Zorin OS 15 | Review from an openSUSE User

One of those distributions there is a lot of buzz about and I have mostly ignored for a significant number of years has been Zorin OS. I just shrugged my shoulders and kind of ignored its existence. None of the spoken or written selling points really stuck with me, like a warm springtime rain trickling off of a ducks back, I ignored it.

I think that was a mistake.

Instead of just acting like I know something about it, I made the time to noodle around in this rather nice Linux distribution. My review on Zorin OS is from the perspective of a deeply entrenched, biased openSUSE user. I won’t pretend that this is going to be completely objective, as it absolutely is not. So take that for what it’s worth.

Bottom line up front and to give you a quick escape from the rest of this blathering, I was pleasantly surprised by the Zorin OS experience. It is a highly polished experience molded with the Gnome Desktop Environment. It is such a nicely customized and smooth experience, I had to check twice to verify that it was indeed Gnome I was using. Although I am exceptionally satisfied with using openSUSE Tumbleweed with the Plasma desktop, the finely crafted distribution gave me pause and much to think about. So much so, I had to think about some of my life decisions. This was such an incredibly seamless and pleasant experience and I could easily recommend this for anyone that is curious about Linux but doesn’t have a lot of technical experience. I would put this right up next to Mint as an approachable introduction to the Linux world.

Installation

The installation media can be acquired here where I went for the “Free” edition called “Core”. I chose to run this in a virtual machine as the scope of this evaluation is is to test the ease of [basic] installation, how usable the interface is and the [subjective] quality of the system tools.

The Core edition gives you three options. All of which are to Try or Install. For my case, I am choosing the top option which is simply, “Try or Install Zorin OS”.

The system boots with a very modern or almost look to the future font, simply displaying, “Zorin.”

You are immediately greeted with two options, to “Try…” or to “Install…” for my purposes, I have chosen to Install Zorin OS. Following that choice, your next task is to set your keyboard layout and your preference on Updates and other software.

Next you are to select the Installation type. Since this is a simple setup, I have chosen to erase the disk. You are given one sanity check before proceeding. Selecting Continue is essentially the point of no return.

After you have past the point of no return, select your location and enter your user information and the hostname of the computer.

Following the final user-required input, the installation of Zorin OS 15 will commence. This process doesn’t take very long and if you are interested in all the nerdy details, there is an arrow just to the let of “Installing system” that will reveal the interesting bits.

That is all there is to it to install Zorin OS. It’s super simple to get the installation completed and get onward with your foray into this shiny new Linux installation.

First Run and Impressions

Upon the reboot of the system, you are presented with a bright, fresh, desktop that gives you the renewed and rewarding feeling of waking up, overlooking a great expanse from a precipice following a long, hard day of hiking through winding, steep, thickly wooded, mountainside trails. This, this is finest smelling desktop that absolutely brings life to your finger tips!

Although I am not big fan of the bright themed desktop, somehow, this is tolerable. I can’t put my finger on it, but I like it. Maybe it the subdued panel along the bottom or the the well-thought out icon set but this is a nice white theme. This is also likely the only time I will ever write this.

The settings present themselves quite nicely in Zorin OS. Unlike many other Gnome experiences, the options are readily available, there isn’t the mess of settings you get with a typical Gnome Desktop. There are no myriad of extensions that need to be installed and digging through separate settings systems just to get simple things turned on like a minimize button. There is no “Gnome Tweaks” requirement to make it functional. This is functional right out of the gate, like a Desktop should be. This is a truly mature desktop experience that takes user preference into account, this is fantastic! This makes Gnome great and I take everything bad I ever said about Gnome back.

After darkening the theme to something more palatable, as the white fatigued me a bit I was liking this desktop even more. It should also be noted, there is an option that allows you to have the desktop auto-magically change from light to dark theme based on the time of day.

The Software Update Utility has a nice little feature to it. It was something I didn’t notice initially but on a second round of updates, there was a notification on the lock screen that there are updates available. I don’t know if this is a normal Gnome thing, I don’t recall seeing this before but I do think that this is pretty fantastic.

The update process is easy enough. Selecting “Install Now” will kick the process off. Enter your password and you are off to the update races.

I wanted to dig into the system a bit as I was unsure what exactly Zorin was based upon. I knew it was Ubuntu based but what exactly. In the terminal, I ran the command.

uname -a

It gave the following output

Linux ZorinOS-VM 4.18.0-25-generic #26~18.04.1-Ubuntu SMP Thu Jun 27 07:28:31 UTC 2019 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

That tells me that this is based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, Bionic Beaver.

I was interested in what wonders the software center brought to me. On the very top was a very enticing banner to tell me to try OnlyOffice, I resisted just long enough to look at all the recommended software choices, many of which are Snaps.

