Updated: March 19, 2018
My relationship with Manjaro is somewhat complicated. Much like MX Linux, it started seeped in trouble, supported by understanding, love and kindness ... NOT ... from the community. Regardless, I felt there was something in the distro worth the tender caress from the users, and over time, it has grown better, more refined. Much like MX Linux. Both starred in my end-of-the-year distro round session.
Manjaro has a new version out - 17.1.6 Hakoila. Which means I should be testing, again. I chose the Plasma edition, because Plasma has been on a roll recently, plus my old Nvidia-powered LG RD510 laptop, currently dual-booting two instances of Linux. Now, ere you forget, Manjaro is based on Arch, and Arch is like a bouncing anti-personnel mine, best left in the hands of professionals. Hands - get it? 'Tis a military joke, right. High five. Anyway, let's see if this wunderkid can deliver.
The distro launched without problems. The boot menu lets you customize several options, including the choice of the video driver. I opted for nonfree (Nvidia) over free (Nouveau). The boot sequence was all text, and there was no Nvidia splash, but the system came up just fine with the proprietary driver loaded into memory. This is something we saw with Mageia 6, and it's a lovely thing.
Now, Manjaro 17.1.6 Hakoila comes with Plasma 5.12.2, which is the state-of-art version of the KDE desktop environment, apologies for acronym redundancy, and its own custom theme, focused on green and dark gray colors. Is this the best choice? Well, more on that later.
Average. Wireless works fine - and no more double prompt for password, yay! This is one of the many bugs and issues that I've raised over the past couple of years working and testing Plasma, and one of the many usability problems and glitches being tackled by the Plasma/neon team. Then, another thing I noticed is that if you log out and log back in, the Wireless will not reconnect - worth checking if this is a transient niggle in the live session only.
However, Samba sharing - and consequently, printing - did not work, at all. We will discuss this separately when we install the distro. Wireless printing is fine.
Look & feel
Not bad, but I think it can be better. The color choice, to begin with. The widget button is placed in the left corner, clashing with the desktop icons. The font is too pale, of course, but this is a KDE problem, as even Breeze does not have the right contrast. Plasma wise, still no panel height and Spectacle creates giant shadows in screenshots. Dolphin did not allow resizing the sidebar in the live session. Kate changes the order of documents, always placing the active one on the left - that's visually confusing. However, the desktop is very pretty, very inviting, and a pleasure to use. Lots of cool, semi-pro tricks everywhere.
Not bad. Both MP3 and HD video. Good.
I turns out there are TWO installers - the Calamares one, which is a familiar beast, and then this thing called Architect. What. Well, Architect seems to be a text-driven wizard. Why is there a need for this, pray? Anyway, Calamares was fast, faster than ever before.
You have the usual setup - with correct distro identifiers, this one's fast too. Keyboard and language wise, you will hit a problem if you choose a language with more than one regional option. English is the best example. I selected English (US) as my installer language, but then a different dialect (lang/locale) was selected based on the timezone. There's a reason why I chose the language I did. I don't need the Google trick, where it defaults to whatever region you're in.
The distro loaded with the Nvidia driver - similar to what we saw in Antergos, but then this other system, which also happens to be Arch-based, has a wizard that allows you to customize software installation, and Manjaro does not have that. Anyway, Nvidia, very nice. On the other hand, no other setting was preserved, not even the Wireless credentials.
More on network support
So, like I said, no Wireless was imported. Okay. The reconnect issue remains. It's not just the logout. Any new session, even after a reboot, is affected. Manjaro 17.1.6 Plasma refused to reconnect. If you do it manually, it works, and it does not ask for the password again. Weird.
Samba sharing remains broken after updates - see below. But then I discovered that a crucial package is missing. As I expected, the distro has python-pysmbc but NOT python2-pysmbc. Install this second one, and then you'll have Samba working. Such a small yet cruel mistake.
Bluetooth worked - but the setup wizard threw a bogus error on how the pairing failed, even though it worked just fine, and I was able to send files to the phone. All in all, there's a lot of stuff that needs improvement in this regard.
Well, this is going to be complicated, so take a deep breath. First, Octopi - the GUI frontend worked just fine. Fast and reliable, and I was able to install programs without issues, and also handle dependency conflicts, like for instance Papirus and Maia icon themes, which seemingly cannot coexist.
