my “Review” on elementary 5.0 Juno

Hello! One last review now the final release is out, and by now you should know all about what’s new on Juno release, and if not, here’s Cassidy’s post with the changes:

And a nice video review by Nick:

I have been using Juno throughout the complete development cycle, plus for a couple of days their final release too. I have a fairly good opinion about the system, but yet I decided to uninstall it, so you understand this isn’t going to be exactly the most exciting review you will ever read!

I’m just trying to be genuine here. If I don’t use it my self, how I can say it is awesome et el?

elementary (aka Patheon) desktop Layered on Silverblue

For the screenshots I will use my elementary desktop (call it Pantheon!) installation on Silverblue (SB)

I often blog/YouTube on elementary because it’s one of my 4 favorite desktops. The rest are Plasma, Deepin, and GNOME obviously!

The benefit of elementary against the first two is that elementary shares lots with GNOME that I daily use, so it is easy to have both installed in parallel, plus easy for me to read and test the commits and changes on Github

A Parenthesis

I get these comments that my reviews are usually negative. True! That’s only because I feel it is most important to highlight the “bads” rather the “goods”

It is like going on Github and open an issue on Tilix saying “Split view works! So awesome!” What’s the point on that? It was meant to work!

And specifically for elementary I have uploaded like 50 videos and demo-ed whatever new they have developed, so cut me some slack on this please :p

Juno Vs Loki

It is simply ridiculous to compare these two systems. There is a two years gap between them. That’s 4 GNOME releases! What’s also ridiculous is the upgrade that isn’t officially supported, but the good news is that this is going to change from Juno. On next release we will be able to upgrade \o/

If you’re asking me, I would say that Juno is the first ever good release of elementary. That is mostly because is based on Ubuntu 18.04 that is a pretty okay release from Canonical after ages. The previous 12.04, 14.04, 16.04 were just failures, even leading on Ubuntu community leaking

A misconception I see on various elementary Juno 5.0 reviews, is that people say that “elementary did this, elementary did that etc” but the truth is that a huge set of elementary new features (tiling, night light, emojis, performance and much more) came directly from upstream GNOME, either from the newest Mutter or GTK or some other libraries

To express and a small complain, something I didn’t like at Cassidy James Blaede release notes, is the fact he didn’t make clear the work that was done in GNOME upstream, that elementary team doesn’t contribute. Actually if you search that post for “GNOME” there is not a single reference! Really not cool :(

Engagement

To be fair elementary isn’t Endless to have 100 people and 30 developers so it unrealistic to expect them working both downstream and upstream, and besides that’s how open source work

What really impresses me though, is the community engagement elementary succeed, on bringing people to GTK development. People that might never had developed for Linux desktop if it wasn’t for elementary, and that is most important than contributing upstream!

111 elementary apps and counting!

That work doesn’t just benefit elementary, but Linux desktop on its overall, first because all those apps are open source, so we can see how things work, and second because many from those are on Flathub already, so we can use them in any distro and desktop

The OS

elementary OS is pretty much an Ubuntu 18.04 with a different desktop, and some different settings and defaults, plus the addition of elementary repositories. One for their core things, and one for their AppCenter apps

In any case, there isn’t a lot to review here. Just read a review on Ubuntu and you automatically get an elementary review too

The obvious advantage is that elementary gains the Ubuntu massive support. Whatever plays in Ubuntu, it also works exactly the same in elementary

The obvious disadvantage is that elementary cannot control their software stack. Whatever is on Ubuntu (repos), it will get on elementary too, even the things elementary team doesn’t want to have, and doesn’t support. Like Plasma desktop for instance :p

elementary Vs Ubuntu

A massive problem is that elementary OS comes in direct competition with Ubuntu. A user has to make a choice here. Ubuntu or elementary? And most of the times it will be Ubuntu, because people prefer to use the “original projects”, especially true for newcomers

There is this trend in bloggers on suggesting elementary or Mint for Linux new users. I don’t really agree. Ubuntu has a very good out of box experience, with a much more supported desktop (GNOME)

