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Elementary OS 7 is now available and it's the same old desktop goodness

The newly released seventh iteration of the popular Elementary OS is as impressive as you'd expect.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The default Elementary OS 7 desktop.

Elementary OS 7 builds on everything the previous version did right.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

Once upon a time, Elementary OS was my go-to Linux desktop distribution. However, upon purchasing my first System76 desktop, I migrated from Elementary OS to Pop!_OS and never looked back. Oh, sure, I sometimes long for the elegance, simplicity, and seamless look of the Elementary OS desktop (Pantheon), but there are certain aspects that caused me to not consider returning.

One issue was the unreliable sound when using serious recording hardware. That, of course, wasn't so much an Elementary OS issue as it was a PulseAudio problem. Unfortunately, it looks like Elementary OS 7 is sticking with PulseAudio for now. This can be seen when issuing the pactl info command, which will include the following in the output:

Server Name: pulseaudio

Okay, I'm not about to judge Elementary OS on keeping with the problematic sound server. Instead, I want to examine what it offers to the new user. 

In that light, Elementary OS is a brilliant desktop operating system that can be used by anyone of any skill level. 

Also: Is Elementary OS your best first Linux distribution?

There are, however, issues that are most likely a product of this being the first release in the 7.x series. I'll highlight these in a bit.

But first…

What is Elementary OS?

I know this isn't a popular comparison in the Linux community, but Elementary OS is as close to MacOS as you'll ever see in the open-source world. 

Essentially, Elementary OS is an Ubuntu-based desktop operating system that traces its own path. It's one of the most well-designed Linux desktop operating systems on the market. With a UI that's more user-friendly than nearly any operating system, Elementary OS is incredibly simple to use. And it's not only easy to work with, it's also equally as beautiful. 

The mention of MacOS is intentional, as the Elementary OS's desktop environment, Pantheon, closely resembles that of Apple's desktop operating system. You'll find a dock, a top bar, a desktop menu, and a system tray. All of these pieces come together to make a well-balanced and easy-to-use interface. 

The good news is that the developers behind Elementary OS opted to not make any dramatic changes to the desktop with Version 7. In fact, at first blush, Elementary 7 could easily be mistaken for the previous release. For those who are already in love with the OS, that'll be welcome news. For anyone who's never tried Elementary OS, you're in for a treat.

What's different in Version 7?

In simplest terms… not a lot but enough. Many of the changes are incremental, such a improvements to the AppCenter, where you'll find better app descriptions and an easier path to updating to the latest versions of the tools you use. It's also now easier to sideload apps with alternative sources such as Flatpak. Fortunately, Flatpak is installed out of the box. The only caveat to this is Flatpak is not integrated into the AppCenter, so all Flatpak installs are to be done via the command line.

Another very welcome new feature is the addition of GNOME Web 43, which includes support for creating web apps that will appear in the applications menu. To use this feature, open the web browser, point it to a site you want to create the web app for, click the Gear icon, and then click Install Site as Web Application. Once created, you can open that web app from the applications menu.

Other improvements include:

  • Reduced number of installation screens.
  • Auto-detect if mouse usage and offer to automatically switch to left-handed usage.
  • The Mail app now offers a flatter more modern look and also supports Microsoft 365 accounts.
  • The tasks app now has offline support.
  • Multiple click modes are now supported in the file manager.
  • The Music app was completely rewritten from scratch, making it faster to queue and play audio files.
  • Power profile management is now available with a performance mode for devices that support it.
  • Custom terminal commands can be configured for hot corners.
  • The Welcome app has been redesigned and includes help for choosing the desktop look, enabling Night Light, configuring Housekeeping (automatically deletes downloaded files, old temp files, and trashed files), connecting online accounts, browsing the AppCenter, enabling Automatic Updates, and quick access to the System Settings.
The Elementary OS onboarding app.

You can easily customize your Elementary OS experience from the onboarding app.

Screenshot by Jack Wallen/ZDNET

How does Elementary OS 7 perform?

One thing to keep in mind is that I ran Elementary OS 7 as a virtual machine, which is not an ideal test environment. Even so, the OS performed like a champ. Apps opened quickly and smoothly, updates were fast, and animations were buttery-smooth. As far as performance is concerned, the difference between Elementary OS 6 and 7 is pretty obvious, with 7 running much smoother and faster.

The caveat

There's been one caveat to using Elementary OS that's haunted the distribution for some time… the lack of applications in the AppCenter. Open the AppCenter and you won't find the likes of LibreOffice. In fact, in the Office section of the AppCenter, you won't find much in the way of office suites. And given LibreOffice isn't available as a Flatpak app, there are only two options for getting the most popular open-source office suite installed… via Snap (which isn't installed out of the box) and manually. 

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This also brings up an issue I had. After the first upgrade, the AppCenter continually crashed on me. Any time I clicked on one of the categories, it would pause and then crash. And then, after a while, the AppCenter wouldn't open at all. Even after a restart, the AppCenter refused to function. I could search for and click on individual apps, but the curated categories were a bust.

Back to LibreOffice. My method of getting it installed looked something like this:

  1. Install Snap with sudo apt-get install snapd -y.
  2. Install LibreOffice with sudo snap install libreoffice.
  3. Log out and log back in (so the LibreOffice entries appear in the Applications menu).

If you're okay with using the command line, the installation is simple. However, it really shouldn't require even that much work to get an office suite installed. I would suggest that the team either include Snap in the next release and integrate it (and Flatpak) into the AppCenter or simply make LibreOffice available to the AppCenter. Either way, an office suite should be considered a must (even though most people use cloud-based tools now).

Other than that one caveat, I found Elementary OS 7 to be an absolute treat to use. This came as no surprise, given how fond I've been of the OS for years. The development team is in a "Don't fix it if it isn't broken" situation and they did exactly what that calls for. The seventh iteration of Elementary OS is an absolute gem of a desktop operating system that is befitting any user of any skill level (especially if you don't depend on a traditional, client-based office suite).

If you're interested in trying Elementary OS 7, download an ISO, burn it to a USB drive (using a tool like Unetbootin), install it, and enjoy the simplicity of one of the most elegant desktop operating systems on the market.

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