Elementary OS: First Impressions

There are only a few families of Linux distributions. Debian, Red Hat, Arch, a few others, but there are a lot of “downtrace” distributions based on those. Ubuntu is a Debian based distro, and Mint is an Ubuntu based distro. This is all good and normal in the Linux world as every distrubution tries to improve on something.

So enter “Elementary OS” which is an Ubuntu based distro, and is advertised as having a pretty slick user interface. So I paid the developers 5 dollars on the “pay what you want to download” model they have, as I figure 5 bucks is worth it for me to support anyone trying to make free and open source software more useable.

The good: full drive encryption right there in the installer as an option. This is a very nice feature to have.

The bad: The graphics settings are pretty limited, no stock options for tweaking image size to account for bezels covering a part of a screen. I used an older Radeon 460 graphics card, which is new enough that driver compatibility is kernel deep, so there’s no excuse for not being able to change the graphics to match the monitor I’m using. Also, no sound despite the OS picking up the HDMI out connector on the graphics card and saying it was in use, this lack of sound is pretty common for Debian based distros, so I’ve dealt with it before (in Ubuntu and Linux Mint). Still it’s annoying, and if you aren’t familiar with the command line can be a beast to fix.

The interesting. After letting the system idle to the point is “locked” I logged back in and the top menu bar was missing. No idea why it was missing, but it’s not a good first impression. I had to open a terminal and issue the “shutdown” command to turn the computer off since the power button was completely missing.

So my final thoughts…. Elementary OS has a lot of promise. The graphics are nice, tame, and it has the right amount of user controls for someone who isn’t a power user. However even with a hex core Ryzen 5 and 16 gb of system memory and a Radeon 460 with 2 gb of video memory, the system lacked the “snappy” feeling that Ubuntu or Mint generally gives you, as if there were some efficiency problems in the coding.

Now, would I recommend Elementary OS? Not to someone new to the Linux world, that recommendation still goes to Linux Mint or straight Ubuntu since there’s loads of support for them and you are unlikely to encounter a problem that hasn’t already been identified and solved. Elementary OS would be absolutely great for someone who has the tech chops to set the system up correctly so that everything works, and then pass that on to someone who just wants to browse the web, write some documents, maybe use some publishing photo editing software. It’s obvious they’ve put in the work to make it a very friendly interface, it’s better than the base Ubuntu distro (especially if someone is used to Macs).

Summary 3 out of 5 stars. Solid install loader, full drive encryption, and gorgeous user interface. One point off for sound not working out of the install, and one point off for losing the menu bar on coming out of idle.

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