It’s been a couple of years at least since Windows crapped out on me, but last week I was forced to make the decision to re-install from fresh. This is when I realized the opportunity to try something new. Then I came across Elementary OS.
It’s been years since I dipped my toe into the Linux pool. Back when Ubuntu was the nearest thing to an attractive and usable option. I also took a look at Linux Mint and thought that it was a good improvement in the areas Ubuntu missed, but was still behind with a solid design ethos.
Functionality is obviously more important in any form of technology, but a strong design ethos can make the day to day experience feel smoother. I’m not sure any OS has ever nailed a perfect UI.
Windows has changed form a lot over the years trying to find something that works, screwing up royally with Windows 8, then brought it back with Windows 10. Apple has stuck with what was thought to be a near perfect UI in MacOS for years, recently edging away from skeumorphism, however, I along with many, could never get used to it and personally I think could do with a refresh in areas again.
Chrome OS in my opinion has been the nearest Linux variant that has felt polished. Even this though seems to be going through many experimental changes in order to introduce Android and many don’t class Chrome as Linux since it’s not open source once Chromium gets into the hands of Google.
Elementary OS set out to introduce a strong style that would feel welcoming and simple to those coming from another platform, not introducing too many advanced features of Linux that would scare them off. I have to say they have achieved this with great success. Just like Chrome OS it has a simple and clean interface, not clutter on the desktop, everything kept in the App Launcher. The windows are simple and have a nice shadowing effect helping them stand proud of the desktop, and a single taskbar at the top making the most of screen space.
The app center is equally as clean looking, laying out the apps in sensible categories. The app center is more limited than most, but each app that features has been tried and tested to work with Elementary. If you want to install something outside of the app center, that when some Linux knowledge comes in handy.
The team have also worked hard in making and encouraging developers to make apps for their platform. This is a controversial method in the world of Linux as most apps are usually made to work for more than one distro, although the team ensure that the apps made for Elementary are still open source and could be altered to work for other distro’s if desired.
These unique apps are another reason to prefer Elementary as they fit with the design of the OS and add a lot of extra functionality. They’ve also introduced a way for users to make a donation to the app developer before downloading it, to support further development of the app, although it’s easy enough to use for free and donate later if you wish.
Customization is very limited in Elementary, something I hope they improve with a future release. I understand that too much control from the user could ruin the design and function for a distro that’s still at version 0.4, so I can imagine this will be a bigger thing as it matures more.
If you can accept the OS for the layout and features it comes with, which you would in Windows and MacOS anyway, then Elementary has enough about it for basic computing tasks, such as web browsing, writing letters, watching videos etc. Dig deeper though and its capable at more advanced tasks too. I even tried OpenShot video editor and Handbrake video conversion tools, all working flawlessly. There’s even a simple to use image compressor and FTP clients which should come in handy for web developers.
My only complications came around when trying WINE and PlayOnLinux, this might be down to the instability of these apps or my incompetence, but not once did I manage to get a Windows application to work. Although I still believe this is unfair judgement as WINE I believe is still highly experimental and not a long term solution for Linux users.
I will probably continue to visit Elementary team to see their progress and hope 0.5 release this year is a success for them. I also hope they change their website to highlight a bit more clearly that Elementary is free as I can imagine many are unaware of this and turn away without realizing, and at this point a growing user-base with opportunity of donations should be a priority over charging for the download.