elementary OS 0.4: Review and interview with the founder

My thoughts about Loki (it's great, but not for me), and what elementary's founder, Daniel Foré, says is the best feature of the open source operating system

elementary OS 0.4: Review and interview with the founder

Last month the elementary team released elementary OS “Loki” 0.4.

Needless to say, I wasted no time downloading and installing that bad boy on one of my machines. Even though I tend to use openSUSE on most of my desktops and laptops, I’ve had a soft spot for elementary since its very first release. It’s always been a high-quality, polished system—and the team behind it clearly care a great deal about the user experience. 

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I’m not going to bother you with the full release notes; you can read about the changes in this release over on the elementary blog. I’m also not going to regale you with tales of my person experience with elementary OS. Suffice it to say, the system works well. Installation was easy. Performance was excellent. Usability, top notch. This is an astoundingly high-quality operating system that should be on the short list to consider for any desktop/laptop computer. 

That said, it is absolutely, positively, not for me. 

It’s based on Ubuntu (which, for various reasons, is not the ideal foundation for my computers). And the user experience is laser-focused on elementary’s flagship desktop environment (Pantheon) —an environment I consider to be one of the best out there. Truly phenomenal. But I also like to bounce around between desktops a lot, which makes elementary OS less suited to my personal needs (other Linux-based systems make this much easier). 

Despite that, I recommend elementary OS to a wide range of people. Enthusiastically—and without the slightest hesitation—especially for my friends coming from Windows or macOS X. Brand new to Linux? Intimidated just a bit and feel like the learning curve is going to crush you? Use elementary. Other systems out there are fairly easy to use for beginnings— and some of them prove a bit better suited for those who like to really get in there and get their hands dirty—but elementary is astoundingly approachable for, well, anyone. 

elementary founder discusses the new OS

When news of the release first dropped, I reached out to the founder of the project, Daniel Foré, to have a quick chat. What follows is that conversation, without any edits. 

Bryan: OK, Daniel. Sum up this release in one (not terribly long) sentence. 

Daniel: This release has been largely about solving issues that our users have brought to our attention and laying foundations for the future. 

Bryan: Foundation for the future, eh? What does that future look like for elementary? 

Daniel: There are a few huge steps in Loki. One is Online Accounts and Sharing settings. We want to build out more features to connect elementary OS to your other devices and your cloud accounts. The panel indicators are a huge change, giving us a platform to show more information about your computer and control over it's current status. And the biggest one is AppCenter; we want to build out a great experience for developers to build and distribute apps for elementary OS and a safe, fast place for our users to get those apps. 

Bryan: Devices and cloud accounts, you say? Are we talking integration between elementary OS (directly) and Twitter/Dropbox, etc.? 

Daniel: That's right. While it isn't in Loki just yet, cloud storage integration for services like Dropbox, Google Drive and NextCloud are on the roadmap. We're currently shipping with IMAP and Fastmail account integration in Mail and we're working towards centralizing things like CalDAV integration. 

Bryan: Nice. OK, enough with the future stuff. Let's talk about this release. What's the one thing—and only one thing—about this release that you think people will be most interested in? 

Daniel: Ha ha, that's a tough call. If I had to pick just one killer feature in this release, I would say that it's AppCenter. 

Bryan: What, in your opinion, makes elementary's AppCenter better than existing software installation tools? 

Daniel: Compared to the Software Center we shipped in the last release, I think there are several big advantages. The most apparent one is speed. We know that a lot of users turn to tools like Synaptic or just Terminal because software stores are typically slow. We've put a lot of attention into making AppCenter quick to load, quick to search and browse, and we made sure controls for installing new apps are available directly from these views instead of having to dig down several layers before you can install a new app.

Another big advantage for our users specifically is that updates are part of AppCenter. A big problem we had with adopting Ubuntu's updater tools is that it contains their Ubuntu-specific release-upgrade tools. Even though we'd configured them differently out of the box, it was too easy to accidentally break an installation by trying to “upgrade” from elementary OS to an Ubuntu release. 

Bryan: Ubuntu's (gloriously sluggish) Software Center was, in my opinion, the weakest part of the previous release of elementary. Seeing it go away in favor of something a bit more responsive seems like a big win. Let's say, hypothetically, you're talking to someone firmly entrenched in using another Linux distribution. Perhaps someone who *cough* even sits on the board of said distro. What would you say to persuade that person to switch over to elementary? 

Daniel: Ha ha, I would say that I'm happy to see them using open source software and they should use what works best for them, but I'd love to have their feedback on elementary OS and I'd be curious to hear what features they feel we could improve on. :)

Bryan: That is... a very diplomatic answer. :) Let's turn back to the future for a moment. Since elementary is built (at least in part) on Ubuntu, and since Ubuntu is heading down the road of moving away from .deb and apt for package management (in favor of Snappy), how does your team plan to handle that transition in the underlying system?

Daniel: We recently spent some time at the Ubuntu Snappy Sprint learning more about Snappy, and I think they'll prove to be much safer and provide a more stable system for our users. I, for one, welcome our new sandbox package format overlords.

Bryan: Ha! So, I take that as a statement of “elementary will move to Snappy for packaging at some point.”

Daniel: There hasn't been an complete official consensus on whether we'll go with Snappy or FlatPak, but either way it's clear that sandboxed formats are coming, and we want to be prepared for that world.


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