19 Apr 2012

Artyom Zorin on Zorin OS, the gateway to Linux for Windows users

Most often than not, the brand has an abstract name. General Electric, FIAT, Airbus, Pepsico, RedHat – all these companies have names which have nothing to do with names of their founders. Although, there are still some cases when person’s name becomes a name of the brand. Let me introduce a person who’s name became a brand. At least, in the Linux world. Please meet: Artyom Zorin.

Because both me and Artyom are Russians living abroad, the interview is available in both English and Russian.
Русская версия интервью с Артемом Зориным.

DarkDuck: Hello Artyom. I think your surname is more famous than you are, because a popular Linux distribution bears it. Could you please tell few words about yourself?

Artyom Zorin: My name is Artyom Zorin. I'm a student from Dublin, Ireland. My parents are ethnic Russians who moved from Ukraine to Ireland many years ago, which explains why my name doesn't sound like a normal Irish one. I have been playing around and working on Linux since 2008 and this led me onto developing the Zorin OS operating system with my brother Kyrill.

DD: You are a CEO of the company which also bears your own surname. What are the company's main areas of interest?

AZ: Ever since our company started off back in 2008 we have always been developing our Ubuntu-based operating system Zorin OS and providing easy access to Linux for new users. We, however, are not just a Linux company but rather a technology company with a strong emphasis on Linux.
We are interested in developing products for devices other than the PC and moving towards serving corporate clients in the future.

DD: Which part of the business is more successful?

AZ: Currently Zorin OS is our most successful product with more than 2 million downloads to date, mostly of our free versions. 75% of this growth has happened in just the last 9 months, which is quite staggering in my opinion.

DD: How did you come to the Linux world?

AZ: I first came across Ubuntu back in 2008. Believe it or not, what actually attracted me most to Linux was the Compiz desktop effects software which I thought was “cool” when I first saw it on YouTube. At the beginning, I was a little bit scared of making the leap, but after my brother installed Ubuntu on our computer, we started to see a lot more advantages to using Linux than simply the desktop effects. We also noticed that many people coming from a Windows environment found Ubuntu rather difficult to use as it was lacking a familiar user interface. Advanced Linux users argue that Ubuntu is simple to use and suffices for Linux beginners coming from Windows but we saw that what this user group really needed was a familiar graphical interface. This prompted us to develop a Linux distribution that resolves this issue to make the transition from Windows to Linux as smooth as possible, a distribution now known as Zorin OS.

DD: How many developers are in the Zorin OS team?

AZ: At the moment, we have two permanent developers: myself and my brother. We also have a few freelance developers who help us from time to time. Our project also relies on the support of the wider Linux community.

DD: Do you promote Zorin OS somehow?

AZ: Due to limited financial resources, we currently do not have any paid advertisement schemes for Zorin OS. Therefore we solely rely on word of mouth, mostly online through websites such as Distrowatch, Lifehacker and your own.

DD: Your business model is very similar to Mandriva: there is a free version of Zorin OS, and there are paid ones. As opposite, there are Canonical with fully free OS and paid support, and RedHat with fully commercial software and support. Why did you decide to go Mandriva route?

AZ: We offer our main software free of charge to help as many Windows users as possible to move to Linux. Unfortunately many Linux users do not realise that the development of such free software requires substantial financial resources, which some developers receive through third party support, sponsorships, donations, sale of products and use of own resources (eg. Red Hat and Canonical). As we are students and have no income, we decided to offer our Premium editions and technical support to our users to encourage them to donate to our project. These donations, although quite scarce, help us to keep our project going.

DD: Why have you decided to use Ubuntu as the base system for your own OS?

AZ: Firstly, Ubuntu contains a lot of easy-to-use technologies out-of-the-box and we wanted to take advantage of them to make Zorin OS as user-friendly as possible, as this is our goal.
Another reason for using Ubuntu was it's large and easily accessible software selection. Windows users want the largest software collection possible at their disposal since they are used to that. As Ubuntu is the most popular Linux distribution, most software made for Linux is easily available for it, either through the repositories or by .deb packages. The large user base of Ubuntu also amounts to a much broader landscape of available support, which is a must for a beginner-friendly distro.
Ubuntu was also a natural choice for us as we personally were more familiar with this OS so we could get more development work done in less time.

DD: What are the distinctive features of Zorin OS, from your point of view?

