I tried Elementary, some thoughts


#1

So, today I tried Elementary. Albeit, in a virtual machine (VirtualBox). I wanted to share some thoughts.

It installed well, using the rather familiar Ubuntu installer. Everything installed without a hitch. I rebooted and found what looked like a slightly redesigned LightDM. I liked the design…very clean and clear.

I was then booted into the main desktop. It looked like a Mac - a dock at the bottom, some indicators, but then (what feels like an awkward) Applications menu.

The desktop felt simple and clean, but the icons on the dock got me. They look boring; just flat and uninteresting…like something from an old version of Windows. Irrespective, the icons linked to useful things - web browser, email, calendar, etc. So, I clicked them and tried to get set up as a practical system - I have work to do.

I loaded the calendar first but couldn’t figure out a way of connecting my Google Calendar. No way of connecting work calendars too (e.g. Exchange for corporate users). It was a good looking app, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it fit into my practical work life. The last thing I need is an offline calendar.

The web browser was simple and slick. I liked it. Email was pretty simple, but again felt somewhat limited in functionality. I didn’t try the music player as I didn’t load any music in there, and I know how well Empathy runs.

The Applications view looked like a window with a bunch of icons. Sure, there were apps there, and that is great, but I failed to see the point of this…why not just have something pop up from the dock? It felt like it was put there because someone read about Fitts Law.

I was a little disappointed to see that the software store was just the Ubuntu software store; I thought there would be a special Elementary store with a bunch of special nicely-designed Elementary apps.

My Conclusion

I have to admit, and much as I have tremendous respect for the Elementary team, it all felt a bit…weak sauce to me. I say this for three reasons:

  1. When I use a computer I have practical things I need to do. Connect to networks, use services, get my email/calendars from different places. Where I tried to do real work with Elementary it seemed to fall down. A nice desktop, sure, but I am not using this to use a nice desktop, I am using it to get out of my way and let me work.
  2. I was expecting more special Elementary-specific bits. What I saw was a lot of existing FLOSS code just re-themed.
  3. While the desktop is clearly inspired by the Mac, I wasn’t expecting such a blatant copy of Mac OS X. I use a Mac too, and it just felt like a straight-to-video Mac clone. I thought Unity at times inspired from the Mac, but it aint got nothing on this. :smile:

It looked pretty, no doubt, but I see no reason to use this instead of another Linux distribution. Ubuntu, from what I can tell, provides a slicker and more consistent experience. Fedora too probably, but I haven’t used Fedora in a while.

Saying this though…I am very impressed with what the Elementary team have achieved so far. Their ambition and goals are admirable, they are good people, with a strong vision. As we discussed in an earlier Bad Voltage though it feels like a lot of great ideas and big plans, but I am unsure how we go from this to the success the team wants to see.

I think what they need more than anything is scale. They need more developers, more apps, and to continue making bold decisions. I don’t want the same software as every other Linux desktop…I want something unique. I want it to stand out…to be different…to be interesting and bold. To set a new standard for computer interaction and experiences. Their thinking is there, they just need the code to go with it.

So, while I may be critical of the experience, I admire the effort and I encourage people to go help them if you are passionate about Elementary too.

Thoughts?


You asked for it, Elementary Freya (Beta) review
#2

So, today I tried Elementary. Albeit, in a virtual machine (VirtualBox). I wanted to share some thoughts.

Were you trying Luna or freya-beta1.

I was then booted into the main desktop. It looked like a Mac - a dock at the bottom, some indicators, but then (what feels like an awkward) Applications menu.

Awkward how? Gnome had an Applications menu, and I wouldn’t really consider Pantheon’s Applications menu as that, a menu. It is a launcher, just like how Ubuntu’s Unity dash is a launcher, not a “menu”. Also, like a Mac, really? Guess what else uses a “menu” as well and has a dock, XFCE. Does that suddenly make it look like OS X too?

The desktop felt simple and clean, but the icons on the dock got me. They look boring; just flat and uninteresting

Boring…like on Ubuntu? The icons express the functionality from the app, what else do you want?

