Look At All Those Users!
The elementaryOS Challenge from the perspective of an elementaryOS regular.
Well, first and foremost I must thank Jason Evangelho from Forbes for creating the elementaryOS Challenge and encouraging people to take part in a shared experience alongside him. I first found out about the elementaryOS Challenge via Twitter where I immediately jumped in with excitement. From my perspective, the elementaryOS Challenge is an opportunity for people to try new things and really give elementaryOS a shot at doing the job Windows or OSX typically does. It's very easy to dismiss something different as incapable, but sometimes it just takes a little bit of time and some willingness to shake things up, and you might find that the grass really is greener on the other side.
So, where do I come in? Glad I asked for you. I've been using elementaryOS for a little over a year now, and it's safe to say that I'm a little excitable when it comes to my favorite desktop OS. About three years ago, I began looking for different experiences that would best suit me and make the most out of my computers. I've dabbled with over 40 different operating systems and landed myself very happily on elementaryOS. I still try other systems and give them a shake, but there's never anything quite like elementary for me, and there's a lot of reasons for that. The simplest reason? elementaryOS delivers a clean, powerful, and reliable user experience that allows me to do everything I love doing without wasting my time forcing my OS to work for me. It works for me by default, as it should. The elementaryOS developers put a lot of effort into ensuring the consistency of the UI across the system and refining critical desktop elements such as workspace functions and clean window management functionality. I'd like to offer a special thanks to Daniel Foré, the founder and lead developer of elementaryOS. The work he does makes a positive impact on both users and developers, and his passion for the project really shines.
Now, bringing things back to the elementaryOS Challenge, I'd like to talk about something that has really impressed me... The community. In a matter of a few days, I've seen over a hundred people pour into a Telegram group to participate in this venture and share their experiences together, and I've noticed a handful of users going the extra mile to help others figure things out and offer solutions to questions people had. I've really enjoyed seeing newcomers to the platform and listening to their perspectives. I've also enjoyed seeing regular elementaryOS users coming in to assist others and share their perspectives with us all. It comes without saying that any project will have criticisms, but what impresses me is that the people that have come together for this challenge have been very constructive in regards to this. There's something exciting about everyone working together, despite their differences and goals, and I feel like the elementaryOS Challenge really nurtures that dynamic. Every user has a different style, and we all work in different ways for different reasons. elementaryOS is a platform that offers a unique style for its users, and while I'm biased in favor of elementaryOS, I personally believe that it's the only platform that can support such a wide range of use-cases without fragmenting that experience overall.
What is it about elementaryOS that makes it such an amazing operating system? The first thing that comes to mind is AppCenter, elementaryOS' way of delivering quality software to users while supporting the developers who work hard to make our lives easier. AppCenter is a pay-what-you-want software 'store' that allows users to do just that; pay what they want. That may seem like a senseless business model to some, but it's both encouraging and ethical. This method allows developers to suggest a price their app is worth, but does not force a user to pay just that. They can choose any number from nothing to a hundred, it's all in the users' hands. This allows developers to get paid, but also allows users to try things before they pay for them, and even more importantly, doesn't restrict users from having the software they want if they're unable to pay for it. Encouraging the purchase of software without enforcing it prevents people from being left out, but also helps support developers. Even if it's a slow start, the platform is still growing and it's a good start towards people being more willing to contribute back to the developers coding those apps we all enjoy so much.
But wait, there's more! elementaryOS is a platform that strongly encourages consistency in function and form when it comes to both first party elementaryOS apps and those that are installed from the AppCenter. See, it's very important that control elements don't just change when you move from app to app. It's confusing and disruptive for them to do so. The elementaryOS developers have put years of focus into designing much of the core functionality of the UI, and they understand that consistency is crucial. When you play music from your player of choice (I recommend trying Melody if you get the chance), you can expect that music to continue playing when you close the window. You should be able to see what's playing through the sound icon in Wingpanel and have control of it from there. The same would go for a podcasting app, such as Vocal, where you can expect to keep listening to your favorite podcasts without having to manage the window that comes with it. Coming back to your work when you close a window is the computer working for you, and not the other way around. That's why Code, elementaryOS' own text and code editor, saves your work as you type, and when you close that window, you know you can come right back to where you left off without having to fiddle with save dialogs that could potentially cause you to lose your work when you're in a rush to close things out. Why have a hoarde of open windows you don't interact with clutter up your desktop if they can work for you without doing so?
That brings me well into something else I really love about elementaryOS. Something that has improved my ability to get work done quicker and easier... Their awesome workspace functionality that they've refined very well. I'm someone who tends to work between a lot of open windows, but I also like to keep them organized to prevent wasting time searching through windows scattered on my desktop in no particular fashion. elementaryOS nails this functionality, hands down. I was not a workspace or virtual desktop guy. I actually avoided them constantly because they were such a hassle to me. Once I moved to elementaryOS, that changed completely. I tend to split my tasks into categories; browser, communication, media, project 1, project 2, etc. I'm doing exactly that as I type this article. Switching to a new workspace when I start something alongside my current task, or when I want to isolate certain things, is something invaluable and also makes it incredibly easy to keep track of whatever it is I'm using my computer for. If there's a window I want to bring over to my current task, I just grab it and slide it to the workspace I want with Super+AltLeft/Right. I can skip directly to the workspace I want, such as workspace three, with Super+3 instead of sliding through each one. If I don't want to use the keyboard for this, I can also use the mouse via Multitasking View, a little icon on the dock by default that displays workspaces. This can also be found in the Applications Menu. If you ever need help remembering which keyboard shortcuts are available, simply press Super on your keyboard and a helpful little popup will show you some of the most common keyboard shortcuts you might use on the desktop.
The developers did a lot to improve elementaryOS between the Loki (0.4.1) release and the current Juno (5.0) release. One awesome feature I really enjoy is Picture in Picture Mode. By pressing Super+F, I can select a region of the screen to capture and it'll show up in a small window on the bottom left, which you can move around and resize. This small window will stick with you as you move to a new workspace, meaning you can watch YouTube in a little window on your desktop as you do other things. I highly recommend giving this a shot because that on its own is just pure awesome! Beyond that, elementaryOS has emoji input support for native apps! Using Ctrl+; in a native text field, an emoji input box will appear, allowing you to search and input emojis without having to search the web for them. I use this feature a lot... BUT, this is for native text fields, meaning you won't be able to do this in apps like Telegram or browsers like Chrome. For this, I recommend one absolutely snazzy app by the fantabulous Cassidy James Blaede called Ideogram, which lets you call this emoji input box just about anywhere. I'd also like to point out that Cassidy makes more awesome apps for elementaryOS as well, and that he's always got some really cool stuff up his sleeve. I recommend following him on Twitter if you want to see some really cool stuff. If you want to read more about many of the mind-blowing features in the Juno release of elementaryOS, I suggest you read this writeup by Cassidy, which I'd like to point out is incredibly detailed and has 100% more images than my shoddy article you've somehow managed to get through!
So, enough about my undying love of elementaryOS, let me just summarize... In just a few days from Jason Evangelho's announcement of the elementaryOS Challenge, I've seen a community of people come together to share their experiences with a whole new platform and help others find what works for them as well. It's amazing to see what the community can do. As someone who has been using elementaryOS and continues to do so long after this is over, I'm always finding new things to do or ways to get things done, and it thrills me to see other people joining in with this and experiencing this OS for themselves. Thanks once again to Mr. Evangelho from Forbes and to the incredible elementaryOS developers, both platform and AppCenter publishers. Thanks to the awesome community who've spent their time helping out in places like the elementaryOS StackExchange and Twitter. You guys rock.