After a clean and inclusive Ubuntu-based desktop? Elementary, dear user

iPadOS-like distro reaches 7.1 and talks to you on installation

The latest release of Elementary OS, version 7.1, is out, based on Ubuntu 22.04.3. We took it for a quick spin.

Elementary OS 7.1 shares the same name, "Horus", as 7.0, which we looked at in February, and it's not radically different from that release.

Elementary OS 7.1 has a very clean, minimalist desktop, with a panel, dock, and the WebKit-based Epiphany browser.

Elementary OS 7.1 has a very clean, minimalist desktop, with a panel, dock, and the WebKit-based Epiphany browser

Some of the changes are aimed at improving the OS's usability for people with disabilities. It's the first distro we've seen in which the installation program talks to you. The live install medium boots straight into the installation program, and begins with a language-selection screen. If you pause on this page for a while, a synthetic voice says: "Screen reader can be turned on with the shortcut Super [Windows key] plus Alt plus S." This is great to find in a mainstream distro. Computers are a hugely useful tool for people with visual impairments, but at present, Windows and macOS have significantly better accessibility.

Although Elementary's Pantheon desktop is standalone and not based directly on GNOME, it is built using GNOME tools. According to a Reddit comment from the project founder a few years ago, it uses GNOME's Orca screenreader.

It doesn't just have tools for people with low vision or sight loss. This release also has a set of color filters, inspired by the gnome-colorblind-filters extension, which adjust the color palette to help people with protanopia, deuteronopia, and the very rare tritanopia. Since about 8 percent of men and half a percent of women have some kind of color vision deficiency – about one in 12 – this could help a significant number of people. There's also a grayscale mode, and a feature to reduce the amount of blue when it's dark outside, which is claimed to help reduce sleeplessness.

This release also has improvements to privacy, such as reducing apps' ability to get your location, and a built-in Housekeeping function that deletes temporary files, empties the trash, and optionally cleans up downloads, screenshots, and other things that can accumulate.

Elementary OS 7.1 also includes all the updates the company has released since 7.0 came out at the start of the year, and users with existing installations of version 7.0 will get the new version automatically when they update. Unfortunately, the OS does not support in-place upgrades from one major version to the next.

We tried this release both in VirtualBox and on our elderly Thinkpad W520. Installation went smoothly in both, but it didn't install drivers either for VirtualBox's display or for the Thinkpad's old Nvidia Quadro 1000. Manually installing them from the shell worked fine, though.

Elementary's AppCenter also handles OS updates, which it installs during the reboot cycle.

Elementary's AppCenter also handles OS updates, which it installs during the reboot cycle

We've seen the Elementary environment described as Mac-like before now, but that's not really accurate. For instance, it lacks macOS's global menu bar – in fact, it lacks any menu bars at all, and its whole-screen-width top panel is mostly empty and unused. (We suggest that the developers examine the latest Zinc 22.04.3 for an example of a space-efficient top panel layout.)

On consideration, we feel that Elementary is more like a desktop version of iPadOS: simple, clean, attractive, and significantly less complicated to use than most desktop or laptop OSes… but also rather less customizable. It would be a good option for a technophobic relative, especially if you want to avoid Google and ChromeOS and entrusting all your data to the cloud. We've praised some Chinese desktops, such as Linux Deepin and openKylin for their bold, colorful appearance before, but Elementary looks better still. In terms of fonts, colors, wallpapers and so on, it's downright beautiful.

Elementary OS 7.1 is a 3GB download, occupies a little over 9GB of disk space, and uses a reasonable 650MB or so of RAM at idle. The new version is available now, on a "Pay what you can" basis. ®

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