Those familiar with the open source operating system Linux will know that there are hundreds of distros (distributions) available and that most importantly they are free. So which one do you pick? Well, as with most things in life, one should make choices based on their preferences and needs. Having been a long-time Windows user, I find Ubuntu to be the most user-friendly and intuitive due to various similarities that the two operating systems share. However, lately curiosity has gotten the better of me and I decided to see what else is out there and after a brief encounter with the decidedly dodgy Pear OS (I foresee a lawsuit from Apple on the horizon), I came across a forum that was buzzing about another distro called Elementary OS so I decided to check it out.
The first and most obvious aspect of Elementary OS is that borrows heavily from Apple’s OS X platform. The idea was to create something lightweight, stylish and elegant, and taking a page out of Apple’s book, they’ve done just that. Due to several grievances with Windows, Daniel Foré abandoned the platform and got involved with the Linux community. Having no programming experience, Foré joined forces with a developer in order to bring his vision to life. Foré would handle the design aspect of the OS, sparking interest throughout the community and bringing others into his fold.
Elementary OS is a lightweight distro, with the intention of drawing those who have shied away from Linux due to its complexity and perceived user-unfriendliness. Elementary OS is based upon the popular Ubuntu distro albeit stripped down extensively, however being Ubuntu-based, Elementary OS is able to make use of all its packages, repositories as well as the software center (though its own one is in the pipeline). The desktop environment entitled Pantheon is sleek and beautiful and makes use of its own proprietary applications such as Plank (similar to the OS X dock) and Midori, a lightweight browser (though still a bit skinny for my browsing needs). Regarding window controls, Elementary OS has no minimize option (apparently there is some rationalization for this), rather annoying but easily rectifiable due to a tweaking app.
Slick and clean, the desktop environment Pantheon resembles that of OS X, but with the benefit of being a Linux distro.
So what’s not to like about Elementary OS? It’s lightweight, starts up lightening quick, logs in even faster and uses a bare minimum of resources, making it user friendly on older PC’s too. Elementary OS Luna (the latest version) is a competent alternative to both Windows and OS X and ideal for beginners, but in my opinion not a justifiable replacement for Ubuntu. During my experience with Elementary OS, I found that the novelty of the sleek UI wore off pretty quickly once you realize that beneath it all it just feels like a derivative of another operating system (namely OS X and Ubuntu). After I had updated the software and poked around a bit, it just felt a bit empty and perhaps a little too slimmed down, (like Ubuntu light) and little annoyances like preinstalled apps not being visible in Plank (so basically there’s no way of knowing that VLC is preinstalled for example) sort of killed it for me. Combine the fact that one has to enable simple (expected) features like a minimize function for windows (really?) and that a lack of a Unity type interface meant having to search for things in a roundabout fashion clearly shows that while Elementary OS is certainly ambitious, it still has a long way to go.
Ubuntu 13.10, better-looking in my opinion and easier to navigate thanks to Unity.
All in all, Elementary OS has a lot going for it and while it’s certainly worth checking out, I will definitely be sticking with Ubuntu. For those looking to jump ship from Windows and OS X, Elementary OS is certainly a good choice for beginners and a nice introduction to Linux. Elementary OS is definitely drawing a lot of its inspiration from OS X but at the same time its uniquely Linux unlike other distros, such as the aforementioned Pear OS that not only rips off Apple’s shell but does so in an inferior manner as certain aspects of the OS that attempt to emulate OS X fall short due to a lack of functionality. I can offer one last piece of advice, if you insist upon installing Elementary OS, do so alongside your pre-existing installation (as I did), that way you can play around with the OS (although that’s what Live mode is for) to get a feel for it and to see if it suits your needs.