Sunday, 12 April 2015

Elementary OS 0.3 (Freya) Review: Lightweight Linux With a Mac Interface



Elementary OS is a fairly new operating system developed using Ubuntu as a base. "Freya" is the latest entrant released just yesterday, sporting a more refined user-interface, thousands of bug fixes, and very well optimized OS for the average user. Elementary OS was first released on 31st March, 2011 aiming to provide a simple, and fast interface for new users. If you're looking for a lightweight operating system for your PC which serves you well for basic day-to-day activities, then Elementary OS has everything you need. Unlike Linux Mint 17.1 which was reviewed previously, Elementary OS has been designed keeping in mind the very basic needs of the average PC user. If all you use your PC for is browsing the internet, checking your email, watching videos, and listening to music, Elementary OS is the perfect operating system for you.


System Requirements:

Elementary OS has fairly modest system requirements making it a good option for netbooks and older PCs. If your PC has started showing it's age, then this OS is something you could try out.
  • 1Ghz Processor (32-bit or 64-bit)
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 15GB of Hard Drive space
  • Internet access (Not required, but recommended)
With requirements like that, you could probably even run it on decade old hardware without running into any major bumps.



Interface: 

The first time you boot into Elementary, you'll be greeted with an interface that looks rather similar to a Mac. A transparent top panel gives you quick access to sound, wireless toggles, and system power. In addition, it also includes a drop-down to display all apps that have been installed on the system. The apps can either be arranged categorically, or in a simple paged grid.



A simple dock at the bottom of the screen holds the most frequently used apps. It is possible to dock apps by simply dragging them onto it from the application panel, or by right-clicking on an open app's dock icon and clicking "Keep in dock".



Clicking on the "Multitasking View" icon on the dock (or pressing Windows + S) shows you all open windows arranged neatly on screen. You can click on a particular window to switch to it, or you can drag and drop a windows to the grey "+" icon at the bottom to create a new workspace. Workspaces work pretty much like Android homescreens. You can have multiple workspaces which contain different windows. It's something like tabbed browsing on your desktop. Linux users would be familiar with the concept.



Elementary OS also supports customizable keyboard shortcuts, so you can change them to whatever you feel is convenient. Overall, the interface is clean, and snappy. The visual effects are pleasing with fluid transitions between various activities on screen.


Applications:

Like it's name suggests, Elementary OS sticks to the basic applications required by average users. It also contains a Software Center where you can download any apps you might need. You'll find an app for almost everything you can think of in the Software Center, including paid apps. The apps bundled with Elementary OS are as follows.

  • Video: Audience Player
  • Music: Noise Player
  • Browser: Midori
  • Text Editor: Scratch
  • Photos: Shotwell
  • Misc: PDF Reader, Webcam tool, Scanner tool, Screenshot tool

Noise Player provides a clean and simple interface to manage your music. It automatically imports all music found in the Music folder in your Home directory. You can manually add directories to scan for files to be added to the library. Most formats are supported by the player. If there are any files it cannot play, it will automatically prompt you to allow it to download the appropriate codec to play the files. There are very little efforts on the user's part as far as hunting and downloading codecs are concerned.



Midori is a simple, lightweight browser which uses the same engine used in Google Chrome. The interface is clean providing the bare necessities of web browsing. Hardware acceleration for web content is supported, along with a basic support for browser extensions. It also supports private browsing and address bar searching.



For everything else that is so well made, the video player is quite a disappointment. Audience player randomly refused to play certain files I attempted to play without asking me to download any codecs. It threw up an error stating "URI not set". Now this is clearly not something an end-user wants to see. It did ask me to download a codec for a certain video file I tried playing, but even then, I couldn't hear any sound. Support for external subtitles is present, but you need to manually point it to the subtitle file in order for it to work. You can't simply keep a subtitle file of the same name alongside the video file and expect it to work. I had to download VLC player from the Software Center to get my videos working properly. VLC, as usual, gave no trouble.

Shotwell is the default picture manager in Elementary OS. Just like the rest of the applications bundled with it, shotwell provides basic editing tools for minor touch ups and editing. It's nowhere close to GIMP, but it's good enough for very basic picture editing. It also does a pretty decent job of organizing your pictures, allowing you to manage large volumes of photographs pretty easily.



What's missing from this package is an Office suite. But, that can easily be solved by downloading LibreOffice or OpenOffice from the Software Center.


Performance:

Unlike Ubuntu, or Linux Mint, Elementary OS has been built to be fast, simple, and lightweight. As far as that is concerned, it delivers with flying colors. The OS boots up very quickly, and is generally snappy throughout. Apps open instantly with multi-tasking handled near flawlessly. Of course depending on your system configuration, your experience may vary. But, from what I can tell, it shouldn't make all that much of a difference as long as your system fulfills the system requirements.

The system remains stable most of the times, but I did have the interface lock up on me twice. Logging out and logging back in seemed to solve the problem. On one occasion, the interface refused to load on boot up. It didn't happen again when I rebooted the system, but it's not something an end-user should have to deal with. Some users have mentioned the cursor behaving erratically on certain laptops. I didn't seem to have any problems as far as my laptop was concerned.

Overall, the performance is pretty solid, and the operating system is fairly stable. It may have occasional hiccups, but they aren't bad enough to make your system unusable. Hopefully, most of these bugs would be patched with periodic updates.


Conclusion:

Although it doesn't provide the extensive features and robust performance of something like Linux Mint or Ubuntu, Elementary OS gives you all the basic functionality you would expect from your computer without consuming much of your system's resources. If the only reason you use your PC for is internet, email, music and videos, Elementary OS gives you everything you'd ever need. Being considerably lightweight, you could even install it on an old system and breathe some new life into it. It may not be great for advanced, intensive tasks, but it works brilliantly for the every day user.

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