Is Elementary OS your best first Linux distribution?

For about three years of my life, Elementary OS was my operating system of choice. The only thing that drew me away from this Linux distro was buying my first System76 hardware (a beautiful Leopard Extreme). Since that first purchase I’ve stuck with System76 desktops (the Thelio is the best desktop computer out there in my opinion). Since I’m using the System76 hardware, Pop! OS just makes sense.

However, there are days when I miss the elegance and simplicity of the Elementary OS desktop distro. Elementary OS is the most elegant desktop operating system you’ll ever find. With the slightest inspiration from the MacOS UI, Elementary OS uses the Pantheon desktop to create a UI (illustration 1) that absolutely anyone can use.

The default Elementary OS desktop with a large sea rock and the Northern Lights

illustration 1: The Elementary OS desktop is as elegant a surface as you will find.

Image: Jack Wallen

What makes Elementary OS so user-friendly?

First and foremost, Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu Linux, which means it uses the apt package manager. Because of this, installing software (even from the command line) is fairly easy. But don’t think you have to mess with the command line to install applications, since Elementary OS includes its own app store where you can install tons of software with a simple click (I’ll mention a few caveats in a moment). Of course, Elementary OS also supports Flatpak, so you’re not just limited to the apt package manager.

Whichever route you take, you’ll find that installing software on Elementary OS is incredibly easy. And with Ubuntu as a base, you can be assured that every software installed has been fully tested and ready for prime time.

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Another reason Elementary OS is so user-friendly is that the developers have made every effort to create a consistent UI design. This is something many Linux distributions could use.

In keeping with the macOS interface, everything in Elementary OS enjoys the same design elements. You won’t find a single app that doesn’t uphold the aesthetics of the operating system. While this doesn’t seem like an obvious plus, every bit of continuity you can add to the UI goes a long way in making users feel at home.

It’s the little things.

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Another feature of Elementary OS that makes it so user-friendly is its installer. You will hardly find an easier operating system installation on the market. And during the initial onboarding, you’ll find Elementary OS walking you through things like which old files to automatically delete after 30 days (figure 2).

The Elementary OS onboarding tool that says housekeeping

figure 2: You don’t have to worry about deleting old files manually because Elementary OS will do it for you.

Image: Jack Wallen

Included Software

This is where Elementary OS can get a bit tricky. Out of the box, you’ll find the meagest collection of software, such as:

  • Mail email client
  • GNOME web web browser
  • Music player
  • video player
  • code text editor

You’ll also find a calculator, task manager, photo viewer, PDF viewer, file manager, and camera app… but not much else. That means you have to install software where the problems can surface. For example, if you open the AppCenter, you’ll find that software like LibreOffice (the most widely used open-source office suite) is missing. The same goes for proprietary apps like Spotify and Zoom.

However, since Flatpak is installed, you can add these software titles. The good news is that you still don’t have to touch the command line. You can open the web browser, point to, search for LibreOffice and click Install and it will download a file to your local storage. Once this file has downloaded, double-click the file (named org.libreoffice.LibreOffice.flatpak.ref) and follow the instructions. It is really that easy.

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And to make this more attractive, thousands upon thousands of apps need to be installed by Flathub. So if you are disappointed with the lack of software in the AppCenter, just go to Flathub and you will find everything you need.

Is Elementary OS Right for You?

This question is so difficult to answer because it all depends on your needs and desires. Let me try to break it down for you.

  • If you’re new to Linux and looking for a desktop OS that’s sleek and incredibly user-friendly, but doesn’t exactly follow the rules that most Debian/Ubuntu-based distros follow (especially in terms of software installation), Elementary OS is for you is the perfect solution.
  • If you’re looking for a Linux distro that’s highly configurable and ready to take on just about any task you throw at it, Elementary OS might not be the best fit.

In other words, if you’re new to Linux, Elementary OS is hard to beat. If Linux has been your jam for years, you might find Elementary OS a bit limiting. In any case, however, it is difficult to beat this Linux distro for beauty and ease of use.

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