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I’ve watched Elementary OS from a distance over the years. I loved the screenshots, but the experience wasn’t quite ready. For years, it came off to me as a themed version of Ubuntu. There was great work going on, but as long as I was opening the Ubuntu Software Center and having to install Personal Package Archives for anything Elementary-related, that feeling wasn’t going to change.

That isn’t the case anymore. Elementary OS has really come into its own It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki It's Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki Elementary OS isn't your typical Linux distribution. Some would say it isn't a distro at all. But is Elementary really a usable alternative to Windows and macOS as its developers claim? Read More . If you’re sitting on the fence wondering if now’s the time to make the switch from your current Linux operating system, there are quite a few reasons the answer might be Yes.

1. It Has a Clear Identity and Vision

The difference between most Linux operating systems (“distros”) is hard to describe to people. Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu all provide largely the same software. Yes, they don’t use the same package formats Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? Which Linux Package Manager (and Distro) Is Right for You? A key difference between the main Linux distros is the package manager; the differences are strong enough that it can influence your choice of distro. Let's look at how the various package managers work. Read More and choose different defaults, but you could spend the better part of one or two podcast episodes discussing the differences and still not walk away with a clear answer.

That isn’t the case with Elementary OS. This Linux operating system has its own desktop environment (called Pantheon, but you don’t need to know that). It has its own user interface, and it has its own apps. Technically, you can run Elementary OS software inside another distro, but there isn’t much reason to do so.

reasons switch to elementary os desktop
This makes Elementary OS instantly recognizable. This also makes the entire project easier to explain and recommend to others.

2. It’s Easy to Learn

Elementary OS is simple. When you fire up the desktop for the first time, it takes mere seconds to figure everything out. You launch applications from the menu in the top-left corner labeled Applications. When you do, they appear in the dock at the bottom, where you can also save your favorites.

Indicators in the top-right let you tweak volume, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and power settings. There you can also check notifications and restart your computer. At the top of the screen, you will find the date and time. It’s all rather self-explanatory.
reasons switch to elementary os indicators
Do you remember what desktop environment you’re using? Again, it doesn’t matter. There’s a lot that goes into making a Linux operating system, and Elementary OS does a great job of obscuring those details. Figuring out Elementary OS isn’t a homework assignment. It’s as simple as picking up a tablet 5 Reasons Linux Is Now a Great Option for Anyone 5 Reasons Linux Is Now a Great Option for Anyone Linux is a great desktop operating system -- ideal for everyone, regardless of prior computer knowledge. If you know how to use a smartphone or tablet, then you can use Linux. Read More .

3. Its Interface Is Consistent

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. When you open up an app in Elementary OS, it looks and works similarly to the one you opened before. That’s because the team has not only established clear design guidelines, but it sticks to them. Elementary also makes it easy for other developers to create apps that conform to the rules. They’re not left wondering how many pixels should go between buttons in the toolbar.
reasons switch to elementary os consistency
This means once you learn how to use one Elementary OS app, you’ve largely figured out how to use the next one. I find it jarring to switch from a GTK-based app to a KDE one. Even going from a GNOME app to a GTK one like GIMP or LibreOffice can be jarring. Elementary OS isn’t immune to this issue, since you will likely need to install non-Elementary software at some point, but at least all of the software designed for Elementary is similar. As far as I’m aware, that’s not something any other Linux operating system can say.

4. It Has Few Distractions

Thanks to a lack of distractions, Elementary OS helps me stay focused. When I use KDE, I spend a little time each day tweaking various aspects of the interface KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface KDE Explained: A Look at Linux's Most Configurable Desktop Interface What does Linux look like? Sometimes, Unity; other times, GNOME. Oftentimes, though, Linux runs KDE. If you're not using the erstwhile K Desktop Environment on your Linux PC, now is the time to change! Read More . I lose hours of productivity moving panels around, searching for themes, tweaking widgets, and altering applications. There’s this persistent thought that my desktop isn’t perfect yet, but with a few more tweaks…

I don’t have that problem with Elementary OS. There are two (inherently subjective) reasons for this:

  1. The desktop isn’t customizable.
  2. The desktop doesn’t need to be customized.

Elementary doesn’t let you move the panel around and doesn’t provide themes, which is rare for a Linux desktop. Out of the box customizations are limited to the dock and hot corners (the ability to view all windows, see the desktop, or perform other actions when moving the mouse to the corner of the screen). I’ve spent minutes playing around with the options and decided I prefer the defaults.

The interface is minimalist, keeping the focus on apps. There is no dashboard. Right-clicking the panel or the desktop doesn’t bring up a context menu. Nearly every option is contained within System Settings, and there aren’t all that many there. The Elementary OS interface doesn’t provide much to see or do, so you might as well stay focused on what you came to your computer to do in the first place.

reasons switch to elementary os pantheon

5. It Has Great Default Apps

There are differing opinions on whether default apps are all that important. As long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can download alternatives. But I find default apps matter a great deal on desktop environments that don’t fit the usual paradigm, such as GNOME GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops You're interested in Linux, and you've come across "GNOME", an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. GNOME is one of the most popular open source interfaces, but what does that mean? Read More and Elementary OS’s Pantheon. Most alternatives simply don’t integrate well with the rest of the environment or other apps.

