2011-04-01

Review: Elementary OS 0.1 "Jupiter"

Main Screen
Well, after quite a long wait, it has finally happened: the first official release of Elementary OS is here! Codenamed version 0.1 "Jupiter", it's based on Ubuntu 10.10 "Maverick Meerkat", so you may be thinking to yourself, "Why should I care about yet another Ubuntu derivative?" I'll admit that I had (and still have) slightly bought into the hype about Elementary OS, but there are plenty of reasons to care about Elementary OS. Let's look at some history.

Elementary OS has a rather unconventional history. It first started out as just an icon theme. Shortly thereafter, it grew GTK+ and Metacity themes. Along the way came a mod for the Nautilus file browser, default in Ubuntu and most other distributions with GNOME, called Nautilus Elementary; I've mentioned that mod before here, but for those who don't know, this mod organizes the side panel items by category (Personal, Devices, Network), beautifies the breadcrumb-style pathbar, removes some redundant navigation buttons, and compacts the menubar into a button. Then, the project started to expand its focus to include applications alongside aesthetics, with the Postler mail client and the accompanying Dexter address book program. Alongside these efforts came many other mockups for various other applications, such as Mozilla Firefox, Pidgin, Empathy, FileZilla, and others. More recently, the Elementary developers created a new panel called the WingPanel to replace the GNOME Panel on top, along with a new application launcher called Slingshot, all combined along with all the other applications into a new shell for GNOME called Pantheon.

I tested Elementary OS on a live USB made with UnetBootin. Although this is an Ubuntu-based distribution, I tested the installation just for fun (and to see if the developers have made any changes there) in a virtual machine with 384 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what this icon theme-turned-full-fledged distribution is like.

I rebooted, changed the BIOS, got to the UnetBootin boot menu for Elementary OS, and opted to "try without installing". What followed is certainly a contender for one of the fastest boot processes I have ever seen on my laptop. I saw the elegant pulsating Elementary logo for maybe 3 or 4 seconds, and 3 seconds after that came the full desktop. Wow!

Ubuntu Software Center + AbiWord + Docky
Unfortunately, many of the really cool innovations that the Elementary developers promised, such as WingPanel, Slingshot, Marlin, and Pantheon, were not ready for this release; I do believe the developers have promised that these components will be ready for the next release. That's not to say, though, that the desktop present is bad. Far from it (and I'm not trying to "damn it with faint praise"): the desktop looks quite elegant, with a soothing sky-themed wallpaper, a GNOME panel on top, and a dock on the bottom. The panel contains a typical 3-part GNOME main menu on the left, and a bunch of indicator applets making up the system tray on the right. Interestingly, the developers have locked down the panel; I guess this is to ensure that new users don't accidentally mess it up. I think that's fine, because users who would really want to change the panel would know how to do so anyway: use GConf-Editor. Also, for some reason, the calendar is disabled in the clock applet, which is really weird, and if I wanted to change that, I would have to go to GConf-Editor to change it. I would rather see the clock applet with the calendar enabled, and I don't know why the Elementary developers decided otherwise. In addition, they seem to have locked down the main desktop screen itself, because right-clicking on the wallpaper does absolutely nothing. That's weird, and in my opinion that's a bad thing because I have a feeling that users coming from Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X (the target audience) would be used to something happening when right-clicking, possibly related to creating new folders on the desktop or changing the desktop background. The bottom dock is an instance of Docky, with a bunch of applications like Postler, Dexter, Empathy, Midori, AbiWord, and the Ubuntu Software Center, among others, pinned to the dock. Of course, the dock also functions as a task manager and not just as an application launcher. The Docky icon is missing, which is good in one way because it makes Elementary OS feel more like a unified operating system and not just a collection of applications from different sources. On the other hand, it took me a couple tries to correctly bring up the Docky configuration window, so for a while I thought Docky was locked down too. Overall, the desktop looks great, though I'm not sure I agree with disabling the right-click function on the desktop wallpaper.

