Zorin OS

If this is your first time here, I suggest you first read my general post about distrohopping. 🙂

It's been a while since I tried another distro. Now I have been running Zorin OS a few days to get a glimpse of it. It is based on Ubuntu, with a UI bult on GNOME3, but made to layout-wise appear familiar to a Windows user. A way to make Microsoft Windows users try, or even switch to, GNU/Linux. Most desktop environments are not that different from Windows and/or Mac, but Zorin makes a point of being similar to Windows 7. For example, the system settings are labelled Control Panel in the menu. There is a UI switcher (Zorin Look Changer) to make it look more like Windows XP or GNOME Classic. One can also at login choose between Zorin or Classic GNOME style. I have a bit of issue with Linux distros that do not have "Linux" in their name. Maybe it is a way to not scare or confuse Windows (or other) users. However, it is stated on the site front page that it is based on Ubuntu and Linux. I am of the opinion that it should be GNU/Linux, but I won't go into it here.

Zorin is not a fully free (as in freedom) distro. There are quite many applications installed from start, including Flash and common codecs, to give features users coming from other operative systems probably would expect. The default browser is Chrome, which is unusual, as most distros would have Chromium (freer version) instead. I am mainly a Firefox user, so I installed that. Chrome also had some annoying ad thingie showing up on bottom left corner. The huge Ubuntu repositories contains most of one might want.

While my main install is fully free software (apart from Flash which I have to activate on occasion...argghhh), I usually skip the fully-free criteria when trying other distros, but I do think it is important to see with the package manager or otherwise what is free and what is non-free. The proprietary nVidia drivers (at the time of me installing Zorin) were not installed by default in Zorin, so I tried install them with the "Additional Drivers" in the System Settings. It did not work, but a solution on their forum fixed it. I used the drivers for a few days now, and they seem to work ok, even though that particular version appears to have some bugs.

I have tried GNOME3 (Shell and Unity) before and it always was a bit clunky or even unusuable for me, on my a-few-years-old computer, even with latest proprietary nVidia drivers. I suppose there have been a lot of bug fixes and optimization. But, a few days ago, I tried Gnome Shell 3.4 on another distro, and it wasn't useable for me (on my computer, not a comment on Gnome Shell per se). Zorin's interface runs more smoothly than any I tried (not talking about the interface layout here), but the fallback mode seems better for my rather old machine. That means, instead of the shiny app squares on the panel a la Windows 7, it is a more classic taskbar (which i prefer anyway). There is even Classic GNOME fallback modes, and they work fine, too. I used to be a Gnome user, but it actually feels a bit weird to use Gnome2 now. Nothing wrong with Gnome2, just my opinion 2012. Zorin claims to be more lightweight than Windows 7, which I do not doubt. However if your computer is older, you may want to install more lightweight distros/desktops.

The panel of Zorin is at the bottom, just as in Windows. I always use a single top panel (whether in KDE or XFCE) but here it doesn't work very well. I didn't try after logging out and logging in, though. The menu (GnoMenu) has about ten different layouts (even Lancelot, which I've only seen on KDE before), but sadly no old-style plain hierarchical one. But I guess I am a bit old-fashioned in this regard. The menu had two quirks for me. The menu applet crash when I change layout, but it restarts just by clicking on it. And for some reason when I clicked Turpial (microblogger client I installed), it started Thunderbird. Alt-F2 came to the rescue. Today menu works fine though.

On the whole, Zorin is a pleasant experience. I prefer a more lightweight and modifiable desktop environment, but that is just me. The installer is larger than CD-size, which is sadly the more common thing these days for Linux distributions' standard install. On the other hand there is always the option to install from USB-stick, if your computer can boot from USB, which I guess all modern motherboards/BIOS/firmware can manage. CD/DVD has the advantage of being easy to give away to friends and family. A distro aimed at Linux beginners, such as Zorin, of course also needs to have more software installed as default. It cannot be assumed a newcomer would get the idea of repositories/software-center from start. Though I guess "AppStore" [shudder] is familiar. If Zorin OS can make people come to GNU/Linux, and also discover and learn about free software, and why it is important, that is good. 🙂