Even if I ignore looks and integration, I simply love the default apps on Elementary OS. The Mail app (a fork of Geary) is my favorite email client I have ever used, even despite the semi-regular crashes. The file manager does what I need without looking cluttered. The Photos app (based on Shotwell) is capable of importing photos, organizing them, and performing minor tweaks. The Music app doesn’t automatically fetch album art, but the layout is intuitive and the features I want are all there.

reasons switch to elementary os music

6. It Has a Steady Flow of New Apps

These days, Elementary OS is enjoying a regular supply of new apps 10 Elementary OS AppCenter Apps That'll Make You More Productive 10 Elementary OS AppCenter Apps That'll Make You More Productive Having an app store of its own has really brought Elementary OS to life with a great choice of apps. I use these AppCenter tools to improve my productivity -- perhaps you will too. Read More . Sure, the number is nothing compared to what you see in a mobile app store. Sure, new apps launch for Windows and macOS at a faster rate. But we’re comparing with the rest of the Linux landscape, and by that metric, the amount of new releases is impressive.

If I were to switch back to GNOME right now, the apps I’d use would likely be the same as those I used six months ago. The homepage of GNOME Software highlights programs that have been around for years, if not decades. New software does come out, but the pace is slow, and unless you know which blogs to follow, you will likely miss it.

The Elementary team has invested much of the past year or two creating an app store and distribution system that was easy and enticing for developers. Now we’re seeing the fruits of that work. Whenever you check AppCenter, you might be in for a surprise.

reasons switch to elementary os appcenter

Most of these apps are simple, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many of these apps do things that other Linux programs can already do. That, too, isn’t that big a deal. It’s nice having choices, it’s great having a consistent interface, and it’s lovely having programs that aspire to be simple and fun.

I do hope Elementary OS gets more expansive software, such as an image editor and word processor, but those take more time to make than a notepad or ambient noise app. Hopefully someone is in the process of making that happen. After all, there’s already an app for making slideshows.

7. Things Are Happening

What was the last big thing to happen in your distro? Do you even know what changes the last major release introduced? The features I look forward to most in Fedora are updates to GNOME, updates that eventually go out to every distro. In Ubuntu, the big news right now is that Canonical is showing less interest in the desktop.

Meanwhile, the last major release of Elementary OS introduced an app store. Then Elementary gave third-party developers the ability to publish apps from GitHub into AppCenter and have them quickly appear in front of users — and they can roll out app updates just as quickly. No more adding a Personal Package Archive or waiting to upgrade your OS in six months only to get a newer version of your favorite app.

AppCenter also lets you pay what you want for Elementary OS apps, a new way for developers to make money supporting the Linux desktop Can the Elementary OS AppCenter Prompt a New Era of Linux App Development? Can the Elementary OS AppCenter Prompt a New Era of Linux App Development? Elementary OS developers have introduced a pay-what-you-want model for apps. Could this be the beginning of a whole new era of app development on Linux? Read More . That’s news worth watching closely even if you don’t use Elementary OS.

All the while, the Elementary team continue to refine the desktop. The crew has clear plans that make the experience more cohesive with each release. Frankly, all of this makes Elementary OS a fun place to be!

Is Elementary OS for You?

Elementary OS isn’t ideal for everyone. If your workflow depends on a number of heavy applications (e.g. image editors, video editors, IDEs), then you may be better off using a desktop where such software doesn’t look out of place. Elementary OS is great for casual use. It’s great for writing. You can even do quite a bit of gaming. But many other tasks will require you to install a number of non-curated apps.

These remain early years for Elementary OS, and the company working on the project is rather small. As a result, some bugs stick around for a while 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs 6 Reasons Your Favorite Linux OS Is Plagued by Bugs You found a new Linux operating system to try, and you loved it. But then it went wrong. Sometimes Linux gets buggy after a month or two. The question is, why? Read More . AppCenter used to show an alert for new updates when none were there. The Mail app occasionally crashes and, if I start it back up too soon, reliably crashes a second time. The default web browser (Epiphany) sometimes deletes the first few characters I type into the URL bar.

None of these issues are showstoppers, but they do get annoying. The core experience has been very stable for me these days, but I still wouldn’t recommend Elementary OS if stability is a primary concern. There are plenty of more established and less adventurous Linux operating systems for that.

But Elementary OS is a heck of a lot more exciting!

Have you used Elementary OS? Do you use another Linux operating system but find yourself drooling over Elementary OS screenshots? What has to happen before you would consider making the switch? Share your thoughts below!

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  1. Melvin Garcia
    September 28, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    I love elementary. Sadly it didn't work for me because of the work I do did not play well with it. Adding PPAs wasn't playing well with the system either so I had to move to Ubuntu Gnome.... Then out of curiosity I tried Plasma 5.10 and now I'm on Kubuntu 17.04.

