It’s Time to Try Something New: Elementary OS Loki
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Elementary OS isn’t your typical Linux distribution. Some would say it isn’t a distro at all. Elementary’s developers pitch their creation as a free and open alternative to Windows and macOS.

That description is apt, and with the latest release, version 0.4 Loki, Elementary has blossomed into something beautiful. I love it, and I highly recommend it for new and experienced Linux users alike.

What Is Elementary OS?

Elementary OS is an open source operating system that you can install in place of Windows or macOS.

Technically, Elementary OS is a Linux distribution, and there are hundreds of others that you can choose from. But the project doesn’t view itself this way, and the result is a desktop that feels vastly different.

elementaryos loki desktop

For the most part, everything just works. The default applications are functional and easy to understand. You can browse the web, check email, manage your calendar, organize photos, listen to music, and write notes without having to install additional software. When you do need more, Loki makes doing so a painless experience.

What’s Special About Version 0.4 Loki?

Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu, another distribution aimed at relatively new Linux users. Piggy-backing off another’s work is common in the open source world. This enables developers to create something new without having to start from scratch. Ubuntu itself is based on Debian.

You could use Ubuntu without having any idea what Debian is, but before now, Elementary couldn’t hide its dependency on Ubuntu. When you needed to install additional applications, you did so by opening a program called the Ubuntu Software Center. In Loki, this is no longer the case.

AppCenter

This is AppCenter, your new destination for installing software and managing updates.

elementaryos loki appcenter

In Linux terms, AppCenter is a package manager. Its existence goes a long way toward making Elementary OS feel like its own thing. Not only that, but AppCenter is a significant improvement over the previous solution. Software categories are easy to explore. Updates are very straightforward. If you know how to install apps on a phone, using AppCenter should be a walk in the park.

New System Indicators

Rather than using an existing desktop environment It's Your Choice: The Top 10 Linux Desktop Environments It's Your Choice: The Top 10 Linux Desktop Environments From Gnome to KDE, from MATE to Unity, there's a lot of choice out there. Where should you start? Overwhelmed? Start here. Read More , the Elementary OS team created Pantheon. The panel at the top is called Wingpanel. The app launcher is Slingshot. The dock is Plank. But one corner of the screen relied on Ubuntu: the indicators along the top.

Loki brings new system indicators created for Elementary OS. Not only do these look better, but they make life easier. The date & time, volume, internet, Bluetooth, power, notification, and session indicators each let you open relevant system settings directly from the menu. The volume indicator includes playback controls when you have music playing.

elementaryos loki indicators

Expanded System Settings

Elementary OS is not one of the more configurable Linux desktops. The interface is meant to get out of the way, not be something you tinker with. But there are some settings that make or break whether some users can consider Elementary OS. One such change impacts dual monitor users. Now you can choose which screen the dock appears on.

A new Notifications section lists which applications show alerts. You can tweak whether these notifications appear in pop-up bubbles, play sounds, or appear under the notification indicator. Thanks to helpful illustrations and giant toggles, these settings take little work to understand.

elementaryos loki notification settings

The entire System Settings application now lets you search for keywords. This saves you from having to know which section a setting is located under. Just type in the keyword, and the option should appear.

Parental Controls

Technically located within System Settings, the parental controls option is worth highlighting on its own. Instead of installing specialized software or replacing the entire operating system with something aimed for kids Simple & Friendly: 4 Great Linux Distros For Kids Simple & Friendly: 4 Great Linux Distros For Kids Turn an aging computer into a kid-friendly machine that's both educational and entertaining. Thanks to open source software there are a variety of complete operating systems designed to let you hand down computers to kids... Read More , you can restrict what children have access to within Elementary OS.

