Updated: July 9, 2012
I last tested Zorin about two years ago, when Ubuntu Lucid came out. Now, there's another Ubuntu Long Term Support release, and another Zorin, called OS 6 Core. Which means I should be testing it again, to see what's changed. All right. That was a very short introduction, now to business.
Zorin continues its semi-Mac-like approach, with a clean website, plus separate offers of the free version with some premium upgrades, combined with distinctive Windows looks, aimed at making fresh converts and new users at ease. I will be giving Zorin 6 a spin on my T61 machine, with SSD, already housing its spiritual papa, plus Kubuntu and Mint. We will do the usual torture, with pretty much everything a normal user could possibly want, thoroughly tested.
Zorin booted without any problems into a pleasant session that has a bit of KDE, Gnome and Windows, all combined. The wallpaper is similar to the striped background so often used in SUSE and Fedora. Well, sometimes. The bottom panel is thick, friendly and stylish, with that nice two-tone slash.
Look & feel - much improved
In my previous review, I noted that Zorin had a somewhat blurred, fuzzy feel. Some of the desktop elements were not sharp enough, and the system area icons were not aligned well. In contrast, Zorin 6 OS Core is sharp and smart. However, the Wireless icon still seems to hangs about 2-3px too low, making my blood pressure oscillate. The main problem is that the horizontal battery meter creates the visual offset. Switching the position between the sound and the battery icon, or making it vertical would solve the whole OCD drama developing here.
And you get a whole bunch of lovely effects, again, designed to emulate the Windows approach to desktop management. Like Windows 7, you can pin applications, and you get a rich context menu. Minimized programs are shown with big lovely icons, while those in focus have a preview thumb.
The system menu is very much like Windows 7, too, even too much. One of the right-click options on selected applications is to run as administrator. Does this mean sudo or root or something else? And why is it necessary?
A small glitch is that when you elect to place a shortcut desktop, it comes with a blank icon, not the one you would normally associate with the program.
Zorin prides itself on a full plethora of desktop effects. OS 6 Core is not an exception. You get the Aladdin lamp effect on minimize, desktop cube, shake and wobble on windows focus snap, and more. It's not immediately apparent how you control these effects or how you can disable them, but then you notice you have the full Compiz Settings Manager available. All worked smoothly in the live session.
Another 10/10 here. I threw everything I could at the distro, including Flash, MP3, Apple Trailer, which are probably encoded with QuickTime and called iTunes or something, and Microsoft Media Server (MMS) streaming. Worked fine, no troubles at all.
Installation - Quick!
So far, so good. Let's see what happens here. You get the usual Ubuntu stuff, starting with the question on codecs and third-party software, so if you've installed one distribution in this big family, you'll manage just fine.
This time, I chose not to import any accounts, really. I wanted to see how Zorin looks and behaves in its vanilla mode.
Next comes the interesting stuff. Zorin features an audio-video slide, which welcomes you in some 10 languages before moving on to static images. Not a bad idea, and somewhat reminds me of the music-flavored Sabayon boots.
Finally, in the slideshow, the parent is finally mentioned. Pangolin is present everywhere, but it's mostly hidden under the hood. All in all, the branding done by the Zorin team is fairly decent. On top of that, they do not really deny their heritage, more sort of build upon it, similar to what the Linux Mint team is trying to achieve, with great success so far.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there were none of the language pack downloads and boring updates, which always seem to slow and stall the installation. Zorin copied its stuff, did the necessary configuration and offered to reboot. Four minutes, done. I find this quite refreshing. Needless to say, the quadruple setup worked flawlessly.
Using Zorin - A very posh experience
Now, some more Zorin fun.
The Ubuntu legacy is most apparent when you open the software center, which is none other than Ubuntu's software center. And if you look into the menu, you will find Ubuntu sources listed there, too. All in all, it worked fine, but some of the sources were hardcoded to United States rather than the local mirrors, which made the downloads somewhat slower than I'd like.
Zorin is a much bigger download than stock Ubuntu, so it does not come as a surprise that OS 6 Core has more goodies in its drawer than 12.04 Pangolin. Overall, the repertoire is quite reasonable.
You get Thunderbird, but not Firefox, which is usually the expected pair, GIMP 2.8, VLC, LibreOffice, Cheese, Ubuntu Tweak, Play on Linux, and many other interesting programs. There does not seem to be bias in any particular category, and most of the stuff seems well balanced and needed. Some extra emphasis is given to Windows integration with WINE.
Some small and somewhat weird issues came up now and then. For example, Google Chrome is the only browser included, but you're still asked whether you want to make it a default.
Browser choice thingie
Speaking of browsers, Zorin comes with a EU-style mandatory browser choice Web Changer applet, which lets you decide what browsers you want to have. You can either use the default one or all of them. For other options, you will need to use the standard package manager. Anyhow, this is just one of many extra features that OS 6 Core offers to its users. So let's review some more, and let's call them fortune cookies, although they are not edible, and they are spelled properly. So what do we have here?
Much like Ubuntu or Mint, system settings are all arranged in a single menu, with some class delineation, similar to KDE desktops. However, unlike KDE desktops, as I've mentioned earlier, you can't find desktop effects anywhere.
Zorin Look Changer
You will probably rather like the look changer option, which lets you toggle between Windows and more Gnome-like appearance in a single mouse click. For new users, this is a most welcome blessing.
Other nice touches
Yet another useful feature is the file count in your home directory folders, which gives you an indication of what you're about to find there. It's an innocent addition, yet unique, fresh and welcome.
Activated from start and nudging you every now and then, with the backup icon turning red to draw your attention. It's the same tool you get in Ubuntu, and it hasn't been forgotten or neglected, so this is nice.
Back to our usual testing, the webcam worked just fine. Oh, I never mentioned Wireless, Bluetooth, and Samba, but they were no problems on that front either. But just so you know.
I decided to see if Zorin can connect to my shared HP LaserJet Pro P1102 printer connected to a Windows 7 box, via Wireless network, using Samba. I must admit the default printing wizard is absolutely useless and broken, but this is a Ubuntu fault. However, using the classic one, I managed to get things running. We will have a new printing tutorial soon.
System resources, stability
Zorin is a moderately gluttonous distro, taking about 450MB on idle, which is okay for a 64-bit processor plus active desktop effects, without any slowness or responsiveness issues encountered. The CPU is a bit lively, but nothing major. Not bad. Sleep & resume also worked fine, and there were no crashes whatsoever. Zorin is fairly stable and robust, given its total conversion package.
There were almost no issues. Just a few small ones. For example, the default window border choice is not the most elegant one or best aligned with the overall theme. Chrome does not respect it, by default. We also had that desktop shortcut thingie. And the hard-coded repos.
And finally, the system menu has a somewhat ambiguous search functionality. It does not always show what you want, even if you nail it with the search expression. I mean, it's very lovely, and you get your cute icon there and all, but sometimes it would show all of the entries, and then it wouldn't. Seems to be random, and not quite related to what you're typing.
For example, after using the Update Manager, it vanished from the list, along with USC, even though they were there just one innocent search ago, and then came back later on. Go figure.
Like always, when dealing with Ubuntu cutlery, you must ask the question: what for? Does Zorin have a market? Can it justify its existence? Will it survive the crazy whims of its developers, will it ever become a powerful market brand, will it fade to boredom? And why would anyone need yet another Ubuntu fork or spoon, when the original seems to work so well, and when you have Linux Mint, which brings perfection to the table?
The answer is yes, provided it can excel in what it does. And all in all, Zorin 6 OS Core does excel. It's an exceptionally well tailored distribution, with good branding, style and integration, a small collection of programs, and a unique set of extras. It works well, it's designed to be simple and elegant, and can cater to a variety of users, even though Windows people are its primary target.
You can also feel the progress over the years. It does have a few tiny niggles, but they are just dust on a well-polished, well-oiled product. From the purely technical perspective, there's no reason why it shouldn't succeed. The future of this distro will depend on long-term persistence and quality rather than anything else. And so far, they're doing it right. My grade would be 9.5/10. Quite awesome overall.