23 Jan 2012

Linux for migrants: Zorin OS

Some Linux distributions try to find their own way in arrangement of the user desktop. Take, for example, Ubuntu with Unity. Whatever is your opinion about this Desktop Environment, you can’t deny that it brought some fresh ideas as to how to organize the user’s desktop.
At the other pole are Linux distros which intentionally adjust their look to something familiar to users of other operating systems, being it Windows or Mac. Zorin OS is one of those. The intent of such distros is to smooth the transition for users wishing to migrate from Windows to Linux.
Zorin OS exists in several options. Some of them are not free-of-charge, but there are some, namely Core, Lite and Educational, which are free.
This is not my first approach to Zorin OS. I have already written about Zorin OS 4 before. I enjoyed the system, although it lacked stability that time. Did it improve?
The latest version, ZorinOS 5.2, was released very recently, on the 10th of January 2012. I downloaded the Core version of it. The ISO size is 1.1 Gb. It meant I could not use a CD for it, and I went to the USB option. Unetbootin utility successfully "burnt" image to USB.
It was time to try Zorin OS 5.2 in action on my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let’s go!

Booting

Once I selected the boot option in the usual Unetbootin menu, Zorin OS 5.2 booted straight into the Live session desktop.
Boot time of Zorin OS was average, or maybe little bit above average. The splash screen, which you see during the boot, has the Zorin OS logo at the top and two rotating circles at the bottom. These circles rotate in different directions within each other. I could not look at this for a long time, as it was too painful for my eyes.

Desktop

Once booted, I was in a GNOME-style interface, although one which was very strongly and well reworked and customized by Zorin team.
The default desktop wallpaper is a simple picture in blue colours. If you want to have something else, then Zorin OS provides you with many different photographic and graphic images. Most of them are truly unique to Zorin OS. In other words, I have not seen them in any other operating system yet.
The panel with some standard elements is at the bottom of the screen.
The bottom-left corner is taken up by the menu button, which, of course, has the Zorin logo on it. Next to the menu button there are quick launch items on the panel: Chrome browser, Banshee music player and Nautilus Elementary file browser.
The taskbar is in the middle of the panel. If you launch a new application, you have an option to "pin" it to the taskbar with a right-click, converting it into a quick launch button. Quite a useful feature, which unfortunately is not widely used yet. Taskbar items only have icons, no window titles. The applications, which start from the Quick Launch panel, remain there and do not create additional items on the panel. In other words, you’re in a Windows 7 style interface.
The right side of the panel in Zorin OS is taken by the network manager icon, volume control, mail and messenger applet, clocks, user and session managers. More or less standard set of items, I’d say. A couple more words about the volume control icon: it is not just a normal icon from the Pulse or Alsa sound systems. Instead, you have Banshee player control elements built in there too.
The clocks showed some strange time, 7 hours ahead (or 5 hours behind?) of my local time which is set to GMT. This is likely to be an adjustment of UTC (GMT) to American Eastern coast time.
As I said, the bottom panel is working like a Windows 7 one. I tried to understand whether it is actually taken into Zorin OS from GNOME or from the Unity interface, and could not come to a final decision. It functions in some aspects like the Unity Launcher, and in some like the GNOME panel. It may sound confusing for techy people, but average users should benefit from this mixture because, at least to my taste, the panel has taken the best from both desktop environments.
Some desktop effects are enabled by default in Zorin OS 5.2. They are not very annoying, so I enjoyed them for some time during the Live run. But I would definitely switch them off if I was installing the system for myself.
So, the default Zorin OS 5.2 tries to imitate a Windows 7 interface. But what about other Windows versions? Do their users have the ability to switch smoothly into Linux with assistance from Zorin OS? Yes, they do!
Zorin has a special utility which allows you to quickly change the desktop style. It is called the Zorin OS Look Changer. The default look, which I've just described, is called "Windows 7". Other than this one, you can choose between Linux GNOME and Windows XP. This change actually requires re-logging into the desktop. I tried applying WinXP style, and it worked fine for me. Interestingly, even functionality of the panel changes with that. For example, WinXP style does not allow the user to "pin" applications.
If you wish to try different styles in a Live session too, please note that username is “live” with an empty password.
The menu in Zorin OS 5.2 is GnoMenu. It is highly configurable, in both the content and design areas. You can make it to look like KDE, Lancelot, GNOME or half a dozen different other styles. These GnoMenu settings are available via a "+" button in the default (Windows 7) menu layout, or as a Preferences right-click option in other themes.
The default layout has two columns. The left column lists some applications and application groups. The right column is similar to the Places menu in standard GNOME configuration. The whole menu is nicely arranged and compact. It does not take up the whole screen like many other popular Linux menus (Unity, GNOME 3, Mint, Rosa Labs and so on).
Although I liked the GnoMenu in general, there is a small issue with the left column: applications and application groups are not distinct. You cannot tell whether a menu item is an actual application (for example, E-mail), or an application group (Internet), which drills down to another menu level. This issue remains in other menu themes as well. I tried to apply the KDE theme, but it did not solve the problem. E-mail and Internet items look absolutely the same. However, the E-mail item always stays on top in the KDE theme, even when you go to the next level of the menu.
Another issue that I have noticed was in the WinXP theme. Right-clicking on the taskbar item allows you move an application to another workspace, but there is no workspace switcher anywhere on the desktop. That can be confusing for first-time users.