The parental controls let you limit when children can use the computer to certain times of the day. You can prevent them from using certain apps, and you can block specific websites from loading in any web browser.

elementaryos loki parental controls

These controls give parents a reason to choose Elementary OS over many other Linux distros and older versions of Windows. That’s great, because there are many reasons to consider starting kids off with Linux 6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux 6 Reasons to Start Your Kids Off With Linux Computers, and their operating systems, are not created equal. The OS they use matters, and Linux might be the best one to start them off with. Let's talk about why. Read More rather than a commercial operating

Better Default Apps

These days, an operating system needs to ship a decent web browser. Elementary previously came with Midori, one of our favorite lightweight options. That said, it uses an aging version of WebKit, and many sites don’t load properly. And when they do, they sometimes load slowly. This didn’t give Elementary OS the impression of being a speedy system.

Loki replaces Midori with Epiphany, the default browser of the GNOME project. The experience is more stable, the browser better blends in with the rest of Elementary, and more sites load quickly.

elementaryos loki epiphany

Epiphany doesn’t offer the feature-packed experience you get in Firefox or Chrome, but you still have the option of installing a different web browser Are You Using the Best Web Browser for Linux in 2016? Are You Using the Best Web Browser for Linux in 2016? Using the "wrong" browser can lead to a lot of unnecessary headaches, wasted productivity, and even lost data. So which browser is the best for your Linux computer? Let's find out. Read More .

Loki marks the first release of Mail, the new default email client born from the remains of Geary. It’s a basic tool, to be sure, and I’ve encountered the occasional issue, but this is easily my favorite desktop email client on Linux.

Then there’s Screenshot, a useful tool that I used for all of the screenshots on this page.

And More

This is hardly the end of what’s new in Elementary OS 0.4. You can get a complete rundown in the blog post announcing this release.

My Impressions

Loki came out in September, but I didn’t start using it until a few months later. I had used Elementary OS in the past, and I wasn’t expecting version 0.4 to make so large an impression. Here is what I’ve taken away from the experience.

This Is as Polished as Linux Gets

The Elementary OS team sweats the details. Fonts look great. Icons are clear. Scrollbars are consistent. Even right-click menus offer spacious text and rounded corners.

elementaryos loki context menu

This is why I checked out Elementary OS, and it’s why I’ve stuck with it for most of the past month. The small things that used to irk me aren’t problems here.

Many people have no problem glossing over visual quirks, but I’m the type to obsess over them. Irregular spacing and a font that doesn’t match leaves me searching through forums and threads trying to find which deeply buried text file I can edit to make the issue go away. This is a waste of time that Elementary OS doesn’t force you into.

Apps Are Consistent

Like many other Linux distros, Elementary OS comes with a suite of default apps. But as mentioned before, the software all fits together. Learn how to use one program, and you know how to use the next.

I’ve been a long-time fan of GNOME, but I find the design differences between GNOME 3 applications and all other software to be jarring — including GNOME apps like AbiWord 10 Productive GNOME Office Apps You Need in Your Home Office 10 Productive GNOME Office Apps You Need in Your Home Office GNOME Office doesn't exist... or does it? These ten apps don't form a cohesive office suite, but they come close, and are likely to help you be productive from your Linux desktop. Read More . But no matter which desktop environment you’re using, inconsistent design plagues many open source applications.

Elementary OS isn’t immune to these issues. Non-Elementary apps do stand out compared to default software. You could even make the case that they stand out more because the default ones are so consistent.

Speaking for myself, I typically only need to remove a toolbar to make other applications feel okay. To me, working in LibreOffice feels better integrated on Elementary OS than in GNOME.

elementaryos loki libreoffice files scratch

But for the most part, I get by using predominantly Elementary apps, and I’m glad to see the project’s developers put such focus on this aspect of design.

No Distractions

Elementary OS takes seconds to understand. The application launcher lists your installed software, the dock shows your favorite programs, and indicators line the top of the screen. Click the X to close a window or the expand icon on the right to maximize. There really isn’t anything else to think about.

This simplicity makes Elementary OS quick for newcomers to grasp. But this is also what I consider the biggest draw for experienced Linux users too. Just because I know how to tinker with panels and mess around in a terminal doesn’t mean that’s how I want to spend my time.

