Enso OS | Review from an openSUSE User

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.

Installation

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.

EnsoOS-01-Installation Options

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.

First Run

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.

Software Installation

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.

EnsoOS-21-Software Installation

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.

EnsoOS-22-Dark Snap Packages

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

EnsoOS-18-MenuThe 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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Further Reading

Enso OS Main Site

BigDaddyLinux.com

VirtualBox.org Site

Xubuntu.org Site

openSUSE.org Site

Multimedia Codecs and VLC Player for openSUSE

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Pop!_OS | Review from an openSUSE User

PopOS Logo

As part of a kind of challenge, I have decided to kick the tires on Pop!_OS Since I don’t have the extra hardware to install it on “bare metal” so I have chosen to put it in a Virtual Machine. Pop!_OS can be downloaded from here. I chose the 2GB sized Intel/AMD version for this test. The Requirements are on par with nearly every other 64-bit distribution out there. It requires 2 GB RAM and 16 GB storage.

Installation

The installation process Pop!_OS is a fantastic experience. The instructions are clear and  the presentation is uncluttered with a clear course of action. Very good for a new user to Linux.

After the installation and reboot of the machine, you are prompted to set up your user. It’s all pleasantly straight forward and easy to understand.  It is at this point you can choose to encrypt or not encrypt your home directory.

First Run

After you log in, you are greeted with this friendly, multilingual, interactive welcome dialog. Like the installation experience, clean and simple.

PopOS-09-Welcome

Your First task is to set your privacy settings

PopOS-12-Privacy

Nothing confusing, simple wording and asks you questions very simply; Do you want to allow applications to know your location. No techno babble, no long winded explanations. Plain, simple and clear language.

Next your asked if you want to set up any online accounts. I was not particularly interested in this feature so I did not test it.

PopOS-13-Online Accounts

Should you skip this step, it is easy to get set up accounts later. This is in the settings menu. Searching “Online Accounts” in the menu will bring it up.

That is all that will be needed to get started.

PopOS-14-Ready

And you are ready to get Pop!_OS-ing

PopOS-05-Splash Screen

Adding Software

The cleverly named Pop!_Shop which is a re-skinned ElementaryOS App Center, not the Gnome Software Center, which I originally thought.

PopOS-06-Pop Shop

I searched for and installed Telegram with the expected outcome. I searched for specific libraries to install what is needed for the Smart Card but nothing would show up. When the GUI doesn’t do as asked, there is still terminal to bail you out. Using my instructions here to make the installation.

PopOS-07-Set Up CAC.png

The process of going back and forth became a bit irritating but more on that later. Installing and testing out the Smart Card system was successful. It worked just as my instructions specified for Ubuntu and its derivatives.

What I Like

PopOS-16-Lock ScreenFor starters, this is an Ubuntu derivative, so I know I have access to… basically everything. Also, knowing this is built on a well tested base, plus the extra polish from System76, I would have no distrust of any system running this.

The installation interface is beautiful and friendly. It has fun artwork, straight forward installer. The look and the artwork in Pop!_OS is absolutely stellar. It has a fun, clean and modern looking interface. The contrast is perfect and give the Environment the same kind of welcoming, pleasant, here is a hot cup of coco, go sit by the fire and warm up, after shoveling the snow off of the sidewalks.

The Pop!_Shop is not only cleverly named but looks great. The care and attention to detail made by the designers make this application fit into their finely crafted desktop environment is noticed and appreciated.

The base set of applications chosen by the designers is a nice fit. It has all the basics you need without having to install anything. You can get by just fine with what’s available and not be burdened by the confusion of excessive application selection.

What I don’t like

I want to make it clear that I have a pretty huge bias as I am entrenched in a particular workflow and I happen to like, how openSUSE structures itself. I also want to make perfectly clear that I think this is a very fine piece of art and technology for which I have great admiration in all those involved.

PopOS-17-Extra ClicksFor starters, I do not like having to click on “Activities” on the top of the screen to do pretty much everything. It is my opinion that this exercise is nothing more than unnecessary wear and tear on my mouse button and a general waste of time. This particular design choice is clunky and inefficient. The lack of buttons on the window and the lack of any way to add them, at least one that is not obvious. It would be a fantastic feature to minimize the screen at the click of a button or maybe keep windows above others with a single-click of a button. Much like the additional unnecessary clicks to do anything through the “Activity” button, I have to add a right-click than select what I want to do with the window.

There is no Task Bar no way of knowing what is going on at a glance, to look at all your windows open, extra clicking is required by going back to that “Activities” button. Alternatively, the Alt+Tab will allow you to switch windows, which works fine if you only have a few applications running. If you have a lot going on, switching between applications is going to be a mess.

Not a big deal, but I don’t particularly care for the way you have to use authentication to do updates from the GUI. I say this with my openSUSE bias as doing an upgrade through the update tool requires no authentication when using openSUSE Leap. This is a small potatoes thing… really…

Last thing… and this too falls back on my bias… Due to the lack of package selection from the Pop!_Shop, I needed another package manager since as much as I like GUIs, so I installed Synergy to see how it compared to openSUSE YaST Software Manager.

sudo apt-get install synaptic

Synaptic is pretty decent. It has a lot of the great features of which I am accustomed to with openSUSE but there was one glaring missing feature I was not able to find.

PopOS-08-Synaptic

There isn’t any way to select a repository to switch system packages into. Perhaps this is not a necessary feature in Ubuntu based systems but for openSUSE, this is a nice feature. There is value in switching system repositories to a more bleeding edge KDE or Gnome and switching them back, if wanted.

Final Thoughts

Would I use Pop_OS! for a daily driver? As nice as it is, the spectacular polish, the beautiful art, sensible selection of default applications and so much more, I still would not. There are too many user interface issues with it that make it too slow and clunky. The lack of minimize and task bar in the desktop plus the required extra-clicks to get to the menu, although it is not a serious productivity loss, it just feels slower. I am aware that there is a work around for that using Gnome-Tweaks and Keyboard Shortcuts but I just don’t find it an acceptable out-of-box answer.

I am certain that Pop!_OS is a fantastic interface for many and for those in which it works well, they should continue to use it. It looks fantastic and feels incredibly well polished and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is stable and works reliably for the long haul. It just doesn’t fit my needs. Part of the beauty of Linux and the open source is the ability to choose what is best suited for your particular needs, desires and unique flair. Use the best tool for the job and I have no doubt that Pop!_OS is a fine tool for many jobs.

Further Reading

Pop_OS! Download

DoD CAC Reader | Ubuntu, Derivatives and Linux Mint

ElementaryOS App Center