Which Linux Distro Is Best? Manjaro vs. Ubuntu

When you first switch to Linux, there are certain distributions you’re likely to hear about first. Ubuntu has long been one, considering its widespread usage around the world. Many people will recommend starting with Ubuntu and leave it at that.

But Manjaro is another option you’re increasingly likely to come across. This distro takes Arch Linux (a DIY version of Linux) and turns it into a ready-to-go desktop that’s easy to install and learn. So, why might you consider Manjaro over Ubuntu?


1. The Freedom and Flexibility of Arch Linux

Manjaro derives its roots from an existing version of Linux known as Arch Linux. Arch Linux is well-known for being one of the most flexible, least restrictive ways to use Linux. The project makes very few decisions for you, allowing you to assemble your own Linux desktop using your chosen components.

Manjaro is, in a nutshell, Arch Linux where many of the decisions have been made for you. When you download Manjaro, you have a pre-selected desktop environment along with a suite of pre-installed apps. Yet, under the hood, Manjaro is still primarily Arch Linux. While not every guide you find online related to Arch Linux will apply to Manjaro, a majority will.

You can customize Ubuntu, for sure. It offers 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 many flavors, but the default version ships with the GNOME desktop environment. This is the primary desktop that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, pays developers to contribute to and support. Other desktop environments, such as KDE Plasma and Xfce, can run in Ubuntu just fine, but they feel a bit like second-class citizens.

Manjaro does not offer one officially-sanctioned option. Instead, there are three official versions on Manjaro’s download page: a KDE desktop, an Xfce desktop, and a GNOME desktop. These three editions receive what feels like an equal measure of attention and polish.

Both Ubuntu and Manjaro come in many community-developed variants. Yet if you compare the number of Ubuntu flavors available on the Ubuntu website with the number on Manjaro’s, the number is still quite a bit smaller.

Ubuntu is backed by Canonical, one of the largest corporations invested in developing free and open-source software. Though Canonical is small compared to Red Hat (now a subsidiary of IBM), Canonical still operates at a similar level.

In the initial years of Ubuntu, Canonical’s core efforts went toward creating a viable consumer desktop. Now the company focuses on enterprise clients, with the desktop getting only a passing mention on the homepage.

Manjaro comes from a small team dedicated to providing the Manjaro desktop. The project was actually community run for nearly a decade before the formation of a company, in part, to manage legal contracts and form commercial partnerships. This has helped Manjaro to become available preinstalled on more hardware, including various laptops and the PinePhone. So if corporate backing sounds more like a con than a pro to your ears, then Manjaro may be more your speed.

4. An Easier Introduction to Linux

If you’re an absolute newcomer to Linux, Manjaro’s website is going to help you get where you’re going much quicker 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 how much technical knowledge you have. The downloads page explains why there are different versions and helps you pick one.

Once you’ve installed Manjaro, an app called Manjaro Hello points you toward helpful resources, such as the wiki, user forums, how to get involved, and where to find apps. There’s also a Manjaro User Guide PDF that can walk you through the process as though a paper manual came with your computer.

This used to be an area where Ubuntu excelled, but that has shifted with Canonical’s priorities. Now Ubuntu’s website is primarily geared toward IT professionals, with little help for new Linux users. The wiki is increasingly outdated.

Ironically, the Ubuntu desktop is arguably easier to use than ever been, even if there is less active help from Canonical to find your way around it. But there’s a case to be made that Manjaro’s extra attention to the desktop makes it easier for newcomers to get their bearings.

5. Newer Versions of Apps

Ubuntu is based on Debian, a massive Linux distribution not particularly known for offering the most up-to-date software. Ubuntu software is more current than Debian, but Ubuntu long-term support releases come every two years, and they freeze apps from the official repositories in place during that time. Interim releases come every six months, but six months is still a long time to wait for app updates.

Manjaro receives continuous updates to apps. So if a new version of an app comes out, you will probably have access within a few days or weeks. The trade-off is that there’s a greater chance of you getting exposure to bugs that might have been fixed by the time the app becomes available in future versions of Ubuntu. But the flip side is also true. Sometimes older versions of apps have bugs that were fixed long ago in updates that simply haven’t arrived on the Ubuntu desktop yet.

It’s worth mentioning here that with Ubuntu’s pivot to snap packages, this is less of an issue than it used to be. If a program is available as a snap or a flatpak, then new updates are available right away regardless of whether you’re using Ubuntu or Manjaro.

6. The Latest Desktop Environments

While the newer universal package formats make it easier to receive the latest apps on Ubuntu, they do not address the time it takes to receive updates to your desktop environment. If you want the latest version of your desktop as soon as it’s available, you can make that transition right away on Manjaro, whereas on Ubuntu you typically need to wait for the next release of your chosen Ubuntu flavor.

There is one notable exception. New versions of KDE Plasma are often backported to the current version of Ubuntu. Or you can use the Ubuntu-based distro KDE Neon 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 rolling-release distro. This means that after you install the operating system for the first time, updates arrive on a continuous basis, including changes to major system components, without you needing to do a massive system upgrade to a new version of Manjaro.

This contrasts with Ubuntu, which comes in more static variants released every six months. You do have the option to install Rolling Rhino and turn Ubuntu into a rolling-release distro. Still, going that route will result in a less stable system than Manjaro, leaving you with a version of Ubuntu that isn’t actually intended for everyday use.

Is Manjaro Better Than Ubuntu?

If you’re more interested in having a computer that works than how it works, Ubuntu is probably the safer bet. It is 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 the existence of a larger security team whose job is to make sure Ubuntu stays on top of the latest security patches and vulnerabilities. You may also like Ubuntu’s theming and Canonical’s tweaks to GNOME.

Either way, the process of migrating from Windows to either Ubuntu or Manjaro is largely the same.

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