There are so many Linux distributions, each one claiming that they are the one flavor best designed for the new user in mind. Ubuntu, Linux Mint, PCLinuxOS — all outstanding distributions and very much ready for users who want a platform built on the premise that Linux isn’t nearly as challenging as many people assume.

In 2014, a new distribution appeared out of nowhere, one that cut straight to the heart of the matter and promised to deliver a Linux distribution like no other. That distribution is Evolve OS. For the longest time, the distribution was in a state of limbo, and the best you could do was download an alpha and hoped it would run. I tried a number of times and finally opted to just install the Budgie desktop on a Ubuntu distribution. That attempt gave me an idea of how Evolve OS would look, but not much more.

All of that changed last week when the beta of Evolve OS was finally released, and the distribution could finally be tested against what’s considered the gold standard of user-friendly Linux distributions.

It not only fared well, it crushed the competition.

I should probably preface this by saying that I’m already a bit biased towards the Budgie interface. It’s a near clone of the Chrome OS UI — beautiful, elegant, and simple (Figure A). It makes lesser hardware sing, and it’s quite stable for a beta.

Figure A

The Budgie desktop in action.

Evolve OS is built from scratch, using a fork of the PiSi package manager, and it’s integrated with the GNOME stack to avoid technical debt and needless overhead.

What’s underneath the hood will not concern the new user — but what will is the complete lack of a learning curve. Any user could hop onto Evolve OS and feel right at home. At the heart of that is the similarity to the Chrome OS UI. Although the Chromebook, by nature of its design, does have limitations (I should also mention that I’m a big fan of the Chromebook), the UI is as flawless an interface as you’ll ever find. Evolve OS takes perfect advantage of this and re-creates that platform, sans limitations.

Imagine the Chromebook with the ability to run full-blown applications and work seamlessly offline. That’s the very heart and soul of Evolve OS. With a simple menu, notification area, and panel, Evolve OS enjoys a familiar desktop metaphor that has worked for decades with the modern, minimal twist of Chrome OS.

From the user’s perspective, Evolve OS borrows the following from the GNOME stack:

  • Files — GNOME file manager
  • Maps — GNOME map tool
  • Weather — GNOME weather app

It must be said that Budgie is not a fork of GNOME 3. Budgie was built from scratch and uses its own window manager and panel. Outside of the listed apps above, most of the borrowed GNOME stack is underneath the hood.

Why Evolve?

The answer to this question is quite simple. If you’re a fan of Chromebooks but long to be able to add an addition layer of usability and power on top, Evolve OS is for you. If you’re looking for the epitome of elegance on a desktop, Evolve OS is for you. If you’re looking for the single lowest barrier to entry for Linux, Evolve OS is for you.

Why not Evolve?

It’s very important to remember that Evolve OS is in beta. This means that you’ll find tiny corners that are a bit rough. Take, for instance, the Software Center (Figure B).

Figure B

The Evolve Software Center.

The Software Center is quite limited at the moment. With a minimal amount of available packages to install, you’ll find yourself having to go the old-school route and install manually. Evolve OS uses the eopkg, which is a fork of the PiSi package manager. You can install a package with a command similar to:

sudo eopkg install audacity

Personally, I’ll be following Evolve OS closely to see when the distribution comes out of beta. When it does, it’s quite possible that I could evolve from Ubuntu to this incredibly easy-to-use take on the Linux environment. That’s a fairly impressive task for any new distribution — to take me away from my Linux distribution of choice since 2006.

What do you think? Is Evolve OS just what the Linux platform needs to win over new users? Why or why not?