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Elementary OS Luna Beta 1 Thoughts

First Impressions

I’ve been using the new Elementary OS Luna Beta 1 for the past few days and I have to say I like it.

First things first, it is fast. It’s a simple GTK desktop, but instead of using Gnome Shell, it’s using an in-house desktop environment called Pantheon. Combine that with lightweight native apps, like Midori and Scratch (more below), and a clean and minimal theme, the whole package is responsive, nice looking, and a pleasure to use.

Standout Features

  • Workspace Management – Pantheon is wonderful. It has a toned down take on multiple workspaces. The whole desktop slides up and reveals the spaces. Instead of window thumbnails, just an icon represents windows. Just drag and drop to a new space.
  • Geary (mail app) – I’ve never preferred to use a desktop mail app. Maybe that’s my generation. My first email client was in the web. That said, I think Geary, developed by Yorba, best displays the ideal, uniform look of the default apps. It has one toolbar with nice icons, a side bar with folders, then a split message view. It syncs wonderfully with Gmail and the messages are threaded conversations.It also displays one of my gripes. There aren’t enough settings to make me comfortable. I understand, taking a page out of the book of Apple, minimal beauty means hiding things. One little menu at the far right doesn’t cut it. I’m not unhappy, I just wouldn’t recommend this OS for a power user who want infinite control over every little detail of their desktop. Moving one.
  • Scratch (text editor) – It wouldn’t take one long to notice that Elementary OS is without a word processor, spreadsheet creator or other office suite software. (Obviously not counting email and a calendar). And that’s ok with me. Yeah, I can install one, but I’d rather use Google Drive as I have for years.Elementary OS does have a very nice text editor, built for Elementary. So far, it’s my favorite text editing app. My favorite feature is automatic saving and a very simple version restore. It may be too underpowered for a programmer, but for a writer like myself, it’s more than enough to make me happy. Every document I type is automatically saved to my Dropbox folder and that folder is automatically synced up to the cloud. I don’t have to think about it. I wrote this article in it.

Complaints

I really want to like Midori, the default web browser. It’s basically a Safari clone for GNOME. It’s been around forever, uses Webkit, it’s lightweight and all around decent. But I’ve gotten so used to addons and syncing features of both Chrome and Firefox that being without those seems like such a step back in time. Also, unless my internet was sufficiently fast, Midori would freeze up then crash.

That also mirrors my sentiments toward Noise, the music player. It’s a very simple and nice looking app (if not a little too iTunesy, ahem). I had trouble importing certain songs. It would just hang, then they wouldn’t be in the library. Then again, I use Google Play Music for all my music, then there’s VLC for everything else.

My other problems are simply nit-picking over the interface. Most of the default apps follow a nice consistency: gray top toolbar, settings gear on the right. Apps like Shotwell (also made by Yorba) don’t follow this. For the most part it doesn’t matter, but people will notice. Yet, I don’t know how this can be fixed. When Ubuntu tried a global menu bar, like OS X has, it was very controversial. Hopefully these guys can figure it out.

I also installed a different icon theme. The default is nice, but certain themes use monochrome icons on the toolbar and it just looks nicer.

Final Thoughts

For a Beta, Luna is very solid. I have yet to be rendered with a useless machine. There have been a few crashes here and there, but overall the good far outweighs the bad. That being, again, fast.

Yet, here’s my worry. Luna has been in the making for a year and a half. The first version of Elementary OS “Jupiter” was released March 2011. And this is only the beta.

They’ve been following the philosophy release “when it’s ready.” That’s great for perfectionists, but when it comes down to it, deadlines are better motivators than perfection. As a user, I hope I’m not stuck waiting for the next thing. Then I would start to question if it was worth it.

Get back to me on that question when the final version drops.
Elementary OS Luna Beta 1

Update: A reader pointed out an error, which I fixed, and I also wanted to point out that the window manager is called Gala.

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Happy Software Freedom Day!

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A small win for F/OSS on a great day.

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