Friday, August 16, 2013

Elementary OS "Luna" 0.2 Review: Simple, effective, efficient

Like many other Linux users, I too, follow a lot about Elementary OS. They seems to be getting things right what's wrong with modern Linux in general and GNOME 3 in particular. Consider this, it is just the 0.2 release of Elementary and already ranked 27 in Distrowatch popularity! The 1.0 release is yet to come! As Darshak said in the comments section - it is going to be killer of a distro.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Anyway, I used the 32-bit Elementary OS Beta 1 release a few months back and was deeply impressed with it. So, when the 0.2 release note came with some incremental improvements, I wanted to try it out myself. Elementary OS too, like 70% of all Linux distros, is based on Ubuntu and to be more precise, on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and the present update comes with Linux kernel 3.2.0. However, it doesn't believe in Ubuntu's Unity philosophy and has come up with it's own GNOME 3 forked desktop, Pantheon. Even the Files file manager is forked and named Pantheon Files. 

The main USP of Elementary is a sophisticated, uncluttered and uncomplicated desktop. It comes from the same developers who created elementary GTK2 theme for Linux. Elementary OS provides users the basic desktop to work with and customize. I set the expectation right the very beginning itself - if you are expecting a whole lot of applications with all possible codecs/flash installed like other Ubuntu derivatives (incl. Mint), then you'll be disappointed with Elementary.

The release note of Elementary 0.2 states of the following incremental improvements:
  • Better support of international languages including some Asian languages like Sinhalese
  • Multiple display support (didn't test in my review)
  • Incremental refinements in design (checked most of them)
  • Updated applications like Music player, Pantheon terminal, Midori, Shotwell, etc. (checked all of them, except Shotwell)
I downloaded both the 32-bit and 64-bit ISOs (both less than 700 MB) for this test. Somehow, the 32-bit ISO didn't work that well for me. I couldn't connect to wifi, all of a sudden the desktop started becoming unresponsive, etc. etc. So, I didn't install the 32-bit version but instead did this evaluation based on the 64-bit one. I tested it on my Asus K54C laptop, with 2.2 Ghz Core i3 processor and 2 GB RAM. I used Unetbootin to create a live USB.

Aesthetics
Elementary OS has a very simple and sophisticated interface. Pantheon is a simple Mac OS like desktop with docky at the bottom and a panel at the top. The dock, named as Plank, is derived from Docky and offers a limited range of functionalities. It looks simpler and the typical Docky icon is not there which is good.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Desktop looks a bit naked with no icons but the default wallpaper really gels with the overall theme. I found quite a few good looking wallpapers in Elementary as well.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Font rendering of Elementary is really good and the default font "Raleway" is pleasing to the eyes. Most of the distracting elements like animations, excess color, gaudy design, etc. are not there in elementary making it pretty suitable for production purposes. The menu looks a bit big for my taste - it could have been a little less in size and covers almost 40% of the desktop when clicked.

From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
The desktop also supports hot corners for easier use. I don't prefer using a lot of hot corners as it can be quite distracting as well but it is good to have functionality.

Even the Pantheon file manager (Files) sported of some new enhancements like subtle blue glow of the folder when my cursor was focused on it, more sophisticated folder icons, multi-tab flexibility, etc. It adds to the overall appeal of the distro but sadly, preview function is still missing in Elementary.

From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
I didn't add a conky here just to keep the desktop uncluttered and as it is. There are a few GNOME 3 legacy drawbacks which elementary OS till now have like:
  • No right click possible on desktop - even for changing a simple wallpaper, I had to visit the settings manager.
  • No icons on the desktop: It looks a bit barren, even short cuts are not allowed. However, the plank makes up for it and users can keep their favorite apps on plank.
  • No minimize button: every time doing a right click on the top of the application is a bit inefficient.
In overall, on aesthetics, elementary scores in simplicity, font rendering and refinement whereas it lags behind comparable distros like Zorin OS, Pear OS, etc. on not removing the GNOME 3 drawbacks.

