Pop!_OS and Manjaro are at the top in the Linux distribution space when it comes to overall community opinion and their dedicated user bases. To summarize, you cannot go wrong with either one of these. With that said, lets deep dive into both of these.
What is Pop!_OS
Pop! is a Ubuntu/Debian based distribution designed by System76, a computer manufacturer that focuses on well designed Linux machines. Pop!_OS was released in October of 2017 and since its release, they have optimized this distribution with a ton of great features including; easy GPU switching, their Pop!_Shop, some of the best auto-tiling and window management around, and much more.
What is Manjaro
Manjaro is an Arch-based distribution that first launched in July of 2011. We will talk about Arch a little more later, but for now, just know that Arch a very powerful Linux distribution that isn’t really beginner-friendly. What the Manjaro team did is they made the Arch base extremely user friendly. Speaking of the team, unlike Pop! it’s not backed by a larger company. It is built by an independent team of very talented developers from all around the world.
Debian vs Arch
The primary difference between Arch and Debian is that Debian is user-friendly, Arch Linux has always been, and shall always remain user-centric. Meaning, it is generally up the user in Arch to manually install and configure just about everything through a terminal. Manjaro is essentially Arch without any of the hassles. So, if both Manjaro and Debian are extremely user friendly, where are the differences?
With their based operating systems into consideration, this brings us to their two other major differences. First, update structures.
Pop!_OS follows Ubuntu with their updates. They come out with a new release about every 6 months or so and their regular releases have a 9 month support cycle, while their long term releases are supported for 5 years.
Manjaro follows the rolling release model. Where, instead of needing to replace the entire operating system with major system-wide updates, the core of the system can be consistently maintained and upgraded.
There are pros and cons to a system like this. A pro being that you’ll never need to run full system upgrades and the latest software packages are always available, there is no need to resort to snaps or flatpaks. This doesn’t come without potential cons. In most cases you must update your system before installing new software and being on the bleeding edge of development could result in more bugs and crashes depending on the software. Also, being that your system is constantly updating, this can cause an issue of bandwidth if a limitation is a concern.
Speaking of software, this is another major difference you may want to consider particularly the package managers. Pop!_OS has the Pop!_Shop, a beautiful interface borrowed from the Elementary OS team. It is a great place to browse and manages applications and if you hit the gear icon to the top right it will open up repo man, a super easy interface to manage your sources. With-in Pop!_Shop you can download .deb packages or flatpacks for the application that give you the option. In the command line, you can expect to use the apt package manager, just like you would with most Ubuntu-based systems.
Manjaro uses an application called Add/Remove Software. It’s not as polished as the Pop!_Shop, but it gets the job done. There are actually significantly more options and settings available within this package manager including both snap and flatpak support. You can also enable the AUR or the Arch user repositories. Now, this alone is why many people choose an Arch-based system over their Debain counterparts. Pop!_OS has more officially supported packages than Manjaro, but with the AUR it gives you access to over 11 thousand community-built packages. In a Ubuntu-based system, there will be packages you need to manually install and update. The probability that those packages are in the AUR is incredibly high. Making it extremely easy to download, build, and keep up to date.
Pop!_OS ships with a custom version of gnome (pop-desktop) that has many improvements and customizations over the gnome base. Including improved window tiling that automates window sizing and other configurations. Pop!_OS has also mastered the keyboard and its use within the desktop environment.
These keyboard shortcuts encourage a fluid user experience and max productivity. EXAMPLES.
Gnome is your only option with Pop!_OS out of the box, but you can always install other desktop environments. For the most part, this won’t be an issue, but there may be times there will be conflicting software. Also, other environments may not look that great with some of the Pop specific applications like the Pop!_Shop.
Manjaro supports a wide variety of environments. Their flagship release is though XFCE, but they have officially supported versions of KDE Plasma, Architect, and GNOME. In addition to this, they have community-driven distributions with almost every other major desktop environment out there.
Manjaro desktop environments do not feature many customizations or additions to what would normally come with the selected desktop environment. The only way to directly compare their environments is to compare the GNOME variant of Manjaro with Pop!_OS.
Manjaro does feature a layout switcher and a much better extensions manager out of the box. Giving the user a little bit more customization option out of the box. But, I still believe that Pop!_OS takes the W with their near perfect optimization of the GNOME desktop environment.
The last main category I will be discussing is gaming. They both are highly recommened and regarded for being absolute beasts out of the box for gaming in their own ways.
Pop!_OS famously has a dedicated ISO image with the non-free NIVIDA driver available and Manjaro just straight up comes with Steam installed.
They are both great systems for gaming. Their performance isn’t all that different so no matter what you’re going to have a good time. The Youtube account Bero Tech did a really good benchmarking video between these two distributions. Overall Manjaro had a very slight advantage, but it did vary by the title as well, so in general they are very on par with each other.
You can’t go wrong with either of these Linux distributions. In general, I’d go with Manjaro if you’re looking for the latest and greatest software and you want access to the beautiful Arch repository. Or if you want to use something other than GNOME it may be better to install a distribution witch is catered around the desktop environment you want. With Manjaro you may need to fix some issues here and there, but if you don’t mind the occasional troubleshooting, you’ll be more than fine.
Pop!_OS uses Ubuntu long term support builds, so if you’re looking for one of the best GNOME experiences with an extremely stable backing, Pop!_OS may be the move for you. I have not encountered any major issues when using Pop!_OS, it just works. I mean, there is nothing really negative to say, it’s great.
I personally use Manjaro KDE as my daily driver and Pop!_OS on my primary laptop.
Great article! At the moment of posting this comment I’m running Manjaro KDE. I love the AUR, the speed and stability of Manjaro. However, Pop! is my favorite distribution I’ve ever used. It’s the reason why I switched to GNU/Linux in the first place. I just wish System76 chose KDE Plasma instead of GNOME. Don’t get me wrong, GNOME is amazing, but I prefer KDE Plasma. For some reason I couldn’t get KDE Plasma to work on Pop! so I switched to Manjaro and I’m enjoying it. -Rubber Duck