Zorin OS is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. The Zorin distribution is designed to be beginner friendly and is geared toward providing a familiar desktop environment for people who are transitioning to Linux from Windows. Zorin ships with the WINE compatibility software which allows the distribution to run many applications built for Windows.
The latest version, Zorin OS 12, is (at the time of writing) available in two editions: Core and Ultimate. The Core edition can be downloaded for free and ships with lots of useful open source applications, the WINE compatibility software and a somewhat Windows-like desktop theme. The Ultimate edition costs 15 Euros, offers additional games, desktop layouts and technical support. Both editions of Zorin 12 ship with GNOME Shell and GNOME's Universal Search bar. This search bar can be accessed by pressing the meta key and, through the search bar, we can look up time zone information, weather reports, available software in Zorin's repositories and solve simple math problems.
Further, Zorin 12 ships with interactive notifications, which is one of my favourite features in Ubuntu's Unity 8 desktop. Zorin ships with a high contrast theme by default and the distribution has replaced the Zorin Theme Changer and Zorin Look Changer utilities with one unified application called Zorin Appearance. The distribution now uses GNOME Software as the graphical software front-end for package management and I will talk more about these changes later.
Zorin 12 Core is available in 32-bit and 64-bit x86 builds and the ISO we download is 1.5GB in size. Booting from this downloaded image launches a graphical environment. A window appears and asks if we would like to try Zorin's live desktop environment or launch the project's system installer. We can select our preferred language at this time from a list of languages on the left side of the window. At the bottom of the window is a link to the project's release notes and clicking this link opens a web browser to display the on-line document.
Something I found odd was that when I clicked the link to display Zorin's release notes, the web browser worked. It opened as expected and brought up the desired information. However, when I opted to try exploring Zorin's live desktop environment, I found the one application which did not launch was the Chromium web browser. When attempting to open the browser from the application menu, nothing would happen. When trying to launch Chromium from a virtual terminal, the terminal would hang, neither opening the browser nor returning me to a command prompt and no errors were displayed.
Zorin OS 12 -- The Zorin application menu (full image size: 1.7MB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Zorin uses the Ubiquity system installer, a graphical application which it inherits from Ubuntu. Ubiquity begins by asking if we would like to download software updates while the installation is in progress. We are also given the option of downloading third-party software packages, such as Flash, wi-fi drivers and multimedia codecs. I stuck with the defaults, ignoring software updates and installing the third-party items. Next we are asked if we would like to have the installer set up disk partitions for us or if we would like to manually divide up our disk. I like Ubiquity's partition manager, I find it easy to navigate with just a few clicks and I like how Ubiquity shows us a graphical representation of our partitions. The installer supports working with a wide range of file systems, including Btrfs, ZFS, JFS, LVM volumes and ext2/3/4. Next, the installer gets us to confirm our time zone and asks us to select our keyboard layout from a list. The last step in the installation process gets us to create a user account for ourselves and we have the option of setting up encryption on our user's home directory. Once the installation completes we can restart the computer and Zorin boots to a graphical login screen.
Signing into our account brings up the GNOME desktop. At the bottom of the screen we find an application menu, a few quick-launch buttons and the system tray. The application menu and desktop layout have a Windows-like quality in their positioning and organization, though the colour theme is distinct to Zorin.
Zorin OS 12 -- The settings panel (full image size: 731kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I experimented with Zorin in two test environments, a VirtualBox virtual machine and a physical desktop computer. When running on the desktop machine, I ran into two problems. The first came when using the live disc. When selecting to try the distribution's live desktop environment from the greeter window, I was dropped to a text console and shown a login prompt. I was able to sign into a user account with the user name zorin without a password. From there, I could run the startx command to access the GNOME-powered desktop environment. I am uncertain as to why the live disc was unable to perform this transition to the live desktop automatically.
Once Zorin was up and running I ran into a couple of instances, in both test environments, where the desktop would no longer respond to mouse clicks or keyboard input. I could move the mouse around the screen, but the system gave no response to keyboard or mouse button presses. The only way I could find to restore the system to working order was a soft reset.
