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.
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.
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.
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.