August 17, 2013

Elementary OS, codenamed "Luna" based on Ubuntu 12.04

"Over the weekend the Elementary team released the stable version of Elementary OS, codenamed "Luna" which is based on Ubuntu 12.04. The new OS features an entirely custom desktop shell called Pantheon which has been developed from scratch using Vala and Gtk+ which allows for fast apps with a small memory footprint. Elementary OS has been years in the making, and the team have documented the process in their latest blog post." Below is a YouTube review and 2 reviews with screenshots.

Elementary OS "Luna" 0.2 Review: Simple, effective, efficient

Like many other Linux users, I too, follow a lot about Elementary OS. They seems to be getting things right what's wrong with modern Linux in general and GNOME 3 in particular. Consider this, it is just the 0.2 release of Elementary and already ranked 27 in Distrowatch popularity! The 1.0 release is yet to come! As Darshak said in the comments section - it is going to be killer of a distro.

From Elementary 0.2

Anyway, I used the 32-bit Elementary OS Beta 1 release a few months back and was deeply impressed with it. So, when the 0.2 release note came with some incremental improvements, I wanted to try it out myself. Elementary OS too, like 70% of all Linux distros, is based on Ubuntu and to be more precise, on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and the present update comes with Linux kernel 3.2.0. However, it doesn't believe in Ubuntu's Unity philosophy and has come up with it's own GNOME 3 forked desktop, Pantheon. Even the Files file manager is forked and named Pantheon Files. 

The main USP of Elementary is a sophisticated, uncluttered and uncomplicated desktop. It comes from the same developers who created elementary GTK2 theme for Linux. Elementary OS provides users the basic desktop to work with and customize. I set the expectation right the very beginning itself - if you are expecting a whole lot of applications with all possible codecs/flash installed like other Ubuntu derivatives (incl. Mint), then you'll be disappointed with Elementary.

The release note of Elementary 0.2 states of the following incremental improvements:
  • Better support of international languages including some Asian languages like Sinhalese
  • Multiple display support (didn't test in my review)
  • Incremental refinements in design (checked most of them)
  • Updated applications like Music player, Pantheon terminal, Midori, Shotwell, etc. (checked all of them, except Shotwell)
I downloaded both the 32-bit and 64-bit ISOs (both less than 700 MB) for this test. Somehow, the 32-bit ISO didn't work that well for me. I couldn't connect to wifi, all of a sudden the desktop started becoming unresponsive, etc. etc. So, I didn't install the 32-bit version but instead did this evaluation based on the 64-bit one. I tested it on my Asus K54C laptop, with 2.2 Ghz Core i3 processor and 2 GB RAM. I used Unetbootin to create a live USB.

Elementary OS has a very simple and sophisticated interface. Pantheon is a simple Mac OS like desktop with docky at the bottom and a panel at the top. The dock, named as Plank, is derived from Docky and offers a limited range of functionalities. It looks simpler and the typical Docky icon is not there which is good.

From Elementary 0.2
Desktop looks a bit naked with no icons but the default wallpaper really gels with the overall theme. I found quite a few good looking wallpapers in Elementary as well.

From Elementary 0.2
Font rendering of Elementary is really good and the default font "Raleway" is pleasing to the eyes. Most of the distracting elements like animations, excess color, gaudy design, etc. are not there in elementary making it pretty suitable for production purposes. The menu looks a bit big for my taste - it could have been a little less in size and covers almost 40% of the desktop when clicked.

From Elementary 0.2
The desktop also supports hot corners for easier use. I don't prefer using a lot of hot corners as it can be quite distracting as well but it is good to have functionality.

Even the Pantheon file manager (Files) sported of some new enhancements like subtle blue glow of the folder when my cursor was focused on it, more sophisticated folder icons, multi-tab flexibility, etc. It adds to the overall appeal of the distro but sadly, preview function is still missing in Elementary.

From Elementary 0.2
I didn't add a conky here just to keep the desktop uncluttered and as it is. There are a few GNOME 3 legacy drawbacks which elementary OS till now have like:
  • No right click possible on desktop - even for changing a simple wallpaper, I had to visit the settings manager.
  • No icons on the desktop: It looks a bit barren, even short cuts are not allowed. However, the plank makes up for it and users can keep their favorite apps on plank.
  • No minimize button: every time doing a right click on the top of the application is a bit inefficient.
In overall, on aesthetics, elementary scores in simplicity, font rendering and refinement whereas it lags behind comparable distros like Zorin OS, Pear OS, etc. on not removing the GNOME 3 drawbacks.