Applications
Given the modest ISO size and based on my past experience with Elementary OS beta 1, I didn't expect a whole lot of applications in it. Elementary comes with very basic applications like:
  • Office: Calendar, Document viewer, Geary Mail 0.3.1
  • Internet: Empathy, Midori browser
  • Graphics: Shotwell photo manager, Simple scan
  • Multimedia: Totem movie player, Music 0.2.2
  • Accessories: Archive manager, Calculator, Screenshot, Scratch 2.0, Pantheon terminal 0.2.3
Elementary brings in some of it's original applications like Geary mail, Maya calendar, Music player, Pantheon terminal, etc. I liked the Geary mail's updated version - simple uncluttered and easy to configure. Spam function and multiple accounts are definitely good functionalities. Also, it feels simpler and lighter than Thunderbird. Though I am not a big user of email client, but I'll be looking forward to Geary. It is getting better!


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Maya calendar looks simple and easy to use. However, I expect at least integration with Google calendar to be more functional and right now it is not that usable for me.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Music player's updated version is better than the last one (Noise) I used. By the by, Elementary doesn't have any multimedia codec pre-installed in the distro. However, once you try to play any music or video file, it downloads the codecs very efficiently and without any hiccup. I could list all the songs in a folder by selecting that folder via music player. I could see improved album art handling, duplicate detection (first time I saw in a Linux music player), no crashes while playing music for continuously 4 hours a day for 5 days, and supported music in external hard drive quite well. I rate music as quite good an application.
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

The default web browser is Midori, with a very refined interface. Sadly, my experience with Midori in this release was limited as it kept on crashing and could not integrate Adobe flashplugin that I downloaded. However, html5 videos worked fine with Midori (till it crashed!). I installed my favorite browser Firefox with 5-10 minutes of trying my luck with Midori. I know Adobe flashplugin can be integrated with Midori but wanted a browser which just works. Having Midori as the default browser (specially when you're not vying for a lightweight distro) doesn't work for me.
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

Further, I was impressed with Pantheon terminal. It is transparent, looks cool, gives muti-tab facility and very stable. It is better than the boring terminal in Ubuntu.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Scratch is another Elementary addition and it is not as good a text editor as gedit or leafpad. I couldn't open the /etc/apt/sources.list file in scratch which I can in gedit or leafpad.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
I didn't try out the updated Shotwell. Rest of the applications are the same as you get with any Ubuntu spin. Also, the settings manager is integrated just like any other GNOME 3 spin.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Installation
Installation is typical Ubuntu and no surprises there. Installer looks like a typical Linux Mint one. Questions are usual about language, location to install, keyboard preferences, geographic location and user ID creation. It took me about 20-25 minutes to get Elementary installed on my laptop.


From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Hardware recognition
Elementary correctly recognized my laptop's touchpad and screen resolution. Wifi was detected immediately in the 64-bit version whereas the 32-bit couldn't. 32-bit beta1 version worked well with me earlier. Possibly I should have downloaded the 32-bit version again but I didn't have the patience.

Repository
Elementary sources applications from Ubuntu Precise repos. The default GUI looks like Ubuntu Software Center but it is rebranded. I didn't find synaptic package manager in Elementary and it has to be downloaded.
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
From Elementary 0.2 http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

I could install Firefox browser, Adobe flashplugin, GIMP and LibreOffice without any issue using the Elementary Software center.

Performance
The 64 bit Elementary OS surprised me by it's efficiency and responsiveness. At steady state, it consumed about 340 MB RAM and 1-5% CPU to load the Pantheon desktop with htop running. The 32-bit Beta1 consumed about 300 MB RAM in my previous benchmarking test, on the same machine and under identical conditions. Unfortunately I couldn't get the 32-bit version going this time - otherwise, it would have been a nice comparison.

Below table compares Elementary OS to two other 64-bit distros I checked this year, Pear OS 7 and Netrunner 13.06 - RAM and CPU utilization recorded on the same laptop and under almost similar conditions. Pear OS 7 performs marginally better than Elementary OS 0.2.

