, aesthetic rework is needed here, for sure.
The customization piece is probably the weakest link of this distro, but then, if that's the case, it's not a bad situation to find oneself in. Moreover, we shall have a little gallery toward the end of the review. Anyhow, can be done, but there's more consistency needed in the overall effort. Likewise, the presence of both the standard Xfce Settings Menu and the Manjaro Settings Menu is a little confusing.
The default selection is decent. Colorful enough. Practical enough. Some bugs apply. For example, Steam will not launch due to various OpenGL library conflicts and errors, but then Manjaro ships with a tool to cleanup these errors. Golly.
Apart from the Steam thingie, you get Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, GIMP, VLC, Pidgin, HexChat, and some others. All in all, perfectly functional, and about as good as it gets when it comes to Linux and what it can do in the application space.
Manjaro 16.10 is a lean, mean distro, fast, nimble, elegant, with speedy response to mouse clicks and soul whims, and it will not lag much, and you will have a very enviable performance overall, as it should be, Xfce for the president. On average, cold and without any stuff loaded into memory, the CPU idles at 0%, and memory utilization is only about 400MB. Quite all right.
Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume
No issues, all the Fn buttons worked, all the hardware bits - except Bluetooth - were properly initialized, and the Manjaro Settings Manager even lets you search for proprietary drivers. Suspend & resume worked fine. No problem. Oh, Samba also works now with names rather than IP addresses.
An interesting one. At first, Manjaro 16.10 reported about 6 hours, but then I let the battery drain a little, and soon it was reporting a saner 4 hour result with 50% brightness, and given the fact the battery has deteriorated about 10% since first usage, this is a very respectable figure. Almost as good as MX-15. Very cool.
Some sweet artwork and such:
Weird. I have never expected to be writing a conclusion to an Arch-based distro review and feel really pleased about the whole experience. But then, looking at how Manjaro behaved and how it delivered, I really don't have much to complain. The list of bad things is not very long: Samba printing, Bluetooth, some cosmetic problems, and ultra-slow GRUB updates. Other than that, it was really good.
You get a stable, fast distribution with a balanced kit of programs, media codecs and smartphone support out of the box, low resource utilization, very decent battery life, and even some perks, in the form of a new kernel that may resolve hardware and driver issues, if you have them. Plus, you can actually tame it if you feel like spending some time on the aesthetics front, and it won't bite with random, unexplained errors. Most importantly, there's a continuous trend of improvement and maturity in the distribution. Just look at my previous reviews, dating back to 2013. Everything seems to be in order, well, except this one really big thing.
What's next? Is this the sum of what the community can do - wants to do, or can we expect Manjaro to take a more commercial, more adult approach, and even become something that could one day appeal to non-Linux folks? That might not be the mission, and perhaps it will never happen, but I am always apprehensive around small distros, because changes can be painful and devastating, and as a user, you need to believe you have a solid, stable, long-term support behind you. This review cannot answer that, but at the very least, it gives you an indication what you can do with Manjaro 16.10 Xfce, if you feel like testing. Overall, 9.25/10 I would say, and it doesn't take much to up the score. Quite a surprise for this bleak year of distro testing, and a most refreshing change for this no less dreary autumn season. Surpassed my expectations and bitterness. Well worth a ride. Get it, fellas, get it.