There are a lot of Linux Distributions in this world of ours, with a large percentage of them releasing new, major versions at least once (if not twice) per year. And when those new releases come out, most Linux Distros try to differentiate themselves by talking about which versions of which software packages they are utilizing.
My job is to read through all of it – and, more often than not, install and test it out. This, after the 287 thousandth new Linux Distro release, effectively renders my brain about as useful as a bowl of oatmeal without the bowl. “This distro has Firefox version 12.0 but THAT distro has version 12.0.1. Fascinating!"
Then, over the weekend, a new release of elementary OS (the beginning “E” is lowercase in the name) codenamed “Luna” arrived, and there wasn't the usual “mind-numbingly long list of package revisions” anywhere to be found. In fact, its press release was the simplest one I have seen in ages. Here, let me re-print the meat of the announcement.
"Luna is the latest version of elementary OS, a design-oriented and open source Linux-based operating system for desktops and laptops. It succeeds Jupiter, the previous version which was released in April of 2011."
And... that's it. As a Linux user, that doesn't really tell me much. But then I go to their website and…it doesn't tell me much either – but in an absolutely incredible way.
Okay, that's not really a fair statement. Their website actually tells me a LOT. It just doesn't tell me what I, a battle-hardened Linux user, expect to see (there certainly isn't a big list of package versions). Instead, what I find is something. different. Something interesting.
The elementary OS is presented as a system that puts visual design and speed first – and, holy cow, does it show.
The user interface design is truly gorgeous. Many have, and will, say that it looks like they were copying MacOS X (elementary, like OS X, makes use of a dock on the bottom of the screen). But I don't really see the resemblance otherwise. Elementary presents a very simple, uncluttered look and feel. No pulsating blue buttons. Very easy on the eyes.
It doesn't look like MacOS X, Windows 8 or Ubuntu. It's not something brand new. Everything is recognizable as "this is a computer."
Really, what it looks like is if someone took a simple, traditional-looking computer desktop, and made it consistent. And gorgeous. Comfortable, yet new.
To get to that point, the team has opted to use applications that are, let's just say, “under used” – that, or create brand new apps for the platform. For web browsing, it uses the speedy little Midori, and for email the newcomer Geary. They've even gone ahead and created a consistent set of Human Interface Guidelines – something sorely lacking in many open source projects.
The end result is a system that feels...right. Nothing feels out of place. Every piece of software, every button, every icon - it was all included for a reason. That, alone, is a feat worth recognizing.
I should also note that, in my testing, I found elementary “Luna” to be quite fast and generally very stable. There were a few little bugs here or there, but nothing that brought my PC to its knees. It was just a very nice experience that was on par with the "big boys."
But is it worth ditching Ubuntu (which elementary is based upon), SUSE, etc. for? I'm probably the wrong guy to answer that question. I have installations of all three (along with Arch) that you'll have to pry out of my cold dead hands.
And perhaps it is the wrong question to ask anyway. A world with only one flavor of Linux would be dull as a doornail. The right question might be more along the lines of:
"Is elementary OS an interesting and worthwhile addition to the Linux world?"
To which the answer would be an emphatic (but tastefully designed) "Yes."