I recently installed Linux on a couple of my friends' laptops. As they are not very knowledgeable about these things and just wanted something that worked out of the box, I decided to go with Manjaro. Specifically, I decided to try out Manjaro GNOME edition, since I’ve found KDE to be a bit cluttered for my taste. The experience is overall pretty decent, but there are a few things that could definitely be improved. This has nothing to do with app support, etc; it is soley about user experience when using the OS and desktop itself.
This is my very harsh critique of Manjaro. Please don’t get me wrong; I am a huge proponent of open source software and I love Linux and the GNU/Linux ecosystem. I think many distributions including Manjaro are doing a great job of making Linux more accessible to everyday users. The rest of this article might sound disproportionately harsh; I am merely trying to set a very high bar for us in the Linux developer community to look up to.
0. The Website
The Manjaro website is pretty decent, to be honest. However, it could be made a little simpler to understand for a newcomer. Imagine that you are completely new to Linux. You understand that an operating system is the lowest level of software that makes your computer run. However, you don’t know anything about how Linux works, what a desktop environment is, how to flash an ISO (or even what an ISO is to begin with), or how to get into BIOS and disable secure boot and fast boot, boot into the USB, etc. You have discovered that Manjaro is a free operating system that is fully open source and respects users' privacy.
Now, say you were to visit manjaro’s website. You’re interested in installing it, but you don’t know where to start. You make your way to the download section, and are presented with a few options. I think that this is unecessary; I understand that more advanced users would want a choice - but this just adds unecessary confusion for newcomers. I think a better approach would be to have a flagship desktop environment (probably GNOME or KDE) and dump the other environments on another page.
1. The ISO
Ok, so you’ve downloaded an ISO. However, you don’t really know what exactly to do with it. Now, of course there are thousands of tutorials online for how to flash an ISO, but I think Manjaro should provide its own for a few reasons:
- It is an unecessary inconvenience to go to another website to find a tutorial
- Some of these sites are more trustworthy than others, and I think it would be more comforting to have “proven” instructions that work.
- Many tutorials don’t work properly when run on different operating systems, which is why there is a need for standardization.
- There are so many tools to choose from, it can be daunting! Manjaro should recommend a tool.
- It’s not just about how to flash the ISO, but how to boot it as well. This is especially lacking in current distributions/tutorials.
2. The Installer
There are a few things wrong with the installer:
I have yet to come across a Linux distribution that (reliably) supports secure boot out of the box. This means not only the installed OS, but the installer as well should be secure boot compatible. The majority of people installing Linux as a secondary OS are doing so on a laptop that is probably running an OEM installation of Windows, most likely with secure boot enabled. Now I understand that this isn’t a very trivial task - but I think its possible. For instance, there are a couple of bootloaders available that have been signed with Microsoft’s key, including shim. This is far from ideal, but it’s better than nothing: the primary goal is to get the OS to boot without any BIOS/UEFI configuration.
There’s no bootsplash! It’s pretty trivial to get a bootsplash going; you can use Plymouth, or if you’re in the mood, even write your own simple boot splash system with some DRM/KMS code.
Specifically, Realtek. Come on, please. This has nothing to do with Manjaro in particular; it plagues all distros. The solution is simple: INCLUDE MORE REALTEK WIRELESS CARD DRIVERS OUT OF THE BOX. Most of them are cleanly licensed, so I don’t see the problem with adding them out of the box. They are relatively easy to install, and save the user hours of work in the (unfortunately not uncommon) scenario that the kernel’s built in drivers don’t work. Please. You can’t assume that the user will have an ethernet connection handy. Nor can you assume that they are able to use Android’s USB tethering feature (although this is quite handy).
Calamares Drive Detection
Calamares is a great installer. That said, I’ve had trouble with its drive
selection tool on multiple occasions. For instance, (I think) it filters out
drives that are too small to install Manjaro on, but I might be mistaken on
that. If it does, a warning such as “This drive doesn’t have enough space to
install Manjaro!” would be helpful. Also, I was trying to install onto a USB
stick the other day, and calamares didn’t detect the USB stick until I opened it
cfdisk and deleted all the existing partitions. This is unacceptable
for an otherwise fantastic install system.
Once installed, I proceeded to reboot into Manjaro to check it out.
Still no Bootsplash
Come on, Manjaro! The installer is one thing, but nobody wants to look at systemd’s boot logs. Add a bootsplash already!
Actually, Manjaro sometimes does this thing where it disables all logging, resulting in a black LCD screen while the OS is booting, which makes you think you broke your system. Not cool.
Time is Off
Yeah, I know. Windows does some hocus pocus with UTC vs localtime being stored on the motherboard’s hardware clock. But come on! I booted up and the system time was incorrect. This is downright unacceptable. Dual booting with Windows is a common enough use case; fix it already. If you can’t fix it, at least provide the user with clear, detailed documentation on how to go into Windows and fix the problem (I think I read somewhere that it can be fixed with some registry editing on Windows).
Other than that, everything is pretty nice. Great job, Manjaro team!
I should probably write another article on this, but I’ll mention it briefly here. TLDR: Pamac sucks, and OctoPi is worse.
The idea of a graphical package installation tool is NOT to provide buttons for accessing the package manager’s functions. Someone who wants to use the package manager as a package manager will probably find it more convenient to fire up a terminal and use the CLI interface.
The point, rather, is to provide a software center that allows the user to quickly and seamlessly install any application they might desire. Note that there are some clear differences:
- The Install button should immediately install the package, not add it to a list that has to be applied by clicking the Apply button.
- There is no need to list the literal name of the package (the one that’s lower case and hyphen separated). Freedesktop AppStream exists, and is a great way of collecting nicely formatted metadata about an application to display (such as title, description, and icon).
- Packages that provide tools or libraries rather than user facing applications should be separated and put in a secondary list to minimize confusion.
- The AUR is not optional. It is a fundamental building block of Arch-based distributions, and is one of the reasons Arch is so powerful. Making the AUR opt-in via a hidden preference menu, and listing it separately, is not very useful. Just tag applications as AUR in the list so the user knows that they are, but don’t make a big deal out of it.
- Search needs to be better. It’s not bad, but better search results in a nicer and faster experience for the user.
That’s it for now. These are just some of the first impressions I had with Manjaro GNOME. Again, please don’t take this the wrong way. Manjaro is a great distribution and still one of my best recommendations for people who are new to Linux. (I don’t recommend Ubuntu anymore for various reasons, I’ll write another article on this). But the little things like this are the last 10% of technicalities left to be addressed in Linux on desktop. We’re almost there, guys! Let’s not forget about the details. It’s these details that make the difference between the desktop Linux being pretty decent and exceptional!