Elementary OS is a GNU/Linux distribution (based on Ubuntu core) that has a desktop environment and a few major applications of its own. From a developer’s perspective, this gives them a lot of control over their OS, and thus, makes it easy to fine-tune and optimize it, in ways that they desire.
That said, when you are developing some of the ‘major’ aspects of an OS from the ground-up, and does not posses a lot of man-power, then pushing a new release is going to be a tedious task. And thus as a result, ‘Luna’ has taken 2 years and 6 months (roughly) to complete.
Now I was eagerly waiting for this release because Elementary OS developers have a reputation of being able to create intuitive & solid applications (or an OS for that matter), and, this was also the first time that they introduced the ‘Pantheon’ desktop and other applications, officially. Plus, I wanted to see whether the 2.6 years of ‘wait’ was worth it as well.
Anyhow, as usual, I will be focusing more on the performance related information, rather than going through all the features/changes on the desktop & its applications. I have measured the boot-up times, memory consumption at desktop loading, power usage at idle, CPU usage at idle, system responsiveness, shutdown delay and few other measurements.
Although I have listed then at the end of the review, I measured them first, before I even touched the desktop or its applications (though I had to install ‘Gnome System Monitor’ as it was not included by default). Below is a brief information of my hardware:
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
The desktop (‘Pantheon’) …
The last release of Elementary OS was based on Gnome Classic desktop and a lot of users ‘accuse’ it being somewhat a carbon copy of Mac OS X (the theme, desktop, application interfaces etc). Although from a technical point of view, the new desktop environment ‘Pantheon’ is totally different, it still pretty much retains the look-n-feel of the previous release (a bar at the top and an ‘application dock’ at the bottom), as shown in the image above.
This time however, due to some of the new features added to the top bar (an application menu with search facility and a clock/calendar on the middle) and the removal of the desktop context menu, to me, it looks like a hybrid between Mac OS X and GnomeShell.
The menus have also received a new theming system which adds modern look to them as well.
The bottom application dock is actually ‘Plank’ -- an application launcher that used to be pretty popular with Ubuntu users, but the arrival of the Unity desktop has rendered it useless. You can close, maximize, minimize etc the docked applications through it, plus, it supports accessing main functions of certain applications (such as Play/Pause ‘Totem’, or open a New Tab on ‘Files’ or ‘Midori’ web browser for instance) as well.
I do not think anyone needs an introduction to Plank, so I will stop here.
P.S: You can change the background (comes with a beautiful set of wallpapers) tweak the ‘Plank’ settings and tweak the ‘hot corners’ behaviors from the ‘System Settings’ window.
The ‘Window Overview’ is another useful tweak that gives you an overview of your currently running application windows (with the ability to close them). This is disabled by default, but you can enable it from the ‘Hot Corners’ settings page (above image) easily.
Where did the ‘minimize’ button go ?
One of the other ‘feature’ that users will immediately recognize is the absence of the ‘minimize’ button from the window controls.
Now ‘Pantheon’ is not the first desktop to get rid of it as it was GnomeShell. And that decision, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why users hate GnomeShell so much, because GnomeShell did not stop by removing the ‘minimize button’, but eliminated the whole idea of application minimization.
However, unlike GnomeShell, ‘Pantheon’ has not completely gotten rid of the functionality of minimizing yet (they plan to do so), because you can still easily minimize or bring them to front, by simply clicking on the application’s icon on ‘Plank’, once they are opened.
Or, if you so desire, you can easily add the missing minimize button right next to the close button by using the below command.
gsettings set org.pantheon.desktop.gala.appearance button-layout 'close,minimize:maximize'
To restore the setting to the original layout, enter the below one
gsettings set org.pantheon.desktop.gala.appearance button-layout 'close:maximize'
That said, Elementary OS developers have developed some of their application in such a way, that when you close them, some, such as ‘Scratch’ (text editor), saves the content to disk automatically so nothing will be lost.
Or while playing an audio file, if you close ‘Noise’ (default music manager), then it will keep running from the background. If you ‘Pause’ any playing track and then click on the ‘Close’ button then ‘Music’ will be terminated.
The terminal-emulator too has the ability to restore tabs that you had opened previously as well.