What is in the menu?

Chrome 15 is the only browser in Zorin OS 5.2. But it is not set up as default browser: you are asked to make the decision during the first start. Apart from Chrome, there is a browser management tool which allows the user to install Midori, Firefox or Opera. Empathy, Evolution, Gwibbler and some more applications are also in the Internet menu section.
Almost the full set of LibreOffice applications is in the Office part of the menu. This set includes every possible component apart from Base. LibreOffice is version 3.3.4.
Wine forms a whole section of the Zorin OS menu. This section not only includes Wine itself, but also configuration utilities. PlayOnLinux and Wine Tricks are here too. The presence of Wine in default distributions would definitely benefit users who recently came from Windows and still prefer Windows-based applications.
There are some simple games in Zorin OS 5.2. But they are not of an action style. As in Trisquel, the most action-oriented game is Mines.
The Sound & Video section of the menu includes Brasero disk burning tool, OpenShot video editor, Sound Recorder, and several players: Movie Player, VLC and Banshee. Movie Player, not Banshee or VLC, is the default audio player in Zorin OS.
The graphics part of the menu includes LibreOffice Draw, GIMP, SimpleScan and Shotwell Photo Manager. I have not found a screenshot utility here.
The Accessories section actually includes the Screenshot tool, which I have just mentioned. In addition, Accessories includes the usual set of small applications: Terminal, Calculator, Gedit, Activity Journal, Tomboy Notes and few others.
As you can see, Zorin OS has a more or less standard set of applications and utilities, extended for the purpose of easy migration from Windows. But what else is available?
That could be a difficult question, if you have not known that Zorin OS is actually based on… Ubuntu. In particular, Zorin OS 5.2 is based on Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal. It means that you have the full Ubuntu 11.04 repository at your fingertips straight away. That's why I will not list all the applications available in Zorin OS. The only thing which I’d like to mention here is that you not only have the standard repository, because the default Zorin OS distribution includes some additional PPAs as well.

Network

My laptop has wireless network card Intel 3945 ABG. Zorin OS immediately found, configured and activated it. I saw a message about available networks right after the Live session boot.
A few usual steps to select my home network and enter the security key, and I am connected. No issues arose on this route.
Zorin OS 5.2 includes a Network browser as part of the Nautilus Elementary file manager. This network browser automatically listed shares on my external network drive. But, unfortunately, the connection was not successful when I tried to use it.
An attempt to mount a partition manually via the command mount -t cifs ... failed too. It showed me that the samba client was missing in Zorin OS. I tried to use Software Centre (obviously the Ubuntu one) to search for smbfs (the samba client) package, but did not succeed in this. Then I started Synaptic from the Control Centre. I found the smbfs package this way and installed it. I was able to mount the remote partition in Terminal after that, but the Network plugin in Nautilus still did not work.
Nautilus correctly showed Russian filenames on the remote partition. But Movie Player failed to show Russian letters while playing the MP3 file. Banshee and VLC were more successful in this.

