I've been using Manjaro for the last two years on a cheap Samsung laptop (generic intel i5 with iris graphics, 16GB memory and an ssd) that I bought when my mac book pro died weeks before Apple's usual update cycle. Last year I got a nice M1 mac book pro again for work but for over a year, I used this laptop as my daily driver. These days, I keep it around for light gaming, browsing, and as a travel laptop.
Manjaro was my first experience with the Arch linux ecosystem and my main reason for picking it over Arch itself was that bootstrapping Arch basically amounts to a ~500 step Howto that involves piecing together an enormous amount of details. It's fun but time consuming and definitely not something you can let a non technical user do. Manjaro is nicer but I would not recommend it to people unable to use a command line environment. This is not a distribution for people that are not very hands on with that. I actually like it this way but you have to be honest about things like this.
At the time I installed Manjaro, Arch did not have a usable installer yet and one of the non trivial steps that I got stuck on was configuring bootloaders and disk encryption. I tried it and gave up. Manjaro has a nice installer that does this for you. Since then, Arch now bundles an installer that makes this somewhat easier. It's still a hurdle.
When I got the laptop, I had a client meeting scheduled the next day and I needed a working laptop in a hurry. I got up and running in around four hours. And when I say up and running, I mean I had a working laptop, with my IDE installed, docker up and running, slack and a few other communication tools, etc. I started installing at 7pm and had everything set up before 23:00. With zero experience with Manjaro.
Things I like with Manjaro:
- rolling updates and fast access to latest everything. I ended up installing yay to make updates easier and this seems to work fine. I've been doing this for two years and the process seems very robust. Crucially, Manjaro repos include Yay so installing and upgrading it with pacman is easy. With Arch, you have to build your own package from the git repo. If you are not familiar, Yay is a wrapper around pacman that makes installing / upgrading whatever packages or custom packages a breeze. Just yay whatever and it does it's thing. Or "yay" to upgrade everything.
- Modern desktop with wayland and gnome. You can run whatever of course but this is vaguely a default and well supported. Just worked for me. Wayland is still controversial for some but it seems to work fine for me. X is there too if you need / prefer that.
- Kernel updates via their manjaro settings tool. Every few weeks, I click the latest kernel, install it, reboot and if the system comes up fine (which it generally does), I uninstall the previous kernel. You can also pick LTS kernels and a real time variant. The vanilla linux kernel seems fine however and generally I'm running the latest within days of Linus Torvalds releasing one. That means I get the latest driver tweaks, fixes, etc.
- If you are into gaming, Valve uses arch for their own gaming console and installing Steam on Manjaro is therefore super easy. Just worked for me. Most of my gaming catalog just works on it and proton seems to work well enough with my games with very few exceptions. And having the latest kernel means you generally get the best possible support and performance at any time.
- Between native packages, custom packages, snap, flatpak, and docker, you can run just about anything that you need for work these days. I have Skype, Webex, MS Teams, Slack, Skype installed and a bunch of development tools like VS Code. If it exists for Linux, Manjaro can run it.
- I went with BTRFS and Manjaro wrapped the installer with some scripts that sets up file system snapshots around installation updates. So, if you mess up, you can roll back easily. Nice. I've had to do this once and it was easy to figure out. I'm by no means an expert on this and this is my first time using this file system.
- Things like video card drivers don't require extra work and I've had those from day 1. Of course with Intel there isn't a whole lot on this front. You can go oss only but most users would probably prefer to have the right drivers. Also things like opencl and vulkan work without hassle.
- Part of the reason that Arch / Manjaro is so stable is that their philosophy is that OSS software is packaged and run as-is. There are no kernel patches that they maintain. They don't tweak upstream source code to customize it any more than strictly needed. The packaging is minimalist and straightforward. I like it that way. Things like Ubuntu, Red Hat, and others add months/years of latency to upstream changes and I find their tweaking/testing/integration is just lipstick on a pig generally that removes more value than it adds. I don't miss it. The Arch attitude is that upstream developers know what they are doing and they just pass through whatever gets tagged as stable. My experience is that this actually works great. Manjaro adds a few days lag to this process. Which seems enough for most big issues to be sorted out before they hit my laptop.
Things I don't like:
- Manjaro has their own repositories and they are gate keeping changes from upstream Arch packages. So, there's a bit of lag with updates and as far as I can tell there isn't a whole lot of value being added to the vast majority of those packages. If I installed from scratch, I'd probably use Arch this time despite this being a bit more hassle.
- There is the occasional weirdness that comes with cutting edge. I had some issues with intel sound drivers for example. I got it working in the end with a kernel update and some level of trial and error. But this had me mystified for a bit. Likewise, I had some weird keyboard issues at some point and this too was fixed via a kernel update. Issues like this are rare but when they happen, you are going to have to piece together solutions.
- Disk encryption works out of the box but the way it is setup is super slow on boot. Basically takes two minutes or so for it to get going. After it loads, it's fine. It should be possible to do better than this but I haven't spent the time to figure out how. If you are not comfortable messing with bootloaders (which I'm not), you kind of get stuck with the defaults.
None of this is blocking me; and these are minor annoyances.