Midori playing YouTube + Gnumeric + GNOME Main Menu
Midori 0.3.2 is the default browser here, and I have to say that using it here has made me like it less than before. Though it was always stable, it seemed slower than Mozilla Firefox 4, and it rendered some sites like OMG!Ubuntu! weirdly with some page buttons overlapping with text, among other issues. Its shortcuts were all different for no good reason; for example, CTRL+ENTER didn't append ".com" to the end of a website name, and unless I'm missing something, enabling the "Shortcuts" extension to change the keyboard shortcuts didn't help, because there was no option to change that particular shortcut. In Mozilla Firefox and Chromium, when I'm writing a post in Blogger, I can press CTRL+S to save the most recent revision of the post as a draft in Blogger. In Midori, pressing CTRL+S brought up a dialog to save the actual Blogger post editor HTML page on the hard drive, which is not at all what I wanted to do; that said, the point was made essentially moot by the fact that Blogger automatically saved the current post every minute or two. I liked the fact that the menu is compacted into a button and the buttons to close tabs are on the left, which is consistent with all the windows in Elementary OS having the window controls on the left, but I didn't like how double-clicking the tab bar doesn't open a new tab; I had to click on the specific button to open a new tab, and it was unfortunately not next to the rightmost tab. Finally, I didn't like how when the cursor hovers over a link, Midori previewed the URL in the URL bar itself; in Mozilla Firefox 4, this preview occurs in a faded color next to the current URL, but in Midori, the previewed URL totally covered up the current URL. Thankfully, this could be fixed by enabling the status bar.
All Midori-related gripes aside, proprietary codecs are not included, so I had to go fetch them from the Ubuntu Software Center. On that note, it's plainly obvious by the name that the Ubuntu Software Center is not native to Elementary OS and sort of goes against that unified feeling, so I would like to see the developers in the next version of Elementary OS call it something like the "Elementary Software Center" or just "Software Center" as it is in Debian 6 "Squeeze". Anyway, fetching the codecs took a little bit more time than expected, because after the Canonical partner repository was enabled, the cache had to be updated, and only then could I install things like Adobe Flash 10. After that, sites like YouTube worked, meaning Elementary OS recognized my sound card as well as my laptop's FN keyboard shortcuts for changing the volume, though this wasn't particularly surprising considering Elementary OS's Ubuntu roots.
On the note of YouTube, I was a little sad to see Buffalax's account gone; you may have noticed that in my reviews, when I try YouTube, I usually play the "Crazy Indian Video...Buffalaxed!" Well, that's gone now. I guess I have to move on. For this review, though, I found the same video, just without the silly English lyrics. Also note that YouTube allows you to play videos in the 1911 silent movie-style; it's a great feature, and honestly, it makes Rebecca Black's "Friday" look and sound much better. (I was thinking about writing about that song, but I decided against it. If you want me to write that post, please ask me in the comments; I won't do so if no one asks.)
Speaking of sound, I installed Cheese Webcam Booth and Skype. Both worked flawlessly and correctly recognized my laptop's integrated webcam and mic, though once again that's not surprising considering that Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu.

Nautilus Elementary + Gedit + Gloobus Preview + Compiz effects
Moving on to other applications, AbiWord and Gnumeric are the two productivity programs. They're both quite fast, but although they are fully compatible with older Microsoft Office file formats, that's not true for the newer formats. In that sense, I would rather have seen LibreOffice included, because it's much better in handling Microsoft Office file formats, and it's supposed to be a whole lot faster than its predecessor OpenOffice.org. And even though it isn't included, that means Elementary OS lacks a presentation creation tool. I would have liked to have seen Ease included, because it really seems to mesh well with the goals of this project. That said, that application seems to have been inactive for the last few months; maybe that's why it wasn't included.
Some of the standard GNOME tools, like the Brasero disk burner, Gedit, and Totem media player are included. Also, Empathy is included for instant messaging, and Shotwell is the default photo manager.

As mentioned earlier, Marlin was not ready for prime-time, so Nautilus Elementary is the default file browser. Alongside that is Gloobus Preview, which previews all sorts of different files, including images, text files, documents, and PDF files, among others, in a pop-up window right above Nautilus Elementary. It's slick, it's blazing fast, and it fits well with Elementary OS.

The three Elementary OS-specific applications present are Postler, Dexter, and Lingo. Postler and Dexter are supposed to be a lot lighter and easier to use than the Evolution mail client; that said, they don't really matter to me because I view all my email in a web browser. Lingo, formerly known as Purple, is the new dictionary application present in place of GNOME Dictionary; it's supposed to be much lighter, simpler to use, and has a search bar that suggests words as the user types similar to Google's search bar. Having used GNOME Dictionary before, I can definitely say that Lingo is a lot nicer to look at and easier to use. Also, all three of these applications have menu buttons in place of menubars. Finally, dear Dexter: I already have friends, but thanks for the advice anyway. Hehheh.