Of course my self I wouldn’t suggest Ubuntu or any Ubuntu based at all, but anyway!

elementary Juno is old already

One thing I really really dislike in Ubuntu, is that unlikely with Fedora or OpenSUSE, they promote to their users their LTS, over their 6-months editions

I can only assume that only happens not because Canonical believes that LTS are better for desktop users, but because they want to “strength” their enterprise product (LTS) with more community, and unlikely with Red Hat (Fedora), Canonical doesn’t do much of developing, so they don’t care to “push” newer things

Point is that few days after Juno release, Ubuntu 18.10 also came out, and allow me to say that is a huge huge improvement over 18.04 and therefore a better system than Juno

The desktop

elementary and GNOME are two extremely similar desktops, both as desktop Shells and as apps design. In fact, they are so similar that if we accidentally call elementary, “GNOME”, we will be 80% accurate :p

One thing I really love on elementary desktop over GNOME, is their horizontal workspaces, that feel way more natural and pleasant on use, plus they have some nice shortcuts

Both elementary and GNOME are quite poor in features desktop Shells, and they add complexity on very common tasks, even on things like app switching

The difference is that in GNOME we can improve things with extensions, while elementary is take it or leave it. Actually, I believe that GNOME developers are aware of the issues, but they don’t prioritize to fix them, because extensions (eg. Dash to Panel and Dash to Dock) do the job perfectly!

I will review some of the “hello” issues, the issues we immediately see, but there are lots more, like notifications, the system tray and more. A thing I cannot test is the multi-monitor support. Sorry!


The Menu

No App-Folders, no favorites, no re-order, not recently used, a poor search, and graphically nothing attractive

Shell App Launcher is probably even worse, because it is harder to “read”, it trims app names even if it has plenty of space, and App-Folders mechanism through GNOME Software, is exactly the same as not existing

On GNOME based desktops, we can find a better launcher on Endless Shell, that supports App-Foldes DnD and re-arrange of icons, plus the search is crystal clear on a white background

Endless Shell App-Launcher with DnD

There are times I cannot remember the name of the app I want to start (it happens when we use lots of apps!) and I need to search through all installed apps to discover it

That has never ever happened on Windows 10 that I have like 3–4 times more apps


The Dock.. oh Lord!

I’m literary starring my Medium for 5 minutes and I don’t know what to write about elementary’s dock (Plank)

Plank can’t even display windows thumbnails :/

The main problem is that Plank can’t handle multiple windows, and I can’t even imagine how behaves on multi-monitors

A video demo on Plank & multiple Windows

Some people might find the auto-hide annoying, but it at least supports pressure sensitivity, while having it always visible, it just robs space. Lots of space!

In general the whole top-panel and bottom dock concept, doesn’t really offer anything, and unlikely macOS, elementary doesn’t support global menus

Long story short, Plank is perhaps the single worst component on elementary


Alt Tab

Video Demo on Alt Tab

The “look and feel” of elementary Alt Tab switcher is amazing, but the usability is really poor, compared to less fancy switchers, and while I’m a big fan of cool graphics, I don’t think I would trade here

The problem is that we cannot clearly preview the next window on the switching list

elementary similar to GNOME really forces the App Overview for switching, but sometimes we want to use alternatives, and both Dock and Alt-Tab don’t do a very good job


Full Screen Windows

One more thing that I personally was finding extremely annoying is the Windows Full Screen Mode. Similar to macOS elementary places full screen windows on a new workspace

A demo with full-screening YouTube in Chrome

I said I used to find annoying, because in Loki it was extremely buggy, but in Juno they have polished it a lot

However it is still something I don’t really like for default, or at least I would like to have an option for disabling it

If we look all the above (Menu, Alt-Tab, Dock, FS Windows) separately it might not seemed like a big deal, but when we actually start working on the desktop, and we get all those together sooner or later we’ll face annoyances.

