I have been using Manjaro Linux almost continuously since 2014, starting with the excellently themed and configured OpenBox Community Edition. Since then, my appreciation for Manjaro has grown more and more to the point that I have come to trust it as my primary OS. It seems, judging by its recent rise in DistroWatch rankings, other desktop Linux users are also trusting it more, displacing previously top ranking corporate backed distributions in this list. Perhaps this rise is because Manjaro gives desktop GNU/Linux users such as myself what they want in a distribution -- an easy installation and automatic configuration of hardware, an abundance of software, software that is current, afforded by a rolling release model, but one that doesn't forsake reliability.
I started 2017 with Ubuntu 16.10 and openSUSE Tumbleweed as the two installations on the very limiting -- for multi-booting -- 128GB SSD in my Acer Laptop, later replacing Ubuntu with Manjaro. When I decided to install Manjaro's Deepin desktop in addition to the already installed Plasma and GNOME, and use Deepin's display manager to get the complete Deepin desktop experience, this installation suffered a setback in the form of any display manager not being able to launch any other desktops and escalated to related problems such that it wasn't usable without some repair. Instead of resolving the issue, I installed Manjaro over the openSUSE Tumbleweed installation. So at one point I had two Manjaro installations. Later I reinstalled openSUSE Tumbleweed over the first Manjaro installation. Eventually, I broke the openSUSE Tumbleweed installation, probably by not performing updates using the recommended
instead of the normal
and replaced it with Fedora.
In 2017 I also installed Deepin 15.4 and Kali Linux on the second much larger HD on the Acer, but I don't depend on these installations on the slower mechanical HD as my daily use distributions.
This experience in 2017 along with the distro hopping of recent years serves as a reference for the contention of this article -- that Manjaro is the best GNU/Linux of 2017 and may be the best of 2018 also.
Manjaro owes its excellence to its foundation: Arch Linux. Manjaro benefits from Arch's rolling release model satisfying users' need for current software, its vast selection of software in its repositories -- the selection augmented by the Arch User Repository. In many cases users don't have to resort to the AUR for software, one such example of a somewhat rare software available from regular repositories is the Kvantum Manager for the Kvantum theme engine. This is not available in openSUSE, Fedora, or Sabayon, but it is available in Manjaro's normal repositories. And when a piece of software is not available in the regular repositories, it is certainly available in the AUR, which while it might contain a small number of packages of low quality, is a great asset to Arch and derivatives that support it, providing all sorts of software not included in the regular repositories. For example, it includes all three update channels of Google Chrome, the beta and developer channels of the Opera Browser and corresponding Flash plugins, the beta and developer channels of Firefox, Spotify, and Skype. It seems that some of the high quality packages available in the AUR are packaged by the upstream developers themselves.
One notable piece of software I found especially helpful from the AUR is a patch to VMware installations to workaround any issues with each release.
Manjaro is not unique in building on the Arch base to provide some added benefit to its users, the primary added value being an easy installation of an Arch system. But unlike the many Arch derivatives, the most popular of which is Antergos, the Manjaro developers build on the excellent base, first by making it more reliable, mitigating the chance of breakage. They do this by using their own set of repositories instead of the Arch repositories. Packages are taken from Arch repositories and placed in Manjaro's unstable or testing repositories, and after some period of testing are moved to its stable repositories. This process, with the built-in delay between the time packages in Arch are updated and when these updates are available to Manjaro users, has been criticized by some as they believe that it delays critical security fixes from reaching Manjaro systems in a timely manner. But I think the delay is more beneficial than detrimental due to the generally enhanced stability. I also have the impression that the Manjaro developers are conscientious in dealing with critical security updates when they occur.
Manjaro makes a distribution that is not only more convenient for users with regard to installation compared to its parent but even more convenient and user friendly than distributions that are considered easy to install and require no configuration, such as Ubuntu, especially when it comes to proprietary graphics drivers. I mentioned in openSUSE Tumbleweed (Snapshot 20161204) Nvidia Hybrid Graphics, that openSUSE optional repositories and packages that easily configure Nvidia/Intel hybrid graphics after installation with minimal editing of configuration files. But Manjaro does this automatically during the installation, only requiring the user to select a preference between Free and Open Source drivers versus proprietary ones when booting the installation medium. This initial preference can be modified easily using Manjaro's tools and the configuration modified easily.
The Manjaro developed driver configuration utility, integrated into the KDE Plasma Settings, shown in the above screenshot, which is also integrated in Xfce's settings program -- although not as well, because Plasma provides better methods of for integrating external modules, exemplifies the effort put into making a polished distribution. This effort extends to the unofficial community editions created by passionate community developers that periodically distribute installation ISOs of some other common and uncommon desktops that are very well themed and configured.
