Updated: December 4, 2020
Here we go. Ze testing continueth. For variety's sake, I decided to take a temporary break from the Ubuntu flavors and try something different. Looking about, Manjaro Linux 20 seems like an interesting choice. Over the years, I found Manjaro to be slowly and steadily improving, despite having to maintain multiple desktop environments, and despite the ultra-geeky nature of its creation. But hey, results, that's what matters.
So, today, I'm going to give Manjaro 20 Mikah a try. Plasma edition - as opposed to Gnome one I tried with the previous release. My usual multi-boot test laptop, my unusual new approach to distro wranglings, less time and patience for errors, more focus on the purest of usability factors and my own fun. Let's see how it went.
The boot sequence was colorfully non-uniform. But at least it has some style. Plasma 5.19.5 only, so you don't get to enjoy the wonders of Plasma 5.20, but Manjaro being a rolling release, we'll see - if it merits further testing that is - what gives after a full update. The fonts are rough - and too pale. The official Breath2 theme has grayer (paler) fonts than Breeze. The Welcome screen uses its own theme. The default Show desktop button is the annoying scatter-windows-to-corners one and not minimize-all as you'd expect, but at least you can change this through Show alternatives option rather than having to unpin the widget and add a new one.
I didn't spend too much time in the live session. It looked okay - but I did change to Breeze - and it was fast, and there were no major bugs, so I continued with the installation. As always, Calamares spent time searching for some module, go figure. The partition discovery step was quick - no labels. You get to choose what office suite you want. Then, the slideshow - lo-rest stuff, basically they look like embedded presentation slideshow screenshots that don't render well on various screen resolutions.
The installation setup was faster than most other distros - about 15-20 minutes. The keyboard froze a few times during the process, so no typey typey, and Kate crashed. Overall, I was able to use the system, and I must say, the Samba performance was top notch. Local like, cor.
Let's get the party started
Boot, colors, text, everything - no Wireless settings preserved, meh. I did a few things in parallel. First, I let the system update itself. Second, I began my customization, which felt necessary, primarily because the font setup is not good. Third, I played with various tools and options to see what gives.
This wasn't ideal - the most annoying thing was the fact some of the pinned icons refused to move to where I wanted them positioned on the panel. In particular, Steam and LibreOffice would simply not cooperate. All the other icons did just fine. I remember this bug from Plasma 5.12 on my Slimbook Pro2 and Kubuntu 18.04. Why should it manifest two years later and nibble on my worn soul? Ah well, that's the unbearable lightness of being in the Tux world.
Rogue One, Rogue Two - the naughty icons what wouldn't budge:
Sorting things out, slowly:
Not ideal - in the sense that Cantata didn't do what I expected right away. Right-click play file, nothing. It did scan my library and properly shown all the different titles, but no music came forth. I had to manually re-select the specific song title before aurals happened. VLC, on the other hand, had no such qualms, but it didn't cooperate well with Samba playback, for the same reasons like Kubuntu 20.10. Credentials and buffer size.
A sizable arsenal, but then, the Manjaro ISO is beefy too. You do get a lot of nice software, including but not limited to Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice (my selection in the installer), VLC, Cantata, Konversation, Okular, plus tons of utilities. Some of these tools aren't really useful. For instance, the software token thingie still throws weird errors that serve no purpose. We've seen this in the past, and the issue remains.
Like that song El Condor Pasa, except it's El Manjaro Pasa: I surely would, if I only could:
While running the update and playing with fonts - boom, the system froze. I was able to switch to a virtual console, and there I tried all sorts of tricks with plasmashell and kwin, but to no avail. I didn't force-boot as the update continued running in the background, and knowing how fragile rolling distros can be, I let the process complete.
After reboot ... Plasma 5.20
The update worked fine, despite the desktop freeze, and now I had the glorious Plasma 5.20. A few things did annoy me - the digital clock reverted to its default config (shows date), Kate lost its recent documents list, and Spectacle has a non-optimal order of screenshot types - full screen, rectangle, active window, whereas previously, it had all screens, full screen, active window, rectangle ... Muscle memory FTW.
However, other than that, it looked nice and pretty. The icon sorting issue is gone. No bugs or crashes. The desktop is speedy, elegant, with excellent response. Resource usage is low: about 480 MB memory at idle, and CPU utilization of about 1.5%. Quiet and fast.
At the end of the day, an okay desktop:
Manjaro remains a bi-polar distro. On one hand, it's a unique project, with unique features, its own identity, true and independent effort to be a first-class system, constant improvement, and a level of quality that is starting to approach serious pro stuff. On the other hand, it's plagued with totally random issues that have no place in a wider-reach user-facing product. Nerds be nerds, fine, but ordinary folks cannot and will not do any trickery to get things working and running.
That said, Manjaro Linux 20.1.2 Mikah plus Plasma delivers a reasonable desktop experience. Considering my newfound extra-jaded approach and significantly less tolerance than what I used to dedicate to reviews in the past, this is a pretty solid result. Overall, you get a lot of goodies. My one fear is - how long will the awesome last before it gets ruined by some unnecessary bug? Can Manjaro go only up from here?
So far, looking at the range of distros released in the last several months, Mikah is one of the more successful contenders. Now, looking back several years, there were and are better and stronger and smarter choices for the average user out there, but when the sky is all gray and gloomy, a ray of sunshine on the horizon means a lot. Well, I hope the Manjaro team can turn this effort in a meaningful and long-lasting endeavor that delivers a seamless experience. We're not there yet of course - better application management, more robust updates and fewer nerd-in-the-middle stuff must be satisfied. That said, in the current Tux landscape, Manjaro 20 is a fairly solid offering. And I go back to my cave and its stalagmites of shed tears.