However, the update functionality was tricky. I managed to update the system just fine, but then it started to wonk. The Wireless applet lost some of its letters. The letter g in Kate (text editor) would remain partially cropped until pressing Enter and creating a new line. Log out and log back in would take almost two minutes, during which time I was left staring at a black screen showing a mouse cursor. So the updates seem to be disruptive. Killing the X server with the classic desktop keyboard combo helped, but I actually had to fully restart the distro to get the desktop to behave. Even then, some artifacts remain. More to follow.
Manjaro 17.1.6 comes with a colorful set of programs. Firefox, Thunderbird, qBitTorrent, Cantata, VLC, LibreOffice, Steam (installed by default, wicked), and then some. Reasonable and practical, although there are some programs that could probably have been omitted. All in all, it's a good and balanced set.
I wanted to install additional programs - I mentioned this in my SwagArch review. Chrome and Skype. Well, you need the AUR repos, and you can also install the Yaourt frontend (CLI and GUI) to easily manage packages from this source. The Manjaro package manager has the one-liner for this, so once you grab it, then next step is to download and build it, and then install the software you want.
BTW, I had to do this this way, because going through the Tools sub-menu, I got an error that I could not run Octopi with admin credentials, whatever this means. It was the same window where I selected programs and installed them, and each time, it would pop up a prompt for password. So whatever.
Now, after installing yaourt, I tried using it, and it worked fine. You are asked some confusion questions, but then, if you click your way through successfully, Yaourt will download and extract DEB packages and then re-assemble them into the Arch format, and properly configure them for you. I tried both Chrome and Skype, and both worked. Nice.
==> Edit google-chrome.install ? [Y/n] ("A" to abort)
Please add $VISUAL to your environment variables
export VISUAL="vim" (in ~/.bashrc)
(replace vim with your favorite editor)
==> Edit google-chrome.install with: octopi
==> Continue building google-chrome ? [Y/n]
==> Leaving fakeroot environment.
==> Finished making: google-chrome 65.0.3325.146-1 (Sat 10 Mar 18:39:21 GMT 2018)
==> Cleaning up...
==> Exporting google-chrome to /var/cache/pacman/pkg/ directory
[sudo] password for roger:
'/tmp/yaourt-tmp-roger/PKGDEST.Xq8/google-chrome-65.0.3325.146-1-x86_64... -> '/var/cache/pacman/pkg/google-chrome-65.0.3325.146-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.xz'
==> Continue installing google-chrome ? [Y/n]
==> [v]iew package contents [c]heck package with namcap
looking for conflicting packages...
Packages (1) google-chrome-65.0.3325.146-1
Total Installed Size: 179.50 MiB
:: Proceed with installation? [Y/n] y
(1/1) checking keys in keyring [###################] 100%
(1/1) checking package integrity [###################] 100%
Microsoft Office Online!
What, you ask. I must be dreaming - narrate Sean Connery in Goldfinger style. There, in the menu, under the Office section, you get all them Microsoft programs listed! And they come up as proper applications, too. Well, isolated single-page Webkit applications, but applications nonetheless. And you can pin them to the task manager and everything. Blimey awesome!
I explored this some more - and learned that this is a new effort by the Manjaro team, based on a framework called JAK. Now, in parallel to writing this review, I reached out to the distro's powers that be, and hopefully we shall have a separate, follow-up article, because this is dog's bollocks. One of the most important features to be included in any which distro ever. The simple reality is, 90% of people in this world use Windows and Microsoft Office, and excluding them from the Linux equation is denial and unnecessary self-sacrifice. This is a step into the pro waters big time, and I am surprised and delighted.
Proper stuff. You launch the apps, you sign in online, and there you have. You have your Microsoft Office Online, and even Skype. Not only that, you also get the correct white background in Word, which is something that I complained about, and even mentioned how to fix with a few easy CSS tricks. Well, the Manjaro folks have taken care of this, so another bonus point. Really, this is superb.
Multimedia playback, more
Well, Cantata seems like a broken program. You get this long explanation regarding groups and users and whatnot. Really? Not interested. The simple result is, it showed no songs, and it didn't play anything. Redundant when you have VLC - the new one, no less.
