Elementary OS is a desktop distribution based on Ubuntu Desktop, and like many or most distribution based on Ubuntu Desktop, does not use the parent distribution’s Unity desktop. It also does not use the GNOME Shell either.
Rather, it uses a custom desktop interface called Pantheon, which like the Depth Desktop Environment of Linux Deepin, is built atop GNOME 3 technologies.
Pantheon is the latest in a series of desktop environments built atop GNOME 3 technologies that have arisen mostly because of dissatisfaction with Unity and the GNOME Shell and a desire from independent developers to do something better. Whether they are actually doing something better is questionable, but I’ll live that discussion for another time.
For this article, I’ll present that I consider a detailed review of the second stable release of Elementary OS, It is code-named Luna. Note that because the desktop interface is built atop GNOME 3 technologies and does not use the GNOME Shell, those beautiful extensions at extensions.gnome.org are of no use to you.
For an Ubuntu-based distribution released almost four months after the latest edition of its patent distribution (Ubuntu 13.04), it is somewhat surprising to find that Luna is based on Ubuntu 12.04, code-named Precise Pangolin, and not Raring …, the code name of Ubuntu 13.04. Sure, Ubuntu 12.04 is a Long Term Support (LTS) edition, but version 13.04 comes with enhancements that are not back-ported to 12.04.
Using an older edition of Ubuntu as a base means that The Installer is an older version of the Ubuntu Desktop installer, which does not have support for full disk encryption and LVM, the Linux Logical Volume Manager. Both features are supported in the version of the installer used in Ubuntu 13.04. This screen shot shows the disk partitioning methods step of the installer. In the version used on Ubuntu 13.04, the options to configure LVM and full disk encryption are available at this step.
So considering the present state of affairs, this distribution’s installer is nothing to get excited about. What about the desktop? That’s where some interesting features are.
The Desktop: Before we get to see what the desktop itself looks like, here’s a screen shot of the login screen. Same as what you’ll find on the distributions that use the GNOME 3 technology. A guest account is enabled by default, and why you do log into he desktop, this guest account is also accessible from the user menu.
The desktop itself, in almost every respect, is minimalism in action. But that works against it. And that’s because based on what we know most users are looking for in a desktop operating system, which is one that just works, one that gives them the tools they need to, as they say, hit the ground running, the desktop fails.
Before I get into the details, here are the components of the desktop. There is the top panel (called WingPanel), the dock at the bottom edge of the desktop, holds icons of default applications. It also deputizes as a task manager. It is called Plank. The menu, which is called Slingshot, is located at the far right of WingPanel. Shown below is a screen shot of the default desktop.
Everything on the desktop looks nice and clean, but, as they say, the devil is in the details. And that, for this distribution, is where it disappoints. Starting with the number of installed applications, there are just there are just 17 installed. And that’s counting all the productivity applications, system utilities and desktop accessories. There are no games installed. Aside from games, there is no Office application installed. The only applications you will find in the Office menu category are the Calendar application, Evince (PDF viewer), and Geary (email software). And I don’t think all three even belong in that category.
This screen shot shows the menu with the first page of installed applications.
It’s almost impossible for me to be productive on a Linux desktop without making use of virtual desktops or workspaces. So the first thing I look for on a new desktop is how to access the other workspaces, aside from the main one. Unfortunately, I could not find how. There is no workspace or virtual desktop switcher on Plank or WingPanel. It just turns out that access to other workspaces, if any, is locked.
And indeed it is locked, or disabled. The only way I found to enable it is to activate one or more of the Hot Corners and set it (or them) to show an overview of the workspaces on activation. The Hot Corner is one of the most annoying features of the Linux desktop, but I found that if I enabled the corner where the mouse pointer is less likely to hit by accident, that I could live with it. For a right-hander, that corner is the one on the bottom-left of the desktop. The screen shot below shows how to enable a hot Corner.
Once configured, the workspace overview provides access to an extra workspace. On computers that I use for serious computing, I use at least three workspaces, but no more than four. However, on Elementary OS, I could not find how to enable extra workspaces. Clicking on the “+” sign on the second workspace only brings that workspace to the fore. So the problem here is not only that access to the workspace overview is disabled by default, but that there is no visible way of adding extra workspaces. There is an outside chance that there is, but if so, why must it be hidden?
Think the Hot Corner is annoying? The Ayantana scrollbar takes the cake in that category. This is a feature introduced in Ubuntu that was supposed to solve a non-existent problem. Instead, all it does is add an unnecessary complexity to a simple desktop task. I’m surprised that the developers chose to leave this feature on. Luckily, all it takes to get rid of it is uninstall a couple of packages.
One bright spot on the default settings of Elementary OS is that all the default applications are correctly configured. So often on other GNOME 3 desktops, the default application for the calendar is a text editor. As shown in this screen shot, it is handled by an application appropriately called Calendar.
The Calendar is a nice application. It’s cool to have a calendar like this. Like all custom applications on Elementary OS, the interface is clean and uncluttered. This screen shot shows what the Calendar looks like.