When running in VirtualBox, I found Zorin automatically integrated with the virtual environment, allowing me to make use of my screen's full display resolution. The GNOME desktop was a little sluggish at times when running in VirtualBox, but was snappy when running on the physical desktop computer. In either environment, Zorin tended to use about 800MB of memory when signed into GNOME.
One final word on hardware: I have an HP OfficeJet 6600 printer which I can connect to over wi-fi. Using Zorin's settings panel, I was able to connect to the printer using the device's IP address. Zorin supplies many printer drivers and some of them are similar to the 6600, but there were no exact driver matches for my printer. Most other desktop distributions I have used recently have had drivers specific to the 6600 model.
Earlier I mentioned one of Zorin's features is an advanced search bar which can be used to do all sorts things, from simple math problems to checking the weather to looking for available software. In the desktop's settings panel there is a configuration module which allows us to toggle on/off specific features of the search bar. This means we can use it specifically to find software in the repositories or the current time in a given city and we can disable the features we do not want.
Zorin OS 12 -- Performing a search (full image size: 1.1MB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I experimented with the search bar quite a bit and, while the concept is good, the implementation is still very rough. For example, searching for software only returns desktop applications, not any/all packages. This kind of makes sense, but not all desktop software returns results either, even when a specific name is provided. For example, searching for "gnumeric", the name of a spreadsheet application, does not return any usable results, but searching for "gwenview" does return a link to the desired image viewer. When we do get the result we wanted, clicking the displayed entry opens the software manager and gives us the option of installing the package.
When looking for time zones, the search bar only recognizes city names in the United States. Searches for Toronto or London do not return anything. Oddly enough, some American cities do not return results either. Searching for "Seattle" worked, but searching for "New York" did not return any useful results.
I was pleased with the search bar's calculator functionality. Typing in problems such as "6 + 9 =" produces accurate results and the calculator function can handle slightly more complicated math questions such as "87 + (87 * 0.15) =". The search bar can also find and run installed desktop applications.
After a while I realized I had not received any notice as to whether there were security updates available for Zorin. I found there are three ways to check for and install available software updates. One is to launch the Software Updater utility from the application menu. This graphical program checks for updates, presents them in a simple list format and waits for our confirmation the new packages can be installed. This is probably the most straight forward method. A second way is to open a terminal and use the underlying APT utilities to grab software updates. The third method is to launch the GNOME Software graphical software manager. GNOME Software has three tabs, one for browsing available applications, one for listing and removing installed programs and one for checking for updates. New updates are listed in the third tab and can be installed with a button click. Zorin pulls in software from the Ubuntu 16.04 repositories. The first day I was running Zorin, there were a little over a dozen updates available, 104MB in size.
The GNOME Software tab which shows available software begins by showing us popular and recommended applications at the top of the page. Toward the bottom of the window we find a list of software categories. Clicking on a category brings up a list of sub-categories on the left and specific applications on the right. For example, if we selected the Office category, we could then select Spreadsheet as our sub-category and LibreOffice Calc will be displayed as an available application. Clicking on a specific desktop application brings up a full page description of the software with screen shots. We can click a button to install the selected item.
Digging through Zorin's application menu we find a fairly standard collection of open source applications. The Chromium web browser is present, along with the Empathy messaging software, the Geary e-mail client and LibreOffice. There is a calendar application and an address book. The GNU Image Manipulation Program is available along with a scanner utility and the Brasero disc burning software. I found the Cheese webcam manager, the PiTiVi video editor application, the Rhythmbox audio player and the Videos (Totem) video player. Zorin gives us the option of installing media codecs at install time and I was able to play all the media formats in my collection. Zorin ships with an application for managing third-party drivers, a file archive manager and a utility for performing backups. An on-line account manager helps us integrate our local account with on-line services like Google. Zorin provides us with a few small games, a clock application, calculator, text editor and a desktop maps application. The distribution ships with WINE for running Windows applications and the PlayOnLinux utility which helps users install Windows applications. In addition, there is a utility to help us make use of Windows wireless drivers. Network Manager is present to help us connect to the Internet. In the background, I found the GNU Compiler Collection, systemd 229 and version 4.4.0 of the Linux kernel.
