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Elementary OS review – ‘Jupiter’ is massive, but it’s largely hot air…

What, another Ubuntu-based Linux distro? Yes, but Elementary OS is meant to be something more than just an Ubuntu spin with a different wallpaper. We take a brief look at the new distro to see whether it lives up to its original promise...

Jupiter-Planet copy

This article is due to appear in issue 101 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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In brief
Pros: Polished look, a handful of brand new applications and a tweaked file manager
Cons: Several new applications like Slingshot and Pantheon haven’t made it to the first release meaning beyond a couple of original applications and a slick theme, it’s still just an Ubuntu derivative
Homepage: Elementary OS

Nowadays, Ubuntu-based Linux distributions pop up everywhere like mushrooms after the rain. Hardly a week goes by without news of yet another Ubuntu derivative. But many of them don’t go beyond changing the default appearance and software bundle.

Midori is the default browser in Elementary OS and we quite like it.

At first sight, Elementary OS looks like one of these innumerable Ubuntu clones, albeit a rather pretty one. But unlike other Ubuntu derivatives, the new distro offers more than just a slick new theme. Take a closer look at the Docky launcher, and you’ll notice three new applications: the Postler email client, the Dexter address book, and the Purple dictionary tool.

The Gloobus Gnome extension lets you quickly preview documents and files.

All of them can be described as applications that favour simplicity and pleasing appearance over functionality — and we mean that in the most positive way. In addition to these new applications, Elementary OS comes with a tweaked version of the Nautilus file manager which sports a few seemingly small changes that significantly improve the overall usability of the file manager.

Elementary OS sports a tweaked Nautilus file manager

An examination of the rest of the supplied software bundle reveals the Elementary OS developers’ penchant for lightweight software. So instead of LibreOffice or OpenOffice.org, the new distro ships with the AbiWord word processor and the Gnumeric spreadsheet application. The duties of the default browser are performed by Midori. We reviewed this lightweight browser in a previous issue of Linux User and Developer, where it scored very respectably.

It features several original applications like the Purple dictionary tool...

However, we feel that Midori’s functionality is too basic and the browser is still not stable enough for everyday use – Google Chrome or Chromium would have been a much better fit for Elementary OS. The distro sports another handy addition: the Gloobus Gnome extension that lets you preview files and documents without opening them in the associated applications. Select, for example, a photo, hit the Space bar and you should see the photo’s preview in a pop-up window.

The rest of the software bundle is pretty standard fare: the Empathy instant messaging application, the Shotwell photo management tool, the Simple Scan utility – we’re sure you get the picture.

...and the Dexter address book.

Unfortunately, the list of software that didn’t make it to the first release of Elementary OS is almost as long as the list of applications that did. Apparently, neither the Sligshot application launcher nor the brand new Pantheon Gnome shell were deemed stable enough to be included with Elementary OS’s first release. Unfortunately, these are the applications that would have elevated Elementary OS above most of the Ubuntu derivatives.

Verdict: 3 of 5
The first release of Elementary OS provides a glimpse of what this distro can become in the future. But in it’s current form, it feels like just another Ubuntu spin with a few tweaks and lightweight apps thrown on top of it. Elementary OS won’t replace Ubuntu on our machines just yet, but we will definitely keep a close eye on the project.

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