AZ: The killer feature of Zorin OS is definitely it's easy to use and familiar interface and GUI options. By default Zorin OS has a Windows 7-like GUI, as Windows 7 users are our biggest target audience. However we didn't want to leave other OS users out in the cold, so we catered for them by creating our unique Zorin Look Changer program which allows users to switch their desktop interface to look like Windows 7, XP and GNOME 2 as well as Windows Vista, Windows 2000 and Mac OS X in the Premium versions. We also include more of our own programs such as Zorin Browser Manager, Zorin Background Plus and Zorin Splash Screen Manager to make the customization of your system quick and easy.
Another substantial feature of Zorin OS is that it's an out-of-the-box software solution. Even the Core version of Zorin OS includes all of the essential software that users want and need such as the LibreOffice suite, a video editor, the GIMP Image Editor as well as all the media codecs. All of this makes sure that you can get to work or play straight after installing Zorin OS to your system for a smooth user experience.

DD: What are weak and strong sides of Zorin OS?

AZ: Zorin OS is obviously centred around new users to Linux, most of whom are coming from a Windows environment. This puts us in a very good position and makes Zorin OS the “gateway to Linux for Windows users”, targeting 90% of computer users. Zorin OS's strongest sides are its familiar user interface, ease of use and out-of-the-box software solution. Unlike some of the other distros which try to compete with each other, cannibalizing users off one another, our goal is to bring more people into the wonderful world of Linux, ultimately growing the Linux desktop community which is great for everyone.
Unfortunately, no single distro can cater for 100% of the Linux user base and Zorin OS is no exception. However, we will try to make Zorin OS more attractive to more experienced users by adding more features and improvements.

DD: Zorin OS is now somewhere around 20th place in the Distrowatch 6-month rating. Is it a deserved place, or do you think it should rank higher?

AZ: I believe that Zorin OS is having good progress in competition between the 300+ distros listed on Distrowatch. Zorin OS managed to reach this high ranking after only 3 years of existence. As far as we know, most Distrowatch visitors are experienced Linux users who dislike Windows-like interfaces and therefore tend to avoid our Distrowatch page. In our opinion, the Distrowatch ranking doesn't reflect the entire picture as many of our users come from such popular sources as Linux.com (where we are ranked as the number 1 desktop distro), Lifehacker, PCWorld, Yahoo!, Linux Format magazine and many others who published very positive reviews of Zorin OS. Unfortunately many newbies are not aware of Distrowatch, as otherwise our DW ranking would have been higher. We believe that the figure of 2 million downloads to date speaks for itself. We, of course, are always aiming higher and trying to be at the very top of the Linux charts. We hope that Zorin OS 6, which we plan to release soon, will help us improve our DW ranking.

DD: What are the plans of Zorin OS development? What new should we expect in the next release?

AZ: We plan to release Zorin OS 6 after a year of development in May 2012. This will bring many drastic updates and improvements. We will not be taking the Unity or GNOME Shell path, to the relief of our users. Instead, we will be using our own desktop environment called “Zorin Desktop” which will continue to deliver our promise of a familiar interface to new Linux users. We will be using AWN as our panel, which will allow for unparalleled customizability and support for our different looks in the Zorin Look Changer. The Zorin OS 6 desktop shouldn't look a lot different from previous versions, but it will be much more awesome! Zorin OS 6 will be embracing a lot of elements from the GNOME 3 software stack such as GTK+ 3 and the latest and greatest software from around the Linux world. Our next version will be based on Ubuntu 12.04 and will be an LTS release provided with 5 years of security updates. We think that it will be the best release of Zorin OS ever!

DD: Will your new Zorin Desktop be a fork of any defunct DE, or it will be built on top of existing one?

AZ: Zorin Desktop is actually based on the core technologies from the GNOME 3 Fallback mode. Zorin Desktop is totally different from the Unity, GNOME Shell and the Linux Mint Cinnamon environments. This desktop also differs radically from the GNOME 3 Fallback mode because it uses AWN as a panel and Compiz as the window manager (if your computer supports it, otherwise it will use Metacity). We have also added our own customizations and software into the desktop such as our popular Zorin Look Changer, our artwork and other improvements to enhance the overall experience and stand out from the crowd.

DD: What would you say about the Zorin OS community?

AZ: Our community is largely made up of users who have little experience in Linux and developing software. Nevertheless, they are a great bunch of people who offer us a lot of very helpful suggestions and inspiration for the development of new programs and features for future releases of Zorin OS. We also have a growing number of experienced users and knowledgable moderators who greatly help us to maintain our forum. Our community also helps out hugely by spreading the word of our project extensively and it's thanks to them that we have become so popular in such a short space of time. We cannot thank them enough!