One tool I was eager to try was the new Zorin Appearance application. The Appearance application helps the user adjust the layout of the desktop, change the colour theme and adjust fonts. We can change the position, size and look of the desktop's panel too. Zorin Appearance offers a fair degree of functionality with an interface I found easy to navigate. I like the layout of the new Appearance application and I found it worked as expected.
Zorin OS 12 -- The Zorin Appearance application (full image size: 785kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
One of the few disappointments I experienced with Zorin was trying to get Flash working in any web browser. At install time I had opted to install codecs, Flash and third-party drivers. When I launched Chromium and visited websites featuring Flash content, the plugin was missing. I checked the GNOME Software package manager and Flash was not listed. Instead I installed Firefox to see if a different browser would make a difference and Firefox was also unable to display Flash content. Later, I installed Flash via the APT command line package manager. I actually tried two different versions of Adobe's Flash along with the Gnash free software implementation. None of the three plugins worked in either browser. When using Firefox I found the Flash plugin would display a list of missing dependency files, but not a useful error message.
Zorin OS 12 -- Running Firefox and LibreOffice (full image size: 649kB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
Another problem I faced was GNOME Shell tended to run into problems. Sometimes a pop-up would appear to report GNOME Shell had encountered a problem. Other times the desktop would simply stop responding to input from the mouse and keyboard, but continue to display the desktop. A third issue I ran into is, after an application window had been closed, the program's icon would remain on the panel as if the application were still running. I could click the icon to re-launch the application, so it wasn't simply a matter of the display not refreshing, the button was still interactive. Usually the icon for the closed application would disappear within a minute, clearing the space on the desktop's panel.
A few weeks back I mentioned when I was running openSUSE I spent more time than I would have liked disabling audio notifications. Zorin also plays notifications often, but I like how easy it is to disable notification sounds through Zorin's settings panel as all notifications can be muted at once.
One of the configuration modules in the settings panel helps the user create and manage user accounts. I noticed the first time I created a new account, after I supplied a new user name and password, the "Add" button to create the account was not active. With some experimenting I found the "Add" button would only activate after I had supplied a complex password (with letters, numbers and symbols) or if I chose to provide no password at all.
The PlayOnLinux software worked fairly well for me and I was able to use it to install a few free Windows applications. These tended to install and run properly. I think PlayOnLinux will be a big help to people transitioning from Microsoft's operating system as it makes setting up and configuring WINE to work with Windows applications much easier.
Zorin OS 12 -- Using PlayOnLinux to install Windows applications (full image size: 1.5MB, resolution: 1280x1024 pixels)
I like what Zorin is trying to do - making Linux more accessible for people transitioning from Windows. The general design of the distribution, from the system installer to desktop theme, should make it relatively easy for new users to settle into Linux. The WINE and PlayOnLinux software helps a lot with setting up applications which would otherwise only work on Windows and I think this is a nice touch.
While I appreciated the design of Zorin OS 12, there were a few issues I ran into. One was that for some reason Flash did not work properly out of the box on my system and attempts to install Flash (while successful in getting the plugin recognized by my browsers) ultimately failed to properly display Flash content. A second problem I had was that, in both test environments, GNOME Shell tended to either stop responding or display crash reports. This was frustrating for me and I suspect it would be similarly off putting to newcomers.
A third thing which concerned me, though I do not think it could be considered a bug, was the lack of notifications about available security updates when I logged in. Windows users tend to either assume updates happen automatically (which does not appear to be the case on Zorin) or they are accustomed to seeing a notification telling them whether the system is up to date in the system tray. I think having a similar status indicator on Zorin would be helpful for newcomers.
All in all, I like the concepts and look of Zorin. I like the work done to create and polish Zorin Appearance, I think it's a well put together configuration tool. There were a few rough patches in my experience, but I suspect those will get sorted out in future updates.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a desktop HP Pavilon p6 Series with the following specifications: