I had a short but intense affair with Manjaro that ended in our going our separate ways. It was not I who ended what seemed to be a promising relationship, though. Obviously, Manjaro had had enough of me after only 4 days and left me cold. I’m still confused as to just what happened but I will recount my experiences as best as I can. The breakup is so fresh in my mind that it still stings to think about it for long but I shall endure the pain for you, Dear Reader.
Manjaro is a project that launched in mid-2011 with the goal of being new-user friendly while offering the many benefits of an Arch base and a rolling release model. Manjaro maintains their own repositories but users have access to the Arch User Repositories, which contain just about every single piece of software ever coded for the Linux platform. What a great idea, huh?
Manjaro is offered in “snapshots” from time to time. The current release is 15.12 “Capella”, which arrived for download on December 23rd, 2015. These are not hard and fast releases like you get from Ubuntu or Fedora. Manjaro is a rolling release, which means it is constantly updated. You can install it once and not have to worry about reloading it. All one must do is install the latest updates to be in step with where the project is at right now. This is quite attractive for those who don’t want to bother with periodic upgrades but it can cause problems. Rolling releases are prone to breaking as new versions of programs are introduced. Being on “The Cutting Edge” has its benefits but stability is not one of them.
JUST ONE MORE TRY….
I have been flirting with Manjaro for a long time now in Virtual Machines and I have, on occasion, actually put it on hardware to see how it would go… My experiences in the past have been disappointing but I decided to give it another shot. So many nice folks in the community were telling me about how wonderful it has become that I could no longer resist the shiny AUR (Arch User Repository), with all of its cool software. And the thought of never having to upgrade again does make one tend to ignore the risks of living out on The Cutting Edge.
I took the plunge last Saturday and downloaded a minimal install ISO of Manjaro Cinnamon, a community-supported spin. You can have lots of desktops on Manjaro but XFCE is the default. The first install attempt went surprisingly well on my all AMD Dell Inspiron and I was able to get everything updated with no issues.I also found and installed all the software I needed. So far, so good. I went ahead and tried it on my HP laptop, which is all Intel and runs most anything I throw at it. But that’s when the heartaches began. After taking all day on Sunday to set it up, I found the performance to be just terrible. It was slow, the fans ran all the time and it had difficulty playing video with anything close to a decent frame rate. Bummer. But, it seemed to be working well on the Dell desktop so I just reloaded the HP with Ubuntu MATE 16.04. I was happy to have it on just one machine. I chalked it up to hardware compatibility issues with the HP and left it at that.
Manjaro offers some really nice software and system Management tools. The XFCE version has a very nice implementation of that desktop environment but I chose to start with Cinnamon for sentimental reasons. I am a long- time Linux Mint fan and I really like the Cinnamon Desktop. I did find that the Manjaro/Cinnamon combination left something to be desired, though. There were no major issues but lots of little ones. The mouse pointer was funky and changed appearance and behavior when floating over certain applications. I changed its color to black in the Themes applet, only to find that it turned white when I used Google Chrome. Strangeness. Speaking of Themes, that app stopped working after just a couple of days and would no longer allow me to download new themes. Annoying. I enlarged the text a bit and found that it was being cut off in the menu search box. I could only see the top three-fourths of what I typed. The fonts were inconsistent from app to app and some were very tiny even though I had applied desktop scaling. This would be a major problem on a new high DPI display.
The Pamac package manager and updater is a nice application, indeed. It allows you to graphically install and remove software from both the main Majnaro repos and the AUR. I did take some time to learn more about using the pacman and yaourt commands to do the same things but most of my tinkering happened in Pamac. It happily alerts you if there are updates and will install them with just a couple of clicks. However, the build service provided for AUR programs is shaky and it worked most of the time but not all. There were a couple of occasions where I resorted to a terminal to install and build a package from the AUR.
The one thing I found disconcerting about Pamac was the fact that you could not search for a package easily by anything but its name. The app does break them down into logical groups but doesn’t accept anything other than all or part of a file name in the search. Comparing it to Synaptic Package Manager, which searches names and descriptions, I started to sort of miss Ubuntu.
