Elementary OS - a project I don't get


The Elementary OS is yet another Ubuntu fork, which concentrates on creating a visually pleasing and easy to use desktop. The project seems to be targeted at new users and the desktop environment has some similarities with Apple’s OSX. This all sounds great, but Elementary OS is still one of the Linux distribution projects I simply don’t understand.

Elementary has a small development team that definitely knows about UI design. Their Pantheon desktop is one of the cleanest around, with great attention to detail. What I don’t get is that why they are spending a lot of their limited resources on forking perfectly good projects.

  • They put a lot of effort on their Pantheon desktop (GTK3), while they could have achieved a quite similar experience just by customizing the Gnome Shell.
  • They have also forked a lot of core desktop apps, like file manager, text editor and music player, to gain a seamless user experience.
  • They ship with Epiphany browser (previously Midori) that nobody will use. First this a user will do is to install Chrome or Firefox. The seamless UX ends there.
  • In version 0.4 they even introduce their own app store and software manager, instead of relying on upstream components.

As a result they ship an Ubuntu based system that looks great out of the box, but loses a lot of that appeal when the user adds the more usual pieces of software: Browser, VLC player, LibreOffice and so forth. So after the great initial impression, their hard work does not get you far, but they have a lot of code to maintain.

The reviews of Elementary OS 0.4 “Loki” suggest that there are quality issues with the release. Most likely a lot of them caused by them straying away from upstream software, with limited human resources.

Since the development team has a great eye on UI design and visual, I would really like to see them sticking a closer to the upstream, purely focusing on desktop theming and customization. This would result about 95% of the same user experience they offer now, with a more stable code base and less time spent on forking and maintaining things. It is very difficult to understand what is their current goal of the project, with the approach they have chosen.

The Elementary OS is free to download, with a voluntary payment at: Elementary.io. Give it a spin and share us your thoughts about this controversial distribution!

The desktop looks great, doesn’t it?


Adjusting gnome shell is difficult to maintain, because of gnome development processes. Still, since elementary is not rolling release, this could be easily solved by holding updates. At least easier than writing something from scratch.

I do have to say, pantheon-files is surprisingly good. Very locked down, but quite light and having sane defaults and support for miller columns.


Yeah, I hear a lot of discussion about Gnome Shell being hard to handle for the downstream projects. Recently this was discussed at the Manjaro Community.

Then again, it must be a massive effort to develop and maintain their own desktop environment, rather than configuring an existing product to match their needs.