Multimedia

As you can easily conclude, ZorinOS does not have any issues with the playback of multimedia files. MP3 support comes by default.
The same is valid for video files. I tried different options, and all of them played fine.
Zorin OS has video codecs and Flash player included
Flash is also included in the Zorin OS 5.2. I was able to watch YouTube videos in Chrome straight away.

Keyboard layouts

I did not expect any issues in this area, and I was right. Keyboard layouts can be configured in Zorin OS in the usual GNOME style. You can find the configuration utility in the Keyboard section of the Control Centre.

Laptop-specific hardware

My laptop has semi-hardware buttons to control volume and screen brightness. Unfortunately, Zorin OS has the same issue with volume controls which all other distributions have. Once the “volume down” button is pushed, the volume sticks at the lowest (muted) level and cannot be adjusted any more.
I can’t blame Zorin OS for this, because this is not just an upstream Ubuntu issue, but rather a Linux generic problem for this particular laptop.

Is it possible to improve Ubuntu?

Did I like Zorin OS? Yes, I did.
The stability issues which I had with Zorin OS in their version 4 are gone. The current version 5.2 was pretty stable, responsive, quick and functional during my Live run. Even though you may dislike Ubuntu, you still may like Zorin OS.
I would say that Zorin elevates Ubuntu to another level which is even more functional, well-designed and thoroughly thought out.
Have you tried Zorin OS yourself? What are your impressions?

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If you like or do not like this idea, please leave your comments.
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27 comments:

  1. It's a great distro. but when you try to install a .deb package is only from ubuntu respo. or debian central.

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    1. Sorry, I don't get your point. What is wrong in having .deb files from Ubuntu and Debian repos?

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  2. i feel that this ZorinOS 5.2 will give ubuntu and heavy cost Microsoft Windows fans a big run for their money!!!!!

    Have you tried the OpenSource version of google chrome called Chrominum browser its very fast and less CPU intake and controls video motion more smoothly
    and try Open Street maps it's free and run by the community you can download this an ebook map onto your kindle tablets or pc's

    richie rich

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    1. Sure, I tried Chromium. I use is in some of my distributions (I have 3 Linuxes installed on my laptop). But I still prefer Chrome sometimes. Maybe just a bad habit. 8-)

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  3. I'm "shopping" around for a full-time Linux distro to replace my current Win7. Zorin looks very good and you're helpful review clinched it for me - currently downloading.

    I like the fact that it's also a live system, so it'll give me a chance to run it through its' paces. Being Ubuntu-based means plenty of apps available - a big plus.

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    1. Happy to help you. I hope you'll like Zorin OS. Maybe later you'll try something else too.

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  4. I'm a distro hopper myself and I always comeback to Zorin. Plain and simple Zorin works.
    Now I keep Zorin as my primary distro and either run my others in VB which is limited or on a new partition. I have 5.2 Ultimate and it is well worth the donation.

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    1. It means that Zorin is not for migrants only, but also for permanent Linux residents!

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  5. I have been using Zorin as a second OS since ver 5 came out and I like it very much. I do have some issues with how it works with my Thinkpad X31, though. It won't wake up from sleep mode and has to be rebooted. I am also struggling to get some Logitech USB speakers to work, as well. But overall I think it is great. jeff s, what does 5.2 Ultimate provide over the Core version?

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    1. Just another proof to my message above: not for migrants only. 8-)

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  6. hmmmm- I am a regular linux user, have tried most of them, (I mean the well known distros) actually using PCLinuxOS and I like it since it gives me freedom to change things the way I like'em.
    Sure I am going to try this flavor of Linux, the 64 bit version of it. let you know know what happens. Good review!

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    1. Sure! Looking forward for your opinion!

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  7. I have tried Ubuntu before,found it easy enough,but now I am downloading Zorin Core and hope it has more features than Ubuntu and hopefully switch to a Linux OS for Good,tired of Windows

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    1. Wish you all the best in this!
      I hope you've read an interview with Artyom Zorin, the developer of Zorin OS.

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  8. Just looked Zorin Core 5.2 over and I'm downloading now. I'm another Ubuntu/Mint/Debian distro hopper. I don't like where Ubuntu and/or Mint are headed with their desktops so have been running Mint 11 LXDE on my machines. LXDE is OK, but a little light in some areas. I do really kinda prefer the Gnome desktop, but I'm sure not a Gnome 3 fan. Hope Zorin runs as well on my PCs as you guys have indicated.