Annoyances that are not great at all, because they are solved in most desktops ages ago


Polishing

From the Linux desktops I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot, elementary is one of the most polished. It may not have the features that KDE Plasma has, but what it has, works “natural as designed”, without major regressions

Then again it is easy to achieve that if you don’t do “much”. Less code, less issues, but in any case it is something people will appreciate on elementary

On polishing side, something that feels quite wrong is the desktop dialog windows, like for example the “Shutdown”

A demo with the shutdown dialog

What happens is that none of the desktop widgets isn’t a desktop modal, and that not only is a usability issue, but also makes the desktop looking that is broken into small independent pieces

It also leads on weird UI behaviors. For example open App-Menu, then go to Overview, and exit..


Settings

Settings in Juno is something that elementary worked a lot, but a single thing I want to highlight is that they still don’t support pressure sensitivity on hot corners, which is an awesome feature of Mutter, and is extreme annoying that doesn’t work on elenentary hot corners

Although not new, the option to be able to set all corners to a specific functionality is great ..and really unexpected from elementary, because that is from the very few things we can adjust on how the desktop works!


Performance

When we talk about desktop performance in Linux we always compare from worst (GNOME Shell) to best (KDE Plasma) :p

I’ve read many comments on my YouTube that people don’t use GNOME and they fallback to elementary (or other desktops), not because they like it, but because it actually runs on their PC with more than 5 FPS ;)

Starting from GNOME 3.30 (that had lots of improvements) and at least on a today’s average PC with SSD and dGPU, elementary and GNOME Shell are pretty much the same

On “low-spec” laptops elementary might “run” better, but using elementary just because it can run on a “bad” PC, it is not something you want to advertise

elementary Core Apps

elementary is not GNOME, but elementary and GNOME apps are quite similar in UI guidelines, specially now that GNOME (3.32) dropped application menus

Both are made with GTK and I want to highlight an issue with the toolkit regarding the graphics. GTK-3.0 cant’t animate. Apart some slides and fades, that even those aren’t very good

That will change on GTK-4.0 that has GL (and Vulkan) direct rendering and shaders, but for now all graphics in GTK apps look static, and there isn’t motion that makes visuals cool

One more thing is the theme. Personally I find Adwaita outdated, but elementary theme is even more outdated. It feels like entering a house with old classic furniture or something. That isn’t necessary good or bad, but I just prefer things to look modern

A very short comment on some of elementary Core Apps

Files

Everytime I login to elementary desktop and I want to deal with files, I have to open GNOME Files, because working with elementary Files, is nearly impossible, for a very simple reason. Search very politely sucks :/

GNOME Files on Left, elementary Files on right

Search in elementary Files uses a drop down instead of filtering the main view, which AFAIK is something they want to change, but it is still here

Another thing I don’t like is the single click policy, without an option to change it, that can be painful specially for people that work on multiple systems (eg. Windows and elementary)

In general it is very typical for people to have more than one OS, so some very common things (like file selections) is a good idea to work everywhere similar. Even Google Drive that is a WebApp uses single click to select, and double click to “enter”

Terminal

Do you see that pop-over on the top right?

Those are all the options you get on elementary Terminal!?

Quite honestly, looking back 10 years ago, and seeing apps doing more with less resources than today it is really sad. This isn’t about design or simplicity. This is the “Windows Notepad of Linux!”

Photos and rest

Imagine you want to Tweet some animated Gifs. With elementary Photos you cant, because it doesn’t play the animation

Colored app icons might be last century, but in some cases they look great!

Point with elementary core apps is that they have the same problem with GNOME Core apps (with some exceptions), but in a much larger degree. They have extremely low development, and thus they are extremely weak. And what about that there isn’t even a CPU/Disk usage app?!

I’ve said my opinion on this many times. elementary should had simply picked GNOME Core apps, and even contribute to them. Look! I don’t disagree with elementary’s idea to create their own app ecosystem, but I just don’t finding it feasible at this point. Developing desktop apps is hard

Mate and Cinnamon did that too, and their file-managers suck. And if your file manager sucks, everything sucks :p

And they suck, not because I say so, but because people aren’t using these desktops. People use GNOME not just because is pre-installed on Fedora or Ubuntu, but because it is “better” ..and that is exactly why GNOME is still pre-installed at least in Ubuntu, that they aren’t the biggest GNOME fans :p

KDE hasn’t either major Linux vendors to ship it, but they do better than elementary and Mate and Cinnamon in terms of user base, and also contributions

AppCenter

I’m using my Silverblue installation here, so I’m missing AppCenter repos, the curated apps, and of course the payment system!

