Arch Linux vs. Manjaro: Differences Between Them Explained

Arch Linux vs. Manjaro: Differences Between Them Explained

This article delves deeply into the Arch vs. Manjaro topic and helps you choose which one is the best option for you.

One of the most significant advantages, but at the same time confusing for novice Linux users, is its vast diversity. There are hundreds of distributions to choose from, and it might be challenging to choose one.

However, some Linux distros stand out from the crowd. Because of their proven reliability, they have gained popularity and many supporters and are often used to compare which one is better.

This is precisely the case with Arch vs. Manjaro – two leading Linux distros with undeniable qualities, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

This article will explain the main benefits and drawbacks while comparing them. Based on this information, you can decide which of the two distros is the best for your case. But first, let’s give each of them a short introduction.

What is Arch Linux?

Arch Linux

Arch Linux is an independently developed Linux distribution that strives to provide the latest stable versions of most software by following a rolling release model.

With over 20 years of experience, Arch is one of the Linux distributions that has made significant contributions to the Linux world as we know it today. In other words, Arch, along with other titans such as Debian and Red Hat, is one of the major Linux distributions that have shaped the Linux world.

Knowing that Arch is one of the original Linux distributions is essential. This means that it was developed from scratch and is not based on previous work. In addition, Arch uses its package system and its in-house developed package manager, Pacman.

Using a minimalist approach (KISS, Keep it Simple, Stupid), Arch provides users with a base system they can build on and shape according to their views, needs, and preferences.

What is Manjaro?

Manjaro Linux

Manjaro is a desktop-oriented operating system based on Arch Linux. It focuses on user-friendliness as the system is designed to work entirely straight out of the box with its variety of preinstalled software.

With its initial release in 2011, built on the foundation of Arch Linux, for the last ten years, Manjaro has established itself as one of the best desktop and user-friendly distributions.

By integrating in-house developed tools that make the management of the Manjaro system point-and-click, as well as those that automate the detection of hardware and the installation of relevant drivers for it, Manjaro makes the complexity of Arch transparent to the end user.

And it has done so to such an extent that it has won the hearts of countless devoted supporters, reaching the level of an equal contender with names like Ubuntu and Fedora in the Linux desktop segment.

Arch vs. Manjaro

We will look at and compare some of the most critical aspects of each distribution to assist you in deciding which of the two is better for you. First, of course, we begin with the installation.

Installation

Before we compare the installation approaches of the two distributions, let’s make things more transparent using the two screens shown below.

Running the Manjaro installation, you get this:

Manjaro Installer

The Arch Linux installer offers the following:

Arch Linux Installer

Yes, I know. Everyone’s initial thought is that there is no room for comparison between Manjaro’s beautiful graphical and intuitive installer and the command line on Arch’s terminal, which expects you to start typing commands to install it.

And much of the truth about the difference between Arch and Manjaro lies in that first impression. Manjaro is intended for Linux users that want to get started right away. Arch is for those who want to learn or build on their Linux experience immediately.

The myth of Arch’s “difficult” installation is, in fact, highly exaggerated. Once you’ve mastered and, more crucially, understood the steps, you’ll be able to install a completely functional Arch system with any graphical desktop environment in 20-30 minutes. Here is a guide on the subject: “How to Install Arch Linux: Beginner’s Step-by-Step Installation Guide.”

Of course, Arch provides archinstall, a script designed to automate and simplify the installation procedure, but I advise you to skip this “facilitation” if you’re going Arch’s way.

Back on topic: Arch vs. Manjaro – installation. We would say that Manjaro’s installation is comparable to any other leading desktop Linux distro, such as Ubuntu or Fedora. So, even a novice Linux user would have no difficulty getting to grips with it.

On the other side, Arch puts down the gauntlet, but if you accept the challenge, you’ll have learned as much about Linux in a day as you would in months using another ready-to-use Linux distribution.

Finally, and most crucially, Manjaro is the undisputed winner in terms of installation simplicity. However, Arch’s terminal-based installation approach provides something precious: near-limitless flexibility and control.

In other words, you can install only your preferred applications or graphical environment, resulting in a Linux system fully suited to your preferences, views, and needs.

Software

For software updates, both Arch and Manjaro adopt the rolling release model. This means you must install once and can keep updating without having to perform a major upgrade between versions or reinstall everything from scratch when a new version is released.

