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.
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:
- 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.
- I was expecting more special Elementary-specific bits. What I saw was a lot of existing FLOSS code just re-themed.
- 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.
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.