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Many of us have watched elementary OS from a distance over the years. We’ve loved the screenshots, but the experience wasn’t quite ready.
That isn’t the case anymore. In the newer releases, elementary OS has really come into its own. If you’re sitting on the fence wondering if now’s the time to make the switch, there are quite a few reasons the answer might be Yes.
1. elementary OS 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. They may not use the same package formats or provide identical default experiences, 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. This all makes elementary OS instantly recognizable.
It also makes the entire project easier to explain and recommend to others.
2. elementaryOS Is 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.
Switch between apps by clicking their icons in the dock. Open AppCenter to install more apps or updates.
That’s it. Sure, there are keyboard shortcuts you could learn and a few settings you can tweak, but you now know how to use elementary OS.
3. The 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 (the company) also makes it easy for other developers to create apps that conform to the rules. App makers aren’t left wondering how many pixels should go between buttons in the toolbar.
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, but at least all of the software designed for elementary is similar.
4. elementary OS Has Few Distractions
Thanks to a lack of distractions, elementary OS helps me stay focused. When I use the KDE Plasma desktop, for example, I spend a little time each day tweaking various aspects of the interface. 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:
- The desktop isn’t customizable.
- The desktop doesn’t need to be customized.
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.
5. elementary OS Has Great Default Apps
The elementary team designs and maintains quite a few of its own apps. You get a file manager, mail client, music player, photo manager, text editor, app store, and other utilities all designed specifically for elementary OS. This makes for a great initial experience.
Admittedly, it’s debatable 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 and elementary OS’s Pantheon, where most alternatives don’t integrate well with the rest of the environment.
6. elementary OS Has a Steady Flow of New Apps
These days, elementary OS is enjoying a regular supply of new apps. Sure, the number is nothing compared to what you see in a mobile app store, Windows, or macOS. But considering the size of the elementary project, the amount of new software is impressive.
The elementary team spent years 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.
Most of these apps are simple, and many do things that other Linux programs can already do. This 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.
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. Now that Canonical is less interested in the desktop, the story is the same on Ubuntu.
Meanwhile, elementary OS maintains a pay-what-you-want app store filled with specialized apps. The team has designed its own Flatpak integration, revamped the login screen, and created a welcoming onboarding experience. There’s a picture-in-picture mode and Do Not Disturb option. The panel automatically changes based on your desktop background.
While many distros focus on the technology behind the scenes, elementary is constantly tweaking the desktop itself.
8. elementary OS Now Feels Complete
When the Elementary project formed its own distro, elementary OS felt mainly like a themed version of Ubuntu. With each new release, that has changed. When AppCenter launched, the project really came of age. The years since then have smoothed out the edges. There are fewer reasons to open a command line or install untrusted Personal Package Archives.
From boot up to shutdown, what you see was designed specifically for elementary OS. Most things simply work. Sure, like any other desktop interface, there’s more that could be done. But elementary OS no longer feels like a half-baked attempt. This is one of the best experiences the open source world has to offer.
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.
The company working on the project is rather small. As a result, some bugs stick around for a while. The core experience tends to be stable, but apps are more hit or mess. I wouldn’t recommend elementary OS if stability is a primary concern. Yet with such a clear vision, elementary OS is lot more exciting than most Linux distros!