Taking Aim at Some elementary OS Myths and Misconceptions

19 December, 2022

Lately, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time and mental energy dealing with various myths and misconceptions that others have embraced. In a number of areas. In a number of spaces. About a number of things.

And, to be honest, it’s been getting tiring.

Case in point: an email I received a few weeks before writing this post, taking me to task for both using and advocating the use of elementary OS. The two main arguments that my correspondent put forward in that missive were that 1) users get locked into elementary OS, and 2) that users have to pay for not only the distro but also for the software that they install.

The content of that email reflects some of the FUD I read elsewhere on the web in 2022. At that time, some troubles between elementary OS’s founders hit the online Linux press and blogosphere and, as can be expected, speculation was dialed up to 11. The contents of the email I received, and all that speculation, also illustrates a level of ignorance about the distribution in question.

The next several hundred words are my response to the person who emailed me and to others like them. And those words don’t only apply to elementary OS.

First Things First

Someone’s choice of Linux distribution is just that. Their choice. Not yours. Not mine. Not anyone else’s. It’s that simple. And no one should be shamed for what they use. They shouldn’t need to justify why they use it. To anyone.

If you decide to go with Trisquel or PureOS or Parabola GNU/Linux-libre, then more power to you. The same holds true if you prefer to use Fedora or Ubuntu or Zorin OS.

You can agree or disagree with someone’s distro of choice. Telling them that they’re wrong for using it, though, is a no-no. In that situation, maybe the problem doesn’t lie with the other person or what flavour of Linux they use.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at those myths and misconceptions.

Being Locked In

I’m not sure what the person who emailed me meant by that. Yes, there are number of applications specifically written for elementary OS. Around 120 of them. More than a few of those apps are available via FlatHub, which enables you to install them in just about any other distro. OK, not all of those applications but a good number of them.

Regardless, the files and the data from those apps (at least, the ones that produce actual files) are in open formats. You can easily move those files and that data from one app to another, from one computer to another, from one Linux distribution to another. So, if I want to move my outlines from Outliner, I only need to export them as OPML files and import them into another outlining tool somewhere else. A bit of a chore, to be sure. But locked in? Definitely not.

If someone does make a shift to another Linux distribution, it might take them a bit of time to adapt to the non-elementary OS counterpart of an application coded specifically for elementary OS. That’s to be expected. Humans are adaptable, though. At least, they can be adaptable. If the person keeps a level head, the process might take hours or, at most, a day or two.

Oh, yeah: you can install so-called standard Linux applications on elementary OS using the AppCenter. I’m talking about applications like LibreOffice, The GIMP, Thunderbird, Audacity, and Firefox, among others. So much for being locked in.

Being Forced Pay for Software

I’ve heard that so-called argument more than a few times over the last few years. When you go to download the ISO image for elementary OS, you’re asked to make a donation.

That donation is optional. You’re not obliged to make it. You don’t need to make it. You can download the ISO image without money changing hands. That said, if you do continue to use elementary OS, you should consider handing a bit of cash over to help the developers keep doing what they’re doing. Kind of like you would with some other distributions, like Linux Mint and Linux Lite. The main difference is that elementary asks for the (optional) donation up front.

Of the 120 or curated applications available in the elementary OS AppCenter, many are pay what you can. Not pay or you can’t install or pay or you can’t use. Yes, there is a difference. You can test drive and use those applications without money changing hands. The apps aren’t shareware and there are no nag screens — they aren’t missing any features and you don’t need to pony up to unlock more advanced functions. That said, if you continue to use those apps then (again) you should consider paying for them to give their developers a bit of a helping hand. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

A Few More Thoughts

You’d think that by doing a little research (actual research, I mean), that by asking a few questions someone could clear up the kinds of misconceptions I just highlighted. They could dispel the myths that are floating in front of them.

Some folks, though, assume the worst and mentally lock in that attitude in whenever an open source project does something that doesn’t quite mesh with their ideas around free and open source software. I’ve seen happen before. Far too many times than I care to count, to be honest. In some cases, I admit, that was justified.

If elementary OS does bite the dust (as a few folks have predicted it will) in the near or not so near future, you’re not stuck with it. You can shift yourself, your data, and your files elsewhere. No amount of FUD will change that.

Scott Nesbitt