On top of all of these benefits there is one relatively unique feature that Manjaro seems to have innovated and supported from its early days, namely the support for multiple kernel versions. This characteristic of Manjaro is substantial in that it adds to its dependability, the primary reason for choosing Manjaro as the best distribution. I experienced this dependability at some point in the past year when Manjaro and openSUSE Tumbleweed were the main distributions installed on the Acer's SSD, at the time both running the same kernel. After a kernel update broke the VMware installation on both installed distributions, I was able to select an older but still supported kernel on Manjaro and install it. Manjaro package and kernel management is so robust, it installs the same kernel modules as those that already exist at the corresponding version for the new kernel. openSUSE Tumbleweed, the distribution that I believe is technically superior to all other distributions, doesn't have this type of multiple version kernel support in its package infrastructure -- although the design of the system supports it, because if I understand openSUSE Chairman Brown correctly, the task of maintaining and testing multiple versions of the kernel would be to labor intensive for openSUSE's kernel team.
Also adding to its reliability is the conservatism in updating the kernel. Whereas in Arch and its purer derivatives and my other favored rolling distribution -- openSUSE Tumbleweed -- the kernel is not updated to a new kernel major version but only to a new kernel minor version. (openSUSE provides some sort of reliability with the advanced system enabled by default later in this post). This conservatism in kernel updates doesn't inconvenience users because I imagine most users only care about software availability and the currentness of the user software and not necessarily the kernel. But Manjaro users can, if they desire, install newer kernels as they become available, and also must remove kernel versions as they become unsupported.
Linux users that care about the availability of multiple kernel versions in a rolling distribution may be interested in knowing that Sabayon, another rolling distribution which is currently the second distribution on the Acer SSD, also supports multiple kernel versions and handles kernel updates the same way, although the necessary kernel modules that correspond to installed kernel versions are not installed automatically as in Manjaro such that the user is not even aware that these necessary kernel modules are being installed and configured.
At this point I should point out an misconceived view held by partisans of other rolling distributions that Arch and Arch based systems are inherently unstable and prone to breakage. While it is true that Arch requires users to be hands-on in the maintenance of their distribution, and that manual intervention is required on the order of two times per year -- in my experience and with the software I used when I used Arch -- it as not unreliable if maintained properly. The Arch system I installed using the method described in a previous post ran well for eighteen months. The Antergos installation described in an early review on this site, ran well for even longer. The true problem with Arch is some rare low quality package installed from the AUR, such as some obscure lua library required for some bit of eye candy for a Conky. And Manjaro, not requiring manual intervention is even more reliable than Arch, although the AUR danger applies.
The paladins of other rolling distributions that view their favored distribution as superior in reliability, instead of claiming more reliability, should point out the areas of true superiority of their distributions. In the case of openSUSE, a distribution backed by a corporation that provides large scale enterprise IT solutions, this is the innovation and the cutting edge tools. For example, the last time I installed openSUSE Tumbleweed, I noticed some part of the installer that indicates that it now supports the Trusted Platform Module, another first, as far as I know, for openSUSE in the world of Linux distributions. openSUSE provides the very impressive system rollback utility enabled by default, through the combination of
snapper and the
btrfs file system, managable through the also impressive and comprehensive YaST or command line tools.
Another area of weakness for Manjaro and other Arch based distributions that conform closely to Arch core design, understandable since these are developed by small teams of individuals not backed by a corporate sponsor, is the preference for simple tools as opposed to more complex -- but more capable -- tools. A case in point is the Dracut initramfs tool.
Even though I find Manjaro most dependable, and with its other characteristics, the best distribution for me, I do think it could be better in one area. This is that installing multiple desktop environments sometimes causes conflicts in packages if users desire the themes and settings provided by Manjaro DE specific installation ISOs. Not to mention the more serious problem with the Deepin Desktop provided by Manjaro mentioned earlier. Although I believe that this was a problem with Deepin desktop itself and its display manager, as I experienced a similar with Deepin Linux 15.4, in both cases I would not have seen this if I had not installed a second desktop environment.
When I posted my opinion of the lack of multiple version kernel support to Reddit, one commenter suggested I use different software for my virtualization needs. But why change the tools I use on a computer and the way I work, when there is an OS that is flexible enough to be adaptable to my needs. So, Manjaro provides me this flexibility and robustness, without requiring me to adapt to it, nearly all of the strengths of Arch (no ABS type system), plentiful and current software, a simple system that is easy to get the most out of, and convenient and easy installation with automatic configuration. In addition to these characteristics, but most important to me over the advanced tools that may be important to enterprise IT departments, is Manjaro's reliability and dependability. All of these characteristics make it, for me, the best distribution of 2017.