Lingo + Dexter + System Monitor
The part about menubars brings me to one of the small issues I have with Elementary OS and its goals. Only the Elementary OS-specific applications, Midori, and Nautilus Elementary have compact menu buttons; all the other applications have menubars. The Elementary OS developers want to replace all the menubars with menu buttons because these correctly move the emphasis from the menubar to the actual content of the application; plus, the menubars are typically way too complex and cluttered for their own good. I totally agree with these assertions, but I see some applications in Elementary OS with menu buttons and others with menubars, which isn't so great for consistency. I realize that changing the menubar to a button in an existing GNOME application requires fiddling with some front-end stuff that's deeper than just icons and Metacity themes, but for the next release of Elementary OS, I'd like to see many of the standard GNOME applications like Gedit and AbiWord with menu buttons instead of menubars.
The next small issue is with scrollbars. One of the other changes the Elementary developers have made is making the scrollbars much thinner and removing the redundant navigation buttons. This makes sense, but for some reason I thought the scrollbars were supposed to fully hide away from view unless the cursor hovered near the scrollbar edge. If I'm mistaken, please let me know in the comments; otherwise, I'd like to see this fixed too in the next release.

There are some other small issues too which aren't directly related to the Elementary developers' goals. One is that although Compiz is the default WM, CompizConfig Settings Manager is not present, so users must either install said application or change the plugins and settings using GConf-Editor.
Another is that the main "System" menu is missing its icons next to the items' names. I don't know if this is intentional or not.
Another is that windows don't snap when moved to be adjacent. I would prefer that snapping windows were turned on, but that may just be me.
The last one is that in the "Places" menu, opening Nautilus Elementary at the home folder is faster than opening it in any other place. I'm not really sure why this is.

Speaking of Compiz, desktop effects were enabled and running out-of-the-box. I was also able to successfully change the set of effects used through GConf-Editor.
Also, running Compiz typically makes the desktop run slower, but here, Elementary OS used only 274 MB of RAM at idle, which is relatively svelte for an Ubuntu derivative, even with all the whiz-bang effects running. Even with Midori opened to YouTube alongside Dexter, Lingo, AbiWord, and Gnumeric, the desktop only used 390 MB of RAM. That's quite good, and certainly better than Ubuntu. Maybe this light weight explains how it was able to boot so quickly.

At this point, I started the installation process by booting the ISO file in the virtual machine. It took a little time to reach the desktop probably due to the low RAM allocation, but when that happened, I was greeted by the newest version of Ubiquity. The nice thing about that is that it gave me the option of either trying out the live mode or going straight into installation. I went into installation, and then it showed me some requirements and recommendations, such as the hard drive having more than 2.6 GB of space that can be allocated to Elementary OS, the computer being plugged into an outlet, and the computer having a steady Internet connection. It also let me download updates within the installation procedure as well as install proprietary codecs which cannot be included in the live session for legal reasons. I checked all those boxes and proceeded to partitioning. This step is essentially the same as before, so I manually created the usual layout and continued. To my surprise, the installer let me proceed with user creation and locale setup while the partitioning and installation occurred in the background. Unfortunately, after that was done, there was no slideshow. Hopefully there will be something like that in the next release. Despite the relatively low RAM allocation, the whole process took about 10 minutes, which isn't too bad.
After that, I rebooted into a desktop almost identical to that of the live session, which is to be expected. Even with only 384 MB of RAM and 12 MB of video memory for the guest OS, the system felt extremely responsive, to the point where even resource-hungry Docky animations worked well. This was true even with AbiWord, Gnumeric, and Midori all open, the latter with YouTube and Zombo.com open simultaneously. That means Elementary OS might just be a great pick for someone with an older (but not too old) computer who doesn't want something any more minimalistic than standard GNOME. And that's where my time with Elementary OS ended.