All those are cool, but also irrelevant to my complain, which is none other than Flatpak support! ..Or even Snap; but please lord go away from root packages!

I will skip the problems with elementary still using .deb files, specially on LTS editions, since elementary will eventually go either with Snap or Flatpak

But they are already late, and even if they were starting working today on that, it would take at least a year to port

They need the Flatpak/Snap support on AppCenter, they need the docs for the developers, and they need the online infrastructure that it is quite complex

Till this happen, first elementary users stay without an UI for Flatpaks and/or Snaps, but most importantly the elementary developers will see their apps to have low use, low donations, low contributions and low issue reporting, because they are available only for elementary with the small user base

Expecting people switching on elementary just because of their app ecosystem, is really an illusion, because it is not very probable to see really strong apps specifically for elementary

It is the same as it happens with Windows Phones or even Tizen than both MS and Intel spent millions on sponsoring people to write whatever app they wanted, so they could create an ecosystem

Development

That’s a GTK/Vala tutorial from Alex, it is the first part of an upcoming series, so it is a little bit over-explainful but you can subscribe to watch the rest if you want

The one single thing that made me the worst impression on elementary, it is the Code app

Christian Hergert has created a really nice IDE with very good tooling for GTK, and instead elementary pushes Code App

Imagine if a guy from iOS development is watching Alex’s video with an editor that it has not a designer, it has not a debugger, it has not starting templates, it has not building tools, it has not even auto-complete, and all those coming with a “What the hell Vala is!” ..he will totally freak out!

That might not be a big deal, and elementary developers can easily get Builder from Flatpak and work on that but..

How to Get Builder w GTK Designer (starting at: 3:31)

..this thing shows a denial from elementary team to realize what is good for their users, that affects lots of things around the project

Community Apps

This is where elementary shines! I have tried most of them, and I won’t lie that are powerful and super and you can’t live without them. Although some are pretty neat!

However most of them are new, they get updates, so hopefully in the future will be more and better!

I said before, elementary team does an excellent job on engaging developers, and they achieved that simply because it is the only project that is desktop + OS one thing! Do you remember how many community apps Unity 8 had, even if there wasn’t a working Unity 8?!

Then again, when elementary was started attracting community devs, there wasn’t Flatpak, and even today Flatpak is a baby! Fast growing, but still baby!

Thus my opinion is that the current elementary tools (Code + AppCenter + Vala) won’t last by the next year the most, specially with GTK 4.0 and Rust that is what the GNOME and GTK development really is driven to

Need of Changes

If I had voice inside elementary I would propose three things that I believe they could boost the project

  1. Faster releases based on Ubuntu normal releases and not LTS. Don’t forget that Loki that is what we had a week ago, was based on GNOME 3.18!
  2. Move development to Flatpak and introduce GNOME Builder as elementary IDE
  3. Looking for development languages beyond Vala, possibly on Rust, but also examining Swift GTK bindings that has very good FFI, and it is more appropriate for apps, than Rust

Good from Far, Far from Good?

elementary till Juno release had always this problem that they were getting very positive reviews on blogs, but it was failing flat when people were trying to use it

It is not a lie that Mint does much better in user-base than elementary, and has much more community funding, even if they have less code contributors. To be realistic people in Linux care mostly for the big apps, games and developing, and that is the case in Windows 10 too

Anyway, “Good from Far, Far from Good” is not the case for Juno, and it is the first time I say that for an elementary release

However I don’t believe elementary is the “best” overall Linux out there, and I see it really hard to compete the current Ubuntu with GNOME 3.30

Not to compare it with my Silverblue + GNOME that eats all distros for breakfast :p

Anyway, that was my feedback! elementary Juno is free, get it, test it your selves, and if you like it, keep it!

See ya again in two years from now :p