Sunday, April 10, 2011

Elementary OS - Distro Review

It's been awhile since I had the time to install another distribution and really put it through it's paces enough to write a full review of it. After crying wolf about a lack of information on the Elementary OS website, I felt I owed it to their team to give the disc a (free) download and put their OS through it's paces.

Getting Elementary OS:
The Elementary OS website has slowly been fleshing out over the last couple of weeks, but it is still fairly sparse at this point. For those who are not aware Elementary OS is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu 10.10 that uses the latest Gnome desktop 2.x desktop.

Their main page now has download links for 32 and 64 flavors of the OS in both direct download and torrent form. There are also options to order a CD or donate some spare change to the project. Along the top you will find discover, which gives you a run down of the default applications, and an FAQ that starts with explaining that the website will be fleshed out more in the coming months. I hope they do this quickly though - because while there is a link to their freenode IRC channel there aren't any user forums setup for posting questions.

Anywho - I downloaded the 32bit ISO of their 0.1 release via the torrent download and was ready to go.

Live Desktop:
I loaded the ISO onto my flash drive using unetbootin and the went to load it up onto my T101MT. The boot time was on par with any other Ubuntu based disc and after a few moments I was greeted with the default desktop.

The live disc detected and functioned with all of my tablet's hardware by default - except for the multi-touch track pad (for two finger scrolling).

I was quickly able to locate the installer icon on the dock along the bottom of the screen and was soon installing the OS (One oversight/typo however is that the installer reads "elementary 0.2 installer").

Just a couple comments on the install process. One small niggle I would like to mention with the installer is that it went online and did an apt update even though I had not told it to do so. The installer also lacks a slide show, not mission critical - but useful and informative for new users. Other than this it was just the standard Ubuntu 10.10 installer - at any rate about 10 minutes and two gigs of disc space later I had Elementary OS installed onto my system.

Elementary OS comes with a base application set that should keep most people content. These include:

• Calculator
• Character Map
• Manage Print Jobs
• Take Screenshot
• Terminal
• Text Editor (gEdit)
• Shotwell Photo Manager
• Simple Scan
• Empathy Internet Messaging
• Midori
• Postler Mail Client
• Transmission BitTorrent Client
• AbiWord
• Dexter Contact Manager
• Gnumeric Spreadsheet
• Lingo Dictionary
Sound & Video
• Brasero Disc Burner
• Movie Player
• Sound Recorder
Ubuntu Software Center

Elementary's inclusion of Abiword, Gnumeric, and Midori as opposed to Libreoffice and Firefox gives the gnome based OS a snappy feeling that I am more used to when using lighter desktops (not complaining here). Something else worth mentioning with regards to software is that even though Midori 0.3.3 released on the 13th of March, Midori 0.3.2 is included on the Elementary OS live CD. Don't worry though, it will download the newer version during your first system update.

Also worth mentioning is that Dexter, Postler, and Lingo are all applications that are being developed by the Elementary OS team. This means they integrate well with each other. Samba is also present for managing network shares via the Elementary Nautilus file browser.

Some things lacking by default that I think would be good to see added would be something like Gnome Do (makes it so much quicker getting to your applications) and a power manager of some sort like Jupiter.

Elementary OS also makes the choice not to included closed source/restricted codecs by default such as Adobe's flash player and multimedia codecs. Personally I respect this choice and think it is a good one to make.

Look and Feel:
Elementary OS has a simple, but elegant feel to it by default. In addition to the default cloud background there are a number of good images to choose from in the default wall paper selector.

As far as icon set and GTK theme go you will find the opposite of a wide selection. In fact you will find only the much talked about "elementary" version of icons and gtk theme. They both look fairly sleek and my only complaint is that the scroll bar in your applications is very thin and has no up or down arrows. Clearly a design choice, but it makes it difficult to scroll when trying to click+drag on the bar.

As far as the kernel goes you will find this current version of Elementary OS powered by the 2.6.35 kernel from the Ubuntu repository (28-generic flavor). For finding new software Elementary ships with both the Ubuntu Software Center and the Synaptic package manager. For managing your updates you will find the normal Ubuntu update manager. I also mentioned above that Elementary OS has a snappy feeling to it - it is also fairly resource friendly for a Gnome+Ubuntu desktop. By default it uses around 150megs of RAM.

Speaking of software, you will find the Ubuntu repositories, as well as the universe and multiverse repositories enabled by default. All Elementary OS updates come down via their PPA. This is a choice I do not care for, personally I think having an actual debian repository is better suited (and more professional) for serving applications to an OS - but to each their own.

Also - because Elementary OS is based off Ubuntu 10.10 some of the software in it by default is a bit dated. For instance when I went to get Firefox installed I was greet by version 3.6 instead of the new 4.0

The only issue I had hardware wise with Elementary OS is that it did not support two finger scrolling on my netbook's trackpad by default (but then neither does anything Ubunu based). My complaint is that at the same time it did not auto-set itself to use one finger side scrolling as some distros do.

Final Thoughts:
Over all I think Elementary OS is a good start into a Gnome based distribution that could really shine in the coming months with Ubuntu making it's move to the Unity desktop. One thing that could really give the project a more unified feeling would be the removing all the few bits of Ubuntu branding left (update manager, software center, etc). For those that are used to the Gnome desktop, looking for something light (and don't feel like stripping a base Ubuntu/Linux Mint install) Elementary OS is a perfect fit.

Have you used Elementary OS - if so what are your thoughts on the project?

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. "Over all I think Elementary OS is a good start into a Gnome based distribution that could really shine in the coming months with Ubuntu making it's move to the Unity desktop."

    On the other hand, gnome 2 is dying. The bug-fixing (not to mention introducing new features) will stop, as the gnome team is now focusing on gnome 3.

    But I think it's going to be an interesting year for linux desktop. There will be distros with gnome shell, gnome 3 fallback mode, gnome 2 zombie, kde 4.x, unity, enilightenment, xfce...

    choice is good :)

  2. oops, that was "enlightenment".

  3. Good article. If I could "Like" this, I totally would. :)
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  4. There's nothing about Elementary that would compel me to use it over Ubuntu. I will say however that I'll be watching Elementary over the coming year (and possibly beyond) because I think it has the potential to become much more significant than it currently is.

  5. I agree with the comments above me. I tried it the other day on a spare partition and all it seemed like to me was a differently themed Ubuntu by default with a few extra applications. Preload was also loaded by default which explains why many people claim on different sites that its "snappier" than Ubuntu.

    I really dont see any point to using it when a person can just add the Elementary themes and stuff to normal Ubuntu and add preload for the "snappiness". One could also add the Elementary PPAs to normal Ubuntu anyway, just like is even done in Elementary OS. Maybe down the road it will be more interesting and attractive, but in the state it is now, might as well just use regular Ubuntu.

  6. Not as expected. Once boot into live desktop, no right clicking, panel totally lockdown, just to name some of annoying "features" at least for me. had to dig inside gconf-editor to make it more feels like normal desktop for me.

  7. elementary is reinventing the desktop, they have created a replacement for gnome-panel and a new app launcher, in the next version you will see a lot of different things that will make it different from ubuntu.

  8. Well until they release something interesting they are just one of many among the see of Ubuntu+Gnome distros.

    That being said - did Gnome themselves just "reinvent the desktop" with their Gnome 3 release?

  9. "That being said - did Gnome themselves just "reinvent the desktop" with their Gnome 3 release?"

    No, they re-invented what crap looks like though.