Hands on with Elementary OS Loki

A great Linux distribution that’s still a work in progress.

desktop
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

Elementary OS is a unique Ubuntu derivative that emphasizes the look and feel. The latest version of elementary OS (version 0.4), codenamed Loki was released last week.

As a Linux user, I take personal interest in Elementary OS. I look at it as an OS that could be running on my own machines. I have been using it for a while on Dell XPS 13 (2016).

What’s good about Loki?

I must admit that elementary OS is one of the best looking Linux distributions out there. The elementary OS team really works hard in taking care of minute details (though they do miss things sometimes). Dell XPS 13 and elementary OS make for a good combination.

When you boot into elementary OS, thanks to the Gnome base, it automatically scales the resolution on the HiDPI screen of Dell XPS. However, it lacks any setting for scaling so advanced users can’t control it.

iOS inspired transparent top panel of elementary OS looks great on almost bezel-less Dell XPS 13. The OS moves out of your way, allowing you to focus on your work. It’s a pleasant experience working on apps like Scratch (the default text editor).

The elementary OS team has made significant improvements to the components on the top bar, most notably notifications. According to the release notes, “The Notification Center is powered by the FreeDesktop notifications specification, so any apps following this open standard will work automatically.”

Elementary OS has made significant improvements in Parental Control settings: users can blacklist sites, application and limit time for children. Overall, you will notice improvements in every area.

Miles to go before it’s ready

There is a reason elementary OS is yet to hit 1.0. Despite all these improvements, elementary OS still has some rough edges. While elementary OS publicly targets macOS and Windows users, it doesn’t come with a good choice of applications. Epiphany is the default web browser, which can’t play services like Netflix or Hulu that require DRM support. You have to download Chrome to be able to access such services.

Another surprise was lack of a word processor. A majority of Linux distros come with LibreOffice pre-installed; but elementary OS doesn’t. It also doesn’t come with a torrent client, which I use heavily to download distributions.

It’s not a distribution that you can install on one’s computer and start using it; you have to spend considerable amount of time to set-it up.

It has some rough edges

Despite the fact that UI is the core focus of the elementary OS team there is inconsistency across many elements: 

  • The Calendar app has a column with numbers that has uneven padding around it. Quite an eyesore, especially when I don’t even know the purpose of that column.
  • You can’t see yearly, weekly or daily views of the calendar and that’s something I heavily rely on for work.
  • Some apps have their names on the top window where many others don’t.
  • Notifications pop up for a very short time and once they disappear you won’t find them in the notification center; they are automatically removed.
  • When you select a network from the top bar, instead of opening a dialog box to enter password, it just opens the networking settings. You have to again select the network you want to connect to and then provide it with password.
  • When you get a pop-up for software updates and click on it, instead of opening the ‘updates’ tab of the Software Center, it opens the category view.   
  • As a journalist I use the screenshot tool quite a bit. Elementary OS doesn’t open the screenshot tool when I hit the PrtScr key. In addition when I do take screenshots on HiDPI display it captures a grid of four workspaces instead of capturing one workspace that I am working on.
  • Touch stops working when the laptop wakes up from sleep.
  • It doesn’t support multi-touch so you can’t use it to scroll pages, pinch to zoom or use other gestures.
  • It doesn’t come with any disk formatting tool, so you can’t format drives without installing a tool.

Conclusion?

I was quite excited about using Loki as my primary OS on Dell XPS, but after using it I think I am going to stick to something running Gnome. There are way too many rough edges to use it regularly for work. I would say that it’s a nice upgrade over Freya; Loki may work great for a lot of users who don’t have the same requirements as I have or who are not that concerned about fine details. It’s only version 0.4, so there is still a lot of scope for further improvements. That said, I would heavily recommend giving it a try. It’s a good distribution for a lot of users.

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