Simple overview of ‘Elementary applications’ …
1. ‘Pantheon-Files’ (file manager).
This is the new file manager of ‘Pantheon’ desktop and it is based on Nautilus (now called ‘Files’). They have completely gotten rid of the menu-bar and the ‘Preferences’ window, have added a ‘Column view’, a slightly different ‘Properties’ window, including a ‘Preview’ (thumbnails) that I found amusing 🙂 .
However, one issue that I noticed with this file manager is that, unlike ‘Nautilus’ (now called ‘Files’), when accessing media files, it does not show their ‘meta-data’ information (resolution, bit-rate etc). I hope that this will be added in the future releases as it is a pretty useful feature.
It is also worth noting that, on two occasions, out of no reason, it crashed. Other than that, I am pretty happy with it.
I also like how the ‘Pantheon’ applications render pop-up or Preferences windows a bit differently (as shown above). They look pretty neat, right ?
2. ‘Scratch’ (text editor).
‘Scratch’ is the default text editor of Elementary OS Luna. Being an Elementary OS application, it looks very simple, clean and intuitive and does what it is designed to do pretty well in my opinion. You can search & replace text, Undo/Redo, ‘Fullscreen’ view and surprisingly, can change a lot of settings (including adding new functionalities via ‘plugins’) from the ‘Preferences’ window as well.
As mentioned above, when you open a document, ‘Scratches’ automatically saves your new content, so when done, you can just hit the ‘Close’ button and forget the rest.
3. ‘Noise’ (music manager).
This is also a highly simplified music manager/player that supports ‘intelligent playlists’, search, shuffle, repeat, ‘info’ panel that shows addition info (album art and few other meta-data), a simple ‘Preferences’ window for changing few settings and a built in Equalizer. Also as mentioned above, it too behaves ‘intelligently’, but for some, it might be a bit irritating too.
4. ‘Maya’ (calender).
‘Maya’ is the default calender. Just like with any other similar application, you can add/edit/delete events (including search) with ‘Maya’. It also has a ‘Fullscreen’ window.
5. ‘Geary’ (email handler).
Guys, I have never used these type of applications (except for a very, very, short while, way back that was) so I will not try to go into the details. Sorry about that.
6. ‘Pantheon-terminal’ (terminal emulator).
This is the default terminal emulator of the ‘Pantheon’ desktop. It is one of the most highly simply applications that I found (perhaps even over simplified). It supports tabs and normal ‘copy/paste’ operations, but that is about it.
For example, for those who does not like having a transparent background will find it irritating that there is no option to disable it.
Other non-Pantheon applications include ‘Midori’ (0.5.4), ‘Shotwell’ (0.14.1), ‘Empathy’ (184.108.40.206), ‘Totem’ (3.0.1) ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ (5.2.9), ‘Document Viewer’ (3.4) and ‘File Roller’ (4.1). Please remember that ‘Luna’ does not come with any office suite by default. You will also have to manually install the proprietary multimedia codecs too.
Performance Related Details …
Remember that, as always, I took approximately 5 measurements of each of these measurable tests for calculating an average value, and then used the data that I had from Ubuntu 13.04 and Fedora 19 for the comparison. So here it goes.
Prior to measuring the boot-up times, I boot into the ‘Pantheon’ desktop of ‘Luna’ and waited for about a minute, and I shut it down. I did this 5 times. Why ? Because being based on Ubuntu, ‘Luna’ too makes use of the ‘ureadahead’ utility (a tool that speed-up the boot-up times), and for it to work properly, it has to build its database, which usually should be finished after doing those 5 logins (it did, I manually checked that).
Note: Please remember that, even though I had setup and enabled a Wi-Fi connection with my router, I did not wait till ‘Luna’ finished connecting to it (each login) as the desktop was usable way before that happened (usually).
Anyway, below is the graph that I created from the gathered data.
As you can see, Ubuntu was 9% (roughly) faster to boot than ‘Luna’, where both of them beat Fedora 19, with quite a margin. That 8.6% (2 seconds, roughly) difference I think is due to the fact that ‘Luna’ using ‘Preload’ by default, as I have seen similar results after installing it on Ubuntu 13.04.
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading
Then I measured the memory usage and came up with the below graph for comparing.
