Over the past couple of years, I've made no bones about Elementary OS Freya being my go-to Linux distribution for desktops. In fact, I'd go so far as to say Elementary has become my all-time favorite Linux distribution. Why? It offers a beautiful user interface (with a completely unified design scheme) that any level of user would feel an immediate familiarity with.
That's Freya (the current stable release). At some point (there is no set release date) we'll have Loki in our hands and the improvements look to make Elementary OS something you won't want to ignore. In fact, I would argue that Elementary OS Loki could even be an ideal Linux desktop distribution for business.
Don't deny it, you're already shaking your head.
Let me explain myself.
First and foremost, Elementary offers a very Mac-like desktop. That equates to one simple thing: familiarity. People know the OS X interface and know how to use it. Apple did an amazing job re-defining a level of simplicity with the user-interface and they've (for the most part) stuck with what works. Elementary OS followed in those footsteps to bring about a very Mac-like interface.
Believe it or not, what the developers of Elementary OS have done works quite well.
And unlike a lot of other Linux desktops, the design elements remain true throughout the entire Elementary OS landscape. That means users won't be put off as they open the various applications only to see a veritable cornucopia of design.
Loki continues with this same design ethos. In fact, the design has evolved very little from Freya. Beyond the default wallpaper, you'd have to venture into the Notifications before you could find a truly visible difference between Freya and Loki.
Elementary has yet to release an official Loki Features list. Why? According to their blog post about the Loki beta, they want to wait until the stable release to announce the user-facing improvements. So, in order to get to the juicy bits, you have to venture over to the Blueprint section of their Launchpad page. Understand that unless a blueprint item is marked as such, it will not be implemented into Loki. Even so, within that page you find out exactly what the Elementary developers hope to accomplish for the release of Loki and beyond.
Let me sum up some of the bigger blueprints items for you.
Cloud-sync: One of the big improvements over Freya will be cloud support for the built in calendar app. It is the goal to enable sync with Zoho Calendar, CalDAV, ownCloud/Nextcloud, Zarafa, Google Calendar, Outlook.com/Exchange. This will be a massive improvement, as the current calendar is a bit buggy with adding the likes of Google Calendar (and only supports local calendars, CalDAV, and Google).
Cloud support: One item the developers want to nail is cloud support. Currently, Elementary Freya doesn't offer anything in the way of cloud support (similar to that of GNOME or Unity's online accounts feature). It is their hopes they can bring some level of cloud support to Elementary. If they could include Google and Dropbox, Elementary would be much improved. What it seems like they are attempting is the creation of a cloud support service unique to Elementary. I say don't try and reinvent the wheel and go for the known entities first. Here's a novel idea: roll Google Drive support into the default file manager and Elementary would win over a lot of Linux fans. Do that and then develop your own cloud service. Or you could remember the failure that was UbuntuOne and not bother venturing into the cloud server side of things.
OS X-like multitouch gesture support: This would be quite a boon for anyone that works primarily on a touchpad. Enabling multitouch gestures would make the desktop far more efficient. Considering anyone coming from OS X expects this type of feature, I would say it's a must-have. At the moment, the only means of getting multitouch support is by installing and configuring Touchegg (and even then it's a massive challenge to get it to work properly).
Streamline power management: The developer's goal with this is to make power management much more user friendly. Instead of a user having to select from the more complicated suspend or hibernate (or even navigate through different plugins to tailor power management options), they want to simplify this very crucial element (especially for laptop users).
Collaborative text editing: The developers are looking into ways to possibly enable a text editor for collaborative editing. They're considering the likes of Gobby or Scratch. This could be very helpful for developers wanting to easily collaborate on a piece of code.
The heart of the update
At the heart of the Freya to Loki update is the kernel. I must confess that Freya has been the first distribution to keep me working on an outdated kernel. Normally I like to be as up to date on the foundation of Linux as possible, but have given that a pass because Freya works so well. Fortunately, Elementary OS Loki will finally ship with the 4.x kernel. After the first Loki beta update (immediately after installation), uname -r indicated a running kernel of 4.4.0-34-generic. An updated Elementary OS Freya reports 3.16.0-77-generic. The improvements to the 4.4 kernel (over the 3.x kernel) are many and are dramatic. Performance is noticeably improved. In fact, running an instance of Elementary OS Loki on VirtualBox runs as smoothly as the host Elementary OS Freya.
Gone is the Ubuntu Software Center
File this under It's about time! The developers of Elementary have created their own software center, aptly named AppCenter (Figure A), that is based on the new GNOME Software tool. This is great news as the Ubuntu Software Center has been in tremendously bad shape for a very long time.
GNOME Software running on Loki.
Bring it on
As I said earlier, there is no specific release date for Elementary OS Loki. But you can be sure, the second it is released, I will be downloading and installing. From what I've experienced of the beta, Loki is going to improve on what I consider to be, hands down, the finest Linux distribution available. I've been using Freya on my production machine for a year now and no distribution has yet to tempt me away. I would imagine the lock Elementary has on my desktop will double-down once Loki arrives. I say bring it on!
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.