Updated: January 9, 2015
It is time to give Zorin OS another look. For some random reason, I skipped the eighth edition, but the ninth will do just fine. Anyhow, officially, it is one of the top ten distros on Distrowatch, even though it does not fare highly on my annual vote poll. Why, me wonders ever so often. But then, looking at my previous experiences, you win some, you lose some.
Now, I must think of a nice cliche that goes well with this distro's name. Ah yes. Zorin, the villain from A View to a Kill, a very nice James Bond movie, and probably the best villain to date. So there. Follow me, please.
Zorin starts its life with a pleasant boot menu, and continues into a very pleasant live session that is rather Windowsy in appearance. Flat, with neon blue decorations and large elements that faintly smell of touch. But that's not surprising, because Zorin OS aims to be the ultimate replacement for Windows converts, giving them a familiar interface. In a way, it's competing with Linux Mint.
Like the last time, I spent a while fiddling. The distro is fun to use and explore. You have thumbnail previews for your applications. They work fine, but minimized programs show with a generic icon, and the resolution of these can be a little better. System area effects are quite neat. It's Ubuntu and Gnome really, but the fork is very cutlery. Oh, the pun.
You can also pin and unpin programs, just like Windows, and you get some quick-action options in the context menu, very similar to what Ubuntu does. We will examine this functionality some more later on.
The system menu is Windows 7, but if you're not happy with it, you can change the looks as well as the theme. Zorin comes with two dedicated programs, designed to help you adjust the feel of your desktop. Personally, I find the defaults to be the best option. The blue and the black themes are too dark for my taste, and it is virtually impossible to tell them apart. So the light one it is, then.
To wit, a comparison - ignore the installation slideshow for now:
Pretty also extends to the file manager. Here, I observed two major things. One, the count of items inside folders is not always accurate. Two, the development team has made it possible to create files with the right-click, something that went missing in the previous version. Progress, good.
There were no issues. Samba sharing worked, and it was quite fast. Wireless, 2.4GHz and 5GHz, cushty. Even the printing to Samba shares worked. Again, the development team seems to have listened to my feedback. Instead of a crippled Gnome utility, you get the normal system-config-printer tool, and it has no problem browsing the network and finding printer devices. Cool. Look, a rhyme.
MP3 and Flash also worked without any problems. This is good for newbies and converts. However, I did not like the way the system area volume button behaved while playing songs. Supposedly, it's meant to be contextual, and show you controls for the media player. Indeed, you have them, but the interface is vertically constrained, and you have scroll arrows that are too sensitive, making you miss the desired option. In the end, you will struggle using the utility this way, and you won't be able to change songs or tune the volume easily. This can be frustrating.
The installation is very much Ubuntu, and you also get a nice vertical layout, so no option gets cropped when you scroll. Bless the OCD imps. Xubuntu Utopic does the same really. Now, speaking of the installation, and we know we had some big issues with formatting in several editions of Ubuntu lately, like the stock Unity version and the MATE spin, there were no such problems here. Nor any quirks with screenshots.
I had no issues with the setup. Zorin installed into a quad-boot configuration without any hiccups or weird symptoms like we've seen recently. The only complaint I have is that the system was virtually unusable while copying files, and this took a while. Almost thirty minutes, making it one of the longest installations in the recent years.
But you do get a merry tune playing, which is something only a few other distributions ever did, like Sabayon. Perhaps a bit too flashy, no? Anyhow, the ordeal completed without any errors, and I had the four distros living side by side in perfect harmony. Oh, Zorin OS 9 also comes with a very beautiful GRUB2 menu, somewhat like what Ubuntu MATE does.
Zorin OS 9 booted nicely. The desktop is ready for use, and there are no surprises, especially if you've spent some time exploring the rather useful live session. Still, you will like the fact the updates applet pops up almost immediately, much like what we saw with Xubuntu 14.10, and you will also be asked to create a backup plan for your data. Very commendable, and quite useful for Windows folks fresh a-comin' to Linux.
Zorin comes with a rich arsenal, well worth the distro's image size. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, OpenShot, ShotWell, plus several more utilities and tools unique to this operating system. All in all, perfectly functional, somewhat boring, but decent enough for most people, especially less knowledgeable users.
You also get some nice personalized extras, like the search page in the browser. Frankly, it's a bit a tacky, with its ultra big touch layout, but then, it's also useful.
Speaking of Firefox, Zorin lets you choose your browser. If you're not happy with the default, you may want to download Chrome or Opera or even Midori, although I'm not really sure why anyone would want the last one.
You also have WINE, or rather PlayOnLinux, and this little tool will annoy you by refusing to close, unless you complete the first time wizard run. Why? Do you really want to force me to kill -9 you into oblivion?
Controlling the system is a breeze. You get a very stylish, highly practical system settings menu, with easy access to all your critical functions. This is a sort of optimized framework that aims to take the best from KDE, Gnome 2, Gnome 3, and Unity, and present you with a single menu for all your games and tweaks. Well, almost. I did not find an easy way to auto-hide mounted network volumes from the desktop. In this regard, Mint or Xubuntu are much easier to manage.
Zorin was stable and peaceful. No crashes, no silly hangs, apart from Rhythmbox, but that's only while trying to play songs from connected smartphones, which is a story for another article. Suspend & resume worked fine. Memory wise, Zorin is not exactly a ballerina, tolling some 550 MB on idle. CPU is mostly quiet, round 4-5%. But this is nothing phenomenal, because Ubuntu MATE and Xubuntu can do so much better.
Package management worked fine. You can turn recommendations on/off, but you must be signed in to do that. If you recall my elementary OS review, this function was broken, and you did not get any prompt to login. Software sources include all sorts of PPA, but you don't have Canonical Partners enabled by default, so if you want Skype, you will have to play around a little.
Here, I encountered my first real bug. You cannot pin all programs. For that matter, neither Skype, nor VLC, nor Steam could be pinned. There just wasn't an option. Maybe because they do not use GTK or something, but that's the simple visible fact. Moreover, in order to pin apps, you actually have to launch them, like Windows. You cannot pin them directly from the menu, like you can do in Xfce or KDE. This should be fixed and enhanced.
Here, I re-encountered the vertical constraint thingie, when trying to close Skype. Normally, a single click action. I actually had to scroll a bit before the Quit options was available. This really isn't that useful. And I guess I'm out of words.
Well, here we are. Zorin OS 9 is a nice distribution. It's visually pleasing, it comes with lots of goodies out of the box, and it is newb friendly. Perhaps some people dislike its image, or the fact it's trying a little too hard, or that you can choose between free and premium option, like Mandriva used to do, and this has never sat well with the community.
But if we ignore the gimmicks and marketing, as a product, Zorin OS is a balanced, aesthetic distribution that caters to a wide range of users. Old bugs have been fixed, there are no new outstanding problems, and you have the needed functionality and software to enjoy yourself from the start. I'd try to downplay the focus on mobile a bit further, but overall, it's looking good. I like this one. 9.41/10. Not bad at all.