Michal Kohutek
Elementary OS Juno Desktop

ElementaryOS

I’ve spent a long while thinking about the right words to start off this review. It has been long time coming and you might say, it’s been coming since the first time I’ve heard about this distro. Considering all that, I decided that the best way to start would be with the eyecatching first look of this flawed beauty. It is a strange thing though, because even though I really dislike MacOS look and feel, I find ElementaryOS UX very appealing. Even so, that it made me forgive the OS some shortcomings I may have harder time biting through otherwise.

Installation

I wish I could say the installation was standard painless affair, but for some reason Elementary OS still doesn’t support upgrading between major releases. I have been impatient and have installed the previous version, Loki, a few weeks before Juno’s release. After that, I was forced to do a full reinstall to get all the new goodies out of the distro. This may not trouble most users, as the release schedule is slower than I’m used to and every version is basically an LTS. Still, this has to be considered a flaw, when even Microsoft has figured a way to somewhat reliably upgrade it’s major OS versions. After the installation, I got welcomed by a beautiful desktop and lackluster offering of pre-installed applications. I like that it’s not pulled down by heaps of bloatware, but I come to expect at least some office suite preinstalled with my distributions. It might have had not hurt as much, but my first running of Elementary OS was on my morning train commute to University. When I decided to polish up my presentation, I found out I’d have to sacrifice pricy megabytes of my cellular carrier’s data plan to install the required LibreOffice packages. Otherwise app installation was pretty straightforward, as Elementary OS shares the package manager and repositories with Canonical’s Ubuntu… That is if you don’t need something that isn’t in there. There is no snaps nor ppa support by default and you need to set it up. I can understand not wanting users to install whatever crappy ppa they find online, but I really feel like a distro based upon Ubuntu 18.04 should come with snapd preinstalled. If you decide to stay withing the confines as defined by Elementary OS team, you can get your software needs fulfilled by the offerings in their own AppCenter. Beside the usuals, it offers a variety of applications built specifically for Elementary OS. I must say, that apart from some lazy copies of well-know applications, most I tried are rather nice and fitting very well with the rest of the user experience.

AppCenter
AppCenter

Default apps.

One of the more interesting aspects of Elementary OS is it’s own set of apps. These are very well polished and even though may be lacking a feature or two, their overall well though out design makes them joy to be used. That is if they work. I’ve had bad time with the default mail client with constant crashes and trouble opening my messages.

Email client
Email client

Epiphany, the default web browser is capable, but can’t fully replace Firefox in my workflow without hurting my productivity. Others were a lot better though, and I will miss them when I move on to another distro from my bucket list. One simple feature, that really impressed even non-linuxy onlookers was the quick-settings of color palette in two of my most used applications, Code and Terminal.

Code - Light theme
Code – Light theme
Code - Dark theme
Code – Dark theme
Terminal - Light theme
Terminal – Light theme
Terminal - Dark theme
Terminal – Dark theme

I haven’t used Music at all, as I don’t carry around my music library on my laptop and instead rely on Spotify.

User Experience

There is one main reason why you may choose to use Elementary OS over any other distro. Pantheon desktop environment, which many consider an MacOS look-alike hides more thought put into proper design than any other DE I know off. Pretty much every window and every notification looks like it’s been handcrafted to look professional and beautiful. It is, however, kinda limited in it’s customizability. In some respects, it is even more locked down than the often mentioned source of inspiration. For one, the launcher panel is locked to the bottom of the screen. You can’t disable the infuriating default behaviour of Files app, that opens all folders and files with a single click. Setting the default terminal shell is also impossible in the default terminal emulator, as Apart from choosing dark variant of the default theme, there isn’t much you can do about the looks of the OS, and even that requires you to jump through hoops and install the Tweaks app.

Tweaks
Tweaks

I accept all those limitations though, as I don’t see Elementary OS as a distro aimed at tinkerers and control-freaks. It is a distro I would be comfortable recommending to complete newbies and I wouldn’t worry too much about them shooting themselves in the foot.

Settings - Light theme
Settings – Light theme

One thing, that I find sorely missing in the settings menu are drivers. I don’t think making new users install GPU drivers in terminal is the most user-friendly approach.

Other oddities I found: no system monitor, password length showing in terminal, warnings then pasting text into terminal, non-standard keyboard shortcuts.

App Drawer Dark
App Drawer Dark

Technical issues

Apart from the trouble with default mail client and my constant struggle with NVidia and WiFi drivers, I’ve only noticed one glaring technical fault with this release. That issue is the inability to use a secondary screen on top of the primary. Due to the top panel stopping the windows being pulled up, my usual desk setup was useless to me.

Conclusion on using it.

I did not expect to like Elementary nearly as much as I did. It is the closest thing to professional polished desktop I experienced in the Linux world. However this polish carries with itself some limitations and makes the whole feel less linux-y. That may not be a drawback to some, but I prefer more freedom even if it means having to deal with some rough edges. All in all, ElementaryOS Juno is a great release and I can’t wait to see what else the team can accomplish in the future.

Pros:

  • Pantheon is polished beyond belief and looks amazing,
  • ElementaryOS apps look terrific and hide a lot of great ideas,
  • AppCentre supports Linux developpers by providing an interesting way of monetizing the platform,
  • It is very close to being completely fool-proof.

Cons:

  • Some useful third party apps require a bit more effort to install,
  • Lacks customizability and some basic settings,
  • No upgrade to the next major version.

4 thoughts on “ElementaryOS

  1. Next time you do a review please make sure you know what you are talking about.
    The dock can be placed at the bottom, top, left or right sides.
    You only need to install gnome software and you have access to all the ubuntu apps. If you want to add a ppa you only need to type into terminal
    ” sudo apt-get install software-properties-common” .
    I have installed it on about 6 machines and never had wifi problems.

    1. Hello Jeff! I’m glad that you’ve found time to read and comment on my review. Regarding the mistakes I’ve made:

      I have to admit, I’ve missed the placement of the Plank dock. Can you provide me with a screenshot and instructions where you can find the settings for that, without resorting to using terminal or editing a hidden file? I’ll add them to my review.

      I’ve mentioned that you can set up ppa support and snapd:

      “There is no snaps nor ppa support by default and you need to set it up. I can understand not wanting users to install whatever crappy ppa they find online, but I really feel like a distro based upon Ubuntu 18.04 should come with snapd preinstalled.”
      It may have been a bit unclear, so I’ll edit that you can enable ppa support with the command you’ve provided. I know about it and as I’ve mentioned in my review, I think it’s wise not to have ppa’s enabled by default, but as Snaps are supposed to be this easy, BFU-friendly way of installing third-party apps, I don’t think telling a new convert from macOS or Windows to go and install snapd via terminal is the right way here.

      As for my wifi issue. This stems from the fact, that Elementary OS is based upon Ubuntu base. On that particular laptop, I’ve had issues with every Ubuntu-based distro from 18.04 forward. Fortunately, since then, I’ve switched from the budget gaming oriented Lenovo Y50-70 to my current Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon and most of my driver issues in most distros have disappeared.

      As I’ve gathered that Elementary OS is aimed at a BFU, or a recent convert from other operating systems, I’ve tried to write this review from the point of such user. Due to my 12+ years history of using various GNU/Linux distributions as my primary and only desktop and server operating systems, I may have overcompensated in my approach.

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