    Since plasma is so flexible I basically recreated Pantheon on my system. Pantheon is such a sweet desktop. Hopefully one day I'll be able to move to elementary full time.

  2. dragonmouth
    September 27, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Was this article sponsored by the developers of Elementary? Because it sure sounds like it.

    Whatever points you made in favor of Elementary can be made in favor of any of the distros in the DistroWatch database. Any distro can be made to sound unique depending which features you accentuate and which ones you gloss over or disparage. Elementary is just a run-of-the-mill distro, which may be arguably a little easier to use for Windows refugees.

    Elementary is in no way unique. It is a respin/rewrite of Ubuntu as are Zorin, Mint and about 50 other distros. Puppy is unique. KaOS is unique. Neither one is based on any other distro. Solus is another unique, developed from scratch distro AND it has a unique DE - Budgie. If you want unique DEs and WMs, try LinuxBBQ. Granted, it is debian-based but it comes with 76 DEs and WMs.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      September 27, 2017 at 8:03 pm

      No, this is not a sponsored post. I wrote it because I wanted to point out some of the reasons why I like Elementary OS and why others might find value from giving it a try.

      You're right, it's possible to make any distro sound unique depending on which features you highlight. I've written similar posts on Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and others. Those weren't sponsored either.

      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/keep-coming-back-ubuntu/
      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/5-reasons-use-pure-open-source-distro-fedora/
      http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/6-reasons-you-should-choose-opensuse-and-the-geeko/

      That said, I do feel that Elementary does provide a distinct experience compared to the vast majority of other distros, largely due its strong emphasis on visual design and the decision to exclude many aspects of traditional Linux desktop. You're focusing on the technical aspects, and in that regard, yes, Elementary is just one of many Ubuntu-based distros. Though I would say it's still worth giving the team credit for the work they've done on AppCenter and making it easier for developers to their apps out to users (compared to the traditional repo model and PPAs).

      Anyways, it's clear Elementary OS is not for you. Keep enjoying all the other Linux distros that are more your speed. Cheers!

      • dragonmouth
        September 28, 2017 at 12:22 am

        Sorry, Bertel. I did not mean to sound harsh. I should have put a smiley or a GRIN after the first paragraph.

        "I've written similar posts on Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and others."
        Most people talk out of both sides of their mouth. You have managed to talk out of at least four sides. /GRIN/

        " it's clear Elementary OS is not for you."
        You're right. But not because I focus only on the technical. My only problem with Elementary is that it is based on Ubuntu which I consider to be the Windows of the Linux world.

        • KwaK
          September 28, 2017 at 5:57 am

          The thing with Linux based OSes is the flexibility to make multiple, sometimes radically different, distros nearly indistinguishable from one another (with just the hard-coded stuff sticking out like SE Linux support, package managers like apk, dnf or yum ... among other things) both visually and with the functionality they offer.

          Hence it's often times, for obvious reasons as I stated just now, hard to point at a single Linux based OS distro and say: "This one! This is the best distro among them all - it does everything better than the others!" .... what it comes down to is personal preference + the specific needs that one tries to meet.

        • dragonmouth
          October 5, 2017 at 11:19 pm

          @KwaK:
          You are the first one that I've come across to complain that "The thing with Linux based OSes is the flexibility to make multiple, sometimes radically different, distros nearly indistinguishable from one another ". People usually complain that there is too many different distros.

          "hard to point at a single Linux based OS distro and say: "This one! This is the best distro among them all "
          Why does there have to be an obvious "best" distro? The beauty of Linux is that anyone can customize any distro to suit their needs/tastes and make it into their "best" distro. Linux presents users with a spectrum of options. On one end there are the *buntus for Linux newbies and those that do not want to be bothered with O/S tinkering. On the other end, there is Linux from Scratch for Linux experts and those that want to control every aspect of their O/S. In between there are hundreds of distros that can be customized to a greater or a lesser degree. There is no "one size fits all' as there is with Microsoft and Apple.

        • Knighthawk5193
          October 10, 2017 at 6:41 am

          And here it was I thought I was the ONLY one who compared Ubuntu to Windows in that regard! (I guess this is why they're all "Buddy, Buddy" with Windows now?...LoL!) I have to agree with Dragonmouth on their comments below. There really IS no "Best Distro Of Them All" because:
          1 - There's WAY too many distros to determine that and
          2 - EVERYONE'S tastes are different. And while for you the minimalistic look of OpenBox or the like...might suit you....other's might find it too barren and void of what they need, and still someone else might want the simplicity of OpenSuSE with the XFCE desktop whereas someone ELSE might like Arch Linux with the Unity desktop. So, "No" there really ISN'T a Best Of Them All......but there IS a "What Works BEST For You"! And as long as threre's that "freedom" to choose the desktop....windows manager.....icons......font size....etc...etc.? Then Linux will always be the go-to operating system for those who need more than either Apple of Windows can offer!