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Elementary OS is an Ubuntu variant that features the custom developed Pantheon desktop environment. One of the key features, aside from the unique look and feel, are the custom coded apps and paid app store that are available with Elementary. Today, we're going to take a look at the whole picture in this Elementary OS Review.
I'm not going to get into the Installation process here as it's pretty much identical with every other Linux distro out there and there's not much to see. It worked without issue in all of my testing on multiple devices so I'm going to call it stable and solid.
Elementary OS Review – The Desktop
On boot-up, we're greeted with the Elementary OS Pantheon desktop, which you can tell took inspiration from Mac OS. That's not a bad thing however as many people are fond of the look and feel and it just works.
Along the top we have the Applications menu on the left, the date centered in the top panel 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.
When it comes to the default apps, the developers tend to go with those ones that are geared towards simplicity and minimalism. For example, the default web browser that is installed is 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.
Originally forked from Geary, Mail is now developed under the Elementary banner and is slowly being rewritten to allow for more robust capabilities (source) but it's suitable for most users.
Other included apps are Video, Music, Files, Calendar, Terminal and Photos to name a few. All of these are custom to Elementary OS.
Taking a look at the system settings, we see there are numerous icons to help you configure your new environment:
There are a few key items here that I feel need to be pointed out, notably Parental Controls and Online Accounts.
Online Accounts only provides operating system integration for FastMail, Last.fm and Email.
Why they chose to limit this so much, I'm not sure but I suspect it's due to the fact that integrating would require the addition of more third party apps to the OS, something they clearly don't offer by default. I'd like to see Google account integration at the least in future editions.
As a parent, I'm especially fond of the easy Parental Controls which provides basic capabilities for those of you who have kids using your computers.
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.
AppCenter is Elementary OS' answer to a software store. It's one of the only one's I've seen that functions on a Pay-What-You-Want model.
This has actually worked out quite well for the Elementary OS team and there are now plenty of developers offering paid apps through the store. You can, of course, also download free ones, not everything is paid (just to be clear).
Here's what the team had to say about the AppCenter:
AppCenter is our built-in app store where users can download free and paid apps that are purpose-built for elementary OS. With AppCenter we’re doing things a bit differently from our competitors. First, every single app in AppCenter is open source because we firmly believe in the world-changing power of freely-licensed code and open source software. Second, all paid apps are offered with a developer-provided suggested price, but are ultimately pay-what-you-want. Users choose what to pay — if anything at all — when they download paid apps.
Elementary OS Review – My Conclusions
First let me state that the intent of these reviews is to cover the quick and dirty basics that a new user will experience on first use. They are not power user reviews or benchmarked ones. My goal is to give those new to the OS a general overview and some points to consider.
There's not much that a new user to Linux can actually customize in Elementary OS. While they do offer easy to use apps and an interface that is simple and easy to use, I found it quite limiting in capabilities without replacing major apps with better and more mainstream options from the AppCenter. Epiphany seemed to do an OK job but it doesn't support extensions. It does, however, offer Firefox Sync capabilities but it's just not good enough in my opinion.
I almost feel like the Elementary team went a bit too far in being restrictive with the OS but at the same time, limiting things is something Apple has turned into a successful experience and given that Elementary seems to take inspiration from Apple; perhaps it's not a bad thing. I wouldn't recommend trying to use Elementary if you are like me and love customizing things because you won't be satisfied. If you want a “just works” OS and aren't concerned about this, it's a decent option.
I'm giving it a 3/5 on the basis that it's a bit too limiting for new users. I'm basing this on what it comes with by default. Is it a great os for the minimalist? Absolutely.
Interested in trying it out for yourself? Grab it from here. What do you like about Elementary OS?
Disagree? Let me know in the comments below.