Hands-on with Manjaro Linux 0.8.11

Manjaro is an increasingly popular Arch Linux derivative. I decided to try it, and I got a very nice UEFI surprise!
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

It's the beginning of a new year, so I think it is a good time to venture outside of my "comfort zone" and try a completely new and different Linux distribution. In particular, one which is not a derivative of any of my usual selections (Debian/Fedora/openSuSE).

I have heard a lot of good things about Manjaro Linux, most importantly that it is one of the easiest Arch Linux derivatives to install, so I decided to give that a try.

If you are not familiar with Manjaro Linux (or Arch Linux), there are a couple of things you need to understand before we go on. Arch Linux is well known in the Linux community, with a reputation of being compact, fast, flexible, and very well maintained and supported by a dedicated community.

It is also generally considered to require an experienced Linux user at least on the installation and maintenance level, because there is not a lot of time and effort invested in making user-friendly GUI tools for lots of things that experienced Linux admins consider 'trivial' and which can be handled from the command line interface in a very short time.

Manjaro Linux is derived from Arch Linux, with the objective of making the distribution a bit more user friendly in packaging and support.

There is a good overview of the origin and purpose in the Manjaro Wiki, specifically in the About Manjaro section. By the way, the Manjaro Wiki is one of the best I have seen in a while, and it seems to be kept very current with new releases and updates of the distribution.

The current release of Manjaro is 0.8.11, released on December 1, 2014. There have been several updates since then, most recently the fourth update released on January 4, 2015. The ISO files can be downloaded from the Sourceforge Manjaro Linux page. I found this page just a bit confusing at first, so I have included a screen shot of it here (see below).

The Sourceforge Manjaro Linux Download page.

If you click the 'latest version' link, what you will get is the minimal LXQt version, which is a great system to build on, but is likely to leave the average user (or beginner) scratching their head wondering what to do next. Fortunately, there are a lot of other versions available, you just have to click on the release folder, and then on the 0.8.11 folder. There you will finally see the Xfce, KDE, and netinstall folders. Each of those contains a 32-bit (i686) and 64-bit (x86_64) image, and the associated md5sum files and package lists.

The ISO file sizes range from about 475MB (32-bit netinstall) to about 1.6GB (64-bit KDE), so you can choose based on your wants, needs, and equipment. For those who still long for a Linux distribution which fits on one CD-R disk, the netinstall version fits the bill, and the brand-new LXQt version does too, coming in at about 635MB. Burning ISO images to disk is one of my least favorite activities, so I was pleased to see that these ISO images can be copied directly to a USB stick (using dd on Linux, or ImageWriter on Linux or Windows).

I have been fighting with UEFI-firmware systems and Linux installation for quite some time now, and I have learned the hard way not to get my hopes up in this area. For example, Kali Linux made a new release last year which was said to have "preliminary UEFI support". It didn't work at all on any of my UEFI systems. Then KaOS made a release just at the end of the year, again with "early UEFI support". Again it didn't work on any of my UEFI systems. So to be honest, I don't go looking for announcements of UEFI support any more. I just figure I'll download and try it, and if a miracle happens I will see it soon enough.

So you can imagine my surprise when I did nothing at all special, I just downloaded the ISO image, dd to a USB stick, plug that into one of my Acer Aspire (UEFI firmware) systems... and it booted! Whoa! I just about fell out of my chair!

So then I went back to the Manjaro Wiki, and found their excellent description of BIOS end UEFI. This is a really good summary of dealing with UEFI firmware from a Linux developer's point of view. It's a bit long on conspiracy theory for my taste - when considering UEFI issues I tend more toward Hanlon's razor - but what it says about the realities of dealing with UEFI-firmware systems, and the advice it gives for getting around problems, is really excellent.

What I have determined from the Manjaro Wiki and from my own tests on several UEFI-firmware systems is that with Secure Boot disabled, the Manjaro Linux ISO images boot and install, including installing and configuration the grub2-efi bootloader, with no problems. As I have said many times before, however, every UEFI implementation is different, so your results may vary. Of course, the ISO image boots just fine with Legacy Boot enabled on UEFI systems, and on MBR/BIOS systems.