Operating System Size of ISO Base Desktop Linux kernel CPU Usage RAM usage Size of installation
Pear OS 7 (64 bit) 1.1 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.6 with Docky 3.8.5 1-5% 315 MB N/A
Elementary OS 0.2 (64-bit) 728 MB Ubuntu Pantheon, Gnome derivative 3.2.0 1-5% 340 MB 2.87 GB
Netrunner 13.06 KDE (64bit) 1.4 GB Ubuntu KDE 4.10.3 3.8.0 1-10% 410 MB 5.7 GB


Overall
I had a really pleasant experience with Elementary OS 0.2. It's simple but aesthetically pleasing design actually intrigues me. Right now I am not using it for production purposes but I may when the 1.0 release comes out. Pantheon is definitely better than GNOME 3 distro or Unity, but I would like to see a few add-ons like:
  • Right click on the desktop to do simple things like changing wallpapers, etc.
  • Supporting folders, icons, etc. on desktop - I don't like naked desktops.
  • Preview function to be added to the file manager - it actually helps in working faster.
  • Add minimize button to applications - it is more efficient.
  • Plank is not customizable much right now - I would like to see a few customization options for the plank.
  • Calendar is not much usable right now - Google or Facebook integration is in my wishlist.
  • Scratch needs a bit of improvement to make it more usable.

Definitely an improved design, Geary mail, pantheon terminal and music players are plus points for me in the 0.2 release. User experience is right now very good in Elementary and I feel it is almost there to be a dependable and reliable operating system for daily use and production purposes. It has some elements of originality about it which I don't see in a majority of the Ubuntu derivatives.

Those who wants to try out Elementary OS 0.2 can download it from here.

24 comments:

  1. I don´t know what you mean by "I am looking forward to the first release of Elementary OS" because actually this is the second stable release of Elementary OS. It is not "0.2" but "2.0".

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    1. According to DistroWatch, it's 0.2, but it isn't exactly 'beta'. First there was 0.2 beta 1, then 0.2 beta 2, and then this - 0.2 stable. I guess Arindam is referring to the 1.0 release. And seeing the way it's gaining popularity at this stage, 1.0 might as well be a Mac killer! :P

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    2. Hi Darshak:

      Thanks for explaining - exactly my point of view.

      Hi Guillermo:

      Actually got confused with the release note http://elementaryos.org/journal/luna-beta-2-released. Will correct in my article.

      Regards,
      Arindam

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  2. Great review! This has become my primary distro, despite being called 0.2. Seems like elementary developers and designers have this uncanny ability to know exactly what a user wants. They have a deep understanding of simplicity. Even I'm looking forward to 1.0.

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    1. Thanks Darshak for liking my review. I agree with you - even I am eagerly awaiting the 1.0 release.

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  3. Again a nice review!
    The little G3 drawbacks are a matter of time until they disappear and I think Element's very own applications will improve over time as well. Besides Geary Mail isn't developed by the Elementary folks but by Yorba (http://www.yorba.org/).
    I think the Elementary Devs have a great sense for aesthetics and their variant of the G3-Desktop is imho the best one around. It's shiny it's fast and uncluttered so you can customize it to your needs. And additionally it's pretty easy to use. I let my parents try to work with Elementary OS and they quickly felt comfortable with it.
    It's one of the big candidates for my main OS!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Maddy:

      Thanks for liking my review. I am very impressed with Elementary OS as well and I hope, as you mentioned, the GNOME3 drawbacks will be addressed soon. Elementary is actually perfect for newbies as well - very uncomplicated approach and intuitive indeed. I am already contemplating of replacing Mint (which is my primary OS) with Elementary now.

      Regards,
      Arindam

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  4. I am waiting elementary to have single application installer (like EXE in Windows) system. If elementary has it, and it is supported officially, I will download it.

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    Replies
    1. Elementary has a single application installer only - via the software center. I don't get what you mean by the single application installer like windows.

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    2. He means what you get in PC-BSD in their AppCafe, which uses static linking to achieve one-click installs. Care to review the distro once 9.2 comes out? It'll be rolling release from then on too.

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    3. Thanks Vivekanand for explaining. I got his point. Actually I used Ghost BSD for sometime and found it really good. I am a big GNOME 2 fan and still think it is the best DE I have used till date. Unfortunately Ghost BSD too moved to Mate :(. I have used PC BSD as well and it is really good. I'll jot down a review once the release is there.

