Elementary OS desktop

Elementary OS is a Linux desktop distribution that’s being primed as a “fast and open replacement for Windows and OS X.”

It’s safe to say that that’s the goal of every Linux distribution. Some distributions have, to a large extent, succeeded, while some are partially or completely misguided. Elementary OS, even though it’s still just at version 0.3, belongs to the first group.

Some of the design decisions make it slightly painful to use, but as a unit, the distribution is moving in the right direction. Will it ever get to the point where it replaces Windows and OS X for all users? No, because there’ll always be those that love Windows and Mac OS X no matter what. And there are still applications that have no real alternatives in Linux.

For the rest of humanity, Linux distributions like Elementary OS are a great alternative. And a cheap one too, given that virtually all of them are free to download and use. Except that for Elementary OS, the “free to download” part is not very obvious. On the download page, a screenshot of which is shown in Figure 1, it’s easy to conclude that you need to donate at least $10.00 USD to download an installation image. However, if you click on the Custom field, you can type in any amount, including $0.00 USD.

Donation Elementary OS Freya
Figure 1: You may donate as much as $50.00 or as little as nothing before downloading Elementary OS 0.3.

That download/donation trickery aside, one aspect of Elementary OS that still doesn’t seat well with me is the lack of a minimize button on the titlebar and the positioning of the maximize and close buttons on opposite ends of the titlebar. It’s a design decision that has a net-negative impact on UX.

Elementary OS window titlebar
Figure 2: Position of the titlebar buttons on Elementary OS application windows

Those two minor but irritating issues aside, I think Elementary OS is progressing nicely. I especially like the very clean and uncluttered look of not just the desktop, but every custom application that’s being written for the distribution.

Even the System Settings, the graphical hub for system management utilities, is shaping up to be a very nice one. It’s designed along the lines of what you’ll find on other Linux distributions. Some of the modules are still not fully-featured, like the application auto-startup, which still does not allow auto-starting an application that’s not in the applications menu.

Elementary OS System Settings
Figure 3: Elementary OS System Settings.

The integration of a firewall management module, similar to what’s available on the K Desktop Environment (KDE), is a nice touch. Figure 4 shows that firewall module after activation. It would have been better if it were activated out of the box.

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One issue with the firewall module is that it seems to be just a graphical interface for UFW, the default firewall application. So if you replace UFW with FirewallD, which is a much better firewall application, you’ll lose the benefit of firewall module. The upside to that is that FirewallD comes with an applet and a feature-rich graphical interface.

Elementary OS firewall module
Figure 4: Elementary OS System Settings Firewall module.

At this early stage in its development, the desktop as a whole looks and feels pretty good. Figure 5 shows the default desktop.

Elementary OS desktop
Figure 5: Elementary OS desktop. That’s not he default wallpaper.

The multi-tasking view of the desktop, triggered by clicking the first icon on the dock (counting from the left), lets you switch between virtual workspaces or virtual desktops. You can also add virtual workspaces.

Figure 6: Multi-tasking view of the Elementary OS desktop.
Figure 6: Multi-tasking view of the Elementary OS desktop.

Figure 7 shows the uncategorized view of the application menu.

Elementary OS menu
Figure 7: Elementary OS application menu – unfiltered.

And Figure 8 shows the menu with the applications categorized. In terms of applications, Elementary OS 0.3, like previous editions, is not loaded, and does not ship with the latest and greatest selection of applications. For example, there’s no Office suite installed by default, though LibreOffice is in the repository.

Also, Firefox, for performance and resource-usage reasons, is not the installed browser (Midori is). And the version of Firefox available for installation is two revisions behind the current stable version (Firefox 37 is the latest and greatest).

Elementary OS app menu
Figure 8: Elementary OS application menu – filtered by category.

Aside from standard applications like Firefox and LibreOffice that are also available to other Linux distributions, what really sets Elementary OS apart from other distributions, especially those based on Ubuntu, are the custom applications that are being developed for it. That puts it in the same class as Deepin, another Ubuntu-based desktop distribution.