Furthermore, the rolling release model allows you always to use the most recent and up-to-date versions of software packages, which both distributions benefit from.

Packages in Arch Linux typically begin their lifecycle in the Testing repository to be tested for stability and then moved to the main distribution Stable’s repos.

Manjaro expands on this model by taking packages from Arch’s repositories and putting them in Manjaro’s Unstable repo, which is synchronized with Arch package releases several times daily.

The software gets tested there and then passes to the Manjaro Testing repo for final testing. Finally, the packets are moved to Manjaro’s stable repository after passing the final tests.

Manjaro's Packages Path

As a result of additional testing by Manjaro, final stable versions of packages are often available several weeks later than for Arch users.

Therefore, in theory, all of this additional testing should result in a more stable operating system than Arch. In practice, however, such a claim is untrue.

Arch has a huge user and developer community, and its packages are pretty stable. Allowing me to speak from my 10+ years of experience with Arch, I can certainly say that the quality of software offered by Arch is top-notch, and I can’t recall a single case where it was the cause of a system crash.

So, based on what has been mentioned thus far, what is the answer to the question “Arch vs. Manjaro – which OS is more stable?” The only rational explanation is that both distributions are similarly stable, providing software with minimal potential issues.

The AUR (Arch User Repository), however, is what differentiates Arch from Manjaro. Indeed, AUR differentiates Arch from any other Linux distribution. It is a treasure trove of tens of thousands of software packages maintained by the Arch community, and you can find almost anything there.

Of course, the packages in AUR, which are maintained voluntarily by Arch users worldwide, cannot guarantee the same level of stability as those in official repositories. As a result, the Manjaro developers say they do not provide support for issues caused by using packages from Arch’s AUR repository.

And, because it is based on Arch Linux, Manjaro is compatible with AUR, and its users can use the packages there as they see fit.

We’ll wrap up the software part with one area where Manjaro excels Arch: automatically recognizing hardware and installing the correct drivers, especially on the GPU side.

As we all know, video drivers and their easy installation have always been crucial in tipping the scales in favor of one distribution. And in this case, Manjaro has made things as simple as possible for users by making it fully transparent for them to recognize the GPU you’re using and automatically install the required drivers for a seamless video experience.

Manjaro Settings Manager

Of course, all necessary drivers, whether open source or proprietary, are available in the Arch repositories; however, installing them in Arch necessitates a better understanding of the user’s hardware and a reference to the Arch documentation for the exact driver model to install.

Package Management

Pacman is one of the characteristics that separates Arch from all other distributions. Together with APT and DNF, they are the three fundamental package managers on which nearly the whole Linux world is built today.

And, as you might expect, because Manjaro is based on Arch, it also utilizes Pacman for its package management.

To make things as simple as possible for its users, the Manjaro devs built their in-house GUI tool, Pamac, which allows you to search, install, and update the software on your Manjaro system with the click of a mouse.

Pamac Pacman GUI

In addition, other Pacman frontends, such as Octopi or tcPacman, can also be used for this purpose. Of course, any of these can be installed in Manjaro and Arch. We have an article on the topic that you might find helpful: “3 Best GUI Pacman Frontends for Arch Linux-Based Distributions.”

Despite the apparent convenience of Pacman frontends, I believe that at least a basic understanding and proficiency in Pacman is essential. So, again, our “How to Install, Remove, and Update Software on Arch Linux” guide will come in handy.

If you use Arch, it is assumed that you are somewhat familiar with Pacman. Manjaro users, on the other hand, can avoid the investment of time and effort in learning those skills, which may have resulted in an inability to deal with the system in a critical situation at some point.

So, which approach to software management is better, Arch or Manjaro? If we’re talking about ease, Manjaro is the winner. But I believe that Arch’s approach, in which Pacman is the default and GUI is optional, is better than Manjaro’s approach, in which things are reversed.

Given that both distributions provide identical software management options, we can conclude that the only criterion here is yourself. You should choose the one you like based on your understanding and views.

Desktop Environments

Given that both Arch and Manjaro are generally desktop-focused distributions, the flexibility to install and use various desktop environments is essential. But, again, we have two completely different approaches, and I will say that Arch is the winner. Let me explain why.

As previously said, Arch gives you a base installation over which you can build each aspect based on your needs and preferences. In other words, you’ll be given a blank canvas on which to create your one-of-a-kind painting.

Of course, any desktop environment possible is available and ready to install in the Arch repositories. You want to be able to have multiple desktop environments at the same time – no problem. Install them on your Arch system.

