When I call Freya the "Mac OS X for Linux," I mean it as compliment. It's undeniably one of the most beautiful Linux distributions I have ever seen.
Do looks matter?
What makes Freya different from other OSes is that it is being developed by a group of graphic designers, who also happen to be software developers. They approached the OS from a design point of view, and then tried to build the features accordingly.
I must say, and I fear the developers won't like it, it does resemble Mac OS X a lot. I use a Mac for image and video editing and when I was working between Freya and Yosemite, it was hard for me to say whether I was on Mac or Linux -- which says a lot.
That said, Freya is distinct from Mac OS X in many ways -- both good and bad.
Every core component of Freya, from the text editor to the file browser, has been developed very well. The team created its own apps as and when needed or chose an open source one that suited its design philosophy.
In Freya notifications are interactive: you can take an action or dismiss them. That's similar to what Mac OS X does.
Elementary OS continues the poor trend of Gnome desktop where it doesn't allow you to batch rename files. This inspiration clearly came from the Mac OS X world, but with Yosemite Apple has added the ability to batch rename files. As an avid photographer I do need to batch rename files when I return from a shoot, and it also makes it extremely easy to find images later as you can run a search in the desktop.
The team has added a 'privacy Mode' that essentially stops collecting data from chosen sources. So basically if others have access to your PC they can't know which files you earlier used. This privacy mode doesn't tell much about which apps may have access to sensitive data such as contacts etc or if you can restrict access to such data.
The team has also added a new Firewall tool, though I wonder how many average users actually understand Firewall that well. What I did find missing was any kind of encryption for disks, which users would be more likely to need.
More than a pretty face?
Besides being extremely beautiful and pleasant to use, what solution is Freya/elementary OS solving that is facing the general Linux community? I posed this question to Daniel Foré, the founder of elementary OS.
He said, "A big part of what sets elementary OS apart from other Linux-based solutions is the idea of a grand cohesive experience. Most developers seem to focus more on *that* something works instead of *how* it works. For us, if a feature is not accessible to our users, it may as well not exist. So I think it's this kind of design thinking that is what we really bring to the table."
After using Freya for a while I came to realize that most Linux distros offer the same features in different packages, but the moment you put them against Mac OS X or Windows they tend to fall short. I asked Dan what did he have to say about that? What value is elementary adding to the Linux desktop space?
He said, "I absolutely agree! I like to think of this problem in terms of music. Most Linux distributions are mixed tapes. They take their favorite songs (regardless of genre or composition) and put them together. It's not a work that was created in unison, and it shows. We approach things from a different perspective. We believe that a consistent, cohesive set of tools can provide a better overall experience. You can also think of it in terms of a sports team. If you take the greatest athletes in the world and put them against a team that constantly plays in unison, they won't be able to match this team work. I think the fact that the majority of our downloads come from people not on open operating systems shows that this attitude resonates with a larger crowd."
The bottom line
I really like the enthusiasm of the elementary team, but I worry, given the smaller, niche market it targets, whether the big software makers will pay attention. In my personal experience the only reason I use Mac OS X is to access software and services not yet available on Linux. That's something Linux aspirants need to understand. Until the software that users want is available on Linux, users will choose non-Linux systems
Google has succeeded with Chrome OS, even though it does much less than what a traditional Linux desktop could do, simply because Google worked with vendors to bring services or tools to their platform. Thanks to Google Chrome, Linux users are now able to access many such services, including Netflix.
So while I love what elementary OS is doing, I also want to find how it will change the situation of the Linux desktop. It does look beautiful and great, but it doesn't do anything more than what any other Linux desktop could do.
That said you must certainly give the OS a try to see how beautiful the Linux desktop can be.
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