Why Ubuntu is not the best Desktop distro?


Wanting to switch to Linux at home or work, people usually install Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora, sometimes even Debian. And they vainly don’t try Manjaro Linux – in my opinion, this distribution is more convenient than Ubuntu (which is already de facto Default Linux), and even more convenient than Mint.

Manjaro – a more user-friendly alternative to Arch Linux (just like Ubuntu – a derivative of Debian), is crafted by the European Manjaro Team. Manjaro has almost the same system structure as Arch, but with some features that make it much closer to the average end-user.

Rolling release

Manjaro has its repositories that are fully compatible with the usual Arch’s “pacman,” but their content policy can hardly be called a rolling release. Package updates do not appear here regularly, like releases in Arch, but in batches. For example, I am on a testing branch, and system updates arrive every 3-7 days, not counting security updates. At the same time, the packages in each update are consistent with each other. It isn’t such that the updated program requires a version that is not already in the system, or that the dependencies are updated before the programs.

Such “semi-rolling” combines the constant freshness of software with the stability of the system. I have almost 2000 packages installed in Manjaro KDE (more than 40 of them are from AUR), and the system has been living on the test branch for over 5 years without a single glitch. It is also worth saying that Manjaro avoids duplication of functionality in the system using one of all available implementations. For instance, the whole system is focused on systemd. The sysvinit is not supported.

No need to mess with repos

What I especially like about Arch-like distributions is trouble-free package sources. Both in Ubuntu and in Mint, lots of software, especially proprietary or not very popular, or just fresh, are only in third-party repos such as PPA. They must be connected, and during the upgrade, things might go south. Sometimes you have to download and install packages manually like in Windows, especially if you want something fresher than deb-stable.

In Manjaro, there are official repositories with lots of desktop software (since the distribution itself is crafted more for desktop users). There is AUR (an Acrh-like, so to speak, a single PPA), and there is Snap (the software repository promoted by Canonical) – and that’s it. So simple!

Simplicity in daily use

Manjaro, in my opinion, is the first Linux distribution that you can use without opening a terminal. Even Mint and Ubuntu periodically require to dig into the terminal for something low-level (not frequently, though). All system functions like configuring hardware and system are implemented in the GUI. The Nvidia video driver can be installed at the touch of a button, and it works like a charm.

Locales and even kernel versions are also easily installed, including a realtime branch and an unstable core from a git. All the necessary third-party kernel modules, from any proprietary drivers to ZFS, are ready-made in the main repositories.

Focus on Desktop users

Manjaro maintainers are not shy about rolling back changes to repositories. On the test branch, I sometimes notice the downgrade of different packages. The previous screenshot shows that I have the Nvidia driver for branch 440, although 430, 418, and others are also available. Just in 440 and above, Nvidia broke something in CUDA, users began to complain, and the maintainers rolled back the driver to fix upstream. The same downgrades are frequently happening with systemd and other packages. However, these fluctuations do not get to the stable branch, but packages there stay much longer from the update standpoint. Update happens once a month or even less frequently (not including, of course, security updates).

As a result of a desktop-oriented mindset – Manjaro is collected only with who architectures, with the well-known x86-64 and ARM. Some roll on Raspberry Pi, since KDE has humble resource-consumption and performance.

A few final thoughts

Manjaro used to be purely a group of enthusiasts, but recently they have acquired a legal entity and regular sponsors such as Blue Systems, which is also the main sponsor of KDE. It looks encouraging.

Manjaro uses the universal Calamares installer, and it has a stupid flaw – if you add non-English layout during installation, then after the reboot you will not be able to enter the password (because it is always has to be in latin letters). Do not forget to add the English layout during installation.

I also observe frequent problems with Nvidia hybrid graphics on laptops. People either do not set drivers correctly and then they fly off after an update. Although Nvidia’s Optimus in itself is an old headache on Linux, it seems that in Manjaro 19.0, they promise unconditional support for PRIME, likewise in Mint. Let’s see what happens. Cheers!