2013-09-02

Review: Elementary OS 2 "Luna"

Main Screen + Slingshot Menu
About 9 months ago, I checked out the first beta release of Elementary OS 2 "Luna". Since then, the final release has been put out for everyone to see and try, so I am trying it now. I tested this as a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. Also note that I will not go over all the same things as I did last time, but I will take note of any changes.

The boot process and desktop are the same as before. The only changes are that the wallpaper actually looks nice now instead of being a garish blue dotted background. Also, the Elementary icon and GTK+ themes have been slightly updated; I have to say that I prefer the older icon set, as the newer one just looks a little too generic for me (though it still looks quite classy).

Software Center
Midori is still the default browser. At this point, though, I can't excuse it much longer for not easily supporting Adobe Flash, for not supporting common keyboard shortcuts like 'CTRL'+'ENTER' to prepend "www." and append ".com" to an address, and for not rendering certain sites properly. I realize that the Elementary OS developers want to create a unified experience, but frankly, people will be turned off if they can't do their day-to-day browsing without any hitches. Really, the kicker in this is that the Elementary OS website has a YouTube video, and that won't play out-of-the-box in Midori in Elementary OS. Thankfully, the Software Center (i.e. the Ubuntu Software Center minus Ubuntu branding, and also the only application that really sticks out like a sore thumb, but I hear changes are on the way) is easily accessible in the dock, allowing for installation of Mozilla Firefox and Adobe Flash.

Elementary Files is still the default file manager. It has gained a few changes. One is that the menu button is no longer present; I don't know how users will change settings now, unless that is exactly the point. The other is that the tab bar is now visible all the time along with a button to open a new tab, which is useful. On a related note, there is no longer a button to open Elementary Files from the dock. I feel like such a button would still be useful, and I'm not sure why it was removed; do the Elementary OS developers really believe that users should only open the file manager from the Slingshot menu?

There are a couple of applications that have been removed. Chief among them is the GNOME System Monitor. Now it is necessary to use the terminal to check out resource usage and to terminate programs. I'm not sure how good this is for new users. Are the Elementary OS developers just that confident that users will never have to manually terminate a program for any reason? Granted, I never experienced any stability issues or problematic programs, but it's a pretty big assumption regardless.
Elementary Files + Shotwell + Workspace Overview
On that note, Elementary OS used about 300 MB of RAM at idle, according to the command "free -m". The only change I noticed in opening and closing applications is that closing applications takes a fraction of a second longer so that a nicer animation can be made visible. The workspace overview and slide effects are still present in the Gala WM. The issues though are that the hot corner to show the workspace overview has been removed by default, and the keyboard shortcuts to switch workspaces are different from practically every other mainstream Linux DE. On the one hand, Elementary OS seems to be discouraging new users from using workspaces by not making how to use them particularly visible. On the other hand, Elementary OS seems to be discouraging experienced users as well by changing the keyboard shortcuts (even compared to the first beta) for no good reason. Is Elementary OS then trying to discourage use of multiple virtual workspaces altogether? If so, that's fine, but then the developers should be a bit more forthright about that.

That's where my time with Elementary OS 2 "Luna" ended. Much of the rest of my experience was the same as before. The changes are mostly in the vein of Elementary OS becoming even more restrictive and demanding that users follow its workflow exactly with minimal redundant controls. These are more minor changes though compared to the major changes that appeared in the beta, so I can't say that I feel too much more strongly about this. I would just say that my opinion from last time is strengthened slightly: people who don't have too many needs and could easily adapt to an Apple-esque desktop and workflow will love this, while others will not.
You can get it here. Note that the suggested download link asks for a donation, but there is a slightly less visible link that allows for a free download.

17 comments:

  1. and we need Elementary for ??.
    I know the developer just wants to keep busy.
    If there's anything that will ruin Linux it's this kind of crap. How many are in its user-base??

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  2. I think the Elementary team are doing a great job. I find eOS to be very distraction-free. I spend less time in making it look and feel like I want to, because the developers have done that for me. Keep it up, guys! =)

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  3. @sgreen: I may not agree with their design decisions, but if it works and if this is what could appeal to new users of Linux, why should it be considered ruinous? That said, your question about its userbase is a good one, because the number of excited reviews in the past few weeks about this new release may not necessarily indicate interest in this distribution from people beyond regular Linux distribution reviewers.

    @Anonymous: It's great that it comes in a workflow that suits you.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. I've seen too many comments in the lines of "why do we need another linux distro", "linux is about freedom/configurability/etc", while missing a point:

    The ElementaryOS team is trying an interesting UX approach that results in a more responsive interface while using up less resources. When one's busy with using the computer for work, having a gazillion options to configure (like KDE) does not really help. The behemoths that are Unity and Gnome Shell (if you use a netbook) are both heavy resource hogs and inconsistent in terms of user interface.