      Regards,
      Arindam

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  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  6. Anyone compare it with LUbuntu, an Ubuntu based on LXDE?
    Thank-you. ;-)

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    Replies
    1. Hi Fakhrul:

      LXDE distros are one of the most efficient ones that I have used. And GNOME3 distros are one of the least :). However, LXDE is not for beginners and lacks some useful functionalities that GNOME offers. So, elementary, being a GNOME 3 distro, is not, per se, comparable to Lubuntu - not in terms of efficiency or features.

      Thanks,
      Arindam

      Delete
  7. I'm a Microsoft Consultant by trade, and always looked at various distros without installing them full-time. With Elementary Luna, I've installed it full-time on 2 out of 4 home PCs. It is because of this distro I set up my first NFS, DHCP, DNS, TFTP, and FTP on a Linux based machine. I've always done the above on Windows only, but because I truly enjoyed the Elementary experience, I took a day to learn. All Linux distros I've tried were so so in terms of interfaces; Unity, GNOME 2/3, KDE, LXDE, XFCE, and then Mint, Ubuntu, CentOS, PCLinuxOS, Crunchbang, etc. It is with Elementary I finally saw the Linux future; beautiful, clean, and very functional. Very aesthetically beautiful OS. It is a work of art...yes, I have become a fan of a Linux distro finally.

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    1. Hi Charlie:

      Great knowing your story. Even I was a Microsoft user for 10 years before switching totally to Linux. And today I am happy that I took that decision. Elementary, definitely, is a distro that I like for simplicity, aesthetics and I agree with you, it is an work of art from the creators of Elementary theme. I haven't started using Elementary yet for production purposes but I am sure, someday, I'll, given the progress I note. I am just waiting for GNOME 3 (the base of Pantheon DE in Elementary OS) to be more functional and intuitive.

      Regards,
      Aridndam

      Delete
  8. Hi
    Good Review

    How about Security and Stability of this OS
    Whether the applications are really updated and is it with media codecs

    Can it be comparable with Linux Mint or Zorin OS
    Yours
    VN

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi VN:

      Elementary is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and has all the security benefits that Ubuntu offer. Also, being an long term support distro it is very stable. I am using it for sometime and it has worked really great for me till date.

      Elementary actually provides just the shell without multimedia codecs and adobe flash plugin. So, the user needs to download all his/her fav apps to make it more functional.

      And I guess, Elementary is a bit different than Mint or Zorin - it never competes to provide a complete operating system. It rather shows you how ideally a Linux OS should be. Once you start using Elementary OS, possibly you should understand the difference. It is very smooth to use, has a simple & intuitive interface and is perfect for production laptops.

      Regards,
      Arindam

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  9. Excellent review! eOS has quickly become my favorite OS. It is very simple and very beautiful. Nothing else quite like it out there. Though there are a few flaws, as you have stated. But I am sure that these will be fixed as time goes on. The eOS dev team has done the world a favor!

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    1. Thanks for liking my review. eOS is damn good and is what Linux is supposed to be.

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  10. I don't know why but Elementary OS sometimes hang and unresponsive so I have to power off.

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    Replies
    1. Possibly your hardware is not modern enough to support gnome 3. Can you please post here your laptop specs: brand, processor, ram and graphic card details.

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  11. Thank you for your review! Really helped me decide which distro to go for.

    I have run into installation issues while creating a dual boot with Windows 8. Hope you have some input.

    I have Dell XPS-One 27 (touchscreen, windows 8, i7 3770, 16GB RAM, 2TB HDD). I undertook the following steps:

    1. Created a live USB using unetbootin with the 64-bit version.
    2. Backed up my data
    3. shrunk the volume, allotted 900GB and formatted it with NTFS format
    4. Disabled Fast boot
    5. Disabled secured boot (it was already disabled)
    6. Changed the first booting device to USB
    7. Chose to install eOS
    8. When it reached the stage for installation type i was expecting to see options such as removing windows 8, alongside, etc. I didn't see any options and the installation couldn't move forward

    9. Tried couple of times didn't work.
    10. Disabled the UEFI mode. Nothing happened. However, now I can't even boot it with the live USB. In the BIOS it doesn't detect my Kingston USB as it was doing it before I disabled and re-enabled UEFI.

    That's the story and I have not come across any solutions. Your help will be appreciated.

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Commenting just to receive notification. Thank you!

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