Elementary OS is a Linux distribution based on the long term support version of Ubuntu. It has been designed to be easy to install, easy to use and because it is lightweight it runs on older hardware as well as more up to date computers.
The main thing to note about Elementary OS is that every aspect of it has been designed to look and feel aesthetically pleasing.
If you aren’t comfortable with the idea of using the Linux terminal then Elementary OS might be the operating system you are looking for.
In this review I will be looking to judge whether Elementary OS really serves its purpose as a distribution that anyone can use and whether it really is easy to use.
What happens when you scratch beneath the surface?
How To Get Elementary OS
You can download Elementary OS from https://elementary.io/.
The Elementary OS website is a good example as to how websites should be created. It is simple to navigate and easy to use. The content is up to date and the content is clear and readable. There is also a very good support area.
In order to download Elementary OS you just have to scroll beyond the screenshot on the homepage and click the “Download Freya” button.
Hold on a minute though! If you press the “Download Freya” button you will be asked to make a payment of $10.
Just above the “Download Freya” button there are buttons showing $5, $10. $25 and Custom.
The developers have put a lot of effort into Elementary OS and therefore in order to encourage people to donate to future development they have defaulted the amount required to download Elementary OS to $10.
You can change this option to $5 if you want to donate but not as much as $10 or indeed if you are feeling generous you can donate $25.
Here is the problem however. If you are unsure as to whether you are going to use Elementary OS long term and you just want to try it out do you really want to donate at this stage. Wouldn’t it be better to download it, try it and then after installing it make a donation?
If you want to try Elementary OS for free you can do so by clicking on the “Custom” button and then just enter 0 into the box. You have to click outside of the box for the amount to register and then click on “Download Freya”.
If you like Elementary OS you can always come back to the website at a later stage to donate.
Once you have downloaded Elementary OS you can follow this guide in order to create a bootable live USB which you can then use to install Elementary to your computer.
Installation itself is quite straight forward. The installer is the same one used by Ubuntu.
Elementary OS really does look good. It doesn’t take much to make a nice looking desktop but there are many distributions that get it wrong in this respect with dull, lifeless wallpaper.
Other than the visually pleasing wallpaper there is a panel at the top of the screen and a dock at the bottom.
In the top right corner there are a series of system icons enabling the user to change the keyboard layout, adjust the audio settings, connect to the internet, adjust bluetooth settings, manage the power settings and log out.
The dock at the bottom has a series of icons for commonly used applications such as the web browser, email client, calendar, audio player, video player, photo manager and software centre.
If you click on “Applications” in the top left corner, one of the most visually pleasing menus you will ever see appears.
You can search for the program you want to use by entering either the name or the type of program in the search bar. Alternatively click on the icon within the menu.
If you have more than one page of icons you can switch between them by clicking on the relevant number at the bottom of the menu.
You can also change the appearance of the menu so that a list of categories appears as well as icons.
The applications within Elementary OS all follow the same theme. They are fairly basic in nature but they are visually pleasing and intuitive.
The default email client pre-installed with Elementary OS is Geary.
It isn’t as fully featured as Thunderbird or Evolution but it works and fits neatly with the Elementary OS tag of being a lightweight Linux distribution.
To sign in for the first time choose your mail service (i.e. GMail) and then enter your email address and password.
When you click on the Add button you will be connected to your email.
By default Geary starts with a list of folders down the left, a list of messages in the middle pane and a preview of the selected email in the right pane.
As you can see in the email I have highlighted above, I am in line for quite a windfall because it appears that due to corrupt practices in Nigeria’s banks I am in line for $2.5 million in compensation. I am truly amazed. I have never even put any money into a Nigerian bank but apparently I am due the money. All I need to do is send them my bank details. What could possibly go wrong?
Am I the only person who reads my spam emails for entertainment?
The audio player within Elementary OS is called “Noise”. As with the other applications it is lightweight in nature and whilst it is no Rhythmbox or Clementine it works and because it is part of Elementary it is both visually pleasing and easy to use.
When you first load it up you have the option to set the default folder for storing music and you can also import music. Clicking on the import music button lets you choose audio files to import.
The interface is simple in nature with a list of categories down the left side and a choice of views for the right pane, including an iconised view or a list view.
