Zorin OS 12 Beta - Flat white, no sugar


Updated: October 24, 2016

Zorin or GTFO. That was the email I got. No, just kidding. No one likes me, so no one sends me any emails. But yes, it is time to review Zorin OS 12, Beta version mind, based on Ubuntu 16.04, the sum of all our hopes, dashed and shattered. But perhaps the derivative might be better than the integral of its parts?

I will be testing on the G50 box. I know what you're going to say. Cursed Realtek network. Yes, but what about everything else. Can this little operating system deliver the smooth and friendly and consistent experience that we used to expect from Ubuntu and family? Can it be the answer to what Windows users might be looking for?

Teaser

Let us begin

By the time you read this review, approx. two weeks after it was conducted, Zorin OS 12 may already be production ready. Do not dismiss my findings, though, as they are highly relevant, and most of them are true beyond the pure betaness of this release, i.e. these be inherent failings of the entire family. LTS out for Harambe.

So yes, Ubuntu Xenial was a big disappointment, and a huge regression compared to the super-solid Trusty. Using it as a baseline is a tricky one, and even Mint wasn't able to provide its expected high-quality spin. Then again, it's been six months since Xerus was released, and as I've shown you in my recent re-review of the 16.04 edition, some things have been fixed, but some have not.

Zorin OS has trended up in my vocabulary the last three or so releases, with steady improvements in quality and usability, and an increasing overall grade. I was pleased with what it offered in its tenth incarnation. Now, we need to evaluate all of it again, taking into account all the good things Zorin tries to do and be. It aims to position itself as a modern and stylish alternative to Windows 7/8, it comes with a flat theme, and the official site has a very dramatic, distinct marketing flavor. A promising start.

Live session

Booted fine, no issues. The desktop is pretty and blue. It's a Gnome 3 setup, heavily customized. Perhaps too much. Zorin has always prided itself on its Windowsy approach, but this version is taking it to the extreme. The theme is way too abstract, and way too flat. My eyes started to hurt after a very brief time, because it is difficult to distinguish between active and inactive elements, there are no well defined borders within GUI elements, and the whole thing is just too glaring. Pretty but overdone.

Desktop, live

Menu

Settings, too flat

Themes, too flat, too abstract

Files, too abstract

Impossible to use. No borders. Too shiny.

Networking

The Realtek card gimped, as expected. However, what is really annoying is the rate at which is fails, compared to say Ubuntu 14.04. Every new kernel version only makes things less and less stable, and we have the same sorry state that affected Xenial and Sarah when I originally tested these several months ago.

Samba sharing worked, with mandatory authentication nonsense of course, and the network dropped twice while I innocently tried to pull music files from a remote folder for some media testing. Samba printing also works. Bluetooth, another good one. All in all, as reasonable as it gets, given the circumstances.

Samba printing, ok

Bluetooth works ok

Multimedia support

Here, things weren't too peachy. First, for some odd reason, if you try to open MP3 files, even though Rhythmbox is the DEFAULT player, Video launches, and it does not have the right codecs. So you go through the Gstreamer exercise, which if you don't know what they mean, you're basically producing baked-clay cuboids from your rear orifice.

Codecs

Music, MP3 playback

Music, system area integration

Video also does not have the system area integration - but Rhythmbox does, and this gives an inconsistent experience, but at the very least, the integration is prettier than before. HD video also played fine. Flash is less relevant than before, then again, we get renewed support for Linux, and no, you don't get an artistic Youtube clip this time, naughty readers.

HD video

I tried doing a few other cool things with Rhythmbox, including signing into Last.fm. This eventually worked, but you can't stream as you also need a Spotify account. All in all, more disappointment and hassle than anything else. Why offer it in the first place?

Waiting for authentication

Streaming fail

Smartphone support

100% of people need this. Which makes all the problems and inconsistency we face across multiple distros such a pain. Take a look at my CentOS MATE or Fedora 24 results, just for comparison. Then, go back to Xenial and Sarah. And now listen to what we have here.

The test with the iPhone was a big load of bovine spheres. If you connect the phone while it's locked and/or the laptop/desktop is not trusted, you will get ugly errors. Then, for some reason, I only had Documents on iPhone mounted but not the DCIM folder with pictures. Yes, we also have the MTP versus PTP regression. After three or four attempts was I finally able to download pictures, but not listen to music. Rhythmbox no longer sees the Apple device. Another regression.

iPhone mount failure

This is the SAME bug we saw six months ago. Still here.

iPhone docs

iPhone mounted after 4 attempts

Things were only marginally better with the Windows Phone and Ubuntu Phone. They were properly identified and mounted, but I was not able to play music from these devices. Rhythmbox just refused to do that, and it would not recognize the external hardware. It just labeled the Ubuntu Phone as Devices, and nothing much happened. All in all, this is another brown flake in the giant shitstorm that Linux has become in the last year or so, with such unprofessional approach to everything and anything.

Ubuntu Phone

Windows Phone

Ubuntu Phone not recognized properly

Other tweaks & weird things

The big problem is that the desktop was misaligned at first. I had to change the display to 1360x768 rather than 1366x768, as part of the panel was horizontally truncated, and it just looked like an old, miscalibrated CRT. This is the very first time I ever encountered something like this on a modern display.