So what's the deal? Elementary OS is blazing fast, lightweight, looks beautiful, feels very tightly-integrated, and is quite easy to use. Its homegrown applications (Postler, Dexter, Lingo) seem to work much better than those shipped in vanilla GNOME. Its habit of locking some desktop components down is a double-edged sword; it removes the chance of user error, but it becomes more annoying to change things for those who do want to make changes. I'd like to see AbiWord and Gnumeric replaced by LibreOffice, but not as much as I want Midori to be replaced by Mozilla Firefox, because although Midori fits in nicer with the goals of Elementary OS, Mozilla Firefox is a far more compelling choice otherwise, and with its compact menu button and increased theming potential with version 4 along with better memory consumption and shorter loading times, there's no real compelling to pick Midori over Mozilla Firefox. Plus, there are some consistency issues regarding the main "System" menu as well as the retention of the "Ubuntu" name in the Software Center. Finally, there are a couple things that were really talked up in the community, primarily WingPanel, Slingshot, Marlin, and Pantheon, that were promised for Elementary OS but couldn't be included in the interest of releasing version 0.1 "Jupiter" in a timely manner. So really, aside from a few small niggles, there's nothing truly wrong with Elementary OS as it is right now; in fact, there are many, many things to like about it. The disappointments just came from broken promises and misunderstandings relating to aesthetics (e.g. scrollbars, menubars) and new components of Elementary OS. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants a slick, fast, and pretty OS, but I am personally more looking forward to the next version. That'll become important because that's supposed to use GNOME 3 and GTK+ version 3, which will allow the inclusion of Slingshot, Pantheon, Marlin, and WingPanel; it'll provide something new and fresh for people turned off by the GNOME 3 Shell.

26 comments:

  1. Hi how did u make liveusb for it. İ try with unetbootin selected ubuntu 10.10 but it did not work for me. Can give some info about it? thx for review

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  2. @ali karaağaç: What you need to do is select "Diskimage"; next to that text should be a white text box, and next to that should be a button. Click the button to browse for where the ISO file is, and double-click the ISO file. The rest is the same. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. If you're on ubuntu 10.10, you should be able to press alt+F2 to bring up the run dialog, then type in usb-creator-gtk. That will allow you to copy the iso to the usb and make it bootable.

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  4. Unfortunately Midori will NEVER be replaced by the Elementary team. They have extremely tight ties to the Midori devs.

    google would drop gmail before elementary drops midori, lol.

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  5. Midori is an awesome browser if people actually take the time to configure it to their likings and investigate its features, which include being able to identify as another browser so some pages work better. You can always add another browser and keep Midori for backup.

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  6. Hey There, Just wanted to thank you for writing the review :D

    But also to point out that nobody ever said Pantheon would be finished for Jupiter (in fact we weren't going to even tell anyone we were working on it yet). I'm sorry you were disappointed it wasn't included, but it wouldn't have been a good reflection of what Pantheon will be all about :)

    As far as the next version of elementary OS, there have been no promises to ship Gnome 3 or GTK3. We'll have to see what the future holds!

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  7. I have a question (because I'm curious :), why the name "Jupiter" when there is already an established FOSS product with the same name?

    It is a fantastic name though, I'm rather fond of it for some strange reason.

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  8. Just wanted to say Midori is a great browser (posting this from it). The Elementary OS team just need to give it some sane default settings. You can easily resolve a few of Midori larger quirks with the right configuration.

    Personally I think if Elementary OS sticks with Gnome 2 it could be that drop in Ubuntu deriv for Gnome with the main distro jumping to that silly unity thing.

    ~Jeff

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  9. My Major issue is not with Midori which worked quite well. I found the Major issue is the mail client they shipped with, which has no support for smtp authentication or any other custom options. So for me if was unusable referring to the email client. Other than that the OS itself worked as expected and allowed me to pull in firefox and evolution.

    Overall nice clean product. Another recommendation is on the software store you change the heading to say Elementary instead of Ubuntu and that will give it a more polished look.

    www.sklav.com

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  10. @Anonymous 1: That works too, though I'm not sure if it works like Unetbootin or if it's just a "dd" command front-end.
    @Anonymous 2: I knew they were close, but I didn't realize they were that close. Plus, I thought Midori was originally a project to give Xfce its own web browser.
    @Anonymous 3: My issue is that other less-used browsers like Opera, Epiphany, and others already take care of the user-agent issue out-of-the-box, so I would expect Midori to do the same to present a smooth and hitch-free experience from the start. Plus, I feel like some things like CTRL+ENTER to go from "website" to "www.website.com" are practically established standards now, so I'm not sure why Midori has to needlessly buck those trends, though I do understand those things can be changed relatively painlessly.
    @DanRabbit: Woah, it's the creator of Elementary! As you can probably see, I am in love with the artwork, Nautilus mod, and homegrown applications. That aside, I suppose the announcement of Pantheon on sites like WebUpd8 and OMG!Ubuntu! gave me a false hope that Pantheon would be included in this release. Also, I do believe some commenter on a related article a few days ago on WebUpd8 (which I can't find now because for some reason it's redirecting to Google, which I figure is their April fools' joke) said in fact that GTK+ 3 would be shipped in the next Elementary OS release, allowing for the shipping of WingPanel, Slingshot, Pantheon, and Marlin. This commenter seemed like an Elementary developer (and I vaguely remember the name starting with 'M'). That's all I know.
    @FEWT: That's true!
    @Jeff91: Certainly. I think a lot of disenchanted Ubuntu users will flock to it, especially with the next release of Elementary OS, where hopefully whatever bugs exist will be ironed out.
    @G: Well, I don't really use desktop mail clients, so I wasn't too concerned about this. And yes, I also mentioned in the post that the Elementary developers should drop the "Ubuntu" name from the Software Center.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  11. Correction @DanRabbit: The comment was on the Tech Drive-in review, and it was not by an Elementary developer, just an outside observer that appears to be quite close to the project. Could you please check that out and tell me what you think? The commenter's name, I think, is "Grundoko" or something like that.

