Zorin OS 16 ProZorin OS is an Ubuntu-based distribution designed to be usable by people migrating from other operating systems. Zorin features multiple desktop layouts and themes which are designed to look like the desktops of popular commercial operating systems and some popular open source desktops.
Zorin OS is available in a few different editions. There is a free Core edition which offers a basic desktop experience for modern hardware. There is a Lite edition for older computers. Both the Core and Lite editions are available free of charge. This week I'll be reviewing the Pro edition which is similar to the Core edition, but offers commercial support, more desktop layouts, and a few bundled applications that offer additional features. The Pro edition, which replaces the project's Ultimate edition, is a 4.8GB download which costs $39 USD.
The Pro edition includes eight desktop layouts and some special features, such as a customized version of KDE Connect (called Zorin Connect) that makes it possible to share notifications, a clipboard, and files between your computer and an Android phone. There is also a tool called Barrier which allows the user to use one keyboard and mouse across multiple devices.
Some of the other new features are listed as follows:
Create with the same apps the pros use. Zorin OS Pro includes an advanced video editor, PhotoShop-compatible image editor, illustration software, audio workstation, animation software, and the same 3D graphics & effects software used by Hollywood studios, just to name a few.
Take notes or annotate images & PDF documents effortlessly with the Xournal++ app. Pick up a pen to write naturally, draw diagrams with automatic shape recognition, or simply type with your keyboard. It can even record audio from the microphone while taking notes
The Network Displays app allows you to share your desktop with other displays seamlessly and wirelessly. It connects over your local network and works with Wi-Fi Display or Miracast-compatible devices, like most modern TVs or Wireless Display Adapters.
Booting from the Pro media results in Zorin performing a self-check to confirm the media has not been corrupted. We are then shown a window asking if we want to try the distribution or launch the system installer. This initial window also gives us the chance to select our preferred language from a list.
Taking the Try option from the window brings up the GNOME desktop with its panel placed along the bottom of the screen. The thick panel holds an application menu, quick-launch buttons, a task switcher, and system tray. The application menu is presented in a two-pane style similar to Windows 7. On the desktop we find a single icon for launching the installer.
Zorin OS 16 -- The default desktop theme and layout (full image size: 1.0MB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Zorin uses the Ubiquity graphical installer. The installer walks us through the usual questions of picking our time zone, creating a username and password, and selecting a keyboard layout. We also have the option of authenticating through Active Directory. Ubiquity asks if we would like to set up a Normal or Minimal install with the latter offering just a desktop environment, a few utilities, and a web browser. We can optionally install third-party software such as media codecs. We are also asked if we would like to participate in a hardware survey which will send some basic information about our computer to the project's developers.
The installer, I feel it worth mentioning, will only perform a Normal install if we have a root partition that is 28GB (or larger) in size. I'll come back to this point later, but unlike the arbitrary size restrictions of some other installers, this one is a hard requirement.
Disk partitioning can be done manually through a pleasant, friendly interface. Alternatively we can take a guided option which will use free space to set up a ext4, LVM, or ZFS filesystem. The guided approach sets up a swap file for us. With its questions answered, Ubiquity installs the operating system and we can then restart the computer.
My new copy of Zorin booted to a graphical login screen where I could sign into a light-themed GNOME Shell desktop. The desktop starts out with a distinctly Windows-like layout. A welcome window opens and offers to give us a feature tour.
Most screens of the brief feature tour include a button to launch an associated tool. For instance, one screen offers tips for changing the desktop's appearance and it includes a button to launch the Zorin configuration module that changes the desktop layout, theme, and fonts. Another screen offers to set up Zorin Connect to let our desktop communicate with an Android phone and this screen also features a button to run the setup tool. The same can be said for the screen that offers to connect us with on-line accounts like Google Drive and Nextcloud as well as the screen which offers to install either LibreOffice or OnlyOffice. (LibreOffice is set up for us by default when installing a Normal install.) When run inside VirtualBox the welcome window will offer to install VirtualBox add-ons.
Once I completed the feature tour and the welcome window closed I noticed the update manager had opened and was sitting quietly in the task switcher. There was just one update available the first day I was using the distribution. The update manager shows us which new packages are available and we can select which ones we wish to download. The update manager worked for me without any problems.