Display, weird cropping

Chromium started complaining about being a non-default browser after several launches, even though it is the only browser in the system. Attention seeking much? But this is an odd little glitch that needs to be fixed.

Chromium, not a default browser, what

Rhythmbox also has the volume icon/column badly placed. Amateurish.

Rhythmbox, visual glitch

The on-hover overlay scrollbars in Files prevented me from unmounting shares and devices as they cover the eject button. Right-click works, but I also want to be able to do that like a human being. This is an ugly bug.

Cannot unmount due to overlay scrollbars

Pinning icons is now called - Add to Favorites. But it merely keeps the icons in the bottom panel once the applications have been closed. This is a confusing way of doing things.

Pinning icons now called Favorites

The system search functionality is odd - and possibly broken. If you look for Display in the system menu, you will not find it. Invoke a global search - basically one done through the Activities of the Gnome 3 desktop, and you will. Quite odd. Also, there's an overlap as to what the Super key does, and which element is raised. Something is off here.

Broken menu search

Global search works

Installation

This was a quick-ish affair. Well, almost. The wizard took almost 10 minutes discovering partitions. The GUI is also too high for a typical laptop screen, and it underflows beneath the bottom panel. Maybe because it was not designed for a bottom panel in the first place? Eventually, it resizes itself, but you also get two ugly scrollbars to keep you unhappy.

Installer, too high

Installer scrollbars

Zorin installed well, and it handled the plethora of distros and Windows partitions without any problems, and it configured its GRUB2 fine, too. Now, we need to continue with our testing to see what this system can actually do once fully deployed to the disk.

Playing around

Wireless settings are retained. Everything else, you need to do from scratch.

Desktop

Package management & updates

Well. The updater worked fine - but it does not pop up on its own. Software is just crap. Zorin tries to advertise it as something more than it is - calling it Shopping is a bit pretentious. But it's the same over-simplified nonsense that replaced USC, which was a superior piece of software, it had much better integration with Ubuntu One, you could actually buy things. This new one works meh, looks meh, and it is less appealing.

System software updater

Let's go shopping message

Software

Worse, it is almost impossible to edit software source - and worst yet, Steam and Skype do not show up in the GUI, while they do merrily show up on the command line if you use apt-get. I have flagged this six months ago, and it was fixed in Xerus. While is it here, then? Another regression, and something the Zorin team should have picked up. Horrible.

CD error

How do I add sources?

To quote the popular meme: How do I added sources?

Steam missing, GUI

Steam there, command line

Applications

A colorful bunch. Chromium, Geary, LibreOffice, Rhythmbox, Cheese, a few fancy extras to make it look more professional and Windowsy, but in the end, it's very similar to every other distro out there. Still, overall, a decent and useful collection.

Apps

Some more testing

I re-did my live tests, just to be sure. Smartphone, MP3 support, networking, all consistent. It makes no difference whether it's done in the live session or after the install, and even the set of updates that were available did not help or change anything. It's just the way it is.

Resource utilization

Not the most frugal of distros, I'm afraid. Memory usage stands at a whooping 1.3 GB, and the CPU beat a steady 3% rhythm all of the time. This is a little annoying, but then it does kind of align with how Zorin has been behaving so far.

Resources

Performance & responsiveness

Here's a thing. Zorin OS 12 is slow. The desktop is sluggish. Everything takes time responding, and sometimes, mouse clicks do not fully register as the system is busy thinking or whatever. The GUI elements are heavy. It's not the most sprightly of lambs in the big scary forest.

Hardware compatibility & stability

No big issues. The hardware was properly initialized, and all the buttons worked fine. Suspend & resume, no issues. The internal mic was gimping too, and Skype had trouble finding it, but this affects all PulseAudio systems, whereas ALSA works fine. We talked about this in my Xfce tame & pimp article. Another sad saga in the Linux world.

Microphone problems

Battery life

With the brightness set to 100%, the distro only has about 2 hours of juice. At 50%, this goes up to about 2 hours and 50 minutes. Not bad considering how hungry and noisy it is, but then there are distros with better results out there, installed even on this very same laptop.

Battery life, brightness 100%

Battery life, brightness 50%

Other glitches

There were a few other bugs. Skype would only launch from command line and not through the GUI. There's no way to bookmark Samba shares in Files, which is something that I always used to do in the past. This is definitely one of those beta problems.

Conclusion

I did not do any other testing, no extensive tweaking, no customization. I felt no need or desire to do so. Now, do remember Zorin OS 12 is still in beta, so we can excuse some of the problems we see here. But others are purely Ubuntu, and have been ported over from the parent distro without any discrimination or any improvements and fixes introduced in the last six months. The big offenders include: multimedia and smartphone support, poor software management, and then the somewhat heavy utilization and slow performance.

Zorin is quite pretty but weary on the eyes, it tries perhaps too hard to be more than it is, and overall, the value it brings is negatively offset by the myriad papercuts of its design and the implementation of its unique style, plus the failings of the Ubuntu family. It's an okay choice, if you will, but there's nothing too special about it anymore. It's not as fun as it used to be. Gone is the character, gone is the glamor. This aligns well with the overall despair in the Linux desktop world. Maybe the official release will be better, but I doubt it. Why would suddenly one distro excel where 50 others of the same crop had failed with the exact same problems? Final grade, 5/10. Test if you like the looks, other than that, there's no incentive in really using Zorin. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Cheers.

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