The Pantheon desktop is designed specifically for elementaryOS and is considered to be one of the most visually appealing desktops. It is clearly inspired by macOS, which makes it a great alternative for those looking to make the switch or have always wanted to master this workflow. In this Pantheon Desktop review, I take a look at user experience and performance, along with some notable features, and decide who should be using the Pantheon desktop.
Pantheon: first impressions
At first glance, I am struck by the modern and simple appearance of Pantheon. As a long-time Mac user, it feels quite similar, with a crisp and updated theme and minimalist appearance. Things work a lot like you’d expect for a desktop computer, and I appreciate how accessible it is. The layout is comfortable and I can set up easily.
The experience is quite similar to that of a Mac. If I wasn’t careful and there was a slightly different theme, maybe I should take a double look to tell the difference between a laptop running Pantheon and a Mac. The dock along the bottom, Plank, is incredibly simple and light. It starts with a default light theme from elementaryOS, but you can change a lot about Plank with the command
plank --preferences. Additionally, there is a great search function in the Application menu in the upper left corner. You can click on it or use the keyboard shortcut Great + Space to open the Application menu, then start typing to search for your app. This will also search for AppCenter, which is the software center for elementaryOS.
There is a clock-calendar combo in the center of the top bar, just like with GNOME Shell. It’s a good way to check dates and see events at a glance. The system tray is located at the top right and contains audio settings and media controls, networking, notifications, and power and session controls. The interface is easy to navigate and everything is simple and welcoming. The apps, theme, and icons are gorgeous and make for a really attractive system that performs amazingly well as a FOSS rival of macOS.
The Pantheon calendar app
Many of the default applications shipped with Pantheon by default are written from scratch or significantly modified from existing applications in the GNOME Software Pack. The Pantheon Calendar app is no different. It fits perfectly into the default theme and performs well by showing both monthly view and daily view by default. It’s incredibly simple, but it works perfectly for what you need. You can choose different months and days, manage calendars, add events, roll back to today’s date, and that’s about it. It is stylish and doesn’t get in your way.
AppCenter is more of an elementaryOS feature, but it’s an integral part of Pantheon as we know it. AppCenter is Pantheon’s graphics software store, and it’s not only beautiful but also very functional. It seamlessly integrates Flatpaks, which the elementary team has been working on for some time, and also gives developers the option to have a suggested donation and maintain a “pay what you want” model, just like elementaryOS itself. . When it comes to GUIs for repository packages and Flatpaks, AppCenter is one of the cleanest and most integrated.
Pantheon Code app is one of the simplest and easiest text editors I have ever used. It looks beautiful and gives you all the options or choices you could want in a basic text editor. You can choose a language or frame, the number of spaces you want in your tabs, and the lines and characters to jump to from the top menu. It’s the perfect GUI text editor, and it allows for as much modularity as you want without getting in the way of your work.
It’s a small one, but I have to mention the excellent global settings menu called Switchboard. This is another of the great calls of macOS, where you have a single global settings menu and can choose all of your options from it. Also, there is a powerful search function, so if you don’t know where to set your display options, you can search for “resolution” and it will display the corresponding option.
One awesome feature of Pantheon is that there are tons of great keyboard shortcuts out there. For example, you can open the Application menu with Great + Space. You can change workspace with Great + Left or Right, tiled windows with Great + Ctrl + Left or Rightand display an impressive multitasking view with Great + Down. Additionally, apps have hover menus that display helpful keyboard shortcuts. This is quite similar to macOS, but they are much easier to find. Just press the Great and it will display a list of keyboard shortcuts built right into the system.
Performance with Pantheon is generally good but can be a bit mixed. At actual idle, the system uses approximately 550MB of RAM and approximately 1% of the processor. It’s pretty light, but looking at this virtual machine, I noticed that sometimes Pantheon’s window manager, Gala, occasionally cranked up the CPU to around 50%. It doesn’t always happen, and it could just be that I opened the terminal to an absolutely clean boot, but it paused me anyway.
In my personal experience, I have run Pantheon on 12 year old hardware with a Core 2 Duo and have absolutely no issues. The performance is excellent and the animations work well even in a virtual environment with absolutely zero 3D acceleration. This is something I haven’t seen since reviewing Elive, a Debian-based distribution using an excellent implementation of Enlightenment that is specifically touted as working well on computers without 3D acceleration. Pantheon works great on low resource machines.
The disadvantages of the Pantheon
While there is a lot to like about Pantheon, there are several things that many users won’t like. One of the main things is that there is almost no customization. You can’t even minimize application windows. It also looks a lot like macOS, where Apple limits your ability to customize the desktop beyond changing wallpapers, hot corners, and the size of dock icons. This was resolved with Elemental tweaks, but it does involve adding a PPA and building the adjustments from the source. It’s too complicated a way to get a dark theme and change the minimize and maximize buttons in window bars.
Where to discover Pantheon
The obvious choice for Pantheon is elementaryOS. It is by far the best and most complete implementation of Pantheon. The theme looks great, the lock and screen savers work well, and it all blends into an attractive finished product.
There are also versions of Pantheon available for Ubuntu, Arch, and Fedora. From what I’ve heard and experienced, experiences vary tremendously from user to user. So I would only recommend it if you are specifically looking to tinker with and play around with things.
Who should use Pantheon
Any user who values form over personalization would love Pantheon. Everything looks and works great right out of the box, and if you don’t mind a clear theme or no minimize button (just press Great + H), you don’t have to change everything. Additionally, if you want a dark theme, you can wait for the release of ElementaryOS 6 later this year, where the team is putting together a dark theme to rock out of the box.
Additionally, any Mac user should try elementaryOS. It’s a great alternative, and there are lots of little tweaks you can make and apps you can install to make your experience more comfortable.
Be sure to check out our other desktop environment reviews, covering GNOME, KDE, Xfce, Cinnamon, and MATE.
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