Elementary OS: An Elegant and Functional Linux Distro

While there are tons of Linux distributions out there, most of them are just a respin of the few popular distro like Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. Change a new theme, add some additional software and you can get a brand new distro. However, once in a while, we do come across a Linux distro that is really unique and come with some special features that make it different from the rest. Elementary OS is one of them. On the first glance, you might think that it is just another clone of Mac OS X, but after you have used it, you will find that it is more than just skin deep. Let’s check it out.

The latest version of elementary os (Luna) is based on Ubuntu 12.04 (LTS) and it has taken over 2 years of heavy development to get to the stable final release. Much effort has been put in to ensure that it is both elegant and user-friendly. Elementary OS doesn’t promote itself as a Linux distro. In fact, if you visit its homepage, you will only find the mention of “Linux” at the very end of the page and it is only mentioned once. Other than that, it has been promoting itself as a beautiful, open and speedy alternative OS to Windows and Mac OS X.

Downloading elementary os is free, but it will prompt you to donate $10 (or more) to support its development. Unlike Ubuntu or Linux Mint, you don’t get many “favour” of the OS. There is only one Elementary OS, available for both 32 and 64 bit.

elementaryos-download-donation

The desktop environment used in elementary os is a custom-built DE known as Pantheon. It comes with a top panel (Wingpanel) with beautifully designed app icons. The date/time applet is in the center and the Application menu is on the left corner. At the bottom is a dock (Plank) with applications.

elementaryos-desktop

elementaryos-app-icons

The application menu, when clicked, show a popup window of your apps icons. You can either click the page number to scroll through the apps, or search for the app in the search bar. You can also click the menu icon to display the app category.

elementaryos-applications-menu

Unlike most distro that come with many applications pre-installed, elementary os only comes with a basic necessary apps. The apps include:

  • Midori – browser
  • Files – file manager
  • Software Center
  • Noise – Music player
  • Totem – Movie Player
  • Empathy – IM client
  • Geary – Email client
  • Shotwell – image viewer and editor

Yes, missing from the list is a proper Office suite. LibreOffice, or Abiword, is not installed by default. This is not a big deal though, since you can easily install it from the Software Center.

To configure Elementary OS, most of its settings are centrally located at the System Settings (also known as the Switchboard). Here is where you can configure anything from keyboard, Desktop, network to startup applications.

elementaryos-system-settings

While using Elementary OS, there are some controversies which you might be happy, or annoyed with.

First of all, you won’t be able to place anything on the desktop. You won’t even find a “Desktop” folder in the file manager. Yes, you can create a “Desktop” folder manually, but placing files in it won’t make them show up on the Desktop. For those who love a clean desktop, this is useful, but for those who use the desktop extensively to store temporary files, this will not go well with you.

Secondly, there is no maximize and minimize button for every app window. All you have is a close button at the left corner and a Full screen toggle button at the right corner. While they have a reason to do so, many will still be bothered by the lack of option to bring the buttons back.

elementary-os-window-control-button

Thirdly, the file manager (Files) is heavily stripped down to provide only the essential stuff. You won’t find any menu or Preferences to configure it. No “Delete” option (only “Move to Trash”), no status bar and no Desktop. There is also no options to bring them back.

elementaryos-files

Fourthly, it is pretty obvious that Workspace is not an emphasis of the OS as it is not visible and easily accessible anywhere in the OS. It is not even mentioned anywhere in the OS or the site. And if you try to use the default keyboard shortcut to switch workspace (Ctrl + Alt + arrow), you will find that it won’t work at all. The keyboard shortcuts have been remapped for WorkSpace to resemble how Expose in Mac OS X works.

elementaryos-keyboard-shortcuts

Also, instead of “Super” key, elementary os is using the “Command” symbol in Mac OS X in place of the Super/Windows key. Using the unfamiliar shortcut key or the hot corner is the best way to work with Workspace.

elementaryos-workspace-overview

It is obvious that the developers of elementary os is not keen to create a distro that can please everyone. Just by looking at the changes they made to the OS, it is clear that they have put in a lot of thoughts into it and implement the stuff that they think will benefit the users. You may not agree with all the changes they implemented, but there is no denying that the result is a beautiful, minimal and yet functional OS. One thing though, I still prefer to have icons on my Desktop. What about you?

9 comments

  1. I’ve been using it since the release and I like it. Very clean and pretty desktop.

    However I’m not yet prepared to dismiss minimize button (install “elementary tweaks” and it is pretty easy to change it – see http://www.elementaryupdate.com to have some good tips and tricks)

    Also, Firefox “replaced” Midori and Pidgin “replaced” Empathy.

  2. Although none can compare to Windows 7 (including ability to install peripherals), Elementary sure is a good contender and should be classified in top 5. I would make it my default but there still isn’t an option to hide or auto-hide the top panel.

  3. The keyboard shortcuts aren’t the same as OS X’s Mission Control whatsoever. The fact that the “St. John’s Arms” symbol is used is threefold:

    1. The Windows logo is trademarked,

    2. The “St. John’s Arms” or “point of interest” symbol (used by Apple for the Command key) is in Unicode, and

    3. It both matches what’s on Mac computers and is similar to the Windows logo on PCs.

    The symbol may look Mac-like, but the shortcuts are not. OS X uses Ctrl+Up for Mission Control, Ctrl+Down for “application windows,” and Ctrl+Left/Right to switch desktops. We used the Super key to keep it consistently referring to multitasking and desktop-wide shortcuts.

  4. Elementary OS is dull, unoriginal distro, missing heavy, yet functional applications. In exchange we get “beautiful” desktop (and once again, very unoriginal), that can be easily acquired in any other distribution.

    What’s the point of EOS? Is it supposed to simply look good at the cost of reduced functionality?

  5. The general conscious seems to be that eOS is attractive, fast, but less than fully functional, and I haven’t found that to be the case. A distro needn’t be bloated and complex to do serious work. Perhaps there are limitations, but it’s served me well in my web design tasks so far. I suppose some folk are put off by the limited selection of apps it ships with, but does anyone really choose distros that way? I always assume that I’m going to require certain applications, and if they’re not present at boot-up it’s certainly easy to grab them from the Software Center.

  6. I certainly think they’ve struck a chord with those wanting a clean, functional desktop. I prefer it to the standard Ubuntu desktop, which forces the Unity sidebar on most users (yes, I know it can be replaced). Also noticeably faster, even on older hardware. I haven’t had any problems so far with getting all the apps I’m used to using in Ubuntu to work either, so a definite plus there.

  7. One of my biggest complaints about it is that I don’t understand why the search feature has to be so crippled, say you want to change a display setting, you open the launcher and type “display”. It doesn’t work. However if you type “settings” or “system…” it does… what’s up with that?

  8. I tried to install this on an xp laptop but was told the specifications of the laptop were not sufficient to run this.

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