For a period of about five years, I was an avid Mac user. In fact, the only reason I went away from it was because the hardware was so expensive (I moved to an old Windows box then onto Linux). There are a lot of things about the Mac that I still really, really like, especially when compared to Windows 10 or Linux.
For example, the software is better designed (at least from third parties) than anywhere else in my opinion. Some of this is because Apple standardizes the design and offers those elements to developers, whereas on Linux and Windows, the design is very segregated between different developers.
Another thing I like about Mac is that if you’re an iPhone user, your phone and computer play nice with each other, something that can’t really be said anywhere else. Android seems to work fine everywhere, so there isn’t a lot to be said about that.
While using the Mac (and the iPhone, for that matter), I did find myself chaffing at having to live within Apple’s walled garden. There were things that just didn’t sit right with me. For example, the inability to install apps from the internet out of the box. Instead, you had to use the Mac App Store, or go into settings to enable the ability to download from anywhere. It was a hassle. I understood why they did it, but for a seasoned computer user, it bugged me. Apple did several things like this in the name of “security” that made Mac OS less-professional friendly.
Now that I’m a Linux user full time (I don’t even own a Windows box anymore), I’ve been looking for an experience similar in terms of design to what Apple offered me on the Mac. It’s pretty easy to get if you want to do some tweaks with either QT or GTK based themes and a program like Plank.
Elementary OS: Linux but Not
The best part of using Linux is FREEDOM (I think it’s a Law somewhere that Freedom has to be shouted, even on the Internet). That can be taken any way you want to. It can be the freedom from big brother, from corporate America, or from viruses and malware. Or, it can simply be freedom to do whatever you want to do.
That’s the experience you get, to varying degrees, on almost every Linux distro you might try. Want to install a program from a ppa? Easy on Ubuntu. Want to find something when using Arch or any of its derivatives like Antergos or Manjaro? Easy as searching the AUR in Pacmac.
Elementary OS is based on Ubuntu, which is in turn based on Debian. The thing that all three have in common is underlying package management. For example, it’s easy to install Papirus Icon Theme on Ubuntu:
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:papirus/papirus $ sudo apt update && sudo apt install papirus-icon-theme
The thing is, you can’t do that out of the box on Elementary OS. It’s just not possible. In fact, if you try that on Elementary, you’ll get an error. And when I first installed the distro, I didn’t know that, and the error pissed me off. It’s a derivative of Ubuntu, right? So apt should work just like it does on every other Ubuntu derivative or flavor you can name. But not Elementary OS, nay, nay.
After searching around the Internet, I found that the reason why it is the way it is on Elementary. You see, they didn’t just copy the look of Mac OS, but it’s walled-garden as well. They don’t want you to go outside of their App Store (where there are all of 70 or so apps in total) to find software or themes, or whatever. Even the software that allows you to change the theme the GTK 3 based environment can’t be installed from the app store (and isn’t supported by the Elementary team any longer). In order to actually install from any repository other than Ubuntu’s own, you have to enable that by using this command:
sudo apt-get install software-properties-common
This isn’t found anywhere in the OS itself but instead is found in various places on the Internet. That is not Linux as it is meant to be.
And that’s fine if what you’re looking for is a Mac OS clone that can be installed on any system. You don’t get all the nice apps from Mac OS, but at least it looks the same.
You Get What You Want From Linux
The best thing about Linux is, as I said, FREEDOM. If you’re new to Linux, and you don’t want to risk your system by being able to freely install things out of the box, that’s great. Elementary OS, is in that regard, a perfect setup for people who have never used Linux before and aren’t familiar with the pitfalls of installing software from unregulated, and often unmaintained, repositories.
But I believe that everyone eventually grows up past that point. I know I did. It didn’t take me three days as a Linux user before I wanted to play around with themes and icon packs and cool software that isn’t available on Windows. For people like me who grow into Linux and want to experiment, Elementary OS is a bit limiting, for the simple fact that it is so closed off.
Sure, you can make it behave like Ubuntu does, but that inhibitor that is placed on the system from the start leaves the experience a bit wanting, and that’s bad for long-term adoption. Elementary is the kiddie-distro that noobs will use until they grow up and want a real distro to flex their muscles on (like Ubuntu, Arch, Fedora or OpenSUSE).
I think the attitude of the Elementary team, which is so similar to Apple’s is why we haven’t seen their desktop environment anywhere else outside of Elementary OS, despite how good it actually is. It’s available on the AUR, and is in some repositories, but it hasn’t been widely adopted like other new Desktops like Solus’ Budgie (which is now an official Ubuntu Flavor). The community support and flexability that is needed for an environment to take off, just doesn’t seem to be there.
I like Elementary OS conceptually. But in use, it just didn’t live up to what I was expecting. I wanted Linux but with a Mac OS look and feel, and while I got that, I also got the things about Apple’s ecosystem that I don’t like so much, and that makes me sad.
Have you used Elementary? Let us know what you think about it in the comment section below!