Manjaro Linux Xfce Live Desktop
My first installation was the Manjaro Xfce (64-bit) distribution. Here you can see the Live desktop, without the Removable Devices icons. There are desktop icons and menu Favorites for two different installers, one GUI- and one CLI-based. The CLI installer itself also has two different versions, one old and very stable, and one new and still in development. I have only used the GUI installer so far, and I have had no trouble with it, on either UEFI or MBR systems. Of course, you can also use this Live system to check the overall compatibility and performance of Manjaro on your system before deciding to install it to the hard drive.
Manjaro KDE Live Desktop
The Xfce version installed so easily, and looked so good, that I decided to go ahead and install the KDE version on another computer. I got out my Asus R513C, which is a 15-inch screen, quad-core CPU laptop, also with UEFI boot.

Manjaro KDE Live booted on that with no problems, and the KDE Plasma Live desktop makes for an interesting comparison with the Xfce desktop. It's probably not a fair comparison, since the Xfce desktop and icons could hardly be more bland, and the KDE desktop and icons are quite colorful and pleasing.

The differences in the selection of applications and packages included in the two different versions is also interesting. The KDE version stays much closer to the standard KDE Software Collection, so it doesn't include things like Firefox, Thunderbird, and LibreOffice, and the Xfce version is a bit more 'adventurous' and includes GIMP and Steam.

Web Browserkonqueror
OfficeCalligra SuiteLibreOffice
Music PlayerJuKGuayadeque
Video PlayerVLC
Dragon Player
Photo Managementdigikam---
Image Editor---GIMP
NetworkNetwork Manager
Network Manager
Software Management
OctopiPackage Manager

The current Manjaro installation images include Linux kernel 3.16.x. But there are actually a variety of kernels available, all you have to do is go into the Software Manager, and if you want to run the 3.18 kernel, search for linux318. Install that, reboot, and as of today you'll be running 3.18.1. If you want to see what kernels are available, search for linux3, and you'll get the current list. The oldest I see is 3.10, but not every version from there to 3.18 is included.

My Acer Aspire E11 is well known for having a cranky Broadcom 43142 wi-fi card, so I decided to see how much trouble that was to get working. It wasn't any trouble at all. Again, go to the Software Manager and search for broadcom-wl. Scan through the list that comes up, and select the driver version that matches the kernel you are running - 316 is the default at this time, or whatever you have updated to. I am running 3.18 on that system, so I selected linux318-broadcom-wl, let it install and then rebooted, and the wifi is working perfectly.

There is a similar situation with the Asus laptop, although its Atheros AR9485 wifi adapter is supported with a FOSS driver, to get it working I've had to copy the file asus_nb_wmi.conf into the directory /etc/modprobe.d on every Linux distribution I have installed on it so far. (I discussed this in my original post about installing Linux on the Asus.) This was still the case with the Linux 3.16 kernel which is initially installed with Manjaro, but when I subsequently installed the 3.18 kernel, I found that the wi-fi works without that file. Hooray!

In addition to the Xfce and KDE distributions which I have discussed here, Manjaro also has a netinstall distribution, which includes the base Linux installation and command-line access, but no GUI or desktop preinstalled, and essentially no other preinstalled software. This can then be used as a base for someone who wants to 'build' their own Linux system.

In addition to those three 'official' versions, there are a variety of 'community' releases, with different purposes and different desktops, configurations, and targets. The ISO images are also available from Sourceforge; simply follow the community folder (rather than release). A new Gnome version was announced while I have been writing this; there is also an LXQt version, which is basically the netinstall version with a minimal GUI desktop and utilities added, so that you don't have to follow the procedure detailed in the Manjaro Wiki. There are also Cinnamon, MATE, LXDE, Openbox, Fluxbox and Enlightenment community versions available.

OK, it's summary time. I'm pleased and impressed: installing Manjaro was easier than I expected. Not only was it easier to install than some of the other distributions I have tried recently, but it is also UEFI-compatible, only requiring that UEFI Secure Boot be disabled.

The applications and packages included are a good selection, pretty much appropriate for the general intent or most common use of their respective desktops, and of course the software repositories contain all sorts of other things which are not included in the base distributions, so if something you want is missing after installation, you are almost certainly going to be able to install it with very little effort.

I have installed Manjaro on six of my systems: three Xfce and three KDE, four of them are UEFI firmware systems, the other two are MBR boot, and a couple of them have some sort of hardware that has been troublesome with other distributions. Every one of them installed with no problem, and the troublesome hardware was handled with minimal effort.

If you have been looking for a reasonably easy entry into the Arch Linux family of distributions, I can certainly recommend Manjaro based on my experience so far. But beyond that, if you are just looking for a good Linux distribution that installs easily and works well, I can recommend Manjaro for that as well.

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