DD: If I correctly understand, Zorin Group is based in Ireland. Does it mean that Zorin OS has more users in that country than in any other?

AZ: The reality is actually quite the opposite. As we look into our download statistics for the last 30 days, of the top 100 countries, Ireland is ranked number 75, so there isn't a huge user base here in the Emerald Isle. In fact, there are a lot more Zorin OS users in Puerto Rico and Yemen than in Ireland! At the moment, the top 5 countries in our download statistics are India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the USA and Egypt.

DD: It can be a silly question, but what are your own favourite OS, Desktop Environment, applications?

AZ: Personally, I haven't come across any OS that I find more pleasurable to use than Zorin OS, no surprises here.
GNOME 2 used to be my favourite desktop environment, however that changed after developing and testing Zorin Desktop. It has been my choice for more than half a year, even without a fully stable release. I can't wait 'till we finally release it to the public next month!
My favourite application has to be Google Chrome. When I'm not developing Zorin OS, that's the application I use most of all on the computer. It's really fast, sleek and it just works. No wonder it's the fastest growing web browser. Apart from Chrome, I am very fond of the applications created by the Elementary team such as Postler and BeatBox, even though most of them aren't fully released as stable versions. They focus on being simple, easy to use and quick, which is exactly what we should expect from technology. We will definitely be integrating many of these apps into Zorin OS when they will become stable.

DD: Do you read the blog Linux notes from DarkDuck? What would you improve or change there?

AZ: I do occasionally read your blog when I have some free time. Your website covers many topics that you don't see on other websites and I find them very interesting. I think you are doing a wonderful job spreading the word of Linux on your site.

DD: When not at computer, what are your interests?

AZ: I really enjoy listening to music, especially to EDM (Electronic Dance Music) such as house, drum & bass and trance music. My favourite musician has to be Eric Prydz.
Apart from music, I like to play tennis whenever I have the time to. I'm also quite into photography.

DD: Do you travel a lot? What are your favourite countries? Which places would you like to visit?

AZ: I don't travel that often. Of all the places I've been to, Tenerife in the Canary Islands has to be the boss of them all. The sunny climate is second to none and it's the perfect place to go swimming. Nevertheless, I love to visit new places and see new things. Since I've never been outside Europe, there's a ton of places I'd love to visit.

DD: Do you have any non-Linux projects, which you’d like to share with the readers of this interview?

At the moment we don't have any non-Linux projects. We have decided to start a venture in the hardware space called the Zorin PC. This is a rotatable touch screen laptop that runs Zorin OS and, optionally, Windows as dual boot. We have taken an unusual but thoughtful approach to the software side of the PC as we have made 3 different editions of it: the Home Edition, the Educational Edition and the Business Edition, each shipping with different software intended for the user's paticular needs. This venture is currently on hiatus as we are looking for partners and distributors so that it will be as successful as it can possibly be. This also gives us more time to tweak it even further to make the experience even more incredible.
Looking into the future of Zorin Group, we plan to branch out into the broader technology landscape with products aimed at other devices apart from the PC.

DD: Thanks for the interview! I wish all the best to your business and to Zorin OS!

AZ: Thank you very much for having me, it's been a pleasure talking to you. I wish you great success with your work.


  1. He sounds like a businessman rather ther a Linux developer.

    1. He left an impression on me that he's very clever man who can do both.

    2. Let's be realistic - you have to generate income to pay developers to keep the OS going - and one thing is for sure the prices will be on a par with other manufacturers with a reasonable and fast specification. The last Linux PC came from Linspire and look what happened there - at least the founders believe in their project - not like Michael Robertson (who only wanted money) and Kevin Carmoney who only wanted to make deals with M$ and go on to promote his 'dating' agency! swarfendor437 (Had to choose anonymous unfortunately - I am no fan of Google! (their new privacy clause is deemed illegal in respect of EU Data Protection!)

    3. If any Linux OS is ever going to become mainstream and attract software developers to port programs to run native on Linux, the distro world needs a whole boat load of people like Zorin.
      And they will definitely need to be both businessmen and developers. Think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. There you had a combination of technical brilliance, foresight, and a strong business drive to put their product in every home and business around the world. Without that, those guys would still be piddling around in their garage coding for........nobody.

    4. Unfortunately, you're too right.