Zorin 3 - A great distro for newbies


Updated: September 8, 2010

Several readers contacted me, urging me to review Zorin. My interest piqued, I set about the lanes of Google, searching for more information. The initial findings were quite positive. Zorin was praised in the reviews I read. The official website looked posh, sending a subliminal message that it was a kind of a freebie Mac OSX.

Zorin aims to be a simple, friendly operating system for Linux newbies. Then again, all distros do that. They all aim to be simple and friendly. When you think about distributions like Ubuntu, Linux Mint or PCLinuxOS, you have pretty much everything you need. With a small degree of variations here and there, they all offer a complete experience out of the box. So there must be something extra that makes Zorin special.

Teaser

And today, we will try to find out what it is. I'm going to test Zorin 3 on a T60 machine, with a dual core 32-bit processor, 2GB RAM and an ATI card. As always, I'll test pretty much anything that comes to mind. So please, follow me.

Live session

The live CD startup is fairly unremarkable. You've seen it already. A simple GRUB menu, a splash screen, and into the live desktop you go.

Live desktop

Appearance and styling

One of the strong points praised in other reviews were Zorin's looks. Unfortunately, I have to disagree. While the desktop is cute enough, I did find quite a few problems with the default theme.

One, the bottom panel elements lack contrast. They feel a little blurry, like Windows 7, which seems to have been the idea, plus a KDE-like plasma touch, but rather than adding a distinctive feel to the desktop, the styling feels cheap. The overall feel is similar to that of Enlightenment desktops, and they usually require an extreme amount of effort to look posh and expensive.

The icons in the system area are not aligned, which pains an OCD-inflicted person like myself. The wireless icon just does not sit well with other icons. In fact, the choice of icons is problematic, since they look as if they have haphazardly taken from a collection of different themes.

Misaligned

Windows buttons are also a bit problematic, I must admit. They do look unique, but the DOS-like iconification does not sit well with the modern character of the distribution.

Window buttons

Another thing I did not like is the new Windows-7-like taskbar, with shortcuts and open windows overlapping. I simply hate that feature. It is cluttered, confusing and plain simply annoying.

Win 7 like taskbar

Taskbar, another screenshot

The wallpaper choice is quite good, though, adding a soft mood to the distro.

Overall, the theme is quite decent, but it could be made perfect with a little more attention to details and overall integration of separate elements.

Now, let's take a look at the basic functionality.

Wireless, Bluetooth, Web camera

All worked fine, without any issues whatsoever.

Samba sharing & USB devices

Working with Windows FAT32 and NTFS shares over Wireless LAN, no problems. Similarly, external USB disks formatted in all kinds of filesystems were auto-mounted and usable without any trouble. This is hardly worth mentioning in the last two years, but still, just for the sake of it.

Compiz

Compiz is enabled in the live session and work great even on older machines with inferior graphic cards. You get spinning and swirling windows, checkbox disintegration effect on windows close, similar to that we saw in Knoppix Adriane, transparency, and other fancy stuff.

This is a really nice addition. Furthermore, it's designed in a unique fashion, with effects you do not normally encounter. Combined with soft transparency, reflection and other elegant transition effects, you're in for a visual treat.

Effects 1

Effects 2

Transparency

Multimedia

Everything worked out of the box, another nice touch. New users won't have to think or worry about getting the right codecs.

Flash

Media

Firefox branding

Zorin takes its futuristic feel one step further by branding the homepage in Firefox with a unique multi-purpose page. The big search box in the center allows you to quickly interface with Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, and Twitter, plus you have a whole bunch of useful links at the bottom of the page. The focus is social, but it's still a very functional idea.

In fact, I normally never use default web pages in most distros, but with Zorin, I felt there was no need to make a change.

Firefox

Firefox zoomed

Applications

Should you choose to explore Zorin a little more, there's a very decent, rich and balanced collection of programs waiting for you.

Zorin is Ubuntu based, so you will find many of Ubuntu's traits in the software choice. In fact, Zorin has the Ubuntu Software Center, bearing the original name still. This is something that should be taken care of.

Apps

Zoomed

You do get a handful of great stuff, like Back in Time snapshot software, Play on Linux frontend for Wine, Ubuntu Tweak, which lets you fully and completely configure and customize your desktop, GIMP, OpenShot, Cheese, Rhythmbox, OpenOffice, and many other useful and colorful programs.

Cool apps, some more

The live session is very decent. Look and taste aside, Zorin offers a flawless, seamless experience that should appeal to just about any new user. And if you're a person coming from the Windows world, used to Windows 7 looks, you will find the transition easier.

Installation

The installations went well, without any major problems. There was a small quirk, that of my keyboard being defaulted to Ireland layout. This is the first time ever that this happened, even though the timezone was picked correctly in a step before.

Keyboard

Zorin has its own slideshow, although here and there, the word Ubuntu slipped in some of the menus and options. This should be remedied, if only for the sake of clarity and uniformity.

Installing

After the installation

Now, time to see how Zorin behaves after the installation. We did test pretty much everything in the live session, so there should be no nasty surprises. Zorin GRUB 2 menu reads Ubuntu, so again, this is a little confusing and should be taken care of pronto.

Ubuntu branding, once again, again

Once you start using Zorin, you start noticing more and more of the Ubuntu traits underneath the hood. In fact, once you start changing the default theme, you can get some pretty radical results, like gaining back the stock Ubuntu looks.

For example, I managed to rearrange the taskbar so it looks more presentable, including moving the super huge Wireless icon to the left. Combined with Radiance theme, you get a far more successful look.

New looks

New taskbar

More cool features

Head into the Zorin Control Center and you'll find a handful of other cool programs and features, including Windows Wireless Drivers, Remastersys backup, firewall configuration, and more.

CC

There's also Gespeaker, for visually impaired, an extremely simple and friendly tool:

Gespeaker

And you can also test your system setup and functionality with an application called System Testing, taken straight from Ubuntu ovens with nary a change.

Testing

System performance & stability

Zorin is fast and snappy, comparable to most Gnome desktops. It is also very stable, with no bugs or crashes to flaw the experience. Memory usage is extremely decent, at about 250MB upon startup.

Usage

Suspend & hibernate

Worked great, which does not come as any surprise.

Battery life

You can expect approx. 3 hours from your typical battery, even when you're not too conservative with your system usage, so this is quite reasonable.

And, I guess, that would be all for today.

Conclusion

Overall, Zorin is a re-branded Ubuntu flavor, with some extras added. But there are too many leftovers from the original system to make Zorin a fully unique, fully independent entity. The word Ubuntu, in both uppercase and lowercase, shows all over the place, inside programs and menus, making the distinction really blurred.

In this regard, for instance, Linux Mint is a far more mature fork than Zorin. However, unlike many quick conversions, with merely a wallpaper change, Zorin does manage to be a very successful, bug-free conversion. And this is a really good thing. However, I'd like to see more focus added to polishing out the menus and brushing up the styling.

The only question remaining is that of necessity. Is it really needed, considering the competition, considering the impact Ubuntu Lucid made? Aren't all the changes merely a three-hour effort of polishing the base Ubuntu installations and repackaging it?

Zorin is a very decent choice for new Linux users, but for veterans, the choice between Ubuntu and Zorin makes no difference. For fresh converts, though, Zorin is an excellent, smooth, painless stepping stone in the world of Linux. The system runs well, it looks good, the Compiz integration is excellent, and the selection of program is rich. If you have friends who ponder the brave new ways of freedom, you may want to point them in the direction of Zorin. It's a good choice.

Cheers.

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