In participating in with a virtual LUG, BDLL, I decided to give Enso OS a try, on Virtual Machine, of course. In recognizing that there can be Virtual Machine-isms, I am going to ignore any issues I had with that and just relay the overall usability of this distribution. I am evaluating Enso OS from the bias of a long time openSUSE user that prefers the Rolling Release model of distribution and uses KDE Plasma Desktop on machines as old as 11 years. I have rather high expectations for an operating system environment. I expect a certain level of reliability and convenience, computers are to serve me, I do not wish to serve the computer. The more it does for me, the better and it is imperative that I can trust the computer, which is why I use openSUSE.
Even though I am very committed to the openSUSE community, I do like to see what others are doing, just because someone isn’t using openSUSE, doesn’t mean they don’t have great ideas too. It is also fascinating to see how other engineers, developers and designers solve the same problems but in their own unique ways.
I have yet to have a Linux distribution fail to install on VirtualBox. I am using the VirtualBox from the openSUSE Tumbleweed repositories, which, over the years has been basically problem free.
The Enso OS ISO I used was downloaded from here. It is the latest version (at the time of writing) 0.3, built on the latest LTS release of Ubuntu, version 18.04.
Much like trying out other Distros, I set the RAM to 4GB and allocated a 120GB Dynamically Allocated Storage drive. Immediately, I was pleased to see that I was given an option if I wanted to try Enso OS or immediately install it.
Since I don’t see a point in trying Enso in a “Live Media” mode on a virtual machine, there was only once clear choice here. Install Enso.
Each of the screens are straight forward. Select your keyboard, test it out then determine if you want to pull down the updates during the installation as well as install third party software. I think this is a nice feature, especially for a new user. This is something openSUSE does not do through their installer, good bad or otherwise. They have their reasons, which is why I put together this to make it quick to install the necessary packages on any current openSUSE system.
The rest of the installation is pretty straight forward, when you commit to “erasing the disk” it warns you but then you go onto setting your location and user name.
I didn’t notice any synchronization with NTP (Network Time Protocol) servers. Not that it is necessary but it is a feature I activate on all my openSUSE systems so that time is always synchronized between them… to the second…
Two things I appreciated about the actual installation process. One, there is an option to watch and see what is happening during the installation. I could not only see the “commercial” provided by the installer but also what was happening through the installation. Secondly, I like the colorful rainbow fading affect. It reminded me the happy colorful times in the 90s of games overusing color gradients in the background…. really quite fantastic.
Enso OS has a similar feel to it as Pop!_OS, not exact but something of a similar thread where there is an emphasis on making your desktop experience bright and cheerful. Frankly, this is isn’t exactly how I want my desktop to look but I am not opposed to this styling. I think, for most people, this is probably a more attractive look than what I desire.
After the installation was complete, there were updated required, which I didn’t really understand as I did select to install updates immediately. Not a big deal, really. I did appreciate how the update dialog was verbose so I could see what it was doing. The software center in Enso OS was a similar experience to what you would see on Pop!_OS or others with a “Software Center”. The applications are curated in a clearly understandable and friendly manner.
The file manager is pretty typical and very usable. I was, however, disappointed in the default menu, called “Launchy.” Although you can make it sort by category, the default is a kind of messy. A similar mess you you get on a smart phone. It is what I would consider an unsorted mess of applications. If you don’t have many applications, it isn’t a big deal but the more you have, the more of a mess it will become. Thankfully there is a search function that pretty much nullifies this shortcoming.
The settings window is nicely laid out and made quick work of finding where I could tweak the theme to my liking.
I do want to note that the dark theme is Adwaita-Dark, not a dark version of the Enso OS theme. Perhaps in the future there will be an Enso OS dark theme. The default Enso OS has a more Mac like window button arrangement vs the more traditional icons you’d see on pretty much anything else.
Everyone has their base necessary set of applications to get going and knowing that this is based on Ubuntu I was already familiar with the command line methods of software installation. What I wanted to see was their graphical interface called the “AppHive”, so, I installed a few applications. I appreciate how each application has the developers listed below the title. It is a fine way to present the application prior to your choosing weather or not to install it.
I installed a few key applications and gave them a run around the block to see how it ran. Everything is as you would expect in my rather short run, the applications all worked fine. I was was also pleased to see that the Software Center included Snap applications and they installed just as any other applications would. The Discord Application is a Snap and if I hadn’t paid attention during install, I would not have ever noticed. Keeping this transparent to the user is a nice touch.
A quick check in the terminal and I could see that Discord was installed as a Snap. Installation of the Smart Card system works as well as it does on any of the other Ubuntu based distributions so for my most important work I do in Linux, I could accomplish without any issue.
What I like
Enso OS is by far the finest looking XFCE Desktop I have used. I do admit that I haven’t tried any XFCE Desktop in quite some time but this is not anything like I remember. Enso OS has made XFCE feel as “modern” and pleasant as any other desktop environment. I would say that this is a more positive experience than what I had using a Gnome. XFCE is easily customized and has a more familiar workflow than Gnome.
Installing applications with the Software Manager, AppHive, provides a seamless experience when installing Snaps or Deb packages. From a newer or less comfortable user’s perspective, this certainly would make for a better experience.
What I don’t Like
The only issue I have with Enso OS is the menu, Launchy. It’s not a big issue as it does have a search feature but the menu just isn’t neatly organized by default. Since I am a KDE Plasma user, I felt like XFCE was lacking some of the features I prefer and use regularly. I am sure I could have gotten KDE Connect to work with XFCE but the lack of integration makes it a less enjoyable desktop experience. XFCE is not bad, by any stretch but it’s just not as much for me and what I want out of a desktop.
I have been enjoying looking at other distributions to see how other developers, engineers and designers express their desires and solve their problems in a Linux Desktop Environment. I must say that I am quite impressed the work put into Enso OS. Outside of some theme changes, I am not exactly sure what the unique selling point is over Xubuntu but it doesn’t detract from the quality of the end product. This is a finely produced, very complete, well polished Linux distribution.
As nice as Enso OS is and the convenience it provides with installing multimedia codecs, I am perfectly happy with where I am using openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. Even though openSUSE doesn’t include multimedia codecs by default, there are enough guides out there to fix that small issue. I also want it to be clear that trying out Enso OS was not in any way a waste of my time and I am glad I took it for a spin.