Elementary OS is a fairly new distribution, still a distance from version 1.0. It is a lightweight distro intended to use few resources, and is based on the Ubuntu 12.04 LTS distribution.
This is my review of elementary OS 0.2, the 32-bit edition. I installed it on my main laptop, a Gateway M460 with 2 GB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, and an very old integrated video card.
elementary comes as a 662 MB .iso file, the install takes around 15 minutes and asks the usual questions. If you entered a wireless password it gets carried over to post-installation, a feature I wish every installer included.
One drawback, however, is that this version of Ubiquity (the Ubuntu installer) is an older one, and does not include support for disk encryption or Logical Volume Management, so if either of those is important to you, this is not the distribution for you.
Although it is based upon Ubuntu’s Precise Pangolin, elementary OS has some customized apps. “Scratch”, the installed text editor, seems pretty good once you get used to the fact that the default behavior is to save-on-close rather than let you save at any point. This can be changed in the preferences section.
elementary uses a couple of UI features that remind me of early Unity – the close button is on the left hand side of windows, there is no “minimize” button, and the overlay scroll bar is used in many windows (which can be removed if it annoys you). The desktop environment is called Pantheon, and is custom built using GNOME 3 technology. Ubuntu doesn’t really encourage or support the use of Unity in other distros, so this is typical. The top panel (Wingpanel) reminds me strongly of GNOME 3, but with a light look to it. It’s quite good. Right-clicking on the main desktop is disabled.
Adding an app to the dock isn’t difficult; right-clicking on an open app will let you select “Keep in Dock”. Right clicking any dock item will allow you to uncheck the “Keep in Dock” if you don’t want it there anymore.
elementary uses the “super key+s” combination to let you add another virtual desktop to your current set. Just as with GNOME, these virtual desktops are created as needed rather than using a preset group of 2 or 4. “Super+a” will display all open windows in the current desktop. (The “super” key is the one with the Windows or Linux penguin icon on it)
There is a System Settings tool for you to change wallpaper, add drivers or a printer, and most other preference related functions.
elementary is one of the minimalist distributions, only installing 17 applications plus the hplip printing wizard. The list can be found under “Default Applications” on this webpage, as part of their Technical Specifications. Adding new software is easy with the Software Manager from Ubuntu that is included:
The music player (“Noise”) seemed to play a CD fine, although no information about the CD was listed, I’m not sure why. Totem, the movie player, lacks the 3rd party codecs to play regular movies, but I am guessing that it would play .ogg files easily.
No games are installed by default. The repositories are for Ubuntu 12.04 so most games that are available can be installed – just keep in mind that they are likely to not be the most current versions (for instance, Crawl is version 0.9, not 0.11).
Help and Support
Elementary doesn’t have a dedicated forum yet, but some answers can be found in the support section here. In addition to a Q & A section, a fairly decent user guide discusses “Migration”, “Learning the Basics”, and other topics.
– elementary includes a Guest session by default.
– the custom look and feel is quite pleasant and the wallpaper choices are very nice.
– The control panel seems sparse, and things such as disabling the touchpad were impossible or extremely difficult to find.
– The choice of Midori as the main browser means that for Flash to work properly, a second browser will have to be installed.
– help and support options could be improved.
Your enjoyment of elementary will primarily depend on whether or not you prefer to build your system up with your own choice of applications. The minimalist ethos is likely to frustrate people who wish to have all the best Linux programs ready to go immediately after installation. I don’t plan to use elementary as a day-to-day operating system for this reason. But in the time I’ve used this distribution, it seems quite steady on its feet. I will definitely check back with elementary in the future to see how it improves.