elementary OS is one of those distributions I’ve been eyeing for a while. A few months ago, I gave it a quick test drive using a live USB and was impressed by elementary’s simplicity and minimalism.
But, for a variety of reasons, it fell off my radar. Until a few weeks ago when I decided to install elementary OS on an older laptop to put it through its paces.
That was an interesting experience, and I mean that in a good way. I found elementary OS to be a zippy distro, and one that’s easy to use. While it won’t appeal to the hardcore techie, elementary OS will definitely appeal to someone new to Linux who wants to get their feet wet.
Let’s take a look at elementary OS.
The first step was to download the latest .iso image. You have a choice of making a donation to the project before downloading, or downloading for free. I chose the latter option (although I went back later to make a small donation to support the project).
As is my custom, I created a live USB with unetbootin. From there, I plugged the USB drive into my laptop and started it up. The laptop itself is about four years old and packs a 320 GB hard drive, 4 GB of memory, and a 1.7 GHz processor. It’s not the fastest laptop around, but it’s OK.
Once elementary’s desktop loaded, I went immediately to install it. Seeing as how I’d given it a peek in the past, I didn’t need to run it as a live USB again. The installation took about 15 minutes — I chose to download and install updates during the installation process.
The installer required minimal input from me. It just asked for a user name, a password, my location, and the keyboard layout that I wanted to use. Before I knew it, the installation was finished and I was restarting the laptop.
elementary OS comes loaded with a basic set of applications, including:
- The Midori web browser
- The Geary email client
- Empathy (an instant messaging client)
- Simple Scan
- The Shotwell photo manager
It also packs a basic text editor, a PDF viewer, a music player, and a movie player. You can also install more software using elementary’s Software Center (which is similar to the ones found in Ubuntu, Lubuntu, and Linux Mint). The selection of software available in elementary’s Software Center is on par with its counterpart under Lubuntu.
Taking a peek at the interface and the applications
Overall, elementary’s interface is very clean and very compact. There is a minimum of clutter, and very little on the desktop to get in your way.
The Applications menu is unlike the ones found in most other Linux distributions. When you click Applications, a pop out that resembles a word balloon appears. That pop out contains links to the installed applications.
I’m not a fan of the default view that you see above. You can change it to a more traditional set of categories by clicking one of the icons in the top-left corner of the pop out.
You can also launch the applications that you frequently use from elementary’s dock.
The stock applications don’t have a menu bar. Instead, the title bar and the icon bar for each application is combined into a single entity called a header bar. It’s all very seamless and clean. Many of the stock applications also have a Settings button (which looks like a gear) that, when you click it, displays a list of commands and options.
Note that this setup isn’t true for all applications. If, for example, you install The GIMP then you’ll get a menu bar.
Getting to work
My main plan for elementary OS was to see how much work I could do with it. To do that, I needed to install some additional software. That was:
- A full TeX system
- Calligra Author (an alternative word processor)
- ReText (a Markdown editor)
All of those applications are available through the Software Center.
As expected, working with those tools was simple and smooth. It was just like working on any other Linux distro I’ve used — that wasn’t a surprise. As I mentioned several paragraphs ago, I was pleasantly surprised at how zippy the software (and elementary OS itself) was on a relatively underpowered laptop.
elementary OS is aimed at the ordinary user and not the techie. It’s easy to get up and running with elementary, and you can quickly install the software that you need. From there, you can get right down to work. But even out of the box, elementary OS is a solid, useful distro.
While I really like elementary OS, I see no compelling reason to switch over from Lubuntu. At least, for the moment. When the next version, codenamed Isis, is released that might change.
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