Endless OS 3.6It has been more than two years since we reviewed Endless OS, so we wanted to see what is new about the system. From their website: "Endless OS is a free, easy-to-use operating system preloaded with over 100 apps, making it useful from the moment you turn it on. Explore what makes Endless OS different, intuitive, and powerful."
There are two main versions of Endless OS that you can download - the Basic and Full versions. The Full version is also available in English, Spanish, French, Indonesian, Portuguese, Thai, and Vietnamese. The main difference is that the Full version of the operating system is intended for installation onto machines that have little or no Internet connection. The Full version of Endless OS comes packed with all of their own packaged informational and educational materials. These include packages for all types of subjects ranging from animals to physics; over 50,000 Wikipedia articles and other video lessons are included. I used the Basic version of Endless OS for my review.
Endless OS 3.6.0 -- Browsing Wikipedia resources (full image size: 1.4MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
Endless OS is built from Debian, but there is not much connection to the parent distro. Endless OS utilizes OSTree, which is "an upgrade system for Linux-based operating systems that performs atomic upgrades of complete filesystem trees." As a fairly intermediate Linux user, I still don't completely understand what OSTree is, but I do understand that Endless OS utilizes Flatpaks as their primary package system and Flatpaks are intended to complement OSTree. There is no way, that I found, to use traditional APT commands or install .deb files. That being said, I was exceptionally surprised at how much software was in the Flathub repository and I was impressed at how well that software worked when I installed it and how well they integrated into Endless OS.
Installation of the distro was a breeze, but also very unorthodox as far as Linux distro installations go. Booting up the media from USB, the user has the option to try Endless OS or go straight into the installation. The installation portion only lets you erase your hard drive and your operating system and install Endless, with Endless OS taking control of your computer. I was okay with this to give the distro a proper review, but I know many users prefer to dual boot or partition their hard drives manually. The Endless OS installation process does not allow any partitioning, and the filesystem is only installed onto one disk. This is a big problem for me. I prefer to put my root partition on my SSD and my home partition on my HDD, but Endless OS only utilized my SSD. I am not sure why Endless OS does this, and I have read that OSTree allows manual partitioning, as in Fedora Silverblue, as well as dual boot, but not Endless OS. Endless OS tries to be as simple as possible to reach the widest audience, and this may have something to do with their partitioning scheme. I was able to mount my HDD after installation using gnome-disks and setting up auto-mount, but I was never able to get it to function as my home partition the way I wanted it to.
Endless OS 3.6.0 -- The Endless desktop with icons (full image size: 3.7MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
After installation, I was pleasantly surprised to see my wi-fi worked out of the box. This is not always the case, as in when I install Debian or Manjaro. Usually I have to blacklist a module or install specific drivers, but not in the case of Endless OS. I immediately noticed how quick and seamless Endless OS operated. It is very snappy and responsive.
Endless OS is locked down. It is important to remember that Endless is a company. The sell their own hardware with Endless OS installed on it and they market towards communities that may not have access to modern computers, money to buy them, or very good infrastructure. They lock down the OS to prevent breakage; probably the same reason they went with OSTree. Someone at Endless may have had a bad experience with Linux and didn't want that experience to happen to their users. For people who have never used Linux or people who have nearly no access to computers, this is probably a great solution. As a Linux user who likes to manage their OS, I hated the locked down system. I was surprised they give the user access to the terminal and sudo.
Endless OS 3.6.0 -- The Chrome Discover centre (full image size: 1.8MB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
The software center is very straight forward and easy to use. Clicking on Chrome quickly installed Chrome (it did not come pre-installed but was an icon on the desktop). I had some hiccups installing Firefox, but I was able to accomplish the installation through the terminal using "sudo flatpak install firefox". The start page on Chrome is an interesting Endless OS "Discover" page that offers a number of links to educational materials, social networks, and news. To my surprise, Adblock Plus was a pre-installed extension on Chrome. Considering Google and Chrome's new fear of ad blocking software, I wonder how long that will last as a default. The Wikipedia front-end software from Endless OS is very nice and provides an exceptional educational experience across a wide variety of subjects. One frustration I had with the software center was that I had to enter my password many times for some application installations.