I started my trial with Zorin in a VirtualBox instance. At first the distribution was a little sluggish - usable, but slow to respond. Once I had disabled visual effects on the desktop the system became much more responsive and ran smoothly.
When running on my laptop, Zorin was able to run in both UEFI and Legacy BIOS modes. The distribution detected all of my hardware and ran quickly. Desktop performance was good, typically about average or a little better. The distribution automatically set up my network printer, something most distributions do not do. In fact, some distributions have trouble with the printer even when manually setting it up through CUPS, so to have it set up automatically was a pleasant surprise.
Memory usage varied quite a bit. Sometimes when signing into GNOME Zorin would use about 650MB of RAM. Other times, when sitting idle at the desktop, memory usage would climb as high as 960MB. Usually the system averaged out around 800MB. A fresh install with the Normal package set consumed 27GB of disk space, plus additional room for a swap file. This is about four times more disk space than what I typically see from mainstream distributions and it's a result of the amount (and type) of packages installed, which I'll touch on shortly.
Zorin ships with the GNOME 3.36 desktop environment. The Normal install also features a lot of open source applications. These include Firefox, Transmission, Feeds, the Remmina remote desktop client, LibreOffice, and Evolution. There are applications for managing contacts, and a calendar application. The Xournal++ note taking application is included along with drawing and animation programs such as Blender, FreeCAD, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, Inkscape, and Krita. The distribution is also host to OpenToonz, LibreCAD, and Scribus.
Zorin OS 16 -- Running Firefox and the GNOME Files file manager (full image size: 172kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
For dealing with media files we find the Audacity audio editor, both the Kdenlive and PiTiVi video editors, the Brasero disc burning software, the Handbrake converter, and Cheese web cam tool. Zorin includes the Rhythmbox audio player, Totem video player, and VLC. These application are accompanied by media codecs for audio and video formats.
Deja Dup is featured for performing simple backups and the GNU Compiler Collection is installed. The systemd init software and version 5.11 of the Linux kernel can be found behind the scenes. WINE is not installed by default, but can be added through the project's repositories for people who need compatibility with Windows applications.
The distribution includes the GNOME settings panel which makes it fairly easy to browse through and adjust options. The two-pane settings panel makes navigation smooth and I found it straight forward to find most settings I wanted to adjust.
While I did not get around to using all of the software included with Zorin, I did get to play around with many of the open source applications and they worked well. I could browse the web, play media files, write documents, tweak settings, and things went smoothly.
One minor issue I ran into concerned the account manager. While it does work and can be used to set up and adjust user accounts, the password requirements it imposes were frustrating, especially when trying to set up a guest account. Ideally I'd like my guest account to have some token password that is easy to remember and type. However, the account manager rejected a dozen different suggestions I made, claiming each password was too short, not complex enough, too similar to dictionary words, too similar to my username, or used sequential numbers. Eventually I gave up, created an account without a password, then used the passwd utility to set a simple password.
Zorin OS 16 -- Creating an account in the settings panel (full image size: 464kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Zorin uses the GNOME Software utility to manage applications. The Software application is divided into three tabs: one for browsing available items and performing searches, one tab to show and remove installed items, and one for displaying available updates. The tab for browsing software begins by showing us popular or recommended items with a list of categories we can browse at the bottom of the window. We can type simple searches to locate additional software by name or description.
While Software worked fairly well, I often found searches would either never complete (showing the "busy" symbol endlessly) or searches would be slow. Sometimes performing the same search two or three times would be required before a result would be shown.
Zorin OS 16 -- Checking which package formats are available for Inkscape (full image size: 371kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
One aspect of Software I appreciated was that it can work with Deb packages, Flatpaks, and Snap packages. Available package formats for an application are displayed in the upper-right corner of the window when we are looking at a specific program. This means we can both choose which package format to install and we can optionally remove one type of package and replace it with another, if alternatives are available. In short, Software does a decent job of interacting with all three package formats seamlessly.
The Software application will also allow us to adjust sandboxing options if any are available for the application. Such sandbox options may include granting network access and the ability to save files in our home directory. These options are not available for all packages, or even all portable packages, but are present for some and we can toggle these permissions on/off through a simple options window within the software manager.
While both Flatpak and Snap frameworks are installed by default, there are no Snap packages installed out of the box. There are about 50 Flatpaks installed though. This, along with the massive collection of software in the application menu, helps explain why Zorin's Normal setup takes 27GB of space.
