One of the most talked about Linux distributions over the past couple of months is Elementary OS. Elementary has been reviewed everywhere from linuxuser.co.uk
to the Linux Action Show
Now it is my turn to review Elementary OS to see what all the fuss is about and I promise you one thing from the outset. There will be no references to Sherlock Holmes whatsoever.
If you are wondering about the title of this article then all will be revealed later on.
What is Elementary OS
From the moment you visit the Elementary OS website
you understand the approach that has been taken by the developers.
The website is minimalistic but elegant and that shines right through from the website to the operating system.
The next generation of elementary OS is here. Lightweight and beautiful. All-new apps. A refined look.
The goal of the project is style and simplicity.
elementary OS is a free replacement for Windows on the PC and OS X on the Mac. It comes with what you’d expect, like a fast web browser and an app store with thousands of apps. Plus some things you may not expect, like free updates and no known viruses.
Elementary is clearly targeted at Windows users and Mac users who want to try something different.
The word “Linux” is not mentioned until right at the bottom of the front page of the website. What this says to me is that “Yes, this is a Linux distribution but first and foremost it is an operating system”.
This review will be based on the goals of the project and I will try to determine how stylish, how lightweight and how usable Elementary OS is.
Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu and therefore the installer will be familiar to anyone who has installed a Ubuntu based operating system before.
To download Elementary OS visit http://elementaryos.org/
. The download link is on the front page. The developers ask for a donation for their project and by default it is set to $10. You can choose to pay as little or as much as you like and that includes the ability to use Elementary for free.
Once you have downloaded Elementary OS you can burn it to DVD using your favourite disc burning software or you can install it to a USB drive using your favourite tool. I used Unetbootin.
I always try to use the live version of a distribution before installing it for real so that I can see what sort of issues may lie ahead. I had a few issues but I will come to those when discussing the fully installed version.
The installer is fairly self explanatory from beginning to end, choose your language, keyboard layout, time zone, add a new user and set the password and finally partition your drive.
The partitioning in Ubuntu based distributions is fairly easy including the option to install alongside current operating systems, use the whole disk or perform a custom install. I always choose the custom install as I have multiple distributions installed on my hard drive at the same time.
Elementary OS lives up to its hype in terms of style. The desktop environment is based on Gnome but is actually called Pantheon.
The main screen has a bright and colourful desktop image of a rocky beach, there is a panel at the top and a docking bar at the bottom.
The top panel has the “Applications” link in the top left corner which brings up the menu, there is a calendar in the centre of the panel and on the right there is the customary system tray.
The icons from left to right are:
- Audio settings
- Power management
- Online status
- User Accounts
When you boot Elementary for the first time the dock at the bottom of the screen has 9 icons.
- Midori – Web Browser
- Geary Mail – Email
- Empathy – Messenger
- Calendar – Calendar
- Noise – Audio Player
- Totem – Video Player
- Shotwell – Photo Management
- System Settings
- Software Centre
The menu is one of the most attractive looking menus I have seen in any operating system and it is highly functional.
There aren’t many applications installed by default but searching for the application you need works well by typing the application name or the type of application you need in the search box.
If you just want to browse the menu you can use the default icon view or you can choose a category view which shows a list of categories down the left side and the applications on the right side.The way windows interact on the screen just ooze class. Some people might complain at the lack of a minimize button but the window management is excellent.
Hot spots can be set up to control workspaces and there are great rolling effects when adding and switching workspaces.
The way the windows tile make them snap nicely next to each other or they can be maximised by dragging up to the top panel.
All I can say is 10 out of 10 for style.
Elementary feels very quick but with nothing else running it uses 550 mb. I am using a fairly decent laptop with an i5 processor and 8gb ram which doesn’t really test Elementary at all because it runs like a dream.
Customising the desktop
I haven’t experimented much with customising the desktop and I’m not sure how far you can go with it but everyone likes to choose their own wallpaper so to do that click the “Systems Settings” icon.
The “Systems Settings” screen is fairly typical with icons for personal settings, hardware and network and wireless.
- brightness and lock – set when to dim the screen and lock the computer
- defaults – choose your default applications for things such as mail, web browsing etc
- desktop – change the desktop wallpaper, manage the dock and hotspots
- privacy – you might want to check this one because it is the Ubuntu information collecting bit
- startup applications – set programs to run at startup
- Additional drivers
- Mouse and touchpad
- Wacom Graphics Tablet
Network and Wireless
To change the desktop background click the desktop icon. Elementary comes with a nice set of default wallpapers but of course you can add your own.
