Elementary wasn’t so great after all

by | January 2, 2019

Well, I know I just posted up a bunch of information on how to set up QGIS 3 and PostgreSQL/PostGIS on Elementary OS Juno, but alas, that’s over.

Elementary OS is by far the best looking Linux Distribution (Distro) that I’ve yet used, and I assumed that since it was basically a re-skinned Ubuntu 18.04 it would function just as well as its parent. After trying to use it for the last week to get actual work done however, I’ve come to a very different conclusion.

What I love about Elementary OS

Elementary’s GUI is by far the nicest looking I’ve come across in the Linux world. The app dock is excellent, the file manager is well laid out and the settings panel makes sense. The Elementary Store makes it easy to install applications (we’ll come back to this) and everything ran fast. Say what you will, having a nice-looking OS shouldn’t be the most important part of the OS selection criteria but if you’re going to spend 5-10 hours a day looking at it it sure is nice to find it attractive.

From the start, Elementary OS looks like a well polished and professionally put together OS. It shares a lot of design cues with MacOS, which though I’ve always preferred Windows from a productivity standpoint I’ve always admired the aesthetic of MacOS. The installer works well and was very easy to set up alongside Windows on my laptop which can be hit-and-miss with Linux if you don’t really know how to set things up properly.

What just didn’t work for me

Despite Elementary being a lightly modified version of Ubuntu 18.04 there seemed to be a long list of things that just didn’t work properly that I know work just fine on the same computer running vanilla Ubuntu 18.04.

Connectivity issues

This was by far the most annoying aspect of working in Elementary. I have a pretty solid home WiFi network with a Wireless AC router. No other device has ever had issues maintaining a connection including my test laptop running Windows and Ubuntu. On Elementary it would constantly drop connection, try to connect to my neighbour’s (inexplicably open, amateurs I tell you…) network or for some reason try to connect to my wireless printer as though it was an access point. It would work fine for a few minutes then just go wonky.

The worst part was that to try connecting back to the proper network would result in the GUI freezing when trying to select a different WiFi network. Or click on the network and have it highlighted but not have any change affected. When using my USB C to Gigabit network adaptor it was fine, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a laptop.

GUI freezing

The next thing that started cropping up was random freezing of application windows. Every so often one or more windows would refuse to close, minimize or even move around. The application would still function, but I couldn’t move the actual window. Very odd.

Upon resuming from a sleep about 50% of the time the screen would remain locked on the login screen despite sounds indicating that the OS was logged in but the screen was frozen.

Application challenges

Despite being a derivative of Ubuntu, there were some key software packages that were missing. First, there was no way to install .deb packages out of the box. This makes installing something like Google Chrome somewhat more frustrating. It also doesn’t support Ubuntu’s new Snap application packages.

While the Elementary OS application store was nice to use, the selection within was rather sparse. I use Pycharm and Brackets in my Python development workflow and both were missing from the store and had to be installed from command line. Not a big deal but definitely not as nice since both are available from within the Ubuntu store.

Also, for a distribution that markets itself as an easy alternative for those new to the Linux ecosystem I was surprised that LibreOffice wasn’t installed from the start. I understand the desire to limit pre-installed software as it is my single biggest complaint with Windows at the moment but given that both MacOS and Windows come with at least a limited functionality word processor out of the box I would expect the same in Elementary OS.

Finally, while it isn’t hard to adapt the documentation from Ubuntu to Elementary OS, there is definitely a lack of documentation that addresses the small differences between the two distributions when it comes to installing packages.

Conclusion

I’m relatively new to moving my workflow to Linux and into the Free and Open Source (FOSS) world after decades locked into the Windows ecosystem. That said, Ubuntu is so far the only distribution that I’ve come across that even comes close to bridging the gap and making it possible to make the transition without unnecessary hardship. I will definitely miss being able to use the full featured versions of MS Office and Adobe software. However, my motivation is not to replace Windows as my desktop environment permanently, it is to better learn the Linux environment so that I may become more proficient in the server environment for my clients.

I made the mistake of placing too high a value on fashion over function. Maybe one day Elementary will be able to meet my needs but as of today that is definitely not the case.

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