Some of us prefer Linux to Windows but want something with a modern user interface that doesn’t look like it’s something out of the ’90s. Given that you can download a seemingly infinite number of Linux distros, why do I find myself always coming back to elementary OS? In this first blog post of what will likely become a series, we explore what makes me choose elementary OS over everything else.
In the modern Linux space a lot of power users will naturally prefer something like Arch Linux for it’s rolling release and always bleeding edge features. When running these distros on machines meant for everyday desktop use though, there is a higher risk of running into newly introduced bugs or code that is not tested thoroughly by the community. Elementary OS is based on the latest Ubuntu LTS release, so the underlying operating system is known to be stable and well tested (or at least as stable and well-tested as Linux can be).
Additionally, while something like the Arch User Repository is an amazing community created package repo, I still prefer being able to download a .deb file for whatever program I am trying to install. Packages for Ubuntu still seem to be the norm for most software that I use on a daily basis. A quick installation of a software package called Eddy even enables DEB packages to be quickly and easily installed using a GUI. With so much community support for Ubuntu, diagnosing and solving any OS-level issues that I run into is also much easier thanks to the various resources and the MANY Stack Overflow answers available online. Lastly, Ubuntu has the broadest hardware support of any Linux distro, so it’s a great place to start for most Linux users who want to run Linux on their existing hardware.
Pantheon is the desktop environment developed by the elementary team specifically for elementary OS, and it’s magnificent. It reminds me a lot of (and has taken inspiration from) macOS, which is to say that without being a total ripoff of Apple’s desktop operating system it’s functionally and aesthetically similar in a lot of important ways. Firstly, the dock that sits at the bottom of the desktop, called Plank, is arguably even better than the macOS dock. It comes with a default setting to dodge windows, so if windows are taking up the space that overlaps with the dock the dock will automatically hide, but if there are no windows open (or no windows that overlap), the dock will proudly display itself. This is something that is so simple, but even macOS doesn’t do it and everytime I used a Mac I miss this window dodge feature.
Pantheon also has a concept called workspaces, which is essentially the same as how macOS handles having multiple desktops, except with one key difference. In macOS you have to predefine the number of desktops you want and while you can add more if you need to, it’s not a seamless process. But in elementary OS I can simply use a keyboard shortcut to take the current window I’m using and move it into the next workspace, without having to predefine anything at all, which is a feature I use quite often. Other basic features like tiling two windows on the screen (which requires a separate app on macOS, such as Spectacle), fullscreening the current window, and cycling through windows are also all accessible via keyboard shortcuts. To view a list of the most useful keyboard shortcuts, you just have to press the super key, and a nice list appears for you to review. I prefer the way that Pantheon handles cycling tabs, and workspaces (as opposed to activities in GNOME) over anything else that I’ve found.
Open source software
I know, any Linux distro will have access to these packages, so we are getting into the territory of why Linux is better than Windows and macOS, but still, these packages are why I continue to use elementary OS and Linux in general.
- Remmina – a fantastic RDP client
- Peek – easy GIF recording, far better than any macOS app I’ve found
- TLP + powertop – detailed power usage information
- GParted – amazingly powerful disk and partition editor
Subscribe to the Leostream blog to follow my thought series on Linux distros and beyond.