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One such application is the desktop calendar, shown in Figure 9. The calendar already supports all-day and repeatable events, exporting the calendar and sending it via email and Bluetooth. However, syncing between online calendars has not been implemented. That’s a feature I’m looking forward to.

Elementary OS calendar
Figure 9: Desktop calendar application of Elementary OS 0.3.

Other applications, like the video and music players, the image viewer, and Geary (email application) are already very usable. Even Scratch, the text editor, is right up there with the best of them. For a modern text editor, however, I was expecting Scratch to use or default to Markdown formatting, because nothing makes writing easier and more fun than Markdown. That’s why I use Atom, even though it can be brutal on RAM and CPU usage (see For an editor, Atom uses way too much RAM).

Scratch has support for extensions, so maybe a Markdown extension will be written for it. One extension that’s already available, but which failed to load on attempt at activation, is the Browser Preview extension. I didn’t investigate why it failed to load, but hopefully somebody else has, or will.

Elementary OS Scratch text editor
Figure 9: Scratch, a text editor for Elementary OS.

With that, I’ll bring this cursory review to a close and look forward to the next development release of Elementary OS, which I think will be version 0.4. At the pace of developmental releases, it will probably be sometime next year before ISO installation images for Elementary OS 1.0 hits a download mirror near you.

While we await that milestone release, you may download a 32- or 64-bit ISO installation image of Elementary OS 0.3 Freya from here.


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26 Responses

  1. when not using my mbp…
    on my old pc laptop, i was a user of ubuntu 10.10 downloaded 11.04 & don’t like it. ubuntu 11.04 seems too heavy & confusing now… stuff all over the place… too much pretty…
    formatted and installed Linux Mint 10
    LOVE IT. clean inter face, faster, etc…
    i’ll give up the pretty for light weight, stable, & performance…
    Linux Mint 10 is easy on the eye’s and you can change the visual effects to NONE (or if U really need this, EXTRA)… but still looks good.

  2. If you want to be a good reviewer, at least know half of what you are talking about. This review is pathetic.

      1. “Desktop: Linux Mint 10 KDE ships with KDE 4.6, the latest stable version of the popular desktop environment. Unlike the main edition, which uses mintMenu, Linux Mint 10 KDE desktop sports the Kickoff-style menu, which is an interesting choice because mintMenu is a whole lot better than the Kickoff menu. mintMenu is not installed, but after installing it, I could not figure out how to add it to the panel. Perhaps this is why it is not the default menu.”

        Just the worse bit.

        1. If that’s the “worst bit,” then I’ve got nothing to worry about. A previous commenter already pointed out why “I could not figure out how to add it to the panel.”

        2. What’s bad about that? KDE definitely is popular, and the mintmenu definitely is better than Kickoff. A review IMHO always should contain the opinion of the author, though I have to admit (slight criticism to the “is a whole lot better” term – to which I absoluletly agree) it should have been a little explanation (!) about why it seems to be better in the eyes of the author.

          1. Author of this review and you don’t get it?

            Mintmenu is specifically designed for GNOME desktop by Mint team that’s why it’s not default menu in Linux Mint KDE edition.

            KDE4 have Kickoff, Classic and Lancelot menu.

            GNOME got Menu Bar, Main Menu, and sometimes it depends on distro, MintMenu or openSUSE’s menu (I can’t remember how it is called).

            Btw, MintMenu is much better than openSUSE’s menu.

          2. @Tux: If the Mint Team thinks Gnome needs a special Mint menu and is able to create one – why don’t they do it for KDE too? KDE also deserves it. What’s good for the one desktop environment should also be good for the other.

            Oh how I wish someone would either port the mint menu to KDE4 – and/or the good old tastymenu which was available for KDE3…

          3. @Jaki

            There is no need for Mint menu in KDE because KDE4 got similar menu available under plasma widget’s called Lancelot.