The dock tab lets you choose the size of the icons for the dock, whether the icons hide when applications are maximised and the theme of the dock. (Choosing transparent blends the icons in with the background wallpaper).
The hot corners tab lets you define each corner as a hot spot and you can choose different functionality for each corner. For instance I have defined the bottom right corner so that the workspace manager appears when I place the mouse point there.
Connecting to the internet
Connecting to the internet is a breeze. Clicking the network icon brings up all my wireless networks and at certain times of the day next door’s wireless network.
The default browser in Elementary is Midori and to be honest I’ve never really found it to be that great. It is fine for viewing basic web pages but when trying to view sites containing Flash it just feels like one big hack.
All this brings me onto the next section.
Trying to get Flash working within Elementary is the only real let down I experienced whilst using Elementary and I think it is solely the attempt to integrate Flash into Midori which causes this problem.
I understand why Midori was chosen (because it is lightweight) but I think the developers could do themselves a favour and go for something like Iceweasel instead.
I am running on a 64-bit machine and I would guess that as we are coming towards the middle of the decade a lot of other people are also running 64-bit machines.
I followed a guide at elementaryupdate.com and I also tried various forum links and the solution seems to be to go back to 32 bit libraries.
In the end I found the best solution was to install the chromium browser and then Flash worked perfectly. Incidentally I also installed FireFox and Flash worked fine on that as well.
And… to prove that Flash is working correctly the above image is from Youtube and shows an ageing Corey Feldman singing.
Seriously if you want to see something really horrific visit http://youtu.be/uZgzSwTW0Qs. This video looks like it was made by Corey himself and the best way I can think to describe the singing is to get you to imagine Captain Caveman falling down two flights of stairs. To get a real feel about how bad Corey’s singing is visit http://youtu.be/cylUp7cRU7s.
I think Corey is trying to sound like the band Killing Joke but he only really manages to sound like he is killing Charlie. (This joke will be lost on a lot of people so I will provide a link to Charlie as well. “Charlie says” was a public information film which told us as children that we should always tell our mum where we are going and who we are going with. Especially if he looks like Corey Feldman).
The default audio application in Elementary OS is a simple application called “Noise”. Whilst it isn’t Rhythmbox or Banshee it does the job very well and like all the applications in Elementary looks very elegant.
When you first start “Noise” you have to go and find your music collection and as long as the music is local it is simply a case of searching for the top level music folder. Dedoimedo mentioned in his review he had some issues using Samba.
Playing MP3 files isn’t available automatically but when you first click to play an MP3 file a message appears asking whether you want to install the relevant plugins.
This is a simple point and click exercise and in less than a minute your system is set and the music starts playing.
Elementary OS is fairly small in size and therefore there aren’t many applications installed by default. I think the idea is that you have a basic set to get you started and then it is a case of using the software centre for everything else.
The applications are as follows:
- Archive manager
- Scratch – Text editor
- Shotwell – Photo management
- Simplescan – Scanning
- Midori – Web Browser
- Empathy – Messenging
- Geary – Mail Client
- Document Viewer
- Totem – Movie Player
- Noise – Audio Player
To install applications click the “Software Centre” icon on the dock and you will be reminded that Elementary OS is a very elegant looking Ubuntu derivative.
The “Software Centre” is the same application that comes with Ubuntu. To be honest I think in this case it would be better to go with the one that comes with Linux Mint.
Elementary provides a really nice user experience in terms of style, simplicity and performance.
For a user coming across from Microsoft or Apple the Elementary operating system has a lot to offer.
The experience was let down for me a little bit by the Midori and Flash debacle and I think for the next release one of three things has to happen:
- Get rid of Midori.
- Make Midori work with Flash (not a hack, actually get it working for 64-bit computers).
- Wait 5 years for the next release when Flash might have finally disappeared.
I like the applications that have been included and I could really see me using Elementary OS on a Netbook.
For people who simply use their computer for Facebook, web browsing, watching the odd video and listening to music, Elementary is the perfect operating system.
Before I sign off remember to check out the Corey Feldman videos. I was a big fan of “The Lost Boys” in the 80s and I still think it is a great film. “The Lost Boys 2″…. not so much. The videos will hurt your eyes and ears but they certainly made me chuckle.
Thankyou for reading.