I loaded the calendar first but couldn’t figure out a way of connecting my Google Calendar. No way of connecting work calendars too (e.g. Exchange for corporate users). It was a good looking app, but I couldn’t figure out a way to make it fit into my practical work life. The last thing I need is an offline calendar.

This is a well known issue. If you were using freya-beta1, you’d know that CalDav is integrated, however it is a known issue in the beta that it doesn’t yet hook into pantheon-online-accounts.

Email was pretty simple, but again felt somewhat limited in functionality.

That isn’t a fundamental issue with elementary OS though, that is the work and limitations of the guys over at Yorba, which development Geary.

why not just have something pop up from the dock?

Because that’d look terrible.

I was a little disappointed to see that the software store was just the Ubuntu software store

Yea me too, the Ubuntu Software Store really sucks. No worries, they are working on replacing it.

Where I tried to do real work with Elementary it seemed to fall down.

And for me it is the complete opposite. Pantheon is a desktop environment that isn’t distracting, cluttered, bloated, etc. It works, it allows me to quickly execute and manage applications, etc. I don’t need a desktop environment’s launcher to show me Amazon ads, I need it to show me my applications.

Ubuntu, from what I can tell, provides a slicker and more consistent experience. Fedora too probably, but I haven’t used Fedora in a while.

That is your personal opinion and I respectfully disagree.


#3

Luna.

It feels awkward because it just feels like a tray full of apps. I am unlikely to browse through those apps - the most useful piece of that view, the categorization for new users, is not on by default. As such, it feels like a clickable equivalent to the list of apps on a smartphone, except on a smartphone swiping feels natural, but on a desktop clicking on the multiple tabs feels weird. I just don’t see the utility of it, and while it shares some similarities to some other UIs (e.g. Unity), I feel that Unity is better executed in some ways, and less better in others.

To be clear…this isn’t designed to be a Elementary vs. Ubuntu thing…some icons on Ubuntu look shit too. I would argue though that the general quality of aesthetics in terms of icons on Elementary feels sub-par…they are just not striking.

I don’t believe the only function of an icon is to express the functionality of the app…it is also to provide an overall sense of polish, of beautify, and to exude the elegancy and simplicity of a platform. Just look at the icons on Mac OS X - they are beautiful…we need more of that on Elementary, not 1990ish flat, boring icons. :smile:

Makes sense.

Agreed, but my review is based on the overall experience of Elementary, and thus the default apps that are provided (and thus the same criticism could be made of other distros too). Geary is nice, but too simplistic IMHO.

Maybe, but I think something on the dock could be more logistical, but what do I know. :smile:

So here’s the deal I have with Elementary…and to a degree, some of the mindset there. Replacing a software center is not just about building a new app…it is building an ecosystem of apps that fit into it. This includes a developer website, HIG, design guidelines, API docs, managing API transitions, SDKs, and more.

I totally get why they ship the Ubuntu SDK, but this is why I would like to see the Elementary team focus more on building a rocking ecosystem around apps (maybe partnering with Ubuntu, as much of the work is happening there too), rather than iterating on the desktop, which has less relevance these days.

The thing that will make Elementary ship is awesome apps.

Again…this is not Elementary vs. Ubuntu. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care about Amazon search results either. Pantheon is not bad…it is clear and gets out of my way, I agree, but my issue is not with the desktop…it is with accessing my email, my calendar, creating documents, syncing content…the nuts and bolts of the modern worker…sadly much of it isn’t there.

It could be made to work, and I think the potential is there to build it, but it feels to me the team need to think about those challenges more than iterations on the desktop. The desktop is fine and works, so does Unity and GNOME Shell. :smile:

Awesome. :slight_smile: This is all about sharing views and feedback, and everyone is welcome to disagree with me…hell, I might disagree with me soon too. :smile:

Thanks for the feedback and thoughts, @JoshStrobl!


#4

Hey Jono,

Thanks for taking elementary OS for a spin :slight_smile: I would like to make some clarifications though.

