In a previous article I talked about whether a Linux desktop was ready to become a mainstream OS on a desktop computer for everyday, non techie users, like my Dad or Wife. In that article, I concluded that, Yes, Linux is now at the point where it is becoming a viable option. Linux has been the mainstay on servers for many years now, and powers a large proportion of the internet, but it has never really caught on with standard desktop computing. This has changed though with tablet computing as Linux sits underneath the Android operating system.
In the article I stated that Linux Mint was a very good transitional Linux distribution because it looks and acts very similar to Windows, so this would make a users migration to Linux a lot smoother. There are still a number of hurdles to overcome for the user like giving up any Microsoft specific applications like Office in favour of LibreOffice, and general hardware device compatibility, which driver wise, lags behind Windows.
In the comments for the other article, a reader suggested checking out Elementary OS. Elementary is another Linux distribution based off of Ubuntu, that has been designed to be very easy to use. The user interface as you will see in a bit is gorgeous. Also this distribution is very lightweight in that it doesn’t come with hundreds of installed applications like Linux Mint does. This makes it more like a base install of Windows, where you just get the operating system and a collection of small apps and utilities. I find this quite appealing as I don’t like clutter.
So lets take a look at this OS. You download the ISO file image from Elementary OS website. Again I am installing it under Windows 8, using Virtual Box. As this distribution is based on Ubuntu, it has a very familiar installer which is very easy to use. The whole process took about 15 minutes. Once the installation had completed I was at the Login Screen ready to sign in and start using the OS.
The first thing you are struck with is just how good looking this OS is. It simply looks stunning. If you click at the top left of the screen you will open up the applications menu.
From looking at the application list when you first start up, there really isn’t much there except the standard items you might expect, like a calculator, calender, instant messaging, a browser (midori), document viewer, an email client (Geary), application package manager and a file browser.
At the bottom of the screen you will see an application dock which is similar to what you might expect from MAC OSX.
You use this to dock you most frequently used applications so you have easy access to them. Elementary comes with it’s own customer file browser which is basic, yet functional and seems to work very well.
From the application dock, or the application menu, you can access the system settings panel to perform basic customisations.
If you don’t like installing applications from a command line then you can use the software centre which is based off the Ubuntu package manager. Pretty much everything you could ever need is available from here. The first things I did was install Libre Office and Gimp.
Of course, if you like to install your applications via the console window, then you can still do this in the usual way with something like “sudo apt-get install firefox”
Whilst testing the OS I continued to install some applications like firefox, and Netbeans. Everything just worked as you would expect it too. I didn’t have to do any complex customisations.
I think you will agree, this version of Linux looks simply stunning. I might even make this the version that I use from now on instead of Mint. Mint is still very good and I would also still recommend it as a Linux distribution to help migrate windows users across, but for a different version of Linux that has it’s own identity and you are now fussed about it looking and feeling like windows, then this version of Linux wins hands down. It is very easy to use for novices, yet you still have all the Linux power under the hood and all the complex configuration options available to those that want it.
I still think the biggest downside to Linux is the hardware compatibility. Not everything will have drivers available for it like on Windows. This is no where near as bad as it used to be, but you still may have issues so it is worth checking some hardware compatibility lists first. Distributions based off Ubuntu generally have pretty good hardware support these days. You can use these resources to help you.
For all your standard hardware like gfx boards, processors, webcams you are probably well covered. If you use more exotic hardware like USB Audio interfaces, then I am not sure how covered you are yet. My main desktop machine has a Focusrite Scarlott 2i4 audio interface, so it would be interesting to see how covered it is.
Elementary OS is a very good looking, easy to use, and lean operating system. I was very impressed with it. I especially like the fact that it is quite lean once you have installed it. This will definitely be the distribution that I use. Am I at the point of totally switching to Linux though as my main OS? Not just yet on my main desktop machine. I make my living as a .NET developer on Windows, so it still makes sense for me to use Windows for the moment, but I am starting to think about shifting across.
I do have a spare laptop though which I will wipe and install Elementary OS on so that when I am out of the house I am forced to use the Linux desktop instead of Windows. I know it sounds silly, but when you have been using windows for so long, changing to anything else is quite a hard prospect as you have to relearn everything, but I really want to make the effort with it now as I do very much love the Idea of what Linux stands for.