Making the Switch to elementary OS

24 November, 2020

It all started with an upgrade.

In October, 2020 version 20.10 of Ubuntu came out. As I usually do, I duly clicked the button to start the process.

That upgrade seemed to go smoothly — everything installed quickly with no conflicts or error messages. I walked away to make a cup of white tea, and when I came back the installation had finished and my laptop rebooted.

It was then that I noticed a problem. A fairly big one. Instead of a login screen, I saw a field of aubergine (the colour, not the vegetable). I thought that my laptop was sleeping, so I pressed some keys to try to wake it up. It didn’t work. I rebooted, but I was faced with the same problem.

That definitely wasn’t a good place to be in.

It would have been easy to freak out, but instead I saw this an opportunity to do something that I had planned to do in early 2021: migrate to elementary OS.

Luckily, I’d done a backup a couple of days previously and my day-to-day work is synced with Nextcloud so I wasn’t going to lose anything. On top of that, I had a bootable USB flash drive with elementary on it so I was ready to go.

As a friend wrote in an email:

I’m guessing you experienced one moment of dread (as the screen sat there, blank and aubergine, lifeless), followed by one moment of elation (a blank slate! I can finally do that thing!).

I did feel both. And I embraced that elation.

Why elementary?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve had a soft spot for elementary OS since I first saw it back in 2013. Until recently, though, I never considered it ready to be my daily driver. It was always close, but not close enough. That changed about a year or so ago, and I’d been seriously thinking of switching since then.

What attracted me to elementary all those years ago was its simplicity and its user experience. I know there are hardcore Linux users who pooh-pooh elementary because it’s aimed at the unwashed computer masses, but who cares about what they think? elementary is easy to use, looks good, and (believe it or not) enables you to actually get things done.

Impressions After a Month and a Bit

I’m not going to bore you with a long, detailed account of installing elementary. If you’ve installed any modern Linux distribution, you know that it’s an easy process. Click a few buttons, type some information, and pretty soon you’re done. That’s how it was with elementary. I was up and running within 20 minutes.

Since I was familiar with elementary, it didn’t take long to get my bearings. Even if you aren’t familiar with it, getting used to the basics shouldn’t take you too long.

As I pointed out a few paragraphs ago, I had been planning to move to elementary in early 2021. As part of the move, I resolved to use as many applications coded specifically for the distribution as I could. Aside from the apps that come pre-installed, like the email client and the text editor, I also installed:

A couple or three of those apps are pay-what-you-can, and I did that to support the developers.

While I’m mostly using apps develop specifically for elementary, I’ve also installed a few so-called standard FOSS applications like LibreOffice, The GIMP, Firefox, and Pandoc. Not many; maybe six or seven.

I can get all of my work done on elementary. I haven’t lost or given up anything. Nothing is missing as far as I’m concerned. I’m still productive and I can work comfortably in plain text.

A Pair of Minor Frustrations

There are two. The first one involves the Nextcloud desktop client, which I use to sync files across my devices. The client works. It works well. But it doesn’t start minimized in the notification area as it does with other Linux distributions I use or have used.

Instead, the Nextcloud client’s window pops up on the desktop a couple of seconds after I log in. When I minimize it, it goes to the dock and not the system tray. I’ve tried a couple of solutions I’ve found online, but none of them has worked for me. I’m hoping this little annoyance is fixed in the next version of elementary.

The second frustration involves the file manager. While I can cut and copy files to shuffle them around, there are no Copy to or Move to options, which allow me to perform those actions a bit more efficiently.

Final Thought

While my planned migration to elementary OS was pushed forward by necessity, I don’t regret doing that deed. Actually, I’m a bit surprised that I didn’t switch to elementary sooner. For me, it’s a light and lean Linux distribution that’s easy to use and doesn’t tax my five-year-old laptop. And, to be honest, I really enjoy using elementary and I can see myself sticking with it for a while to come.

Scott Nesbitt