Getting things done is of the utmost important to us. While good design should be aesthetic, it should should primarily be useful. That’s why concision is a core part of our design philosophy: stripping away everything that distracts from getting real work done. Because of this, 2/3rds of the people getting elementary OS are coming from a non-Linux OS. We’re proud that the desktop experience we provide is one that compels people to switch to free software.

We write the vast majority of the apps we ship. It’s what gives our desktop its unparalleled consistency and speed. Most distributions (including Ubuntu) don’t take design past theming. But to us, design can’t really happen unless it happens in code. You can see the hundreds of branches we have here: https://code.launchpad.net/elementary

Although there is a misconception that Pantheon is Mac-inspired, we actually come from a GNOME background. That’s why you’ll see a lot of the traditional GNOME layout in our design, like an applications menu in the top left, indicators in the top right, and task switching at the bottom of the display. What you won’t see is a global menu or the iconic “traffic light” button arrangement, both of which you’ll find on Ubuntu.

But most importantly, we believe that we owe it to our users to focus on being much better instead of focusing on a marketing strategy built around differentiation.


#5

Luna.

You should seriously take a look at freya-beta1. A lot has been improved since Luna.

It feels awkward because it just feels like a tray full of apps. I am unlikely to browse through those apps - the most useful piece of that view, the categorization for new users, is not on by default. As such, it feels like a clickable equivalent to the list of apps on a smartphone, except on a smartphone swiping feels natural, but on a desktop clicking on the multiple tabs feels weird.

That’s fair. I personally prefer the grid of icons approach, but I totally get the fact the categories section isn’t the default. That said (at least with freya), I typically find myself just typing Win + Space to launch Slingshot, start typing the application and click enter when it pops up. Less and less is it about going to a particular icon or category then application and more about quickly typing out the name and clicking enter to launch it.

I would argue though that the general quality of aesthetics in terms of icons on Elementary feels sub-par…they are just not striking.

Just to put things in to perspective, the quality of aesthetics for the second release of Ubuntu, ever, was horrible. It comes down to iteration and improving throughout each release. I think if you took a look at freya-beta1, your opinion might be different about the quality of aesthetics. Just keep in mind that Luna was the second release of elementary OS (first was Jupiter).

we need more of that on Elementary, not 1990ish flat, boring icons.

cough* try freya-beta1 cough*

Geary is nice, but too simplistic IMHO.

No filtering options or GPG integration eliminates the possibility of using Geary for me, personally, so I stick with Thunderbird. That said, I like the look and feel of Geary as well as the utilization of GTK3 / Vala.

Maybe, but I think something on the dock could be more logistical, but what do I know.

I think you might be looking at it from the perspective that the “dock” on Unity is on the left side, where the launcher will appear when you click the Ubuntu icon, so it works for Unity. But with the dock on the bottom, having the launcher from there would interrupt your workflow more than necessary and most likely block more content on the screen.

I totally get why they ship the Ubuntu SDK, but this is why I would like to see the Elementary team focus more on building a rocking ecosystem around apps (maybe partnering with Ubuntu, as much of the work is happening there too), rather than iterating on the desktop, which has less relevance these days.

elementary has been spending a lot of time doing developer relations stuff lately and if you go to the Google+ community, the developer part of that is pretty lively. I just recently bought elementary’s “elementary Developer Guide” to learn how to dive into GTK development and learned Vala as well, so I’m starting to make GTK applications.

That said, I agree that Ubuntu’s focus on developer experience is better than elementary’s, but it really just comes down to resources, which elementary just doesn’t have a whole lot of.

In terms of partnering with Ubuntu, I’m not entirely sure how that’d work out. Ubuntu is moving towards using Qt-based applications (as you and I both well know), while elementary is firm on GTK. They might be able to share some of the backend stuff, but it is really up to both teams to decide if they want to work together and to what extent.

it is with accessing my email, my calendar, creating documents, syncing content…the nuts and bolts of the modern worker…sadly much of it isn’t there.