Given the modest ISO size and based on my past experience with Elementary OS beta 1, I didn't expect a whole lot of applications in it. Elementary comes with very basic applications like:
  • Office: Calendar, Document viewer, Geary Mail 0.3.1
  • Internet: Empathy, Midori browser
  • Graphics: Shotwell photo manager, Simple scan
  • Multimedia: Totem movie player, Music 0.2.2
  • Accessories: Archive manager, Calculator, Screenshot, Scratch 2.0, Pantheon terminal 0.2.3
Elementary brings in some of it's original applications like Geary mail, Maya calendar, Music player, Pantheon terminal, etc. I liked the Geary mail's updated version - simple uncluttered and easy to configure. Spam function and multiple accounts are definitely good functionalities. Also, it feels simpler and lighter than Thunderbird. Though I am not a big user of email client, but I'll be looking forward to Geary. It is getting better!

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

Maya calendar looks simple and easy to use. However, I expect at least integration with Google calendar to be more functional and right now it is not that usable for me.

From Elementary 0.2

Music player's updated version is better than the last one (Noise) I used. By the by, Elementary doesn't have any multimedia codec pre-installed in the distro. However, once you try to play any music or video file, it downloads the codecs very efficiently and without any hiccup. I could list all the songs in a folder by selecting that folder via music player. I could see improved album art handling, duplicate detection (first time I saw in a Linux music player), no crashes while playing music for continuously 4 hours a day for 5 days, and supported music in external hard drive quite well. I rate music as quite good an application.

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

The default web browser is Midori, with a very refined interface. Sadly, my experience with Midori in this release was limited as it kept on crashing and could not integrate Adobe flashplugin that I downloaded. However, html5 videos worked fine with Midori (till it crashed!). I installed my favorite browser Firefox with 5-10 minutes of trying my luck with Midori. I know Adobe flashplugin can be integrated with Midori but wanted a browser which just works. Having Midori as the default browser (specially when you're not vying for a lightweight distro) doesn't work for me.

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

Further, I was impressed with Pantheon terminal. It is transparent, looks cool, gives muti-tab facility and very stable. It is better than the boring terminal in Ubuntu.

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

Scratch is another Elementary addition and it is not as good a text editor as gedit or leafpad. I couldn't open the /etc/apt/sources.list file in scratch which I can in gedit or leafpad.

From Elementary 0.2

I didn't try out the updated Shotwell. Rest of the applications are the same as you get with any Ubuntu spin. Also, the settings manager is integrated just like any other GNOME 3 spin.

From Elementary 0.2

Installation is typical Ubuntu and no surprises there. Installer looks like a typical Linux Mint one. Questions are usual about language, location to install, keyboard preferences, geographic location and user ID creation. It took me about 20-25 minutes to get Elementary installed on my laptop.

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

Hardware recognition
Elementary correctly recognized my laptop's touchpad and screen resolution. Wifi was detected immediately in the 64-bit version whereas the 32-bit couldn't. 32-bit beta1 version worked well with me earlier. Possibly I should have downloaded the 32-bit version again but I didn't have the patience.

Elementary sources applications from Ubuntu Precise repos. The default GUI looks like Ubuntu Software Center but it is rebranded. I didn't find synaptic package manager in Elementary and it has to be downloaded.

From Elementary 0.2

From Elementary 0.2

I could install Firefox browser, Adobe flashplugin, GIMP and LibreOffice without any issue using the Elementary Software center.

The 64 bit Elementary OS surprised me by it's efficiency and responsiveness. At steady state, it consumed about 340 MB RAM and 1-5% CPU to load the Pantheon desktop with htop running. The 32-bit Beta1 consumed about 300 MB RAM in my previous benchmarking test, on the same machine and under identical conditions. Unfortunately I couldn't get the 32-bit version going this time - otherwise, it would have been a nice comparison.

Below table compares Elementary OS to two other 64-bit distros I checked this year, Pear OS 7 and Netrunner 13.06 - RAM and CPU utilization recorded on the same laptop and under almost similar conditions. Pear OS 7 performs marginally better than Elementary OS 0.2.

