[Consideration] Is Manjaro the right distribution for you?

Manjaro is NOT suitable for absolute beginners

No, it’s not. And we — as the helpful community members of this forum — regularly have to explain this to the newcomers.

Or at least, if we get the chance, because it is not exactly unheard of that a vocal newbie throws it out there themselves in a fit of frustration — if not arrogance or entitlement, because there’s a lot of that going round as well.

So why is Manjaro not a distribution for absolute beginners?

1. Manjaro is a rolling-release distribution

This means that it must be kept up to date, whenever there are updates. For most part, Manjaro is curated, which means that the updates will be bundled together and pushed out on average twice a monthon average, because there are exceptions.

From time to time, there are also non-bundled updates, typically for packages that are fast-tracked in because of security considerations and/or urgent bug fixes. Examples of this are firefox, chromium, brave, and of course, the inevitable bug fixes to the pamac package manager, which is one of Manjaro’s halo components.

But Manjaro is not just a rolling-release distribution. :point_down:

2. Manjaro is based upon Arch

Arch is a fantastic distribution. It’s pretty robust — especially if you consider that it’s a rolling-release distro — as well as that it performs extremely well in comparison to other distributions.

Arch is fast and streamlined, and everything is well thought-out, all the way from the package management, over the general configuration, up to how everything works together. No convoluted, overlapping or even conflicting initialization scripts, as in some other distributions. Everything is neat, lean and tight.

Arch also has the best documentation out there in the GNU/Linux world. Even the Gentoo developers consult the Arch Wiki on things they’re not sure of, and I have seen this for myself, because I have monitored the Gentoo developer mailing list for many years.

But, Arch is high-maintenance, and due to Manjaro being based upon Arch, so is Manjaro. An Arch-based distribution requires…

  • a certain amount of prior experience with and knowledge of GNU/Linux;
  • a willingness to learn that which one doesn’t know or understand;
  • a willingness to keep the system up to date;
  • a willingness to engage in manual intervention, such as in the event that an update brings along .pacnew files, which must neither be ignored nor blindly copied over the existing configuration files; and…
  • an understanding that GNU/Linux is a UNIX-family operating system, and not something akin to Microsoft Windows, nor something intended as a substitute for Microsoft Windows;

3. Manjaro requires a commitment to monitoring the forum

For every bundled update, regardless whether it’s for the Stable branch, the Testing branch or the Unstable branch, and regardless whether it’s for the x86-64 architecture or for the aarch64 architecture, the Manjaro Team will always publish a dedicated announcement thread under the Announcements category.

  • The first post of this thread details the changes that the update brings.
  • The second post of this thread lists all of the potential problems, as well as how to solve them or work around them.

In addition to this, the forum itself also contains a search function, which almost nobody uses. Granted, it may not be obvious, because it’s not always as ostensibly visible. If you are not logged in, then it looks like this… :point_down:

However, if you are logged in, then all you get to see of the search function is this… :point_down:

But at least it’s there, and if people were to actually use it, then we wouldn’t be seeing dozens of threads about the same issue after a bundled update; an issue that in 99.99% of the cases was already talked about in the second post of the dedicated announcement thread — as already mentioned higher up — and if it wasn’t (due to oversight), then you can count on it already having been addressed farther down on the pertinent announcement thread.

So, for whom is Manjaro the right distribution, then?

In short, people who are interested in GNU/Linux, and concretely, in Manjaro. People who are willing to learn. People who are willing to do their homework. People who are willing to keep their distribution up to date. People who are willing to monitor the forum — and especially so, the Announcements threads — and who would also be willing to become active supporting members of this community.

Manjaro does have a lot to offer. It’s just as robust as Arch proper, but unlike Arch, it comes with a fairly user-friendly graphical installer and several graphical administration tools, as well as a couple of Manjaro-specific command-line tools.

So in comparison to Arch proper, you are being spoiled in Manjaro. But you must be willing to commit, and you must be willing to get your hands dirty.

For whom is Manjaro NOT the right distribution?

1. People looking for a “set & forget” distribution

They will be much better off with one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of fixed-point-release distributions.

2. People who really want to use Microsoft Windows but don’t want to pay for it

GNU/Linux is a UNIX-family operating system, not a Windows-like system.

Yes, there is such a thing as wine — and various iterations thereof — but wine is a translation layer that aims to translate Windows application binary calls into UNIX-style binary calls, insofar as these Windows application binary calls are not infringing upon the security and stability of the underlying UNIX-style operating system, such as by trying to make direct calls onto the hardware.

UNIX was designed as a secure multi-user operating system on and for machines that filled up an entire wall in a large room, while Windows was originally merely a graphical user interface and a memory extender for a single-user operating system without a network connection, with no security, no memory protection or privilege separation, and no built-in ability for multitasking.

It was only much later that Windows got ported to a more powerful kernel — essentially a modified version of the kernel of the VMS operating system — albeit that this more powerful kernel on the one hand and the Windows environment on the other hand were actually completely incompatible, given the huge difference in their respective origins. And therefore, the multi-user functionality and security subsystem in Windows were only bolted on as afterthoughts, and still largely work that way underneath that smooth-looking graphical user interface that hides everything.

So if you are emotionally wedded to certain “I can’t live without this” Windows applications, then whether these applications will work in GNU/Linux or not is a matter of hit-and-miss. And, given that Microsoft Windows was and still is a proprietary platform for an equally entirely proprietary and financial-economic market, they will most likely be proprietary software. So you don’t even know what these applications are doing behind your back.

But yes, despite the humongous offering of Free & Open Source Software that does the same thing as those proprietary software titles, some people do still prefer to stick with their proprietary software.

3. Absolute newcomers to GNU/Linux

If is often said — and wrongfully so — that GNU/Linux has a steep learning curve. The truth of the matter however is that its learning curve is no steeper than that of Microsoft Windows for someone who has never seen a computer from up close.

As the matter of fact, GNU/Linux — and even UNIX in general — is much more logical and much easier to understand than Microsoft Windows with its (for the user) arcane underpinnings and its expensive-sounding and flashy marketing vernacular. GNU/Linux doesn’t hide anything from you — on the contrary, you are invited to take a closer look at everything.

But… Years of conditioning and indoctrination into the Microsoft way of thinking will inevitably get in your way when you’re new to GNU/Linux. Most of what you’ve learned about computers while in the Windows ecosystem will really only apply to that Windows ecosystem. So if you’re locked into the Microsoft paradigm, then I’m afraid GNU/Linux will only disappoint you.

4. People who want a household kitchen sink appliance

If you’re really only interested in using a computer for going on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok or Netflix, and/or you’re a die-hard hardcore gamer, then GNU/Linux is not for you, and then Manjaro in particular certainly won’t be, for all the reasons already listed higher up in this essay.

Know thyself… and thy priorities.