A Linux desktop that’s easy to use for people who don’t have a Ph.D. in computer science has been a holy grail. But a new release, Elementary OS, comes pretty close.
While the Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP stack powers many of the Web servers bringing you your pages, as a quick check of Netcraft shows (yes, even Walyou!) it’s success on the desktops of non-techies has been more limited. Some Linux partisans entertain Microsoft conspiracy theories, but the simple fact is that Linux has traditionally been rather difficult to set up. A few distributions, notably Ubuntu, have come fairly close to making Linux mainstream for ordinary computer users.
Elementary OS is a distro based on Ubuntu that aims to make it even simpler. It’s geared for people who live on the Web.
Installing it is pretty easy. Just grab the image directly from the Web site or from BitTorrent, burn it onto a CD or stick it on a thumb drive, and you can boot into the live environment or install immediately. Partitioning your hard drive is easy. Since I was installing it on a new VirtualBox machine, I chose to use the entire disk. If you’ve got Windows, you can make a dual-boot system easily. Just put in some more information about where you live, and it automatically configures your keyboard and installs the OS to your hard drive. You can also install Flash at the same time, so you can watch YouTube videos immediately, though open source purists may balk at installing a proprietary program.
When you finally boot into your new system, you’ll be greeted with a lean, well-designed desktop, with a dock similar to the one on Mac OS X. Elementary OS comes with some neat custom apps: Midori, a lean, standards-compliant browser, Lingo, a dictionary app, Postler, a simple email app, and Dexter, an address book. It also comes with Abiword and Gnumeric, a word processor and a spreadsheet. It’s a complete friendly productivity environment. And if that isn’t enough, you have full access to Ubuntu’s large package repository. For people who primarily use the Web and email, this might be an excellent choice. The lean and mean system is also ideal for netbooks.
Elementary OS, with its ease of use, might just be a better Ubuntu than Ubuntu.