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  12. @PV: Just wanted to say, great review. Very thorough. Agree with you on just about everything.

    @DanRabbit: if you're reading this, keep up the good work! Also, where can I send bug reports? Do you have an official forum where followers like myself could discuss the next release? Looking forward to seeing your secret projects in action come next release! Thanks.

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  13. @Dillon: Thanks for the support! Also, there was a forum, but it seems to have been deactivated; I remember reading a forum post there that the forum would be replaced by something totally new to coincide with the new release.

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  14. Hi, can Elementary be used without 3D effects? I have no need for another layer of bugs and complexity on top of the mess of bugs and complexity that is Xorg. And there are many machines that at least initially do not support 3D compositing out of the box. Apart from its 3D dependencies, Elementary OS is looking very promising.

    Thanks, best regards!

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  15. @Ankleface Wroughtlandmire: I think through GConf-Editor you can change the WM from Compiz to Metacity, whose compositing manager is much friendlier to older hardware. Docky should still work fine with Metacity compositing. However, if you turn off Metacity compositing and use it as a very basic 2D WM, Docky won't work anymore, so you'll have to exit it, disable it from running on start up, and use GConf-Editor to add another GNOME panel to the bottom in its stead. Thanks for the comment!

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  16. @Dillion: Everything has a launchpad page, just search for it in on launchpad.net

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  17. @John: Found it deep within the search results. They have several launchpads... one for nautilus-elementary, one for their unreleased projects... For anyone else interested, here's the Bugs page for elementary OS. https://bugs.launchpad.net/elementaryos

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  18. @John, Dillon: It's good to see you have sorted that out!

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  19. i already successful install elementary on my laptop its look very good but for desktop function, it seems not workings, right click not available on desktop and so on... so, how to enable desktop function? such as to add shortcut on desktop and right click on desktop...

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  20. @Anonymous: The thing is, Elementary OS was supposedly designed for you to have a nice, workable environment without needing to tweak it all the time. Of course, that isn't always true. To get back those functions, you'll need to play with GConf-Editor, and I'm not an expert on that, so your best option is to search online for help regarding GConf-Editor. That said, I also believe that Nautilus has an option for drawing icons on the desktop, but don't quote me on that. Thanks for the comment!

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  21. two things
    1)Is there a way to have the calender/to do thing in the clock drop down like Ubuntu?
    2)Can I install elementary over an ubuntu dual boot?
    Regards

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  22. @Commander: I thought that the clock/calendar does have that capability out-of-the-box, but if it doesn't, I'm not really sure off the top of my head how exactly to enable that. Also, it is certainly possible to either triple-boot Elementary OS with Ubuntu and another OS or to dual-boot Elementary OS with another OS while replacing Ubuntu. Thanks for the comment!

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  23. @Prashanth: I've been trying to install Slingshot in ELementary. I'm very much a begineer. Could you help me out?

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  24. @Veknash: I haven't tried out Slingshot yet. There may be an Ubuntu PPA for it (which of course also works for Ubuntu derivatives like Elementary OS), but I don't remember; if nothing else, you could instead install the latest daily build of Elementary OS, because that should have it. I'm sure you know this, but I'll just say anyway that you should remember that it isn't yet final, stable software, so it might be quite buggy. Thanks for the comment!

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  25. "I'll admit that I had (and still have) slightly bought into the hype about Elementary OS"

    What "hype" are you referring to?

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    1. @missingfaktor: It was all the hype that Elementary OS would somehow generally be a game-changing Linux distribution and may even become mainstream. Thanks for the comment!

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