Zorin offers a number of special features which are either unique to Zorin or usually not seen enabled by default on other distributions. I'd like to spend a little time covering these.
The Zorin Connect tool is basically KDE Connect but with an interface which better fits in with GNOME, particularly the GNOME settings panel. The options are more clearly organized. Zorin Connect is a great tool for connecting to an Android phone for the purposes of sharing files, remote control options, and getting text messages on the desktop. I'm a big fan of KDE Connect and appreciated seeing this more polished version of the interface.
Zorin OS 16 -- Adjusting permissions in Zorin Connect (full image size: 640kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Barrier is a tool which a person sets up on one computer to be the main machine or server. Other computers, or clients, can then also install Barrier and connect to the server. The user can then sit at the "server" machine and use its keyboard and mouse to send input to other connected devices running Barrier.
Zorin OS 16 -- Setting up the Barrier service (full image size: 492kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
The idea here is to be able to use one keyboard and mouse to manage multiple machines, much like classic server room switches. The difference is Barrier handles everything in software, side-stepping the need for an additional hardware hub. This is a useful tool to have if you often have two or three laptops on your desk or in a lab and want to manage them all without moving to another mouse or keyboard.
Changing the theme/layout
Zorin ships with a utility specifically for adjusting the desktop layout, theme, and fonts . This tool can be launched from the application menu or welcome window and is quite easy to navigate. I tried out a handful of layouts as well as the light and dark themes. I like the flexibility this tool provides in offering desktop layouts that look and act like Windows, macOS, Unity, and other popular desktops.
Zorin OS 16 -- Exploring the dark theme (full image size: 625kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
There is a tool for casting the local display to networked interfaces like televisions. I didn't have any compatible devices available for testing this concept, but I do have friends who like to cast shows and movies from their phones to a TV. I suspect they would find the ability to do the same from their laptop with a few clicks convenient.
The Xournal++ application is a note taking tool. This application allows us to add free-form notes, audio, images, drawings, and text to a document. We can also add a layer of notes to existing PDF documents. I usually don't use anything more complex than a text editor for note taking, but I see the appeal of Xournal++. It facilitates adding multiple types of input and highlights to documents in a way that feels quite natural. Combining the free hand drawing tool with a touch screen I think would be quite handy when taking notes in meetings and lectures.
Zorin OS 16 -- Doodling in Xournal++ (full image size: 719kB, resolution: 1366x768 pixels)
Zorin is a distribution which I feel is doing a lot of things right, both technologically and from an infrastructure point of view. The project is offering three main editions: Lite for people with less capable machines, Core for users who want basic desktop features, and Pro for people who want more options and commercial support. The project offers both full features and minimal installs and also offers to collect hardware information while making it easy to skip this step in the installer.
Once we have picked an edition the installer is easy to navigate, the welcome screen offers access to several key features without being long and tedious. The default layout will be familiar to most computer users while still being blissfully easy to adjust.
There is a lot of software included in the Normal collection of packages, most of it easy to use, beginner friendly, and fairly mainstream. There are a lot of nice features in the Pro version such a the note taking application, screen casting, Barrier tool for multi-device coordination, and Zorin Connect. The Software portal, while a touch slow to respond at times, does a good job of connecting us with classic Deb packages along with optional Snap and Flatpak packages. This gives us a huge range of up to date software.
I was pleasantly impressed with Zorin's performance, hardware detection, ease of setting up the distribution, and convenient settings. Perhaps best of all, I didn't run into any serious issues or errors. Zorin was stable, fast, and solid. The distribution does what it says in the documentation and release announcement, and does it well without any hiccups. This is probably the best distribution I have run so far this year for most Linux users, but particularly those new to Linux. Zorin OS tries to make the migration from Windows (or macOS) as painless as possible as does a good job of being both familiar and offering a better experience than the platforms it seeks to replace.
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Hardware used in this review
My physical test equipment for this review was a de-branded HP laptop with the followingspecifications:
Processor: Intel i3 2.5GHz CPU
Display: Intel integrated video
Storage: Western Digital 700GB hard drive
Memory: 6GB of RAM
Wired network device: Realtek RTL8101E/RTL8102E PCI Express Fast