Nithin Bekal

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Elementary OS (Luna)

23 Jun 2014

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across a Linux distribution with a remarkable emphasis on design. The first thing I noticed was how fast it was. The interface was uncluttered, the UI was snappy, apps opened right away, and it booted really quickly.

After this first impression of Elementary OS, it quickly became my preferred OS on the laptop. It is based on Ubuntu, so all the packages I need are available through apt-get and software center, and that has made the transition easier.

Desktop environment

Elementary comes with its own desktop environment called Pantheon, which was designed with a focus on minimalism and speed. The dock, workspaces and file browser all have an obvious OSX influence, but it also brings in some of the shortcuts I love in Windows 7. Shortcuts for things like maximizing windows, docking windows to the left or right half of the screen, and moving windows between desktops are things I really miss on OSX.

The launcher is sluggish sometimes and still has some annoying bugs, but otherwise the experience is smooth.

Builtin apps

The music player is based on Banshee, but is more lightweight. It’s not the best music player you will find, but it is decent enough. The movie player too is unremarkable, but good enough that I haven’t felt the need to install VLC player yet.

Like so many Linux distros, Elementary suffers from not being able to ship with proprietary audio/video codecs by default. You will need to install the drivers separately using the terminal, and if you are not familiar with the command line, it might be a frustrating experience.

The default browser, Midori, stays true to Elementary’s fast-and-lightweight-apps philosophy, but apart from that provides no advantages over the more mature options like Firefox and Chromium.

There are also builtin apps for email, calendar, IM and photos, but I haven’t used them much until now, but from what I’ve seen, a lot of design effort has gone that way as well.

As a developer machine

Is this the dream Linux distro that developers have been waiting for? I’m not too sure. It’s based on Ubuntu, and that’s a huge selling point for me. But it’s also based on LTS releases, which means that it is going to be some way behind the bleeding edge.

Having said that, I must say that this is basically Ubuntu with a cleaner desktop environment. What’s not to like?

Wrapping up

This is the operating system I would recommend if you were looking for an alternative to Windows or OSX. The need to install wifi and audio/video drivers separately is a bit of a problem, but once that’s sorted out, it is a pleasure to use.

So far, this has been my favorite Linux desktop experience. The UI stays out of the way, and works surprisingly well on my antiquated 5 year old laptop. It is less customizable than most other distros, but the defaults have mostly worked for me so far.

If you are looking for a clean and well designed operating system, give Elementary a shot. With the next release, codenamed Freya, just around the corner, things can only get better.

Hi, I’m Nithin Bekal. I work at Shopify in Ottawa, Canada. Previously, co-founder of CrowdStudio.in and WowMakers. Ruby is my preferred programming language, and the topic of most of my articles here, but I'm also a big fan of Elixir. Tweet to me at @nithinbekal.