2012-01-04

Comparison Test: Pear OS 3.0 "Panther" vs. Zorin OS 5.2 Core

Pear OS: Main Screen
There's been a new distribution making small waves lately called Pear OS. It aims to replicate the experience of Apple's Mac OS X, and upon first appearances, it seems to do so pretty well. I'm comparing it to Zorin OS, which similarly tries to replicate the experience of Microsoft Windows, to see which one does its job better.

Pear OS takes no shame in aping absolutely every part of Apple's Mac OS X. Its slogan is "Think Totally Different", which is an obvious rip off of Apple's slogan, "Think Different". Its logo is a pear into which someone has taken a small bite. It shows box art that clearly apes that of Apple's Mac OS X. Even the version name is "Panther", which is actually a past release of Apple's Mac OS X ( The list goes on, but it's clear what the developers are aiming at.
By contrast, Zorin OS is quite a bit more subtle about its goals. It explicitly states that it aims to bring Linux to Microsoft Windows users, but its website is a bit more generic in that it simply states the advantages and features of Zorin OS without directly referencing Microsoft Windows too many times.

Zorin OS: Main Screen + GnoMenu
(Microsoft Windows 7 look)
I tested both using a multiboot live USB made with MultiSystem. Please bear in mind that as both distributions are based on Ubuntu, and as I have found time and again that my laptop's hardware works just fine on Ubuntu and so do applications like Skype and Google Talk, this comparison is going to seem pretty shallow. I'm basically just going to discuss appearances, deeper aspects of the interface, and included applications, without doing my usual other testing. Follow the jump to see what each is like.

Pear OS 3.0 "Panther"

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a boot splash containing the Pear OS logo and a spinner on a gray background. This is not too surprising. After that came the desktop.

The desktop is supposed to be built on GNOME 3, but it looks surprisingly like GNOME 2. There is a panel on top and a dock on the bottom. The panel contains, from left to right, a system menu (given by the Pear OS logo), a global menu, and a system tray. The fact that the Pear OS logo brings up a system menu rather than an application launching menu (as in, say, Pinguy OS) makes it much closer to the operation of Apple's Mac OS X, which is good in that sense.
Pear OS: Opera
The dock contains shortcuts to "Finder" (Nautilus), "Launchpad" (Slingshot), "Pear OS Appstore" (the Linux Mint Software Manager), Back In Time, Opera, "Pear OS Mail" (Sylpheed), Clementine, Shotwell, "Pear OS Control Center" (GNOME 3 System Settings), Contacts, and Trash. All are represented by icons very similar to their counterparts in Apple's Mac OS X, though I'll discuss that a little more later. Also, the dock appears to be locked, as I can't customize it at all. This appears to be even more restrictive than what is present in Apple's Mac OS X.
There is one thing to note: Slingshot actually came before Launchpad thanks to the good work of the Elementary OS developers, so it's not fair to say that Slingshot is a copy of Launchpad.
The Metacity/Mutter window titlebar theme appears to be the Elementary theme. I'm not sure what the GTK+ theme is, but it fits in very well. The icon theme is Faenza-Mac. Overall, the desktop looks very well put together, and it makes a pretty convincing Mac OS X lookalike.

Pear OS: PDF Files in Evince & "Pear OS PDF Viewer"
The default browser is Opera, which is an unusual choice for a Linux distribution, but I guess it makes sense in sticking with cross-platform applications. Plus, it's important to remember that Opera was the first browser with features like tabbed browsing, tabs on top, and a menubar condensed into a button. Codecs seem to be included as well, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine. My laptop's keyboard shortcuts worked well too. Incidentally, changing the volume using the keyboard made the same sound as doing so would in Apple's Mac OS X, further enhancing the similarity.

Pear OS 3.0 "Panther" uses GNOME 3, so a lot of the applications have become unbranded, which is good. For example, the GNOME 3 System Settings application is just called "System Settings", while GNOME 3 Contacts is just called "Contacts". This is good in terms of not giving away the distribution's roots.