The Manjaro Settings Manager gives you control over things like kernels and language packs. I used it to upgrade the Linux kernel from 4.1 to 4.4 with no problems at all and I installed all recommended language packs.
Manjaro uses a nifty Hardware Discovery Tool at installation to find and install drivers for your hardware at installation time. I did not have my HP printer turned on and didn’t get printer support so I had to install it manually. No big deal really. I just had to install the manjaro-printer-support package and restart the system to set the HP up.
If you’re using SSD’s, it is worth noting that Manjaro sets up continuous TRIM support on install by adding the ‘discard’ option to the drive partition mount commands in /etc/fstab. Having TRIM enabled all the time cuts performance for SSD’s. This is also a rather old way of doing this and these days it is more common to set up a cron job to run the fstrim command on a weekly or monthly basis. Ubuntu has been doing just that at least since 14.04 and it seems to be a good way of handling wear leveling for SSD’s. I was a little surprised to find that Manjaro was still doing it the old way. I elected to remove the ‘discard’ options in fstab and I planned on running fstrim manually or setting upa corn job later on.
It was at this point that I made my first YouTube video. If you care to watch it, you’ll hear the excitement in my voice. I do so love shiny new toys…
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Unfortunately, that’s where the fun ends because it was just two days later that the Cinnamon weirdness started to add tarnish to the shininess that had blinded me at first. It was also the less-than-stellar performance on my HP laptop that started me thinking about changing things up a bit. Maybe the grass was just a bit greener with Manjaro XFCE. My wife Cindy also complained about Cinnamon. She uses the Dell more than I do these days and she said that she wanted her MATE desktop experience back. Well, I could easily configure XFCE to look and act like I had configured Ubuntu MATE for her so that clinched it; I would re-install!
I downloaded Manjaro XFCE and went as far as to install it in a Virtual Machine before taking the time to put it on hardware. It worked just fine in the VM so I went ahead and burned a DVD. While it worked fine in the VM, it refused to install on the Dell at all. I tried all three installers and the issue was the same each time: The installer could not create partitions on my hard drives. I even went so far as to open Gparted to create said partitions in advance and still no dice. Same errors.
On closer inspection, I found that the installer was trashing the partition tables and creating tiny little partitions, not more than 1 GB in size. Strange. I decided to grab the original Manjaro Cinnamon installer I had used just a few days before and found it would no longer boot at all. It simply hung up with a blank screen and refused to do anything more. “What the?…”
At this point, I was fed up and had spent an hour just trying to get Manjaro re-installed. Looking at the clock, I decided that it was high time to throw in the towel, so I grabbed my Ubuntu MATE 16.04 installer and tried that. It worked flawlessly and I had the system back to where it was before Manjaro in no time at all. Now, before you Manjaro fans jump to write comments explaining to me what I did wrong and how I could have made it work with a few simple terminal commands, don’t bother. I’m sure I could have worked it out sooner or later but I didn’t have the time or energy to troubleshoot the problem nor did I want to.
You see, I have this crazy notion that things ought to work as advertised and I strictly budget my time when it comes to trying to make something work that isn’t. I’ll give anything an hour or so but after that, I’m going to be very inclined to move on and find an alternate solution. The four days I spent working with Manajro on this latest go-round were enough to tell me that it’s not for me… Yet.
Here’s the video I posted shortly after completing the re-install of Ubuntu MATE:
It is also worth noting that as soon as I started talking about Manjaro on YouTube I was flooded with comments from folks who complained of similar issues. They couldn’t boot the installer; the installer wouldn’t work. They couldn’t install updates; the system broke after updates were installed; the system didn’t work with their hardware; on and on it goes. This leads me to conclude that the Manjaro project has more work to do before I can recommend their distribution. There are obvious problems with hardware compatibility and long-term stability here. I do hope they get it fixed, though. I wanted so much to love Manjaro because it’s just such a damn good idea.
I hate to level any criticisms toward those who labor in the Open Source software world because they often do it for no money and little reward other than the satisfaction of making a contribution. That said, I also have this crazy notion that things ought to do what they say they will do on the can. Manjaro promises simplicity and ease of use but does not deliver, not for me, at least. I will continue to keep an eye on it but it will be a long time before I commit to installing it again.