Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elementary OS 0.2 Beta 1 Review: Who leads the battle of the Mac clones?

Elementary OS, still in beta stage, has garnered quite a bit of attention for it's simplicity and attractiveness. It is too early to say, whether it ends up as the preferred OS for Linux lovers or it remains in the fringe while Linux Mint rules the roost. And also, normally I prefer reviewing distros once they are formally released. However, for Elementary I am making an exception. It's elementary, Watson!

From Elementary Luna
Basically what I will be doing in this review is provide a thorough insight of Elementary OS and compare it with two of the closest rivals - Pear OS 6 and LuninuX OS 12.10. All three are based on Ubuntu and give a Mac OS X feel with polished interfaces, a docky and a top panel - uncluttered and sophisticated desktops.

Elementary OS Beta 1 "Luna"
Elementary OS is not just another Ubuntu based distro, it brings on to the table some home grown applications and functionalities as well. I actually dislike run of the mill Ubuntu derivatives with jumble of apps and codecs, just in the name of providing complete user experience. A bit of originality is always appreciated! Even Linux Mint is trying hard to be original these days.

From Elementary Luna
If you are thinking of the Elementary GTK2 theme that we see in Ubuntu and other Linux distros, then you have guessed it correct. It has come from the same developers, what started as a theme, is now a full blown distro. The forthcoming release 0.2 is named as Luna and given beta 2 version got released in Nov'12, final release will be round the corner.

The 32-bit ISO I downloaded, is about 651 MB in size. It is the pae version and works well with both 32 and 64 bit machines with RAM > 4 GB. I didn't expect, a whole lot of apps stuffed in the ISO given its modest size. I did a live boot followed by installation in my Asus K54C 2.4 Ghz Core i3, 2 GB RAM laptop with touchpad.

Elementary OS 0.2 is based of Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS with long term Linux kernel 3.2.0. It has a desktop named Pantheon, which I guess is derived from Gnome 3.4. Even the file manager is forked of Nautilus and is named as Pantheon files 0.1. It uses LightDM as login screen manager and is simple and clean.

Pantheon desktop doesn't support right click to change wallpaper or create a folder. I guess even it doesn't support any icon on the desktop - might be a bit uncomfortable for some people. However, the dock below actually is very helpful and serve the purpose of opening a new program or show a minimized app. Adding app is also simple, after opening it just right click on the app icon in the dock and click on keep in dock. To remove an app from the dock, just right click and uncheck keep in dock. Simple. However, though this app (called Plank) is developed from the much known Docky, but it has a limited range of functionalities. For example, no themes, no 3D or panel view, etc.

From Elementary Luna
From Elementary Luna
The hot corners option is a good addition to see and manipulate workspaces. Pretty helpful while multi-tasking leveraging 3-4 workspaces.

From Elementary Luna
From Elementary Luna
Aesthetics are really simple and pleasing in Elementary OS. The developers have retained the Mac-ish feel here with left hand side close and right hand side maximize/minimize button (yes, max/min is the same button here, but it works well). Artwork is good, if not great. Commendable job here! Wifi worked perfect out of the box, so is sound. However, touchpad didn't work for me even after configuring the settings. So, I had to use my wireless mouse, which is a setback. Possibly in the final release touchpad will work out of the box.

From Elementary Luna

As expected, Elementary OS is thin in applications. However, I am not much worried of it as Ubuntu repository is there to download as many apps as you wish or your internet connection permits! 

A list of major applications is presented below:

  • Office: Document viewer, Geary Mail, Maya Calendar
  • Internet: Empathy, Midori browser
  • Graphics: Shotwell Photo Manager, Simple Scan
  • Multimedia: Totem Movie Player 3.0.1, Noise 1.0 Music Player
  • Accessories: Scratch 1.1.1, Archive Manager, Calculator, Terminal
As you can see some in-house applications are present in the distro, like Geary mail, Maya calendar, Noise 1.0, Scratch 1.1.1, etc. I used them for a few days and found them satisfactory. Geary supports only one email ID which is a setback. Even Maya is of no use to me as I can't sync it with Gmail or Facebook. There are better applications available in the Ubuntu stable and they are not the best that I have used, frankly.

