Is Elementary OS your best first Linux distribution?

Jack Wallen explains what Elementary OS has to offer for first-time Linux users.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The default Elementary OS desktop, showing a big ocean rock and the northern lights

Figure 1: The Elementary OS desktop is as elegant an interface as you'll find.

Image: Jack Wallen

For about three years of my life, Elementary OS was my go-to operating system. The only thing that dragged me away from that Linux distribution was the purchase of my first System76 hardware (a beautiful Leopard Extreme). Since that initial purchase, I've since stuck with System76 desktops (the Thelio is, in my opinion, the finest desktop computer on the market). Because I use the System76 hardware, its Pop! OS just makes perfect sense. 

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However, there are days when I miss the elegance and simplicity of the Elementary OS desktop distribution. Elementary OS is as elegant a desktop OS as you'll ever find. With the slightest inspiration taken from the MacOS interface, Elementary OS uses the Pantheon desktop to create an interface (Figure 1) that absolutely anyone can use.

What makes Elementary OS so user-friendly?

First and foremost, Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu Linux, which means it uses the apt package manager. Because of that, installing software (even from the command line) is quite simple. But don't think you have to bother with the command line to install applications, as Elementary OS includes its very own app store, where you can install plenty of software with a simple click (I'll mention some caveats in a moment). Of course, Elementary OS also supports Flatpak, so you're not limited to just the apt package manager.

No matter which route you take, you'll find installing software on Elementary OS to be incredibly easy. And with Ubuntu as its base, you can be sure that every piece of software installed has been fully tested and is ready for prime time.

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Another reason why Elementary OS is so user-friendly is that the developers have gone out of their way to create a unified UI design. This is something many Linux distributions could use. 

Very much in line with the MacOS interface, everything in Elementary OS enjoys the same design elements. You won't find a single app that doesn't uphold the aesthetics of the OS. Although that might not seem like an obvious plus, any bit of continuity you can add to the interface goes a long way to help users feel at home.

It's the little things.

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Another feature of Elementary OS that makes it so user-friendly is the installer. You'd be hard-pressed to find an easier operating system installation on the market. And during the initial onboarding, you'll findElementary OS guides you through things like what old files should be automatically deleted after 30 days (Figure 2).

The Elementary OS onboarding tool, saying Housekeeping

Figure 2: You don't have to worry about manually deleting old files, as Elementary OS will take care of that for you.

Image: Jack Wallen

Included software

This is where Elementary OS can get a bit tricky. Out of the box, you'll find the barest collection of software, such as:

  • Mail email client
  • GNOME Web web browser
  • Music music player
  • Videos video player
  • Code text editor

You'll also find a calculator, task manager, photos viewer, PDF viewer, file manager, and camera app… but not much more. That means you'll have to install software, which is where the problems can rise to the surface. For example, if you open the AppCenter, you'll find software like LibreOffice (the most widely used open-source office suite) to be missing. The same thing holds true for proprietary apps like Spotify and Zoom. 

However, because Flatpak is installed, you can add those software titles. The good news is you still don't have to touch the command line. You can open the web browser, point it to flathub.org, search for LibreOffice, and click Install, and it will download a file to your local storage. Once that file has been downloaded, double-click the file (named org.libreoffice.LibreOffice.flatpak.ref) and follow the prompts. It really is that easy. 

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And, to make this more appealing, there are thousands upon thousands of apps to be installed from Flathub. So when you find yourself disappointed by the lack of software included in the AppCenter, just head over to Flathub and you'll find everything you need.

Is Elementary OS right for you?

This is such a tricky question to answer because it all depends on your needs and wants. Let me try to break it down for you. 

  • If you're new to Linux and looking for a desktop operating system that is elegant and incredibly user-friendly, but doesn't exactly follow the rules that most Debian/Ubuntu-based distributions follow (especially with regards to software installation), Elementary OS is the perfect solution.
  • If you're looking for a Linux distribution that is highly configurable and ready to take on just about any task you throw at it, Elementary OS might not be the best fit.

In other words, if you're new to Linux, Elementary OS is hard to beat. If Linux has been your jam for years, you might find Elementary OS a bit limiting. Either way, however, it's hard to top this Linux distribution for beauty and ease of use.

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