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

by Dmitri Popov

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…

This article is due to appear in issue 101 of Linux User & Developer magazine.Elementary OS review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air... Subscribe and save more than 30% and receive our exclusive money back guarantee – click here to find out more.

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.

Elementary OS review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air...
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.

Elementary OS review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air...
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 review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air...
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.

Elementary OS review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air...
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.

Elementary OS review - 'Jupiter' is massive, but it's largely hot air...
...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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    • Nice!
      Although you could at least link the website.

    • Russell Barnes

      Fair point ;) We usually do.

      *Fixed

    • MacLone

      After an hour i decided to erase in favor of anything else. Right now is just a nice face with nothing to be proud of. It’s actually much worst than lxde because of his lack of functionality.

    • Pingback: links for 2011-04-07 « Stand on the shoulders of giants()

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    • nicodoggie

      Based on the name, I thought this would be an e-17 based Ubuntu spin. It’s still a Gnome desktop, though..

    • ttosttos

      I find the review rather disingenuous. Yes, some of the default apps aren’t the best choice and at this point it is more like a “skin” for Ubuntu. But, after only two days of trying it at home, I decided to happily install it on my work laptop. I have been using it daily for a week and, so far, I don’t see why I’d go to my Fedora/Ubuntu days. Just the feel-and-look makes it worth using. Only grief is that scroll bars are a bit anorexic. A few extra pixels would help.

    • Yeah, maybe Jupiter isn’t the biggest, but apart from Midori, it’s very stable. Luna will be far bigger, with Pantheon, which is not a GNOME shell, IT IS A COMPLETELY NEW DESKTOP ENVIRONMENT! That is where the hype is, over Pantheon.

    • Now, I’m looking to E-OS, afternoon I’ll download the unstable release of Luna to see if it’s a good beyond beautiful.

    • ert

      “Elementary OS won’t replace Ubuntu on our machines just yet”
      lol, ppl are running away from Ubuntu like butterflies even without knowing about Elementary. I guess Ubuntu has done everything to disintegrate their userbase this year.

    • billyboy

      To agree with ert (14th December 2011) –

      It appears that Ubuntu, as in Linux, is dead set on its own demise. The very reason why Windows and Apple have kept a strangle hold on the general public (through mass protectionsism of their products and mass production) is the opposite case with Linux which is harming it badly.

      Far too free and easy, far too open source (yes, I get this is the idea) and it now finds itself, fragmented and sinking in a miriad of distros. Pretty soon there will be a distro per person, lol (exagerated a tad ;-) )

      Added to this, the lack of linux support now included in Linux OS’s via xorg for many screen resolutions will drive even more people away from it.

    • Anthony Clarke

      An update to this article is long overdue… Elementary OS has gained well in popularity since this article was written and is well and truly worth a serious look… It may not be for the newbie just yet ( BUT …. in all seriousness which New Os is ??? )

    • lucius-cornelius

      Agreed. It’s rocketed up the charts at distrowatch, beating other distros that have been available for far longer.