I access my email through Thunderbird, create documents with WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft Office), sync content via BitTorrent Sync, and manage my calendar using Microsoft Outlook’s web calendar stuff. elementary doesn’t ship with an office suite because there isn’t a decent GTK based one and elementary OS only really ships with stuff that works with their HIG. Geary works for most people’s email needs (just not people like you and I that need more advanced features) and once Freya stable is released, the Calendar (Maya) will be able to suit people’s needs as well.

The syncing content “issue” is sort of mute at this point. There isn’t really a one-solution that fits all needs. Most people use a mix of storage solutions, none at all, or non-common ones. It wouldn’t make sense for them to ship with Dropbox, Copy, BitTorrent Sync, links to Google Drive, etc.

It could be made to work, and I think the potential is there to build it, but it feels to me the team need to think about those challenges more than iterations on the desktop.

That’s fair. I’d argue they are focusing on those challenges. If you take a look at their freya-beta2 milestone, you’ll see there is a lot that is being focused on that isn’t strictly related to Pantheon and more focused on improving the core apps.

hell, I might disagree with me soon too.

Try freya-beta1 and you might :stuck_out_tongue:


#6

I would suggest mentioning in the OP that this is for Luna because I (and I suspect most) assumed you tried the Freya Beta freshly released.


#7

Funnily enough a few days ago I installed Freya beta on my Thinkpad X220, replacing Mint. I have a few minor gripes but in general I really like the interface (especially since I’m a Mac user too). If you have a desktop interface you are going to look at for 8-16 hours today you want it to be ascetically pleasing. Stock Ubuntu and Fedora is not that, not even close. My Fedora desktop I tweak significantly but with Elementary Freya I haven’t even changed the background.

I admit I don’t try to get the same usage out of it as Jono, my mail, calendars, etc… are all handled by my Mac and my Linux boxes are pure dev/test machines.


#8

Not commenting on the rest, but… freya isn’t released. Things destined for actual people ought to be reviewed on what the actual people run. Which is released software.


#9

Just because an ISO has a beta label on it doesn’t mean it isn’t released. As with many things in Open Source.


#10

“Beta is a stage in software development where we expose our progress to a group of brave testers.” - http://elementaryos.org/journal/freya-beta-1-available-for-developers-testers. It is Not Cricket to simultaneously say “use the beta! it fixes your problems!” but then dismiss complaints about it not working with “that’s because it’s a beta! it’s not ready yet!”. Elementary are pretty clear that their target market is not open source technical whizzkids who beta-test software for fun, and therefore should be reviewed on that basis.


#11

God damn it Elementary! Fix your marketing so I can win the argument! :wink:


#12

It is Not Cricket to simultaneously say “use the beta! it fixes your problems!” but then dismiss complaints about it not working with “that’s because it’s a beta! it’s not ready yet!”. Elementary are pretty clear that their target market is not open source technical whizzkids who beta-test software for fun, and therefore should be reviewed on that basis.

Jono is complaining about a release that is several years old when there is a new release, in beta, that he could review to provide a more relevant opinion on the matter. Some of the issues he pointed out are already addressed in the beta.

Elementary are pretty clear that their target market is not open source technical whizzkids who beta-test software for fun, and therefore should be reviewed on that basis.

Right. Jono Bacon isn’t an “open source technical whizzkid” (no offense Jono). He wanted to review an operating system, the least he could do is review the latest revision of it, not something outdated.

He didn’t, plain and simple. Lets not try to play semantics and be like “ooohhh it is technically beta therefore not released blah blah blah” b.s. It is out there, for the public to try, and his opinions are already nullified for the most part. End of story.


#13

I think that’s perfectly reasonable, as long as you’re happy to say that if someone reviews the beta and a thing doesn’t work, you’re not allowed to say that that’s because it’s a beta and isn’t finished yet. Now, to be clear, that’s explicitly not what the elementary project themselves say, but I think it’s fair that if someone says “elementary is rubbish because I tested freya and it crashed all the time” that your response is “yep, it’s rubbish; sorry”, and not “that’s because you’re running a beta”. The key point here is that it is unkosher to avail oneself of all the benefits of being in beta but none of the deficits when challenging reviewers.