Not good, I'm afraid. Both Windows Phone and Android were properly mounted, but the MTP thingie would die quite often, and I wasn't able to play any songs from either phone. It's not just Windows and NTFS and whatnot, but also Android, which is usually the easiest to handle. Then, iPhone wise, nothing. Nada.
Well, in addition to all of the above. There were no special problems or hiccups. No suspend with Nvidia graphics on this laptop in AHCI mode, only IDE, but more on that separately. This is a generic Linux issue that hasn't been solved since at least 2009. Webcam works fine. You also have a dedicated utility for proprietary drivers.
Not too frugal. About 900 MB on idle on this laptop, but we cannot compare this to other machines, as they have different hardware. However, the CPU was relatively quiet, about 4-5% tops, and for a 2009 machine, this is quite all right, especially since most other distros tested here easily did twice that without doing anything. The performance was reasonable, the responsiveness okay - not the best in the Plasma bunch, don't know why, and all in all, a solid record, but we've seen a few more stellar players.
BTW, you get the nice CPU graph, as outlined in the Plasma 5.12 release notes. Didn't have this in neon.
Manjaro has its own (limited) settings menu, which I find odd - as with any small distro that tries to use its own control panel, and often falls short of a generic, multi-purpose tool. But you can integrate that into the Plasma panel, although you need to install a separate package. Not bad, except it could be a default.
All in all, Manjaro Hakoila is fairly pretty - I didn't have to invest too much effort changing things. I edited the Breeze theme to make my fonts black, I changed the workspace theme to Breeze, but kept the Manjaro one for the desktop, fiddled a little with icons and kept the original set - even though Gnome-screenshot has no component in either Breeze or Papirus. Why?
Before we finish, let's discuss some of the issues that I saw. The most notable one is that the menu would stop responding to mouse clicks every now and then. Not sure what the reason is, but I was forced to restart my session when this occurred, and we talked about this being slow and annoying.
Then, on session resume, I'd have Yakuake pop up - not interested, and Compositor settings. What. In the end, I did disable the compositor, this did make the desktop a little faster, and hopefully, that in combination with the full reboot session, I expect no more niggles around basic desktop usage. But it wasn't a seamless test, and there were just too many issues with the desktop functionality, especially after the updates. That's not how it's supposed to be, and rolling distros need to be triply careful around not breaking things.
And then, there were a few other odd things:
Also, if you try to mount internal volumes (hard disks and/or partitions), even if you click only once, Dolphin will complain that the filesystem is already mounted rather than accessing it. So you waste time seeing both a bogus error and navigating to the right path. Why? Especially since this does NOT happen in KDE neon, also installed on this same box, with the same Plasma framework.
Wow, there could not be a more bi-polar distro than Manjaro Hakoila. On one hand, it's the state-of-art, bleeding-edge tech demonstrator with some rather brilliant and unique features, belying its Archy roots. On the other, it's rife with bugs and problems that are typical of small distros and badly integrated products. The network and smartphone side of things are particularly bad. You cannot excuse pale fonts or the menu error either, and then, if you've actually read a review, there were a dozen different issues through my test session.
That said, Manjaro 17.1.6 is pretty, inviting, elegant, largely robust and stable, fast enough on ancient hardware, it gives you Nvidia support out of the box, it gives you media goodies, it gives you the Microsoft Office access right there on your desktop, and it's got charm and character that goes beyond the bland copypasta you get elsewhere in the Linux world.
And then, I got meself thinking. I tried a few small but reasonably brilliant distros recently - Manjaro, MX Linux, Antergos. They all have unique, powerful features, all covering different angles. Imagine if they combined their efforts - MX Linux live session data import and its tools, Antergos software wizard, Manjaro office stuff. What a killer distro we could have then! But that's an article for a different time.
Back to Manjaro - I am actually liking this particular edition quite a lot. It's far from perfect, but then, with some hard work and attention to details, this could be an excellent choice for a desktop system. Perhaps more than any other distro did in recent times. Of course, there's still a huge amount of effort needed to make this a fully integrated, offline-online Windows competitor, but it's making steady progress, and I like that. A sure sign of greatness to come. Grade wise, about 7.5/10, just watch out for the buggy parts. And I will extend the testing onto my UEFI-powered Lenovo G50 laptop. Take care.