Is Zorin OS Really Easier than Ubuntu?

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 14, 2010

Zorin OS is an Ubuntu-based distribution, which its developers say is, "designed specifically for Linux beginners who want to have easy and smooth access to open source software." Well, isn't that similar to what Ubuntu says? Why would anyone need anything easier than Ubuntu? Is it even possible to have anything easier than Ubuntu? Well, Zorin folks think so, but let's see.

Since we're looking at Zorin OS 4.0 RC, we'll forego any mention of bugs. The GRUB screen looks like a hold-over from 3.0, but it might change before final. The boot-up splash is very attractive and takes one straight to the desktop. The 1024x768 resolution was a bit cautious for an NVIDIA 6000 series graphic chip, but the background image is fairly attractive. It's very similar to the one used in 3.0, perhaps a little less pretty. A lot of the panel applets are gone from 3.0 with only the Message Indicator, clock, Session Indicators, and Network Manager remaining. Was this done to appear less confusing for new users? On the launcher side of panel there are Chromium, Nautilus, and Rhythmbox buttons. Again, for simplicity I presume.

The menu is a clone of XP's and perhaps later. You have the basic categories listed at the left that when clicked brings up the choices of applications. On the right of the menu are some places and shortcuts to things like the Control Center and Package Manager. Some of the application listings are Windows-like in that they are listed by functionality rather than software name, but then others were listed by their software names, and even other were listed with both. Sometimes both a functionality was listed and then the same application listed under it by name. I think consistency and consistency using functionality would probably be easier for new folks. So, I like the look of the menu, but it needs some polishing. For users coming from Windows, this type of menu would probably be comforting. For Linux users, well, opinions would probably be split.

The system tools that Linux users are accustomed to might give pause to new users such as the Control Center and package manager. The Synaptic interface has become a bit busy and might intimidate new Windows converts. The Control Center is another tool that just might overwhelm the new user by all the category icons, many of which lead to pages and pages of configuration choices. This isn't Zorin's fault and they couldn't very well leave it out, but still, it could be overwhelming. Perhaps Zorin can make a simplified version to put out front with just the most commonly used functions and hide the more advanced one under a "more advanced button."

Multimedia functionality works out of the box which is always good for a new-user distro. There are some extra drivers for wireless and such. Ubuntu Tweak is included which has some nice options and feels less intimidating than the GNOME Control Center (although less options as well). But it has the things new users might look for like theme elements, backup options, and a software installer.

There is quite a variety of applications already included, which is good for new users. They can get a feel for Linux before trying to install new software. Wine is included, but even experienced Linux users can have a hard time with Wine. It would probably be better for new users to just leave that out. PlayonLinux is also included and it could provide some of that functionality.

The installer spawned an error message saying the one gigabyte of RAM in my test machine wasn't enough to install Zorin. People coming from XP might only have one gigabyte of RAM, but I guess those running from Vista or 7 will have plenty. I'll take the error message at face value and perhaps test the final when I put my other spare machine back together.

But I think we've looked around enough to decide that Zorin OS is still Linux despite its efforts to hide that fact. Even the Windows-style menu is Linux-like with all the weird application names. The Control Center might make a new user change their mind about changing anything. Wine doesn't help. The fact that multimedia works out of the box does make it easier than Ubuntu, but lots of other newbie distros do that too.

Overall, I'm just not really impressed very much. Zorin OS looks and feels like a cobbled together piecemeal system. Many many distributions borrow from other distros, but most are a bit more polished. Really, the menu look is the only visual aspect I can see that might ease the migration, until the user starts clicking around in it. The multimedia support is a plus, but Zorin OS developers still need to do lots more work to truly reach their goal.

In summary, Linux is Linux is Linux. Sticking an XP-like menu in there doesn't change that. I'm not sure we should try.