Endless OS 3.6.0 -- The software centre (full image size: 279kB, resolution: 1920x1080 pixels)
The desktop environment on Endless OS is a customized GNOME fork and gives a simple experience. Right clicking offers no functionality and the classic "Start" style button in the corner switches between showing your last app and showing the desktop, it is not a launcher or menu. Alt-tab offers a view of your applications in a pretty standard GNOME way. The desktop environment reminded me of Android in the way the applications are seemingly laid out on the desktop. This environment may be optimized for touch screens, but I do not use a touch screen so I cannot ttell you if that is the case, but it appears this would be a good use for the desktop.
My computer usage includes browsing the Internet and watching shows through the browser, downloading through Transmission, playing games on Steam, working with the LibreOffice suite, and editing and processing photos using darktable. I was able to do all of this on Endless OS. All of this software is either provided on the system by default (as in the case of LibreOffice) or is easily installed using Flatpaks. I was surprised at how well the Flatpaks worked.
I was also surprised to see that although the website says Endless OS does not yet work with Optimus laptops, my NVIDIA card was being utilized out of the box for operations like gaming. Endless OS has a neat tool called eos-diagnostics. This is primarily for the developers and staff at Endless so they can see what is going on with you system when you have problems. The eos-diagnostics log showed that NVIDIA was indeed being used on my laptop, and I was pleased to see this. I am not sure how to switch to the Intel card on Endless OS, for a situation where you may want to save battery, and there was no way for me to tell if they were using a fancy NVIDIA offloading feature like Ubuntu uses. The system was too locked down for me to use nvidia-smi and the GPU-Viewer front-end provided from the Flatpak store was blank, showing absolutely no information. None of this was an issue for me, because I primarily use the NVIDIA card anyway. Endless OS comes with relatively up to date NVIDIA drivers - version 418 and Linux kernel 5.0 as of writing this review. I was also able to seamlessly add a printer and print, which is pleasant to see.
An operating system is more than the functionality it provides on your computer, it is also the community behind it that gives support. One hardware issue I had (a common one for me) is that audio was not playing through HDMI. I made a post on their community/support page and I received replies within 24 hours addressing my issues. The Endless team member who provided support clearly read my eos-diagnostics log output and told me where my issue was. He was unable to solve my issue but I was happy with the support and community.
Endless - the company
They sell computers, small computers, with up to 4GB of RAM, HDMI and VGA on most, and all the other usual accouterments like USB 3 and Bluetooth. They definitely aren't powerful machines, and there is no price listed, instead you need to submit a form with contact information and they will get back to you. The computers are sleek and some seem to be design pieces. With the lower end specs, they are probably able to get the price down pretty well to match their marketing agenda towards lower income audiences. One other thing the company offers is a pay-as-you-go system (which they call PAYG) that allows lower income people to more easily afford their computers. On the surface this seems like an admirable cause, but if you dig a little you can see that their system, "was designed to de-risk loans through a PC locking mechanism, built into the Endless OS, that is tied to the payment status of a loan. If a customer is not able to make their loan payment the laptop locks until payment is made. While locked the users' data, files and settings are all perfectly preserved and protected. Endless PAYG is a completely offline code based locking mechanism. Users receive unlock codes over SMS once they make a payment. These codes then unlock the PC for different time intervals (1 day, 1 week, 1 month, etc)."
In the free and open source world that we as Linux users have become accustomed to, it is hard to remember that companies exist - companies have employees and employees need to make money to feed their families and put a roof over their head. Still, this mechanism upset me a great deal. I understand Endless is a company and needs to make money, but this feels akin to hackers who hold data ransom. If a person is paying as-they-go to use a computer because they cannot afford it outright, maybe we as a society should give them a little more grace than locking up their data when they cannot afford to pay. I would recommend, personally, a more gentle approach - perhaps locking functionality to only educational purposes and LibreOffice would be more appropriate.
Overall, I am impressed with Endless OS. I would never use it because I am a tinkerer and Endless OS does not allow tinkering. Endless has a good little thing going, and if they are able to bring Linux to the whole world, I support them in their endeavors. (I do not have to approve of all the ways they go about doing that.)