Things with Manjaro, however, are a bit different. It is available in three official editions: Plasma, Xfce, and GNOME. You must download and install the corresponding edition to use a specific desktop environment.

Furthermore, other desktop environments, including Budgie, Cinnamon, MATE, and others, are available as community editions.

Of course, nothing can stop you from downloading the Manjaro Plasma edition, installing GNOME on top of it, and then removing the Plasma desktop environment. However, I would not presume to guarantee that the final result will be as you expect.

Furthermore, one of the main advantages of Arch is that it provides desktop environments that are as clean and close to its vanilla version as possible without imposing its views on additional integrated features, themes, icons, widgets, panels, color schemes, and so on.

It is entirely up to you how your desktop environment should appear visually. In other words, your workstation, your vision, your rules.

At the very least, you may be the type of user that dislikes outside interference and prefers to receive the vanilla version of the desktop environment as it came from the upstream provider.

With that stated, I don’t want to diminish the efforts of the Manjaro developers in redesigning the desktop environments that users receive – it looks excellent. However, user preferences are pretty individual.

Because of this, the freedom, flexibility, and cleanliness that Arch provides in this regard make it the winner in the Arch vs. Manjaro – desktop environments topic.

Documentation and Community

Documentation is critical for any Linux distribution. It also provides users with help and technical instruction on how to work with the distribution, manage it, and deal with any technical issues that may emerge.

Things are certainly in Arch’s favor here. It’s not even about Arch vs. Manjaro or which documentation is better. The truth is that any Linux distribution’s documentation would lose to Arch’s.

The Arch documentation has long outlived its strictly distro-specific purpose and has become a Bible for Linux users. I mean, users of various Linux distributions frequently consult it to solve various problems.

Do you not believe it? Try googling some technical detail about Linux. The Arch documentation will likely be one of the links on the first page. This is not a coincidence.

It offers thousands of topics that go into great technical detail and solutions for almost every aspect of Linux. In most cases, this information also applies to any Linux distribution.

Of course, we are not dismissing Manjaro’s documentation, but it is virtually exclusively distro-specific, with less volume and far less going deep into technical detail and possible solutions.

We can claim that both distributions enjoy many dedicated supporters in the community. As a result, you can expect an adequate response and help when seeking advice in the Arch or Manjaro forums.

Now is the time to mention one specific detail. On the Internet, you may come across comments claiming that some Arch users, based on their supposedly good technical backgrounds, sometimes allow themselves to be toxic in their attitude towards Arch newcomers.

However, my personal experience and communication over the years confirm no such thing. The Arch community is fantastic and large, and you can count on the outstretched hand beyond the jokey catchphrase, “BTW, I Use Arch.”

Conclusion

So we get to the final part of this article, where we must answer the main question, Arch vs. Manjaro – which of the two should we choose? While they are built on the same foundation, the two distributions have diametrically opposing approaches and understandings of the end product their users receive.

Manjaro is all on ease and full functionality right out of the box. In comparison, Arch is focused on limitless possibilities and giving users complete control and knowledge.

To decide whether Arch or Manjaro is a good fit and the right path to take, ask yourself one simple question: “Do I want to use it right now, without extra hassles, or do I want to use it by building on my knowledge?

In other words, Manjaro is the distribution you are looking for if you just want a smooth-running and stable Arch-based Linux distro that installs with a few mouse clicks, and then you can use it without having to dive into the command line frequently.

On the other hand, Arch is the way to go if you are willing to get your hands dirty to improve your Linux skills. You will know that everything is entirely under your control and that every element of your Linux system is how you want it to look and function.

I am also obliged to mention something based on my observations. So here’s the deal – if you start with Manjaro, you will almost certainly try Arch at some point in your Linux journey. However, the opposite is not always true because once you’ve experienced Arch’s possibilities, you’ll be hard-pressed to settle for anything less.

That brings us to the end of our article, and we hope it was helpful to you in the Arch vs. Manjaro topic. We’d love to hear your thoughts and views in the comments section.

Bobby Borisov
Bobby Borisov

Bobby is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, Bobby has worked as a Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

One comment

  1. Been an Arch user for the past 10 years or so. Recently switched to Manjaro, because 1) all linuces are the same once one reaches certain level of proficiency 2) Better integrated KDE 3) easier to deploy for users and desktop is more stable.

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