Alrighty. Yesterday I published a review of the current version of Elementary, to wit I received a battalion of:
…but your criticisms are fixed in the next version!
Weird, it is almost like I have never heard that before in software.
So, in the interesting of serving the public good, here is my review of the beta version of Elementary, known as Freya, which you can read more about here.
Firstly, I installed it. Sadly, I experienced some bumps in the road. I created a VirtualBox disk with 8GB of space and went to install. The installer told me there wasn’t enough room for the ~3GB partition. This was clearly not true; my disk had plenty of room. Tried again, again no luck. Deleted the disk and created a whopping 28GB disk to make sure it worked. It started installing.
I deliberately deselected the download and install updates option, yet the installation process kept flicking between “Retrieving file N of NN”. I am not sure if this was getting packages from inside the .ISO or pulling them offline but it was slooooow. The previous version of Elementary installed in next to no time, this took much, much longer, like it was installing from a network.
With me up and running I eventually I booted the desktop. Again, I like the login screen and when I logged in the UI looks pretty similar to the previous desktop I had tried. There was the familiar dock, indicators and application menu.
I had been assured that the integration with online services integration (e.g. Google calendar) is a bright new feature in Freya so I wanted to try this first.
I clicked on settings and went to Online Accounts, which I have to say is a really nicely designed and looking control panel, and I added my Google account. I flicked the switches to sync contacts, email, calendar, and pictures.
Excitedly, I went to the Calendar app but saw…no calendar. I figured, maybe it takes time to sync, so I left it a while. I kept closing and opening the app, and no luck. I even restarted the VM: no calendar.
I went to Geary expecting to see my email, and no email - it seems you have to sign up again in there. So, I tapped in Google account details and it told me my email address and password were wrong (which I knew they wern’t). Tried again and no luck. Lo and behold when I checked my GMail webmail later I got two emails saying sign-in attempts were blocked. When I clicked to find out more, Google told me that they were blocked because they were attempting to authorize using “less secure technology”. It seems the Gmail sync code in Geary is a bit outdated.
So, I tried photos next. Loaded the photos app and no photos from Picasa. It seems again that the Online Accounts stuff doesn’t actually integrate with the photos app. I couldn’t test the contacts sync as it seems there is no app to view contacts.
So, all in all, the Online Accounts support didn’t work at all. Nothing synced and it seems that I still need to manually configure online accounts in most of the apps. This somewhat defeats the purpose of online accounts integration - what is the point of my tapping in my details if most of the apps use it? I have the same critique towards online accounts in Ubuntu too, by the way.
In the interests of completeness I looked at the other things in the release notes. The Slingshot search feature was cited as a new improvement. Outside of performing calculations all it is really useful for is searching for apps, which works fine. I guess this will be more interesting in the future when there are more plugins.
The client-side decorations definitely look nice. I have to give the Elementary folks credit, their desktop does look good and the optimization of space works well. One thing that does feel weird though is the inconsistent use of menus. For example, there are menus in the photos app but not in the calendar app.
Speaking of the calendar app, it needs some UI love. As an example, from what I can tell, there are no buttons for me to quickly jump to today’s view, to view by agenda, day, week, or month. Double-clicking a day in the month view tried to add an event. Also, the settings menu (the cog) doesn’t actually let me configure things such as calendar accounts, which calendars to display, timezones, etc.
Also, and it can’t go without saying, and I know some of you will disagree, but those damn icons in the dock still look so primitive. If the Elementary team were to put some more visually interesting icons in there (such as more depth, color, and/or photorealism), it would really bring the desktop to life. I can see in my mind what Elementary with Mac OS X style icons would look like and it would look beautiful.
For other bits, the applications menu looks pretty similar, the indicators work fine and as expected, and the desktop generally performed well.
One thing I did notice is that there is no LibreOffice. I think this is a mistake. I think the Elementary folks should be focusing their efforts on building a platform that is all about doing work crisply and easily. While I am sure that LibreOffice violates every essence of @danrabbit’s design ethos , I would argue it is better to ship something than nothing. Elementary without a capable office suite is just a thin collection of barely useful apps. People need mail, calendar, browser, and office productivity, and the final piece is glaringly missing. I encourage them to ship it…LibreOffice is looking better and better these days and would be worth the effort to include.
As with my last review, I want to congratulate the Elementary community on their efforts here. There is no doubt that Freya exposes more of the vision and ethos of what Elementary is all about, but it still feels a way off. This release, while visually clean, just has too many rough edges and doesn’t provide the wealth of refinements some Elementary fans were assuring me of. Again, right now I cannot practically use Elementary to do real work…when those rough edges are sanded off, it will be a real contender. I like their focus on simplicity and removing clutter…I like their bold decisions…but I think they need to prioritize their efforts - CSD are nice and all, but I would rather have my shit sync in your apps.