When I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, I had to see what this “OnlyOffice” was all about. Scrolling down to the bottom, I see that it is also a snap so I installed it and launched it.

Although LibreOffice is installed by default, I found this to be an interesting alternative. Sure, LibreOffice satisfies my needs but maybe I am a bit of an Office Suite Hopper. Perhaps a bit more of a dabbler but I just wanted to kick the tires a bit. My initial impressions are that it is much like the latest of the Microsoft office suites but with only the three main parts: word processor, spreadsheet and presentation applications.

I like what I see, it is responsive and would be a great safety blanket for someone used to the Microsoft Office suite of tools. Also, knowing it is a Snap, I may have to revisit this application at another time. At this time, I still prefer LibreOffice because of the dark openSUSE Breeze theme that keeps my eyes happy.

What I Like

The experience is very well polished. So well polished I almost couldn’t tell I was using Gnome. The menu was incredibly well laid out and a very approachable designed. The customization options were easily accessible to changing it to a dark theme that suited me well was effortless. I was able to install most of the core set of applications I would need to get along fine if I chose to live here. The Zorin Connect application, based on KDE Connect, is a well done execution.

What really makes Zorin stand out is the implementation of Gnome. This has significantly altered my perspective of Gnome. Zorin has fixed the mess of controls you would normally find in Gnome by integrating the Gnome Settings, Gnome Tweaks and maybe some other things in a sensible fashion and providing some layout options that may be to your liking.

What I Don’t Like

Unsurprisingly, there was one terminal based application I was not able to install from the Software Center, which is the openSUSE build service command-line tool. Not a big deal, easy enough to install from the terminal using apt install osc.

Since the Desktop is Gnome, it is going to be encumbered by the Gnome shortcomings. The higher memory usage, the single process thread of Gnome Shell and that it is demonstrably the slowest of the desktop options. The Zorin team, however, has done a lot to make Gnome shine better than I have ever experienced and perhaps this is proof that all of the encumberments can indeed be eliminated.

Final Thoughts

Zorin OS has rocketed itself to the top of my list of distributions to recommend to new users. From my perspective, this one is tied with Mint on easiness to deploy and familiarity in the interface. I now give it a number one in the implementation of Gnome as they seemed to have fixed the glaring user experience shortcomings. I give this two thumbs up! …but it still wouldn’t rip me from my precious openSUSE Tumbleweed. As well done as this is with all the options, something still felt confining, probably my own biases. Regardless, if you have never tried Zorin OS, give this a spin.

References

Zorin OS Home
OnlyOffice Home

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A Week on Gnome for a KDE Plasma User with openSUSE Tumbleweed

My virtual Linux Users Group, as it were is the BDLL community. As part of a community challenge we were to live a week in Gnome. In full disclosure, I didn’t quite make it a full week on Gnome. Even though I was told I had to really give it a chance, really get used to the work flow to appreciate it, I tried, I read the documentation and I just could not find it an enjoyable experience for me. So, thanks for stopping by, if that is all you wanted to know, that is the bottom line up front.

Just because my experience in Gnome was not enjoyable, that doesn’t mean yours will be the same. It may work splendidly for you and you may find the work flow a perfect fit for your personal computer usage. I highly recommend that you do give it a try, regardless of my biased opinion.

This test was done on my primary machine, my Dell Latitude E6440. This machine had no trouble with Gnome. I didn’t see any performance issues there were occasional glitches but nothing distracting.

Installation

The beauty of openSUSE is the package management but beyond the package manager, the organization and simplicity of installing software. In this case, to install an entire Desktop Environment, Gnome in this case can be done by running this simple command in the terminal:

sudo zypper install -t pattern gnome

In summary, this is what the result of installing the Gnome Desktop from the openSUSE defined pattern.

432 new packages to install.
Overall download size: 177.7 MiB. Already cached: 0 B. After the operation, additional 660.9 MiB will be used.

Truly, not much more storage space was required only 660.9 MiB for the “standard” installation of Gnome.

Scope of Evaluation

For the purpose of this evaluation, I am going to ignore any little hiccups from the Desktop Environment. I am not going to be critical about any little glitches or bugs. I will ignore any rough edges of it, largely because I know this is the openSUSE, somewhat vanilla presentation of Gnome. In order to keep this Gnome experience similar to my time using Fedora with Gnome, I will not install any extensions. I am going to use it the way the developers and architects intend.

Overall Experience

After installation, I rebooted my machine. I wanted to be sure I was starting my Gnome experience from a freshly updated and rebooted system. The familiar SDDM (Default Plasma Display Manager) interface appeared with the familiar menu of options. I initially chose Gnome with Wayland but since I wanted my tools that require X11, I did switch to X for the majority of my time on Gnome.

