Elementary OS on a Dell XPS 13

Posted by

Back in May of 2013 I bit the bullet and purchased a shiny new Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition.  For my uses, the laptop, a blazing fast Core i7 with a beautiful 13.3″ 1920×1080 IPS display, is in every way superior to Apple’s latest MacBook Airs. About six months in, this has been a stellar purchase. I have no regrets, and recommend the machine to anyone looking for such a beast.

Functionally, I love Ubuntu.  Canonical’s tireless efforts to create a fully-formed and functional desktop OS cannot be applauded enough. Not only that, but they’ve created the best Linux desktop experience while simultaneously creating compelling server and cloud offerings, and have made great inroads with hardware vendors of both servers and desktops.  It’s simply amazing.

That said, Unity is clearly still a work in progress, and is Canonical’s vision of a converged interface for phone, tablet, and desktop.  While I do appreciate their efforts, for the moment anyway, I’m finding myself rather enamoured with a small Ubuntu-based offshoot called Elementary OS.

Based on Ubuntu 12.04, Elementary OS is a completely desktop-focused distribution that takes the best of the Ubuntu experience and then pairs it with a uniquely beautiful Linux desktop experience.

At the end of the day, Elementary OS may just be a fresh face on an extremely stable Ubuntu 12.04 base, but what a face.  One of the aspects of the Ubuntu desktop that I’ve always most appreciated is their attention to detail, and to the end user.  Great colour management and multi-monitor control for the Linux desktop was first properly integrated in Ubuntu, and was a big part of what brought me back to desktop Linux from Mac OS. Thankfully, these are features happily inherited by Elementary’s Luna OS.  These important aspects are then supported by a fantastic desktop OS, and a coherent and consistent UI that is unmatched in Linux.  Elementary OS’s changes start on the surface, with great new Linux apps, and a fantastic theme.  Then, they add their own excellent file manager, pantheon-files, that finally has the working column views that I miss so much from Mac OS’ Finder. Finally, they created their own elegant and sophisticated window manager with excellent keybindings and a great Workspace implementation.

Workspaces in Elementary Luna

Unlike Gnome 3, Unity, or even KDE, they’ve managed to create this excellent interface with a very small team and fairly little in the way of user outcry or backlash.  The folks behind Elementary OS have just created a very nice and very polished Linux desktop that doesn’t try to be anything other than that.

The look and behaviour is elegant, contemporary, minimal, and exceedingly functional.

And, I’m happy to report, it all works brilliantly on the Dell XPS 13.  The laptop is still running cool and quiet.  I have added Dell’s PPA, but given that I’ve opted for 13.04’s 3.8 kernel available through Ubuntu’s HWE team, I don’t think that the PPA is actually adding much to the experience.  I only installed it today, but so far everything is working perfectly, and if anything, battery life has improved.  (I look to be getting about 7-8hrs on this charge.)

The default apps and interface for Elementary OS are all quite light-weight.  While I’ve always found the performance of the XPS 13 to be stellar, these lighter apps do appear to be translating into slightly better battery life. Bonus.

Things aren’t all roses. Pantheon-files, the default file manager, lacks some of the features and extensions that I’ve grown used to in Nautilus. It (the file manager) also tends to crash on occasion. Noise, the fantastic MP3 player, also doesn’t seem to import audio CDs.  Still, this isn’t something that I do terribly often, and full-featured Ubuntu defaults like Nautilus and Rhythmbox are just an apt-get away. I have chosen to forgo many of the default Elementary OS apps in favour of what I was used to in Ubuntu; I still have the great looking and behaving desktop at my fingertips.

A normal set of apps. Great consistency!

I’ve given it a bit of thought, and the last time I was this impressed with an new desktop was BeOS 5. Honestly, while the changes are largely superficial, they are worth looking at. I like to think that at the end of the day, I’ll take function over style, but Elementary OS has all of the functionality of Ubuntu with the nicest style I’ve experienced on an open source desktop.

All in all, while it’s only been a week or so, I see myself sticking with Elementary OS for a while.  It gives me all of the stability of Ubuntu 12.04 in a fresher user interface that is, frankly, more focused and better looking than Unity.  I’d recommend Elementary OS to anyone interested in a great looking, and well-behaved Linux experience. You get all of the stability and testing of Debian, with the packages and enhancements and support of Ubuntu, with the slickest Linux desktop experience that I’ve ever experienced. Kudos to the Elementary OS team. I hope they keep up the great work.

GoSaBe Blog - Oct 29, 2013 | GoSaBe News, Linux