Updated: October 21, 2017
With my Lenovo G50 machine currently out of action vis-a-vis new distro testing, I wanted to revisit my elementary Loki experience from about a year ago on a different platform. At the moment, I'm using the Nvidia-powered oldie LG machine from 2009 as my rig au test, and it has also proven a tough cookie to nail. Most distros struggle with this ancient item just as badly as they do with UEFI systems.
Anyway, the idea is to check and possibly install elementary OS alongside Antergos, the one distro currently managing the hardware reasonably well, with a couple of neat disappointment in the form of BunsenLabs Linux and Korora. Let's see how it goes, and whether my impression has changes, for better or worse. My own tolerance for problems, too. Continue, we shall.
Elementary OS booted fine. You get the familiar interface, a somewhat Gnome + dock layout. There's a menu and it does not activate when you hit the Super key. There's a dock and it hides when you move focus away. I haven't figured out how to make it stay.
The file manager is not included in the dock by default, which is odd. You can create text files, which is neat, but still a far cry from a normal right-click context menu. Notice the odd screenshot frame. More about that in a jiffy.
Not sure about the dark theme for the screenshot tool and the image viewer, because most other programs open with a light theme. The sliders feel smartphone like, and it's not the best arrangement around.
Text contrast is awful - among the worst I've seen. Also for some odd reason, the screenshot tool captures active windows with a HUGE transparent border, we've seen this before, but since it gets confused with what goes into the foreground, it also cropped screenshots in a very ugly way. No I did not use area select. This was the current window option, but then it was seeing something in the background. Very bad. But it does show the text and font contrast problem.
The non-cropped screenshot is 850x550px, mostly alpha background.
The big problem is the theme. Pale on pale. My eyes seriously hurt. I am keen eyed, but the distro really did me in. About an hour later, I felt like someone had bludgeoned my eyeballs with a tea spoon. We saw this in the Korora review, and you get the EXACT same issue here.
But unlike Korora, elementary OS does not let you change the default. There's nothing in the systems menu that lets you edit or change the theme. I installed Gnome Tweak Tool, but then realized that you don't get Adwaita, and there's also no way to restore the minimize button through the GUI! I read the self-justification around why this is, and how you don't need the minimize button. Thank you Gnome knights, but now I want it, because it exists on 10 billion other computers worldwide.
Now, this proved even more difficult to nail. So GTT can't do it. But there's a program called Elementary tweaks, which should give us what we need. Only you cannot add PPAs, because the necessary system tool is missing. You need to guess-install three different utilities before you can add repos.
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mpstark/elementary-tweaks-daily
sudo: add-apt-repository: command not found
sudo apt-get install python-software-properties python3-software-properties software-properties-common
But then, after you finally refresh the repo contents, no tweaks:
sudo apt-get install elementary-tweaks
Reading package lists... Done
Building dependency tree
Reading state information... Done
E: Unable to locate package elementary-tweaks
I tried no less than THREE different PPAs for elementary, and none gave me the tool, which means short of command-line nonsense with gsettings, you cannot really make any changes to the desktop. In other words, horrible ergonomics due to low contrast. Not usable. Simply not.
Minimize action is only one of the window management problems. Close also doesn't do what it should. It's a glorified minimize, so when you actually want programs to stop working, you don't really have it, and you need to burrow through settings to figure out if there's a hard stop switch. If I wanted to use a smartphone, I would.
Then, alt-tab also messes up the active and inactive applications. You switch to one program, they all get raised, almost in haphazard fashion. Some programs refused to let others come into the forefront. For instance, the terminal window could never top the text editor. Combine this with other ability-neutering settings you cannot change, and you feel utterly frustrated.
The GUI package manager (AppCenter) is useless - it did not show Gnome Tweak Tool, and even after I had it installed, still nothing. Also, the program did not show in the menu, but it does come up in the search. So sad.
I searched all the sub-categories, it's not there.
Performance is also a big, big issue. Within a few minutes, the desktop was almost unusable. Even the simple index refresh when running apt would take tens of seconds. The browser is dreadful - you cannot scroll tabs with the middle button, you actually have to click the left and right navigation arrows. Then, sites barely loaded, and everything stalled. Scrolling did not work. A disaster. And I've always said that all these would-be lightweight Firefox alternatives are utter garbage, and it still remains true.
The laptop was running its fans like mad, it was hot, so this isn't just a G50 thing, it also happens on the old LG box. But where other distros managed a decent level of user interaction with reasonable speed, elementary OS choked.
Music playback is another issue. So I started playing this song, but Music did not show it in the list, because it's not in the expected music folder. I then copied eight songs in, and Music only displayed a few, even after truly closing and starting the program again. While playing a second song, the progress bar had rapidly moved to the end of roughly three minutes worth of sound while the actual timer only read 17 seconds. OMG.
Notice the right screenshot border, sans alpha, and the fact the maximize button touches the border.
No Bluetooth. Elementary OS did not recognize my two phones. So we have not only hardware issues, we also have an inconsistency, and remember the previous test, on this supposedly very same operating system. The printer utility also never launched. And the screenshot self-crop bug cropped up again.
Look, I like testing software, but there's a limit to my patience. If a distro cannot manage the bare minimum of quality and stability, and worse, let me alter the defaults so I can actually make some progress despite the initial issues, then it does not warrant an installation. I mean what would be the point. Tons of other distributions offer far more out of the box, and you do not need to beg and hack to change the theme so your eyes do not water from the strain. Music, connectivity, all simple things that should be a given in Year 2017, and they are for a small bunch, like Kubuntu Zesty and Mint Sarah. Others offer a less perfect, less complete set, but still. Now this? A huge regression.
The Linux desktop needs a reset. We're now in a post-Ubuntu world, with Unity gone, and we're back in sad and forlorn 2005. There isn't a single major project out there where you can look and say, wow, there's gonna be a fun and exciting year ahead of us. Well, maybe one or two. The rest? Just run-of-the-mill stuff. The forums are quiet, because there isn't anything to report, and rehashing kernel versions and desktop versions isn't really worth anyone's time.
I think elementary OS represents this crisis quite well. On its own, it's a badly cobbled release, with too many issues and inconsistencies and a dreadful approach to ergonomics, making it useless to most people, all other things notwithstanding. But it was too buggy for me to even attempt to install it. Not going well. Alas, unless something cardinal changes, I cannot recommend this one at all. The combo of visual glitches, mediocre performance and middling hardware support does not warrant a longer adventure. Perhaps one day this will change, but for now, you're better off with stock Ubuntu. And by that I mean up to Zesty, ad I haven't tried Aardvark yet. Take care, and stay golden.