A Quick Look at Elementary OS

📅 January 23, 2015
elem2 Are you seeking a lightweight Linux distribution designed for low-end systems? You are? Then, Elementary OS might be worth checking since it was designed to run fast on lesser hardware.

I installed Elementary OS in VirtualBox 4.3.20 for a quick perusal, and I am quite pleased. Though it sports a minimalist design, Elementary OS offers enough to produce a fully functional Linux system that runs smoothly on low-powered machines.

Elementary OS can be downloaded for free from elementaryos.org. Donations are optional. LiveCD testing was adequate, and installation was similar to any other version of Ubuntu complete with the option to encrypt the user home directory.


The default Elementary OS desktop that you will greet you upon logging in. This is the 64-bit version running in VirtualBox 4.3.20. The desktop environment is clean and functional. Never did I experience ONN (Overwhelming Newbie Nausea).

At first, the default usage was acceptable, but laggy. The VirtualBox Additions need to be installed for smooth performance. Once that was complete, Elementary OS ran fast, smooth, and snappy. Menus were responsive without any wait times.


Menu animations are fluid, and the design shows attention to style and polish. Shown here is the Application menu from which to launch programs. When a program is open, its icon appears in the dock at the bottom. The icons shown here are the defaults.

The latest stable version appears to be dated August 10, 2013 according to the filename, and Elementary OS depends upon the Precise repository (that’s Ubuntu 12.04 LTS). The default kernel is 3.2.0-51-generic.


Running uname -a in a terminal shows kernel information as 3.2.0.

Installation consumes almost 2G of hard drive space.

Installation consumes almost 2G of hard drive space from a 10G virtual drive.

Installed applications are minimal, but the Ubuntu Software Centre is available from which to install any program of your choice to expand the system.


Elementary OS does not include many programs beyond the bare essentials, but you can install as many as you like from a familiar place.

Upon logging in, I was impressed by the clean appearance of the user interface. No clutter. A single, GNOME3-like panel fills the top of the desktop while a dock along the bottom provides quick access to programs and those that are currently open.


Elementary OS uses the Pantheon file manager.


You can change wallpapers and choose the dock theme.

The entire default user interface felt clean and coherent, and the consistent white/light-blue theme gave the distribution a unified look and feel.

An issue that was immediately apparent was that I could not right-click a context menu on the desktop. Perhaps a setting was disabled somewhere? Not a major issue, but since every other Linux distribution I use incorporates it and I rely upon it heavily, I found this to require some usage adjustments on my part. It felt like something was missing at first, but it was not a deal-breaker. Again, this could be my fault or an incompatibility with VirtualBox.

Elementary OS runs well inside a virtual machine. While I have not tried Elementary OS on real hardware yet, I would expect it to run smoothly on machines dating four years back or earlier, such as netbooks. The OS was designed with minimalism in mind, and what it does, it does well.


The Totem Movie Player is the default video player.


It’s not Firefox. It’s not Chromium. It’s not Opera. It’s Midori, the default web browser. Browsing through a few sites run as well as any other browser.


The built-in Calendar program acts as a basic planner. There is no office suite installed, so if you want one, you must install something like LibreOffice separately. Elementary OS only provides the basics by default and let’s you choose how to expand the system.


The Application menu offers a second view that organizes icons into categories.

So, is Elementary OS the answer for your needs? The only true answer is to try it for yourself. In my case, Linux Mint 17.1 is running well and provides a wealth of features not found in a default installation of Elementary OS, so I did not feel inclined to swap out the existing Linux operating systems for an older one given the lack of default features.

However, if I had an older system, such as a Pentium 3-based machine with 512M of RAM, then I would certainly try Elementary OS before installing one of today’s resource-heavier Linux distributions.

In my short evaluation, I liked what I saw. Essentials performed as smoothly as expected, the user interface was consistent and polished, and the option to expand to the level of a more feature-laden Linux distribution was present.


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