From Elementary Luna
From Elementary Luna
From Elementary Luna
As a browser, Midori is good and lightweight. I use Midori often and it satisfies my requirements well. Even private browsing option is available. Midori never looked so stunning as it looks in Elementary OS and it is commendable.

From Elementary Luna

The newly designed menu looks good and simple. The simplicity is actually helpful than the Unity. 

From Elementary Luna
I sorely miss LibreOffice here along with Skype and VLC player. Evidently, this distro targets the newbies and it is preferable to provide them all useful applications in a bundle or at least provide them the download links in menu. For a past Ubuntu user, even a terminal would do! But, for the rest, I expect more applications out of the box.

Installation is pure Ubuntu and no surprises there. For uninitiated, it asks for location, language, keyboard language, preferred installation drive, create username and password, whether you would like to download restricted codecs or not, etc. Pretty simple and it takes about 30 min. to install unless you hit a roadblock. I could install it in the first attempt itself.

Software center is Ubuntu precise repository and the developers have retained the Ubuntu software center GUI, though the word "Ubuntu" is not there. It is the richest Linux repo, no doubt about it and there are 60k+ apps to be downloaded. Almost every app I can think of is there.

CPU and RAM Usage
With system monitor running, Elementary consumed about 1-5% CPU and below 300 MB RAM. It is actually decent for a Gnome 3 OS. Further, I didn't feel any lag or unresponsiveness while using the desktop. Everything works real smooth.

Battle of the Mac OS X Clones: Who leads?
True comparison of Elementary OS should be with other Mac OS clones like Pear and LuninuX. Pear OS had Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS derived Pear OS 6 as the last release whereas LuninuX recently released 12.10 based on Ubuntu 12.10. Simplicity and intuitive are attributes of all three. A high level comparison is given below:

Parameters Elementary OS Beta 1 Pear OS 6 LuninuX 12.10
Size of ISO 651 MB 862 MB 1500 MB
Booting time (post installation) 20-30 sec 20-30 sec 20-30 sec
Desktop Pantheon, Gnome derivative Pear Aurora 1.0.5 Gnome 3.6 with Docky
Linux kernel 3.2.0 3.2.0 3.5.0
CPU Usage (post installation) 1-5% 1-5% 1-5%
RAM usage (post installation) 270 MB 235 MB 280 MB
Installation time (with 1 MBPS connection) 30 min. 30 min 30 min
Wifi detection Immediate Immediate Immediate
Touchpad detection Manual, unable to set Automatic Manual, unable to set
Office Document viewer, Geary Mail, Maya Calendar Document viewer LibreOffice 3.6 suite, Document viewer, Evolution mail & calendar
Internet Empathy, Midori browser Empathy, Firefox 17, Facebook client, Twitter client, G+ clinet Opera, Skype 4, Softphone, Empathy, Filezilla, Bit torrent, Feed reader, Gwibber
Graphics Shotwell Photo Manager, Simple Scan
GIMP 2.8, Pinta image editor, Image viewer, Inkscape vector editor, Diagram editor
Sound & Video Totem Movie Player 3.0.1, Noise 1.0 Music Player
Gnome MPlayer, Brasero disc burner, DVD maker, Banshee music player, Cheese webcam booth, sound converter, Sound Juicer sound extractor, Sound editor, Sound recorder, Me TV Television, Openshot video editor, PiTiVI video editor
Accessories Scratch 1.1.1, Archive Manager, Calculator, Terminal Calculator, Gedit, Screenshot, terminal Archive manager, calculator, contacts, terminal, Notes, Map viewer, Screenshot