Operating System Size of ISO Base Desktop Linux kernel CPU Usage RAM usage Size of installation
Pear OS 7 (64 bit) 1.1 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.6 with Docky 3.8.5 1-5% 315 MB N/A
Elementary OS 0.2 (64-bit) 728 MB Ubuntu Pantheon, Gnome derivative 3.2.0 1-5% 340 MB 2.87 GB
Netrunner 13.06 KDE (64bit) 1.4 GB Ubuntu KDE 4.10.3 3.8.0 1-10% 410 MB 5.7 GB

I had a really pleasant experience with Elementary OS 0.2. It's simple but aesthetically pleasing design actually intrigues me. Right now I am not using it for production purposes but I may when the 1.0 release comes out. Pantheon is definitely better than GNOME 3 distro or Unity, but I would like to see a few add-ons like:
  • Right click on the desktop to do simple things like changing wallpapers, etc.
  • Supporting folders, icons, etc. on desktop - I don't like naked desktops.
  • Preview function to be added to the file manager - it actually helps in working faster.
  • Add minimize button to applications - it is more efficient.
  • Plank is not customizable much right now - I would like to see a few customization options for the plank.
  • Calendar is not much usable right now - Google or Facebook integration is in my wishlist.
  • Scratch needs a bit of improvement to make it more usable.

Definitely an improved design, Geary mail, pantheon terminal and music players are plus points for me in the 0.2 release. User experience is right now very good in Elementary and I feel it is almost there to be a dependable and reliable operating system for daily use and production purposes. It has some elements of originality about it which I don't see in a majority of the Ubuntu derivatives.

Those who wants to try out Elementary OS 0.2 can download it from here.


A week with elementary OS Luna: Could this be the start of something big?

It is not far-fetched to say, open source and its poster child, Linux, is going through a golden period. The emergence of internet has a lot to do with the popularisation of open source way of thinking. But in the world of Windows and Macs, what makes Linux tick? Redhat was the first to explore Linux's potential. But Redhat had a very enterprise centric approach. And in 2004, Ubuntu came along with the focus firmly back on end-users. This kick started a flurry of activity and a number of new Ubuntu based Linux distros started to sprung up. The latest one being elementary OS Luna. And this brand new OS has a lot going for it.

elementary luna os review

elementary OS Luna Preview
Even without a single release, elementary OS had a pretty huge fan following. This was mostly because of the team's early focus on a polished UI, which became an instant talking point among casual as well as experienced Linux users. Moreover, projects like Nautilus-Elementary (which evolved to become Marlin file browser later on), elementary GTK theme etc. were massively popular among users long before elementary OS project was even introduced. Does the OS live up to the hype? We'll soon find out. 

A week with elementary OS Luna beta 1
We have been doing reviews of popular Linux distros for sometime now. But this time I've decided to do it slightly different. I've decided to use nothing other than Luna OS in my netbook for a full week and see how it fared against my favorites such as Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, Ubuntu 12.10, Ubuntu GNOME Remix and the likes on daily use. 
It is worth noting that, Luna OS has not hit the final release yet and is still in beta. But good enough for daily use in my opinion, and definitely good enough for a full blown review.


Starting from the boot splash screen, Luna OS maintains a consistent theme and level of polish unlike any other Linux distro I have tried, through all these years. The LightDM based login screen looks good as well, but I prefer a more simplistic and functional login window, like the one you find in the latest Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal.

Boot Speed
Since Luna OS come installed with Preload by default, and since Preload has a very bad reputation in the boot speed area specifically, I was not expecting anything drastic. But to my surprise, elementary OS Luna fared pretty good, actually even a tad better than both Ubuntu 12.04 and Ubuntu GNOME Remix in my netbook. But not much to have any significant impact.

Ubuntu 12.10 Quantal Quetzal: 38 seconds to reach login screen.
Ubuntu GNOME Remix: 30 seconds to reach login screen.
Xubuntu 12.04 LTS: 27 seconds to reach login screen.
elementary OS Luna Beta 1: 25-32 seconds (fluctuates more than the others)

Clean, Simple Desktops Always Look Good

Luna desktop

I mean, look at that, how much cleaner and simpler a desktop could ever get?

Extensive Support for Keyboard Shortcuts Already

elementary Luna OS keyboard shortcuts

No matter what desktop I'm using, I need keyboard shortcuts to get hang of it. I don't like messing around with touchpad a lot. It was difficult initially since I couldn't find anything about keyboard shortcuts in Luna OS. But soon enough, they were announced in an official blog post. That made everything a lot simpler and I've started to really like this OS.

Multitouch Support for Trackpad Enabled by Default

elementary OS luna full review

This was a surprise. Initially I thought my trackpad was not working (for scrolling), which was kind of a shock since it used to work with all kinds of OSes out there. But then I found out that, in elementary OS Luna, two finger scrolling (both vertical and horizontal) is enabled by default. I tried it and it worked like a charm! Nice touch I say.