    One question. Is there anyway to get the full array of various desktop looks via the 'Zorin OS Look Changer' without getting one of the 'Premium' versions? I noticed that 5.2 Core only includes Windows 7, Win XP, and Gnome.

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    1. There are screenshots at the last image of the gallery. Aren't they enough?

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    2. I guess I wasn't clear enough. Once I have 5.2 Core installed and use the OS Look Changer I'd like to be able to change to either Windows 2000 or Windows Vista, as well as what is standard in 5.2 Core which is just Gnome, Win XP, and Windows 7.

      Is there anyway to gain those desktops other than via the Premium downloads?

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    3. I think this feature is only available in Premium edition. Artyom Zorin told about this in his interview.

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  9. Love Zorin 5.2 core. Mostly for it's speed (newbie from Win7 but like the gnome desktop). I use my computer mostly as a music box. Added Clemintine, Easy MP3 Gain and Audacity. I have found many Linux music players to be choppy, but Clementine is great and very smooty. My only problem is the screen saver, and from the Zorin forum it needs work. Also the Opera install does not work. That was easy to over come by downloading from Opera. It installs as a mobile browser, but can be changed to a web browser in prefernces. I don't use any social media or remote desktop, so once I cleaned that up I love the OS. If you like social media, it comes with everything you would every need.
    I Would recommend it to anyone, new to Linux or an old hand.

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    1. Thanks for your nice words!

      I hope you have taken part in the contest!

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  10. A few last things. Samba can be added automatically. Open your folder or file and go to share and check share. It will tell you sharing is not installed and download and install it for you automatically. So far the only reason I have found to use the terminal is to set up my root password, which I needed to gain control of my partion as root owned it and I could not access it from my user or admin account. It is what I have against Ubuntu and all it's derivaties. Root is locked. It would be better to require a strong root password at installation to me. Also G debi is a great help for installing downloaded packages.

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  11. After being user since the time of DOS, trying RHL in win95 days and being winman till last year, was searching for some light OS to run on my assembled 2003 Intel celeron 1.7 as winxp made my old machine very very slow, came accross lot of Linux distors, puppy , slitaz ,mint lite, slack and it was really fun and i felt reincarnated with my old machine, apart from these tries some alternate OS also, Haiku, Amiga and was amazed to know about Kolibri and its sheer robustnes and size incedible though cold not do much with it and lastly used Puppu Linux for last 10 months, i just upgaraded to new sys core i3 and regularly using Ubuntu and Zorin OS along with win7 ( win has been a way of life for comp user in India ) and really love using Linux distros, wants to thaks all those people like you who spare some time to share all the good things and make life easy for other by imparting their experioance and insight, just don't understand why people complain so much about switching to new OS its always a fun and broadens you knowledge at last its always your choice to go on with what you like.
    Just appriciate all people out their for their inputs.

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  12. Thanks for the review. Zorin OS is my favorite OS since version 1. I have used Zorin OS all versions (1 to 5.2). They are impressive, even if you don't consider as it looks like windows. I hope this distro will be going on the top from desktop users prospective. I have used Red Hat 7.2 back in 2001 or 2002, Ubuntu, Vector Linux, xPUD, Urdu Ubuntu, Urdu Slax, Puppy Linux, Linux Mint, Linux Gaming Live Distribution, Luit Linux, etc as well as dual boot with Windows, multiple Linux distro installation. I can easily confirm that it is the best Linux distro I have used so far.

    I have small transparency tip for you :) It is very simple & looks elegant indeed.

    Following are the steps on Zorin OS (I have tested on version 4 & 5/5.2, I hope it is correct for other versions) to Make taskbar/panel transparent on Zorin OS/Ubuntu/Linux.

    Step 1
    Right click on the panel at bottom & select 'Properties'
    Click 'Background' tab
    Select 'Solid color'
    Change the style to select transparency as required

    Step 2
    Right click on the Desktop empty area & select 'Change Desktop Background'
    Click 'Theme' tab
    Click 'Customize'
    Select 'Controls' tab
    Click 'Zorin OS Mac'

    Enjoy transparency :)

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  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. I would advice you to use English next time.

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