When you first switch to Linux, you’ll probably hear about certain distros first. Ubuntu has long been one, given its widespread use around the world. Many people will recommend starting with Ubuntu and leaving it at that.
But Manjaro is another option that you are more and more likely to come across. This distro takes Arch Linux (a DIY version of Linux) and turns it into an out-of-the-box desktop that’s easy to install and learn. So why would you consider Manjaro over Ubuntu?
1. The freedom and flexibility of Arch Linux
Manjaro has its roots in an existing version of Linux known as Arch Linux. Arch Linux is well known for being one of the most flexible and least restrictive ways to use Linux. The project takes very few decisions for you, allowing you to assemble your own Linux desktop using the components you choose.
Manjaro is, in a nutshell, Arch Linux where many decisions have been made for you. When you download Manjaro, you get a pre-selected desktop environment as well as a suite of pre-installed applications. Yet under the hood, Manjaro is still primarily Arch Linux. While not every guide you’ll find online regarding Arch Linux will apply to Manjaro, the majority will.
You can customize Ubuntu, of course. It gives leagues more freedom than you find on Windows or macOS. But making certain changes to your Ubuntu desktop is likely to break things or require more technical knowledge and effort than it’s worth, compared to just using an Arch-based distro like Manjaro.
2. No Default Desktop Environment
Ubuntu comes in several flavors, but the default version comes with the GNOME desktop environment. This is the main desktop that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, pays developers to contribute and support. Other desktop environments, such as KDE Plasma and Xfce, can run just fine on Ubuntu, but they feel a bit like second-class citizens.
Manjaro does not offer a single officially sanctioned option. Instead, there are three official versions on the Manjaro download page: a KDE desktop, an Xfce desktop, and a GNOME desktop. These three editions receive what appears to be an equal measure of attention and finish.
Both Ubuntu and Manjaro are available in many community developed variants. Yet, if you compare the number of Ubuntu releases available on Ubuntu’s website with the number on Manjaro’s, the number is still a bit smaller.
Ubuntu is backed by Canonical, one of the largest companies invested in the development of free and open source software. Although Canonical is small compared to Red Hat (now a subsidiary of IBM), Canonical still operates at a similar level.
During Ubuntu’s early years, Canonical’s main efforts were to create a viable mainstream desktop. Now the company is focusing on enterprise customers, with the desktop only mentioned in passing on the Ubuntu.com homepage.
Manjaro comes from a small team dedicated to delivering the Manjaro desktop. The project was actually community-run for nearly a decade before a corporation was formed, in part to manage legal contracts and form business partnerships. This helped Manjaro become available preinstalled on more hardware, including various laptops and the PinePhone. So if supporting a company sounds more like a jerk than a pro to your ears, then Manjaro might be more your speed.
4. An easier introduction to Linux
If you’re an absolute newcomer to Linux, Manjaro’s website will help you get where you’re going much faster than Ubuntu’s. There is very little jargon on the page, language that only makes sense to developers or others operating in the corporate world. Manjaro also makes fewer assumptions about your technical knowledge. The download page explains why there are different versions and helps you choose one.
Once you’ve installed Manjaro, an app called Manjaro Hello directs you to helpful resources, such as the wiki, user forums, how to get involved, and where to find apps. There is also a Manjaro PDF User Guide that can walk you through the process as if a paper manual came with your computer.
This was once an area where Ubuntu excelled, but that changed with Canonical’s priorities. Now, the Ubuntu website is primarily aimed at IT professionals, with little help for new Linux users. The wiki is becoming more and more obsolete.
Ironically, the Ubuntu desktop is arguably easier to use than ever, though there’s less active Canonical help navigating it. But there’s reason to believe Manjaro’s extra attention to the office makes it easier for newcomers to find their way around.
5. New versions of applications
Ubuntu is based on Debian, a massive Linux distribution not particularly known for offering the latest software. Ubuntu software is newer than Debian, but Ubuntu long-term support releases come every two years and freeze apps from official repositories in place during that time. Intermediate releases arrive every six months, but six months is still a long time to wait for app updates.
Manjaro receives continuous application updates. So, if a new version of an app comes out, you’ll probably have access to it within a few days or weeks. The trade-off is that you’re more likely to be exposed to bugs that could have been fixed by the time the app becomes available in future Ubuntu releases. But the other side of the coin is also true. Sometimes older versions of apps have bugs that were fixed long ago in updates that just haven’t made it to the Ubuntu desktop yet.
It’s worth mentioning here that with Ubuntu’s pivot to breaking packages, this is less of an issue than before. If a program is available as a snap or flatpak, new updates are available immediately whether you’re using Ubuntu or Manjaro.
6. The latest desktop environments
Although the new universal package formats make it easier to receive the latest applications on Ubuntu, they don’t address the time it takes to receive updates to your desktop environment. If you want the latest version for your desktop as soon as it’s available, you can make that transition immediately on Manjaro, whereas on Ubuntu you usually have to wait for the next release of your chosen Ubuntu flavor.
There is one notable exception. New releases of KDE Plasma are often backported to the current Ubuntu release. Or you can use the Ubuntu-based KDE Neon distribution to receive KDE updates as quickly as possible.
But for most other desktop environments, your safest bet is to wait until it’s time to upgrade your entire Ubuntu desktop.
7. Install once, no future system upgrades required
Manjaro, like Arch Linux, is a streaming distro. This means that after installing the operating system for the first time, updates arrive continuously, including changes to major system components, without you needing to perform a massive system upgrade. system to a new version of Manjaro.
This contrasts with Ubuntu, which comes in more static variants released every six months. You have the option to install Rolling Rhino and turn Ubuntu into a streaming distro. However, going this route will result in a less stable system than Manjaro, leaving you with a version of Ubuntu that isn’t really meant for everyday use.
Is Manjaro better than Ubuntu?
If you’re more interested in a computer that works than how it works, Ubuntu is probably the safest bet. It’s an older project with a larger community, a massive company behind it, and a proven track record. This comes with many less obvious benefits, such as having a larger security team whose job it is to make sure Ubuntu stays up to date with the latest security patches and vulnerabilities. You might also like Ubuntu’s themes and Canonical’s changes to GNOME.
Either way, the process for migrating from Windows to Ubuntu or Manjaro is largely the same.