Final Thoughts on Elementary OS

How I Use elementary os (Applications and Tweaks)

In my last post, I described my journey of moving off of OpenSUSE Tumbleweed and installing elementary os. This week, I want to describe the apps I have installed and use and what modifications I’ve made to make the workflow fit just a little better to my muscle memory.
The first thing I did was poke around a bit and see what the default set of apps installed from the iso had to offer. I got Mail setup to use my google suite mail. That was fairly straight forward, however, because I use my own domain with google apps, I had to use the manual set up. The documentation from google was helpful. I use two-factor authentication on my google apps so I also used this article on setting up Apple’s Mail to use google 2FA and applied it to the elementary Mail app ; if there is interest I could do a tutorial post or video on how to do this. I am using Files, Terminal, and AppCenter out of the box as intended and everything just works. The pantheon desktop itself is a huge departure from my beloved XFCE, but I am addressing the challenges head on. Here are some of the things I have done to ease my transition.
In XFCE, the desktop has a setting for randomly changing the wallpaper from a specified folder of images. Over the years, I have collected a set of wallpaper images I like and I like to have them change regularly. Pantheon does not have this feature built in, but I installed Variety, “an open-source wallpaper changer for Linux.” Variety can pull images from various online sources and your local filesystem to create wallpaper slide shows which change the background on your specified schedule.
In addition to XFCE, I have used the i3 window manager quite extensively. My time in i3 has really broken me of my ‘mouse addiction’ and I am used to using the keyboard to do most things on my system. The default key combination to launch a terminal window on i3 is Super+Enter so the first thing I do on a new desktop in find the keyboard shortcut control panel and add that combination. On elementary, pressing Super+Space opens the applications menu. This menu provides search to launch applications but again, due to my time spent with i3, I am used to using dmenu to launch apps. dmenu is available in the default repos and I set it’s keyboard shortcut as Super+d. (Actually, I use j4-dmenu-desktop from the repos. Google is your friend here.). My one big complaint is that elementary has done away with app indicators in the Wingpanel. I have read their explanation of this and I get where they’re coming from. However, I still use applications like Nextcloud which rely on a panel indicator to access their settings and to monitor syncing. In addition, I do not like the stock sound settings / control panel. I am used to pavucontrol which provides many levels of control over which interface does what. The Sound Settings in elementary os leave much to be desired on that front.
However, much more than that, I haven’t changed elementary very much. I have populated my dock with many apps and I have enjoyed the experience. But, it’s time to move on. Time to scratch that distro-hopper itch. It took me a while to decide, but I am going to revisit Gnome shell. I haven’t used it in several years and I want to see what the hype is all about. I have decided to try Pop_OS! from System76. I hope you will check back later to see how it goes!

Two Weeks With elementary OS

About two weeks ago, after almost a year on OpenSUSE Tumbleweed, I installed elementary os Juno on my ThinkPad T430.

I installed Tumbleweed last year ahead of attending and giving a talk at the OpenSUSE Summit at ScALE 17x. I am a fan of OpenSUSE and I really enjoy having a rolling release distro, but I had been challenged. I have always been something of a ‘distrohopper’ and I have used lots of different OS’s in my 10+ years full-time on Linux. At some point during that time, I had come to the belief that distro hopping was, well, childish, not to put too fine a point on it. I had convinced myself that some combination of “the grass is always greener” syndrome and commitment issues was a detriment to my use of Linux and I just needed to put down some roots. As I have always had something of an anti-establishment streak, I couldn’t settle on Ubuntu or Fedora and Arch and it’s derivatives have posed challenges to me in the past. So, OpenSUSE it was. I installed my beloved XFCE desktop and was very happy.

However, I was listening to a talk from some Linux conference or another and a gentleman, whose name escapes me, said that distro hopping was preferred for Linux evangelists and those of us who are in a position to recommend distros to civilians (my word choice, not his). His point was, how can you answer the question, “But, which distro should I choose?”, if you haven’t tried LOTS of distros. He went on to say that trying different distros will increase the breadth of your knowledge of Linux, in general. It makes you more flexible. It enables you to slide into many different scenarios and be successful.

I was floored. I was, to be honest, a little insulted. This was because I had convinced myself that hopping was a behaviour to be avoided. However, I continued to ruminate on his words. I re-examined my opinion. I began to agree. I decided to take up his challenge to live in different distros, in different environments, for my own benefit and education. I decided to abandon OpenSUSE Tumbleweed. But, where to go?

I mentioned previously that I had been using XFCE on Tumbleweed. Truth is, I always used XFCE. I was in a rut, to be fair. I am, by nature, a minimalist when it comes to technology. I also like to be in charge of everything. I don’t like desktop icons, I don’t like huge header bars on my windows, I don’t like relying on a mouse when a keyboard chord will do. Gnome Shell and KDE Plasma are big and resource intensive. Other distros, like elementary were locked down and not customizable. How could I ever ditch XFCE?

After listening to Daniel Fore (founder of elementary) on various podcasts over the years and following along the development of elementary os, I decided elementary would be as close to the exact opposite of everything I had been doing in Linux for the last 5 years. So, I committed. I installed elementary and I promised I would do everything the “elementary way”. I would use the AppCenter, not my usual command line tools (apt, zypper, yast, etc). Also, my preference for apps would be those written and curated specifically for elementary.

And, I have loved it! I am writing this article in Quilter, a markdown editor. I am using Mail, Terminal, Ciano, Taxi, and several other elementary-first apps. When I have needed an app outside of the curated list, I have tried to find it through the AppCenter first, then turning to Flathub and the Snap Store. My experience has been pretty great and I am very happy with the resulting setup. In my next post, I will go into more details on the apps I have installed and how I have attempted to customize elementary to my preferred workflow, when possible; and how I have attempted to customize my workflow to the nuances of elementary.

Thanks for reading this article and check back for follow up articles as well.