Manjaro - user friendly for various degrees of user friendliness

Recently I switched to Linux. At first I used Linux Mint but it’s philosophy that there shouldn’t be dist-upgrade but a clean install every six months was not very comforting. Then I heard about Manjaro in an episode of Going Linux about Sonar GNU/Linux. Sonar is a distribution which is specialized for disabled people and they just switched from some distribution to Manjaro. In the episode I heard phrases like “Manjaro does for Arch what Ubuntu does for Debian”. Quite a claim. And since Arch is a rolling release and thus I didn’t have to worry about dist-upgrades anymore and Manjaro is based on Arch but in user-friendly, I gave it a try. Right on the frontpage of the Manjaro-website they boast there is the following sentence in big fat letters:

"Professional and user friendly Linux at its best."

Sounds great, so I tried it for a short time and my laptop worked with it fine. Thus I decided to abandon the Mint-install and switch to Manjaro and stay with it. I do not want to waste time with switching distributions, even so it is tempting.

Unfortunately Manjaro is user friendly for various degrees of user friendly. Let’s compare it to other distributions, I would call user friendly like Mint or Ubuntu[footnote]Ok, Mint is based on Ubuntu, so well…[/footnote]. I installed Mint and everything worked out of the box. I connected my external hard drives and could read and write to them, I connected my secondary display and in contrast to OS X it directly detected the correct resolution, if I needed some software, I could usually find a deb-package except Gnome Shell, stuff like i3 worked like I would expect it from the manual etc.

Then I started to install Manjaro. I know that it does not yet have reached the state of a 1.0 but it boasts to be user friendly. The graphical installer couldn’t be used by me because when I chose English as UI-language, I couldn’t choose a German locale. Thus I used the command line-based installer which is menu-driven. It worked but I needed the help of Google to set it all up with an encrypted hard drive. I ended up with an XFCe-desktop like I expected. Then I installed Gnome3 because that is actually the desktop I wanted to use and missed from Mint. That worked but suddenly the splash-screen was messy and when I switched to the TTYs I could see parts of the splash screens. The only way I could get rid of it, was to edit my grub-file, thus the splash-screen doesn’t show up anymore.

I tried using the graphical install-tool called Pamac which also supports AUR. AUR are the Arch User Repository. As far as I understand it there are official repositories but those have not a lot of software. So users can add new software via the AUR and with the package manager of Arch, you can easily install them. Unfortunately Pamac had quite often the problem that when I tried to install more than one package from the AUR or had to install dependencies, then it usually stopped working. But I could never got it fail consistently enough to write a bug report. Henceforth I abandoned it and started using the command-line tool called pacman. And learned how to use AURs. Later I found out about yaourt and packer which made my life easier. But really user-friendly is something else.

For more fun: I just learned about how to remove orphans with pacman in manjaro and it just removed git from my system.

Next thing: I installed vim. And when I installed it, it was quite a recent version, nothing like the old stuff Mint gives you (350 patches behind or so). There I had to compile my vim from hand to get something fairly recent. When I opened the first time a markdown-file my vim gave me errors that it is not compiled with python. Thus I had to google and found out that I have to install gvim because the vim-version just gives you a watered-down version and only gvim is compiled with (probably nearly) everything possible. Why? An Ubuntu or CentOS have for example various vim-packages like vim-tiny, vim, vim-gnome etc. So you can quite easily see what you get. I just wondered why my vim won’t work with python and had to google again. Please Manjaro, be friendlier to the user and tell her straight what she gets.

When I wanted to dip my foot into i3, I found a meta-package called i3. I thought that this is great and easily installed. Then I started i3, pushed win+d which should call up dmenu and nothing happened. I really wondered what the problem is. Searched the i3-manual and yes, that should call up dmenu. Well, dmenu wasn’t installed. The i3-meta package handles dmenu as optional because it isn’t required to install dmenu to run i3, even so the i3-user manual on the i3-website prominently speaks about dmenu. When you offer something like a meta-package, you shouldn’t offer a piece of software that is mentioned in the manual of that software only as an optional install but just install it. I didn’t install i3-wm, I installed i3. Yes, I oversaw that dmenu is optional but it shouldn’t be optional in the i3-package but should be included.

When I installed Openbox, it was pretty barebones, too. I expected the full experience since there is a Manjaro-edition with Openbox but nope, not really. And I cannot even find packages that give me a decent configuration.

After installing Gnome 3 I had to set up by myself that the laptop suspends when the lid gets closed. It is configured correctly in XFCe, so why don’t they apply configurations like this to other desktop environments as well?

My secondary display is not detected correctly and shows the same problem as in OS X. Now I have to figure out, how I get it to work in 1280x768 :(

But my absolute favorite is how Manjaro handles external hard drives. I have several disks that are formatted with ext4 and several with HFS+. When I connected the ext4-disks in Mint, I could just use them. Manjaro mounts them by default with user root and group root and the permissions that only they can write to them. Asking in the forums just led to what I could find easily: change by hand on the command line owner and permissions. I know that I can configure it somehow with udev and udisks. But why do I have to? Manjaro claims to be user friendly. It should work as a user expects it who comes from user friendly distributions or beware from Windows or OS X.

I do not expect behavior like that what I described above from Arch or Gentoo. Those distributions are not aiming to be user friendly in my opinion. But Manjaro states that it is. Thus the distribution developers/maintainers should think about the needs of true users. Right now Manjaro is like Arch but at least you have a ready available desktop environment and some applications after installing it. That makes it a bit more user friendly but it is far from user friendly.

I really like Manjaro. It is some work and I have to tinker and learn more about my system. And things work mostly the way I want them to work[footnote]There are some pieces of software I cannot get to work but I had the same problem on Mint with other pieces of software like Gnome 3.[/footnote] but I would not dare for example to install it on the laptop of my brother-in-law who asked to install Linux instead of Windows on his new used laptop. There I installed Ubuntu since I know from several non-technical persons that they have no real problems with it and could fix their problems easily. With Manjaro, well, I do not waste my time on more inner-family-support calls. But I will keep it on my laptop.

Niels Kobschätzki @nielsk