            And old tasty menu is called classic, available thru right click on Kicker icon.

            Oh, and btw, openSUSE’s GNOME menu is called Slab 🙂

          4. @Tux: definitely NOT, both. Lancelot is another more or less nice menu but it has some bad habbits IMHO. And Tastymenu was not official, it was a three pane menu. I once had hoped Lancelot would go into that direction but it is far far away from it: It doesn’t have three fixed panes, the icons’ sizes are not configurable (biggest point of criticism for me), it looks crowded and messy with the different icon sizes and space sizes between the entries and it switches views=the panes don’t keep their content while browsing the menu! The latter something I absolutely hate. Maybe it would be less pain when I could make it bigger and make all icons bigger and all icons the same size…

  3. Not a bad KDE distribution. Someone made the comment about colors being too dark. I prefer the darks colors to the washed out light blue that most KDE distros have, so +1. The applications selected could be improved. Gnome Player should not be installed especially when VLC is installed. Applications can be uninstalled and installed easy enough so the complaints about having or not having a certain application is really null. If you play with the distro for a short period of time you will be able to find what you are looking for, so nothing is hidden if you put forth a little effort.

    Lancelot is a better menu system than the regular KDE kicker menu. I consider it to be better then the mintmenu. I’m not really a fan of their update system because of what they consider to be important and unimportant. I use Synaptic. Even tho Synaptic is crippled somewhat in LinuxMint 10 KDE I still have more choice in what I want to update. Even tho there are a few very minor problems this is a very good release for a KDE distro.

    I haven’t looked into the security setup so I’m not sure if they follow the same path or have the same security concerns as LinuxMint Gnome.(Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6/12 months you know what I’m talking about). If a person wants to use a KDE distro then this would be a good choice. Even tho I use Gnome on my main system I consider LinuxMint 5 KDE CE to be one of the best KDE distros ever released.

    1. I must have been living under a rock, what do you mean by this statement “…or have the same security concerns as LinuxMint Gnome.(Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 6/12 months you know what I’m talking about)” When I google Linux mint security issues or concerns I find nothing relevant or recent. Can you or someone else point me to an article where these security concerns are discussed?

  4. It’s a pity that Mint doesn’t concentrate more on KDE. Wish it would be Mint’s default GUI. And I’d wish someone would port the excellent mintmenu to a KDE plasmoid! Can someone please switch on the lights? The default design is way too darkgrey. Where is the nice and friendly KDE blue?

    1. There are many blue wallpaper included in Linux Mint KDE, where Gnome and others have green ones. Many wallpapers from 9 and even some from previous versions are still there, and changing the wallpaper is very easy.
      With Linux Mint, you are really not bound to this grey color.

      1. I know it is easy to change the look once Mint is installed. But I like to use the Live CD to present Linux to others and to show off a little. And trying to show off while saying “yes I know it looks trist – but you can change the design” is only half the fun.

  5. I like Mint with Gnome.
    For me are Ubuntu and Mint best with the Gnome desktop.
    If you must have KDE I think PCLinuxOS 2012.2 or Pardus 2011 are much better choises.
    I not realy understand why Mint get involved with KDE at all.
    Would be better if they got focused on Gnome.

  6. I was not impressed with mint kde, as there was one major flaw with kde, and that was when one wants to use a 3g dongle. This works flawlessly under mint gnome and under kde 4.6 it does not work. Also control center in gnome edition i find better and everything is is one place, but with kde, one has to go searching for things.

  7. I love this edition. I used the GNOME version of Mint before but with this version I switched to KDE one. KDE is getting so much more ahead in every way (functionality, awesome looks) I’m starting to miss al this in GNOME. And unfortunately with GNOME 3 they just made it worse. That’s what is so cool in Linux, there is always choice and if one option gets behind or changes in the way you don’t like you can switch to other options.

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