Clicking on an album produces another window with a list of available tracks. You can start playing the track by clicking on it.
Noise gives you the ability to create playlists and there is a link to last.fm.
If you chose to install the Fluendo 3rd party tools when installing Elementary OS you should be able to listen to MP3 audio without installing further drivers or codecs.
The video player is very basic with simply an option to open a video file and then to play that video. You can slide the bar along to skip parts of the video and there is a mini preview window as you slide it along but that is about it.
One of the areas where new users to Linux struggle is with installing new applications. If you come from a Windows background then you are used to either buying a DVD from a shop or downloading directly from the vendor’s website.
This has changed recently with the use of the Windows store and we have all become accustomed to installing applications from some form of app store.
The tool used to install applications within Elementary is the Software Centre (the same one that comes with Ubuntu). The idea is you either choose a category and browse for the software you need or search by entering a description of what you need into the box provided.
The premise is fine and pretty much the same way any app store or package manager works. Unfortunately it sucks.
The Software Centre is the one part of Ubuntu that I have never liked and it is the one application within Elementary that lets it down.
It is ok to say something isn’t good but you have to back it up with reasons.
The big problem is that the software centre doesn’t work properly. An application that is designed to return a list of the software in the repositories should return all the software in those repositories, no ifs, no buts, no maybes.
The Software Centre doesn’t. There are many examples where I can find an application using Synaptic (a more rudimentary graphical package manager) or apt-get (a command line package manager) that isn’t returned when searched for within the Software Centre.
Point 2. When I searched for Chromium it appears in the software centre but there isn’t an install button straight away. Instead I have to enable the multiverse repository. It then still doesn’t let me install it. I have to leave the software centre, re-open it and try again.
Then there comes Steam. Steam is the software from Valve which lets you buy, download and play games. If you search the software centre, two options for Steam appear. One is called “Steam” and appears at the top of the list and the second is “Steam Launcher”. If you click the first link (which most people will) an error appears.
The second link doesn’t have an install button. It has a “Buy” button. This button takes you to the Ubuntu One log in screen.
Steam is free software. If you use the apt-get tool or synaptic you can install it for free. No links to Ubuntu One and no big buy buttons.
For the next version of Elementary I am hoping the developers give the Software Centre the boot and replaces it with something that just works.
Everything else in Elementary is basic and simple but fully working. The Software Centre really lets it down.
Via the desktop settings screen you can choose a different wallpaper, decide whether the dock remains visible all the time or not and specify hot corners.
You can add extra icons to the docking bar at the bottom of the screen by dragging them from the menu and you can remove them by right clicking the icon in the docking bar and unchecking the keep in dock option.
There is a strange little quirk when dragging icons into the dock whereby the cursor gets stuck as being half of the icon.
The “Multitasking View” can be selected from the menu or the docking bar (and if you are clever you will set one of the hot corners to show it as well).
A screen will appear showing your current view and to the right another blank window. You can click on the new window and load more applications.
You can add more and more virtual workspaces and flick between them by clicking on the icons at the bottom of the multitasking view or by scrolling through them.
The implementation of workspaces has been covered very neatly within Elementary OS.
The web browser that is installed with Elementary OS is Midori. Midori is a lightweight browser and one of the features it lacks is the ability to play Flash videos.
Personally I am becoming more of the opinion that the sooner Flash dies the better. For years now Flash has been riddled with security issues and it has always been an unwanted distraction.
How many times have you tried to book tickets on a website only to be annoyed at how long the process takes whilst it loads flash graphics? When will web developers learn that functionality comes before needless artwork?
If you do need to use Flash then I recommend installing either Firefox with Lightspark or Google’s Chrome browser.
Elementary OS is a really nice Linux distribution and if you are a computer user who has no interest in learning about the command line and you just want to use your computer for playing music, videos and games then it is perfect.
The effort that has gone into the desktop environment really pays dividends as it really is easy to use. Couple this with the ease in which it is possible to set up printers, scanners, audio devices and other peripherals and you have a really good operating system.
This is almost the perfect distribution for the Everyday Linux User. We just need to get shot of that dreaded software centre.
Thankyou for reading.