Games, Wine
File Manager Pantheon Files 0.1 Nautilus 3.4.2 Nautilus 3.4.2

Both Pear OS 6 and LuninuX are heavier in size over Elementary, with LununiX having the richest ensemble of applications. In terms of just volume of applications, LuninuX scores over other two hands down. Unfortunately, LuninuX lacks in terms of originality. Both Pear and Elementary brings on the table some uniqueness. We have discussed above on the in-house apps that Elementary has. Pear brings with it interesting home grown social network applications like standalone Facebook, Twitter and G+ clients. I used them extensively and though they are not as versatile as their Android counterparts at this point but it is an encouraging thing. Social network integration will be the primary focus in 2013, now that most of the Linux distros offer good stability and high level of functionalities. So, Pear scores over the other two in terms of uniqueness. Settings manager is more or less same in all three leveraging the single window all integrated settings display.

From PearOS 6
From PearOS 6
From PearOS 6

Eye candy quotient is one of the main USPs for any Mac OS X clone. Though Elementary is simple and clean but looks stunning. However, Pear OS looks the most gorgeous of the three - Starting from boot screen to menu, repository, subtle animations, everything is well crafted and bear a very positive look. LuninuX looks a bit bland with least attention to artwork and detail when compared to the other two and I don't appreciate the two menu options. It is confusing. 

When compared to Pear OS, Elementary looks equally great (in a different way) but the boot up screen for Elementary is comparatively bland to Pear.

From PearOS 6

From PearOS 6
From PearOS 6
Out of the box, Pear OS 6 worked better on my system, even the touchpad was detected automatically. Otherwise, all three of them boot up fast, work exactly similar with no lag or stress on the system.

I think Elementary OS 0.2 is a good beginning though Pear OS 6 is still the best Mac OS X clone. The idea of in-house applications is great and is a promising sign. Moreover, it is good to see simplicity back to Linux. There are rough edges as well, like touchpad not working, too few applications, no Office, little social network integration, etc. It is understandable given Elementary OS is still in beta stage. I am sure the developers will take take care of these by the time final release is out. Artwork is good and the system looks really clean and uncluttered. However, I would like to see Pantheon nnd Plank to be more versatile than what they are right now.

You can download the beta version of Elementary Linux from here. 


  1. Hello I'm not sure if you mentioned this but Pear OS is just a ripoff of Elementaryos. Everything starting from the panel which is wingpanel, to the launcher which is a old version of slingshot. Dock is plank. Elementaryos much better in my opinion.

    1. May be, but Elementary plank is pretty limited in terms of functionality and customization. Also, the home-grown apps didn't impress me much, e.g. Geary and Maya. As I said in my article, choice of Linux OS is a subjective thing - individuals have differing tastes and even choice changes with time. Both Pear OS and Elementary are really good Mac OS X clones. Now who is copying whom among both the copy cats is hard to decide :).

    2. Not true. We don't claim the ElementaryOS desktop so it can't be a ripoff.
      The better is the one that fits better for your needs and not the one that came out first.

    3. I dont care. ElementaryOS is GREAT. Works like a charm on my Acer laptop.

    4. I agree with you. It is futile to talk who is aping whom or whatever. Elementary OS works like a charm on my Asus 1101HA netbook and I am really happy with it. Period!

  2. Pantheon Files is not based on Nautilus. elementary used to have a Nautilus 2.x fork called "nautilus-elementary", but Pantheon Files is written from scratch.

    Its history is a bit convoluted: development was kicked off under "Marlin" codename, but then the lead developer left elementary and abandoned the project shortly afterwards. elementary had nothing to do but to fork the project and continue development under a new name, "Pantheon Files".

    1. Thanks Sergey for providing a background on Pantheon files. I'll correct it in my article. Regards, Arindam

  3. Also, Plank is actually themable and I think there's even a GUI for that under "Desktop" entry in system settings app.