As you can see, Ubuntu 13.04 used about 6% less memory upon desktop login when compared to ‘Luna’. But ‘Luna’ used 12% less memory than Fedora 19 did.
Note: Unlike Fedora 19, ‘Luna’ is based on Ubuntu, but since both of these above measurements do not show a reasonably large deviations, I did not tried to look most of the memory hungry processes that run upon desktop login in order to find out the things that could be causing those small deviations.
CPU Usage at Idle
Almost all GNU/Linux distributions that I tried recently did very well while keeping the CPU usage minimum at idle (- when no process or program is actively running). So I had high hopes for ‘Luna’, and it did not disappoint me either.
As you can see above, except for the buggy Gnome System Monitor that consumes 3-4 CPU cycles when idelling, all the other processes used 0% CPU usage, for longer periods (12-15 seconds at least).
Power Consumption at Idle
I used ‘powerstat’ utility for measuring the power consumption at idle. I had set the screen brightness to max, Wi-Fi turn ON, Bluetooth OFF and all power saving settings disabled. ‘powerstat’ took 45 samples (each consisting of 10 seconds) and I came up with the below graph.
As you can see, Ubuntu 13.04 was 3.2% more energy efficient than ‘Luna’ and its readings are very similar to the ones that I got with Ubuntu 12.10, although, ‘Luna’ was still 2.3% efficient than Fedora 19.
I ran my usual test for trying to ‘feel’ the responsiveness. So while copying a file (1.5 GB) within my ‘Home’ folder, I tried to click on the ‘Applications’ area, searched and opened ‘Midori’, ‘Noise’, ‘System Settings-> Desktop’, ‘Pantheon-terminal’, ‘Gnome Calculator’ and ‘Scratch’. So how was the result ?
Although the responsiveness was not as good as under Ubuntu or ‘Linux Mint 14 Nadia’ (which was awesome!), it was pretty close. Was it satisfying ? Oh yes!. However, please do note that, I could not open some of those apps through the ‘Applications’ area as it seemed to be stuck for few seconds (though the rest of the OS was operating), but as soon as I click one of their icons on ‘Plank’ dock, they opened pretty quickly.
I also played a song through ‘Noise’ while all this was happening, and it went without any playback issues (breaks) either. It is also worth noting that, Luna uses ‘CFQ’ as the disk I/O scheduler by default, where Ubuntu uses ‘deadline’.
Hardware and ACPI Issues
Sometimes when I logged into the desktop, Bluetooth was turned ON automatically. The brightness gets reset to maximum, always. The fingerprint reader was also not detected. However, I have seen these issues in many other distributions. So other than those, ‘Luna’ configured and ran on my hardware (‘Suspend’ function included) pretty smoothly.
Finally I measured the shutdown delay and created the below graph using the data.
As you can see, there is a big delay while shutting down, except once where it only took 4 seconds, on all the other 4 occasions, ‘Luna’ took around 14.4 seconds!. The reason behind that is the ‘modem-manager’ process which refuses to terminate properly. I have also seen this issue in Ubuntu 12.10, though 13.04 came with it fixed, so most probably it could be the same issue.
Anyway, when it comes to numbers, Ubuntu 13.10 was 70%, and Fedora was 56% faster while shutting down, when compared to Luna.
Few Final Words …
I think most would agree to the fact that some of the recent UI changes that took place on GnomeShell applications (removing the menu-bars and making them accessible only through a ‘Gear’ icon, or some of the changes done to ‘Files’, for instance) are forcing Ubuntu’s Unity desktop developers to either ditch Gnome applications or, to fork and develop them in ways that they merge with their user-interface design goals.
What I am trying to say is that, from that perspective, as I mentioned in the beginning, I like the approach chosen by the Elementary OS developers as it is going to enable them to build a reliable platform for creating a solid OS. So even though the experience that I had with ‘Luna’ is short, it feels like a solid ‘ground’, from which, they can develop an operating system that is aimed, perhaps at not everyone, but certainly towards those that love a robust, fast, beautiful and a minimal looking OS.
But again, please remember that, it does not include any office suite (although not having proprietary multimedia codecs is not so uncommon) which might be a concern for some. I also hope that they would not totally eliminate the application minimizing function in the future. If you are interested, then please visit this page to get it.