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Elementary OS 0.4 Beta Review

Elementary OS 0.4 Beta Review

Elementary OS is an Ubuntu variant that features the custom developed Pantheon desktop environment. The latest release that is coming down the pipeline will be Elementary OS 0.4. This week, however, the first beta of the upcoming release, nicknamed "Loki" was made available to the public and we thought we'd dive in to see what all of the fuss was about.

There are a couple of key things missing with this release:

  • No 32 bit edition for those of you who can only run 32 bit Linux distributions (keeping in mind of course that this doesn't mean 32 bit software can't/won't run but only that the system as a whole must be 64 bit.
  • App indicators - There are no app indicator icons in the system tray anymore, they have been deprecated which I'm personally not too fond of.

Being based on Ubuntu 16.04, the upcoming release will feature a number of improvements outlined here: Elementary 0.4 Beta released.

To kick things off, we downloaded the live image from the Elementary developers website.

On boot-up, we're greeted with the familiar Elementary OS Pantheon desktop.

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Along the top we have the Applications menu, with the date and the system tray on the right side. At the bottom, the dock where you can launch and pin apps that you use most frequently.

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When it comes to the default apps, the developers tend to go with those ones that are geared towards simplicity and minimalism. This time, they've switched from Midori to Epiphany. While it's not a terrible web browser, it's certainly not something that's commonly used or up to par when compared to the standard Firefox and Chrome/Chromium browsers. Sure, you can install different ones from the app store but I think it's a waste to install something most new users are going to find less than adequate. Epiphany is not in the same league as the big boys and is likely going to not be able to correctly be able to display complex sites as well. I do believe that it's also the default in previous editions of Elementary OS, but I can't remember for sure off the top of my head. Other default apps include Videos, Music, Photos, Calendar and Geary for email.

Taking a look at the system settings, we see there are numerous icons to help you configure your new environment:

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You may have noticed the addition of a couple of new items within System Settings; notably Parental Controls and Online Accounts.

Online Accounts provides operating system integration for FastMail, Last.fm, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Facebook and Google:

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As a parent, I'm especially fond of the easy Parental Controls present in this release.

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You can set specific time-frames when a user can utilize the system as well as block specific Applications and websites. It's simple and you can't block keywords or specific types of content but at least it's better than nothing and I appreciate their efforts in providing some form of control.

Gone is the old school Ubuntu software center, replaced with a newly revamped (and much prettier) software store with over-sized category icons.

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While there aren't a ton of changes in this release and it seems like most of the changes are aesthetic and appeal to developers such as notification improvements, and more outlined here.

Functionally, everything seemed to work well. Epiphany was able to render a few complex sites I tried without issue including embedded video so I suppose Firefox and Chrome/Chromium aside, it does better than I expected but online accounts worked fine to add Google but the Calendar failed to display my calendar entries with an error:

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Overall, it remains to be seen how well the system performs upon final release. For a beta, it worked as expected. I'm personally not a huge fan of Elementary as I tend to like more configuration options, not less but I'm also not the target audience either. Elementary started off being geared towards users who are fond of simple and easy functionality similar to that of OS X. With projects like Solus and Budgie Remix breathing down their necks, however, it remains to be seen how well received this next release will be.

Interested in trying it out for yourself? Grab it from here. What do you like about Elementary OS? Do you think they are going in the right direction by dropping app indicators and moving away from 32 bit? Let us know in the comments below.

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