#14

I think that’s perfectly reasonable, as long as you’re happy to say that if someone reviews the beta and a thing doesn’t work, you’re not allowed to say that that’s because it’s a beta and isn’t finished yet.

Let’s roll with a situation for a sec. Lets say Jono was to review freya-beta1 and make the remark that his Google account doesn’t sync his calendar with Maya (the Calendar app). I think it would be perfectly valid to say “yes, that is a known issue, here is a link to the bug, you should expect it to be fixed by release”. I agree that saying “oh, it is beta and not finished yet, so that is what you get for reviewing it” is rubbish.

I think it’s fair that if someone says “elementary is rubbish because I tested freya and it crashed all the time” that your response is “yep, it’s rubbish; sorry”, and not “that’s because you’re running a beta”.

I think it would be more appropriate to not say “yes it is rubbish” and more saying “ok, what issues were you having, what was crashing, lets see about fixing this so your experience is better next time you try it”. If Noise was to crash (and let me tell you, it does), I wouldn’t suddenly jump to the conclusion that the entire operating system is rubbish.

The key point here is that it is unkosher to avail oneself of all the benefits of being in beta but none of the deficits when challenging reviewers.

I’m not sure who is claiming that and I think it would be perfectly valid if Jono reviewed the beta and expressed both the benefits / improvements he sees as well as the cons. What I don’t think is valid is him reviewing a several year old release when there is clearly a new version (which yes, I acknowledge is currently in “beta”, but still released nonetheless) that tackles some of the issues he points out regarding consistence.

Reviewing a several year old release at this moment in time, when there is is both a beta and surely a stable release sooner-rather-than-later, is seriously untimely. I would’ve understood if he made these remarks when Luna was released, just not now. If people see the post, don’t fully understand that the issues he points out are, for a good part, already resolved, he could turn people off from the distribution entirely, solely based on outdated opinions and experience.

It’d be like me reviewing KDE 4.x and pointing out a lot of consistence issues that are resolved in KDE 5. It could turn people off KDE entirely just because my opinion is based on an older release and not something that, while in beta, resolves those issues.


#15

Yep. It could, indeed. That’s what happens when there’s time between releases, and it’s one of the big arguments for a “rolling release” of a bit of software. However, the benefits of waiting until you’re happy with a release are also well-known, and that’s the route that elementary have decided to take. What you’re doing is trying to avail yourself of all the benefits of having fixed known-good releases (“hey, here is a product we are happy with, and we’re confident that it’s a good, consistent experience, so you can use it, people”) and all the benefits of roling-release (“that bug’s been fixed in the development version! so it’s not really a bug!”). Which, as I say, is not reasonable. Would it be OK if I complained about a problem in iOS 7 and somebody from Apple said “oh, that’s fixed in our internal builds, so it’s not actually a problem”? If it’s reasonable to review the beta, then you have to own the bugs in it at the time it’s reviewed – otherwise, you’re essentially telling any elementary user that they are a de facto elementary software tester as well. That’s pretty contrary to the elementary ethos, although it’s quite common for less user-focused operating systems.


#16

Here is as good as a place to ask my questions.

I have always used Ubuntu because I can install it on my machine (for now it’s an old Dell laptop from the Windows Vista era) and everything works. Other distros I have tried, the wireless wouldn’t work on the first install, and I could not figure it out (I’m not too bright). How ‘inexperienced user’ friendly is Elementary?


#17

It is based on Ubuntu 14.04 so if Ubuntu works Elementary “should” work…


#18

To clarify what @nlsthzn said, freya-beta1 is based on Ubuntu 14.04.1. Luna is based on 12.04.


#19

My impression is that Elementary is lighter on resources than Ubuntu. Is that correct? Any timetable on the next stable release?


#20

I personally find Pantheon to be lighter than Unity but if you have semi-solid hardware, you might not notice a big difference. Unity is really snappy these days.

The freya-stable release will be ready when it’s ready. Work is being done to land freya-beta2 (not by me personally, I’m doing other stuff and am not part of the elementary team) first before a stable release.


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