There are a bunch of new Arch-based distributions emerging lately. All feature graphical installers—something that Arch Linux does not—and each has its own custom desktop modifications. But that’s about it. In fact, the landscape is starting to look a lot like the Ubuntu-derivative scene, with different wallpapers, icons, and default apps.
The natural comparison to these distros is Manjaro. But there is no comparison. Not only is Manjaro the best Arch-based distribution, but it’s also in the running for the best Linux distro.
Let’s go over some of Manjaro’s differentiating strengths, milestones, and accolades.
1. Polished Desktops
The best thing about Manjaro is the sublime treatment of its desktop environments. This distribution respects each desktop for what it is rather than trying to morph them into something else or making its own in-house.
Starting with Manjaro’s flagship offering, we have KDE Plasma. It has often been said that openSUSE does KDE best, but outside KDE Neon itself, that honor might go to Manjaro these days. Changes to stock KDE are minimal and include a twilight theme with teal accents and double-click to open/launch.
It doesn’t stop at KDE, Manjaro’s treatment of XFCE is one of the best implementations of that desktop as well. It offers a clean, elegant Windows XP-era layout for older, under-powered systems for those who want no-frills, screaming-fast performance.
It seems like there are innumerable GNOME distros, each with its own take on how the desktop environment should look and behave. While Manjaro recognizes the need to customize GNOME, it keeps the default customizations to the bare minimum needed to improve desktop usability.
2. Graphical Wizards
Sure, Manjaro has a graphical installer and pre-configured desktop environments, but it also offers graphical wizards for post-installation tasks.
The Manjaro Settings Manager is a clutch for handling kernel updates, especially for those new to Arch.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Manjaro Hello welcome screen and support hub, which is geared towards average computer users.
The Layouts tool for the GNOME edition offers a selection of optional layouts, including vanilla GNOME, a Windows-like layout, and another that combines the Material Shell with automatic window tiling.
3. A Time-Tested Linux Distribution
Unlike its current Arch-based rivals, which have only been around for a few years, Manjaro is approaching the decade mark.
And it’s already survived one round of Arch-based distro competition. Back when Manjaro was new, it wasn’t the only distribution seeking to make Arch user friendly. Ever heard of Chakra Linux? While now defunct, at the time, Chakra was widely thought to be the Arch-based distro to beat.
Being around this long makes Manjaro a safer bet than newer distros with a little history and no indication of what to expect in the future.
After nearly a decade, Manjaro has amassed a large following and healthy user base.
While not the most scientific measure, the distribution has consistently ranked among the top five on DistroWatch’s Page Hit Ranking for seven years running. Manjaro’s Twitter account has dozens of times more followers than its Arch-based rivals, and its dedicated subreddit stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Fedora and Debian.
All of this popularity translates to users, and more users mean more testing, more forum help, and more tutorials being written. This, in turn, makes the distribution more approachable than less popular Arch-based distros.
You typically don’t associate Arch distros with stability, but Manjaro is likely the most solid you’ll find.
While often chided by the Arch faithful, Manjaro uses its own repos, which are typically weeks behind Arch. However, this extra time allows testers the opportunity to encounter bugs or conflicts before end-users.
Manjaro also ships ISOs with the latest LTS kernel, rather than the absolute latest kernel. This also adds to the distribution’s stability over other Arch-based distros. Of course, users are always free to update the kernel post-installation with the aforementioned graphical wizard.
When Ubuntu was confronted with making Debian user friendly, the issue was speeding up software updates. Manjaro has the opposite issue with Arch and is handling it appropriately.
Manjaro ships on actual hardware that people pay money for!
Star Labs and TUXEDO Computers both offer units with Manjaro pre-installed. While these companies might not have the same cache as brands like Dell, HP, and Lenovo, no other Arch-based distro has crossed this milestone.
Manjaro is the only operating system offered by TUXEDO Computers other than its own in-house Tuxedo OS (based on Ubuntu with KDE Plasma).
While Star Labs offers a variety of Linux distros, Manjaro is listed alongside distributions known to be user friendly and is notably the only non-Debian derivative of the bunch.
Meanwhile, Manjaro ARM serves as the default distribution of the PineBook Pro laptop.
Manjaro is available on phones, too! Manjaro Linux with KDE Plasma Mobile is one of three shipping operating systems for the PinePhone, and the default for the PinePhone Pro.
Not only has Manjaro achieved the goal of shipping on actual hardware, but it has also accomplished a dream that nearly sunk Ubuntu: convergence.
If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the PinePhone Pro and its docking station. Much like the Steam Deck’s docking station, it plugs the phone into a monitor, keyboard, and mouse to turn your phone into a PC.
8. Recommended by Valve
Possibly the best recommendation to receive, other than from Linus Torvalds himself, would be from Gabe Newell (AKA “Gaben”) and the folks at Valve.
That’s right, the makers of Steam officially recommend Manjaro KDE as the target platform for developers who don’t have access to an actual Steam Deck. Valve considers Manjaro the most similar existing distro to its new Arch-based SteamOS 3.0.
10 years ago, when Valve launched its ill-fated Steam Machine initiative, they chose a Debian base for SteamOS. Ubuntu, being the most polished and user-friendly Debian-based distro around at the time, accumulated a lot of Linux gamers as a result. Let’s see if Manjaro has similar luck with Steam Deck.
Is Manjaro the Best Arch-Based Linux Distro?
As far as Arch-based distributions go, Manjaro has no equal. Its biggest competition is Arch itself, distributions with heavy corporate backing such as Fedora and Ubuntu, and user-friendly distros like elementary OS, Linux Mint, and Pop!_OS.
Although Manjaro is still not a great recommendation to someone completely new to Linux, its user-friendly polish, relatively long history, popularity, shipping hardware, and a nod from Valve make it a truly remarkable Linux distribution.
To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world: I don’t always use an Arch-based distro, but when I do, I prefer Manjaro.
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