The lack of distractions leaves more time to focus on whatever I’m doing, whether that’s browsing the web or writing a novel. Elementary OS’s simple design helps me get more done.

Is Elementary OS Loki Perfect?

Not at all. Most of the software in AppCenter does not adhere to Elementary’s design, and screenshots don’t appear for much of the available software. This will leave first-time users exploring through applications with wildly varying degrees of quality and integration.

elementaryos loki appcenter no screenshot

To make matters worse, it’s hard to find and install third-party Elementary applications. Most aren’t available in AppCenter, and you can no longer add developer’s personal package archives or install DEB files without first grabbing additional tools.

On a similar note, I have faced crashes in a few of the default programs. This is a particularly scary experience when there aren’t yet alternative Elementary applications to turn to.

And personally, I’m not a big fan of using Ubuntu as a base, even if it is the most widely supported Linux ecosystem at the moment. With the Ubuntu brand being so relatively well-known and Canonical having a different vision than most of the broader open source ecosystem How to Install Unity 8 and Mir on Linux Ubuntu Right Now How to Install Unity 8 and Mir on Linux Ubuntu Right Now In time, Unity 8 is expected to unify the Ubuntu experience across phones, tablets, and desktops, using the Mir display server. You can try both of them out today with Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak. Read More , this presents confusion and its own set of challenges.

Elementary OS is by no means ideal for everyone. If you want the freedom to change any component of your operating system, swap out the desktop environment, and create an interface that suits yours particular needs, there are much better options out there for you 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 .

But I love the work the Elementary OS project is doing, and Loki is the first release I feel comfortable adopting on my own computer and recommending for others to do the same.

What about you? Have you taken Loki for a spin? What do you think of the Elementary project? Is there a different Linux distribution that you feel is providing a better experience? Let’s have a chat in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Joe Collins via YouTube

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  1. Anubhav Deka
    September 24, 2017 at 5:35 am

    Have been using this distro as my daily driver for around a year. Looks good, feels good. Only the VSYNC issue keeps rearing up it's ugly head. Elementary has a bright future if the developers keep maintaining it. Really happy with it.

  2. John
    January 9, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    I've been looking into a linux desktop for a while now. Thanks for this review :)

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      January 9, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      Let me know if you give Elementary OS a try!

      • -g
        January 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm

        Can Elementary OS be loaded without using systemd? If not, can systemd be deleted/detached from the OS after booting?

        • Bertel King, Jr.
          March 20, 2017 at 10:54 am

          I have no idea. Sorry. I don't tinker with my Linux box on that level, and this is one bit of information I personally haven't seen the team discuss.

        • Cristian
          April 22, 2017 at 9:27 pm

          ElementaryOS Loki is based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS, so the question is if that Ubuntu version can be used with another init system. Personally, I don't recommend doing that. Anyway, here there are some anwers on how to do it: https://askubuntu.com/questions/779640/how-to-remove-systemd-from-ubuntu-16-04-and-prevent-its-usage
          Maybe you should try another distribution that better supports an alternative, check https://devuan.org/os/init-freedom/#gnulinux-distributions-without-systemd
          Good luck!

        • -g
          April 24, 2017 at 7:01 pm

          @Cristian
          Thank you for taking the time and effort to respond with the very useful links. The idea of unaudited, closed code running on my systems is something for me (and I would have thought everyone else) to avoid.
          Just FYI, I have decided to go with GhostBSD.
          Thanks again.
          -g

    • eric
      January 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Mint 18.x is another great Linux distribution to try.

      • Glen LeBarr
        March 15, 2017 at 6:34 pm

        I put it on my aging PC & laptop; it's like they've been reborn...Mint 18 Cinnamon is great; light, fast, and looks slick

      • Bertel King, Jr.
        March 20, 2017 at 10:55 am

        I hear many great things about Linux Mint. I'm glad it's appealing to so many people.