Gnome felt stable to me. I didn’t have any strange behavior or crashes. It all worked as I expected. The interface is clean and tidy and has the familiar openSUSE look about it. I did notice that the settings I used to configure GTK apps look and appearance within Plasma carried over to Gnome. For that I was grateful as my preference has the right dark theme. Gnome is very smooth and the simple desktop animations look fantastic. From my perspective, Gnome didn’t feel heavy. I would go so far as to say that it didn’t feel any heavier than any other desktop environment.

What I Like

I started to get used to the Super Key (Windows Key) as an application switcher. It was a bit of a muscle memory alteration from how I have Plasma configured but it did seem reasonably efficient. Could I make Plasma do the same thing, yes, but the method I have set up to do the same thing in plasma is just to move the mouse in the upper-left corner of the screen and I will have all the applications display themselves in a similar fashion.

A rather neat feature is the very intuitive color calibration per device settings. Although I don’t have a need to color calibrate my screens, as they are all Dell monitors and seem to have the same general feel to it, I can see where this would be very, very valuable.

Notification settings configuration is quite nice and intuitive. The fact that I can shut of notifications, very easily to one or two applications or all of them is fantastic.

Gnome-04-System Settings Notification

When you scroll down a menu and reach the end there is a slight ambient glow. It is just a really nice user experience touch that I appreciate. That same effect is in GTK apps on Plasma but it is specifically a GTK (3… I think) thing.

The hardware information was organized in such a way that is a very user friendly, easily digestible manner. How much a user will dig into that, I am not sure but it appeals to my inner geek.

What I Don’t Like

Gnome Tweaks is required to make Gnome a non-terrible experience. The positive is, openSUSE installs it by default. That is not so with some other Gnome versions I have used. Having Tweaks installed by default is really the only way to use Gnome.

The bar at the top is unwelcome. The “minimize” button which generally points down has an animation that goes to the upper-left corner of the screen

Gnome is not nearly as friendly to Qt applications as Plasma is to GTK applications. GTK applications look great on Gnome. Qt feels like an afterthought. The highlights are a mismatch and although blue and green look fine, it is just a lack of visual consistency within a single Qt application.

Gnome with Dolphin File Manager

Configuring Gnome is quite literally the most confusing process. If you can’t find it in the Gnome Settings, you have to look in the Gnome Tweaks to find it. It would be nice if Gnome Settings folded in the features of Gnome Tweaks. Take this to another level, if you didn’t know about Gnome Tweaks, and it wasn’t built into the distribution making Gnome your own would essentially not be possible. This makes the Plasma System Settings far, far less confusing than Gnome’s offerings.

The default sound applet is basically useless, especially when compared to the built in Plasma applet. You have to have Pulse Volume Control open to do anything meaningful with your sound, especially if you have multiple input and output devices.

There is a lack of desktop icons, not even an option. You have this unusable workspace for which you can do nothing but stare at a wallpaper. I like to have shortcuts to specific places from my desktop and Plasma gives me the option to have different folder views on the desktop as well.

There is no system tray for things like Syncthing-GTK, Teamviewer, Variety and so forth. They are running but if I close the window. I can’t access them again. Supposedly there is an extension for that but I am not about to go hunting the internet for extensions that will likely break at the next Gnome upgrade.

Final Thoughts

Without Gnome Tweaks, Gnome is rubbish as far as usability is concerned. I am not going to learn all the shortcuts in my first week with Gnome so to expect a new user, without any kind of guide is absurd. Distributions like BunsenLabs Linux have a Conkey on the background to show you what you need to do to interact efficiently with the Desktop. Sure, that layout isn’t my favorite either but the desktop is way more user friendly.

Gnome culture is to use the computer their way, change your ways and thought process to match the designers. Plasma Culture feels more like a recommendation but feel free to change whatever you want. This is the culture I prefer.

Another issue I found, Qt applications feel like a second class citizen. They just don’t look right or at least they look out of place. If you try to tell me there is an extension to fix it, please don’t bother as I have no desire to play extension roulette next time Gnome updates. It communicates to me that the intention of Gnome is to only run GTK based applications, specifically, GTK3.

At the end of my Gnome journey, it really further cemented my preference for Plasma. Gnome itself is a very nice looking desktop, that is undeniable. If you like the prescribed Gnome workflow and don’t use Qt applications, it just may work fine for you. Ultimately, you need to use what works best for you.

This is my opinion and you may not agree… and that is okay. I really don’t expect you to agree.

Further Reading

BigDaddyLinux Live Show on Gnome

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

Dell Latitude E6440