UI Design and the Overall User Experience 

elementary OS luna full review

The menu has a simple, uncluttered layout and is very easy to use. There is nothing complicated about it. You can even sort the apps further into categories.

elementary OS luna review

Luna's default dock looks nice and has a more straight-forward approach when compared to Unity's launcher/dock. But I still prefer Unity's launcher over this anyday. It has way more functionality (quicklists, download status bar, keyboard shortcuts etc.) and feels much more sophisticated. But I don't think Luna's Plank dock menu is even trying to compete with Unity. It is meant to be simple, and most users won't even notice the lack of extra functionalities.

elementary OS luna full review

And Plank's settings can be found in the System Settings - Desktop menu. You can set it to auto hide, intelligent hide, hide on maximize or never hide mode.

elementary wallpapers Luna OS

A collection of 24 beautiful wallpapers have been included. But right click menu is disabled by default while in the desktop and hence there's no easy access to wallpaper settings, like in Ubuntu. You have to go to System Settings - Desktop menu to access it.

elementary Luna desktop

Hot Corners: A very nifty addition to an already robust desktop. I used to add this in Ubuntu all the time with the help of Ubuntu Tweak. Accessible via System Settings - Desktop again.

elementary OS desktop Luna

A beautiful retake of GNOME Shell's overview mode for workspaces. Works very well and looks fantastic. See elementary keyboard shortcut's screenshot above to learn enabling and disabling of workspaces overview mode in Luna OS.

Choice of Apps:
Plenty of new applications, some even custom designed by elementary team, has made it to elementary OS Luna beta 1 release. They include:

Marlin File Browser aka "Files"

Luna file browser

Not much long ago, when we did a quick review of Marlin file browser, it was still very much a work in progress. It lacked many critical functionalities and overall polish. Keeping that in context, the latest avatar of Marlin file browser in elementary Luna was pretty exciting. It is now a very well put together file browser in a league of its own. For example, just look at the way file's name, type and size is displayed at bottom right when you hover above it (see screenshot above). Or the Nautilus-Elementary styled "breadcrumbs" (see screenshot below). UPDATE: Apparently, it seems like Marlin is an entirely different project now, see comment by Cassidy James in the comments below for further clarification. It's just "Files" now.

marlin file browser elementary Luna OS

Even the animations that has been added to "breadcrumbs" feature is so simple, elegant. If you are someone who loves the attention-to-detail factor, Marlin file browser alone is going to surprise you in so many different ways.

Midori Web Browser

elementary OS luna full review

Midori is my second favorite new app after "Files" in Luna OS. No matter which web browser I use, I have a tendency to go back to Chrome/Chromium and Firefox. But I think I'm going to stick with Midori for sometime eventhough I don't particularly like its default search engine (which is DuckDuckGo) and there seems to be no easy way to change that apparently. UPDATE: You can change the search engine in Midori easily by right-clicking the address bar.

Geary Mail Client

elementary OS luna review

Not a user of desktop mail clients, so couldn't really comment on this particular app. Geary is yet another custom designed app by elementary team for Luna OS. UPDATE: I was not entirely right there. Some clarifications from Executive Director of Yorba Foundation (creators of Shotwell), Jim Nelson: "Geary was designed and coded by Yorba.  Elementary team was working on an email client called Postler some time back.  The two groups had a discussion early this year and agreed to join forces.  Elementary's work on Geary has mostly been asset design (icons, colors, some font and layout elements), desktop integration code (notifications primarily), and some assorted other work." Yorba's team constructed the bulk of Geary including the engine (the IMAP stack, database code, and the front-end API), major part of the UI and the HTML composer, he added.


Another app that I'm probably never going to use. Maya is a calendar app custom built for elementary Luna OS. It definitely looks nice and feels very modern.

elementary OS luna full review

Noise: A very basic Music app that just works.

Other default apps for elementary Luna OS include: Scratch text editor, Shotowell Photo Manager (no Image Viewer), Transmission Bit Torrent Client, Simple Scan, Ubuntu Software Center (known as just "Software Center"), Update Manager and of course System Settings.

Some new terms you have to get accustomed to:

Pantheon: Luna's new desktop environment and shell (consists of the greeter, panel, app launcher, dock, window manager, settings app, and theme).
WingPanel: It's the panel in Luna.
Slingshot: Luna's new app launcher.
Gala: Replaced Compiz as new default window manager in Luna OS.
The moment you boot up Luna OS, one thing becomes clear. This is a Linux distro that has been made with lot of love. Luna OS might just be the first desktop OS based out of Linux with a firm focus on making a consistent UI more than anything else and a no-compromise approach on quality of custom apps. So, could this be the next big thing in Linux? I honestly don't know. But Luna OS shows a lot of potential and hope it continues to evolve just as well. This is one distro you have got to keep an eye on. Our hearty congratulations to the entire elementary team for a job well done! And thanks for reading.