Elementary OS Beta Reviewed - Looks Very Polished, Minor Niggles

I concede that I am a big fan of Elementary Project and the goodies it brought to the Linux desktop eco system. I also accept the fact that, reviewing a developer only preview of an application and calling it "not ready yet" is kind of self defeating. But the kind of expectations a project like Elementary OS carries around makes it vulnerable to close scrutinisation at every level. Consider this as one such *very* early Elementary OS review.

Elementary OS Beta Review

Elementary Project - A Quick Introduction
Elementary Project started off as a set of applications and themes for the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Not any more though, it is soon going to be released as a stand alone Linux based distro called Jupiter. If you are a long time Ubuntu user and you don't know what Elementary Project is all about, well, that is rare. I mean, a number of Elementary Project's applications are now an integral part of the lives of many hard core Ubuntu users like me. 

Nautilus Elementary, for example, is among the most sought-after Nautilus hack/patch(pick the less controversial term of your like :P) for Ubuntu users so much so that I have even included it in my list of things you need to do after installing Ubuntu. Though I have to add that the Nautilus Elementary project is now discontinued and is replaced with Marlin, an entirely new file browser for Linux being built from scratch.

Elementary OS 'Jupiter' Beta Review
After downloading the latest beta developer preview release of Elementary OS via torrent and installing it in my USB drive using UNetBootin, I was all excited to give the much awaited Elementary OS a first hand try though it was still dubbed as a developer preview and not quite ready for production environments aka daily use. First up was the Elementary OS boot up screen which had a blinking 'e' representing Elementary. In line with the design ethos of the Elementary team, the boot up screen was simple and quite impressive at the same time.

Elementary OS Beta Review

That's how the default Elementary OS desktop looks like right now. Very neat bluish wallpaper that goes well with the default Elementary GTK theme(a very popular theme among Ubuntu users). As you can see, Docky dock is also there by default in Elementary OS. I felt an overall slickness with the OS and everything was loading pretty fast.

No Marlin Yet, It's Still Nautilus Elementary

Nautilus Elementary

As we discussed before, Nautilus with Nautilus Elementary patch is still the default file browser in Elementary OS and you can expect the Marlin file browser to replace Nautilus when the final release of Elementary OS happens sometime this month. You can also notice the subtle improvements with the Nautilus Elementary like the absence of menu bar on top(it is replaced by a new settings menu on the right hand side, like in Google Chrome for example) and also the notifications at the bottom of the file browser.

Midori Web Browser Was a Let Down
One thing that severely hampered the overall Elementary OS experience was its default Midori web browser. The revamped Midori looks neat and simple but did encounter a number of minor usability related issues.

Midori in Elementary OS

For example, I have no idea why I am redirected to mobile version of Facebook whenever I try to log in to Facebook(by manually typing facebook.com or by selecting Facebook from Google search results). I am not really sure if this is an issue with the Midori browser or a case of Facebook not properly recognizing the browser type. Either way, it is quite annoying and is definitely going to affect a lot of people(if not every single user out there).

Midori in Elementary OS

Keyboard shortcuts are all different. And it is such a pain. CTRL+Tab(and Ctrl+Shift+Tab) in Midori, instead of switching between Tabs, does the original Tab functionality in other popular browsers like Google Chrome or Firefox. Default search engine is Duck Duck Go(what! why?) and when you hit Ctrl+Enter after typing in 'gmail', for example, it will search for Gmail in Duck Duck Go(duh!). Bottom line is, I am a heavy user of keyboard shortcuts and I don't think these changes are in anybody's interest.

The killer blow came when uploading of screenshots(yes, I am writing this review right from Elementary OS) didn't worked in Midori. I went on to install Chromium and never looked back.

Postler, Dexter, Purple

Postler, Dexter, Purple

Unlike many other Ubuntu derivatives, Elementary OS is not going to be just another collage of a different set of applications. Postler, Dexter and Purple are three new applications custom designed for Elementary OS along with Marlin file browser and revamped Midori(will review each of them soon, stay tuned). Postler is the new email client while Dexter is a useful address book application for your desktop. Purple is a custom dictionary application for Elementary desktop. Elementary OS intends to achieve a unified user experience which is good.

Things Missing
  • The much talked about WingPanel, a replacement for the traditional Gnome Panel.
  • Marlin, the new default file browser in place for Nautilus. Update: Marlin will not be shipped with the upcoming Jupiter release.
  • Many useful applications like Transmission. AbiWord and Gnumeric Spreadsheet are good, but LibreOffice feels like a more complete package.
  • Scrolling was not working in my Lenovo laptop. I had to click and drag the sliders(be it Chromium, Midori or Nautilus) every time, very annoying.
Elementary Project is one that redefined the Linux desktop experience in more ways than one. The kind of polish you see in many derivative works like Pinguy OS is mainly because of the Elementary goodness and hence Elementary Project deserves the kind of attention it is receiving right now in my opinion.

Elementary OS codenamed 'Jupiter', which still is an unfinished product, is a job well done. Except for some minor niggles here and there, it is very responsive and feels quite lightweight too. Eagerly waiting for the final release of Elementary OS. Good luck guys.