    I've found Pantheon Desktop clean and clutter-free while using modern toolkits.
    Still needs some feature development, but their one-stable-working-step-at-a-time is appreciated. Haven't had a crash in the 3 weeks I've been using it, and I find its workflow comfortable, after all. So what if it looks as Apple? At least they've come up with a consistent interface.

    After 15 years of using Linux, I've finally found "my" desktop environment.

    BTW, great blog Prashanth! Lots of interesting tips & bits here

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    1. @indigoCat: It's great that Elementary OS has worked well for you thus far. Thanks for the support!

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  5. Midori supports HTML5 video (even those encoded with h264 that Firefox won't touch) as long as the gstreamer good+bad+ugly packs are installed.

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  6. You really need to explore EOS more thoroughly. It is simple to use, easier to switch desktops than most other distros and you can easily ignore or get rid of Midori and use another browser.

    It is now my distro of choice, instead of Mint XFCE.

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    1. @Bernard Victor: I do agree that it's easy enough for people like us to change the default browser. My issue is that if the target audience of Elementary OS is total newbies who need the restrictions and workflow structure imposed by this distribution for fear that they will mess the system up by straying outside of those boundaries, said newbies will likely be frustrated by a browser like Midori compared to a more well-established browser like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Also, "simple to use" is highly relative; I'm glad that Elementary OS has worked well for you and that you've been able to adapt your workflow to fit this distribution, but there are too many features and customization options that I need that are missing, and I have outlined those in some detail in this review and in the previous one (the preview). Thanks for the comment!

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  7. I think that you need need to have a rethink about eOS, now that it has been a while since it came out. Try it for a week and then tell me what you think.
    10 years with Linux, home and at work. And I'm really get a lot of enjoyment using this OS.

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    1. @Anonymous: This comment got me thinking, because I do occasionally do long-term reviews (see my previous ones) where I install a distribution onto a desktop that I use for my undergraduate research and see how it handles 40-70 hours of work. Before I install, though, I try the live session once more (1) to make sure nothing has changed and (2) to make sure it could potentially do everything I need it to do. I went ahead and tried the live session of Elementary OS 2 "Luna" again today, because I figured if it did everything I needed it to do, I might as well try to initiate a new long-term review with it. The biggest thing I need it to do is handle a remote share and its associated contents correctly, because that is where most of my research work happens. This means it needs to have a competent file browser and a competent text editor. Unfortunately, while Scratch could potentially fulfill most of my needs, Elementary Files cannot. It is unable to save a remote share as a bookmark; relatedly, any remote shares that are opened seem to be lost when Elementary Files is closed (even if I haven't logged out), and trying to open those "lost" shares causes the program to freeze and crash, which slightly undermines the notion of stability. These are dealbreakers for me, and with the other issues I have pointed out in the rigidity of the workflow imposed on me, I don't think I have much incentive to try Elementary OS on a long-term basis if I know I'll have this many issues with it. I'm sorry, I know you really like this distribution and that you'd really like for me to try it and come to like it too. I appreciate how much you like this distribution, and if it works for you, that's great! The truth is that I have encountered too many issues with it for me to consider using it on a regular basis, and I won't be doing a long-term review of it for that reason. Once again, I have nothing against Elementary OS at its core, because I do say that if you can work within the workflow given by the distribution and find it likable enough, go for it! I personally cannot do that, though, and I imagine many of the other commenters here feel similarly to me. Thanks for the comment!

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    2. Thank you for your reply.
      Maybe the next release will be more forgiving to your specific needs, as patheon files matures. Thanks again for taking the time and effort to reply.

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  8. Thank you for the thorough and very practically useful review.
    I also believe Elementary OS is incredible in its goals and achievements (it's fast and slick), and will appeal to many users expecting a simple experience, but will put off more demanding users with pretensions from details (customizability, interface finesse). Anyway, for me, if it doesn't offer new functionality, it doesn't help reach stuff like programs and settings more easily and it doesn't completely work out of the box (the web browser, media, missing task manager), I can't appreciate what extra it has to offer. Too bad. Maybe a future release will overcome those shortcomings.

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    1. @bitoolean: Thanks for the support!

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  9. If they wanted to bring a kinda macish workflow to the Linux desktop I wonder whŷ they weren't even able to implement innovations like the appshell framework which allows to install apps per drag & drop or made at least use of a modified file structure like it is available in MoonOS for years.
    How it looks by now there isn't really coming anything innovative with eOS, besides some icon themes that look like a OSX copy made by a 12 year old and lots of restrictions for the enduser. Not being allowed to put files on the desktop? Oh really? Made me immediately uninstall this joke of an OS.

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    1. addendum: I have to admit it's really fast, though.

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    2. @Anonymous: It certainly is fast, but I'm sorry that it didn't otherwise work out for you either. Thanks for the comment!

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