There actually isn't much more in the way of similarities left for me to talk about, so I'll move onto complaints and suggestions for the next release. Most of these have to do with minor bugs and differences from Apple's Mac OS X, because if the developers chose to take the similarities this far, what's the point of not going all the way in creating a Linux-based clone of that OS?
The first few things have to do with the dock. For one, it doesn't appear to have quite the right theme. I think there are other themes that would look a little more convincing. For another, it seems to be missing things like the "Stacks" applet. I'm going to guess this particular dock is Docky, so I think Cairo Dock would have been a better choice.
There are a few applications that look a little unpolished/out of place. Clementine looks a little poorly-integrated, and the "Pear OS Mail" actually turns out to be Sylpheed Mail, as given by the window title. I think both could use a little better integration into the rest of the desktop.
The "Pear OS Appstore" is just the Linux Mint Software Manager. This in itself is not an issue, but it does show that the distribution comes from France, because large portions of the application are shown in French. I would prefer that such issues be ironed out as soon as possible.
Pear OS: "Appstore"
There appear to be 2 PDF viewers. One is Evince, which is the default for GNOME, but the other is the "Pear OS PDF Viewer", which I haven't seen before. Given that there appears to be a unique PDF viewer available, why does Opera choose to open PDF files with Evince by default? It seems a little strange.
When Slingshot is open, the global menu is still available for some odd reason. However, clicking it causes a few (easily resolvable) hiccups with the desktop. Hopefully that buggy behavior will be fixed soon. Speaking of the global menu, it appears to be incompatible with Opera. Maybe it's time to switch to another browser...?
Pear OS includes Sushi, the new built-in GNOME 3.2 file previewer. Although all other windows have their controls on the left, Sushi has the close button on the right. What's with that?
Finally, why not go all the way with the appearance? I like the icon theme, but the GTK+ and Metacity/Mutter themes don't scream "Mac" like the rest of the desktop. I know there are one or two Aqua-like themes available for GNOME 3, so why not enable those? That's something I'd like to see in the next release.

So there were a number of complaints I had after all, but in all fairness, Pear OS is a relatively young project. I have no doubt that there will only be improvements in the next release, and it's worth congratulating the developers over a job well done.

Zorin OS 5.2 Core

After the boot menu, I was greeted by...a black screen. It looks like these blank boot splashes are trendy these days. Anyway, shortly after that, I was greeted by the desktop.

Zorin OS: Google Chrome + DockBarX
(Microsoft Windows 7 look)
The desktop is made to look very much like Microsoft Windows 7. There is one panel at the bottom, containing, from left to right, GnoMenu (accessible by the Zorin OS logo), shortcuts combined with a Microsoft Windows 7-esque DockBarX icon-only taskbar, and a system tray. GnoMenu here is customized to look and act almost identically to the "Start" menu in Microsoft Windows 7. The GTK+ and Metacity themes appear to be unique to Zorin OS, but in any case, they look sort of (but not really) like the themes in Microsoft Windows. The icon theme is Simple, which is a mixture of Oxygen and other icons, so the icon theme looks more like KDE than Microsoft Windows. But then, unlike Pear OS which is obviously trying to ape every aspect of Apple's Mac OS X, Zorin OS only aims to provide a "familiar user interface". Overall, the desktop feels very well-integrated.

Google Chrome (rather than Chromium) is the default browser, and multimedia codecs seem to be included here as well. In addition, the volume keyboard shortcuts worked fine. One nice thing is that Zorin OS includes a browser chooser, which allows the installation of other web browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Midori, along with the possibility of uninstalling Google Chrome. It's nice because then users may never need to touch the package manager (which is a rebranded Ubuntu Software Center as it existed about a year ago).

Zorin OS: LibreOffice Writer + Nautilus + Desktop
Cube (Microsoft Windows 7 look)
Zorin OS includes many more applications by default, like LibreOffice, GIMP, and others, compared to Pear OS which was fairly sparse in terms of applications. This is ironically opposite to how Apple's Mac OS X is supposed to work out-of-the-box compared to Microsoft Windows.

As Zorin OS is based on Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" (as far as I can tell) rather than Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot", it uses GNOME 2, so it can use Compiz as its WM. Desktop effects, like the desktop cube, worked very well, and a large number of effects seem to be enabled from the get-go. In fact, closing a window or the GnoMenu causes it to explode into a bunch of pieces, which is a cool effect.

Zorin OS: Eye of GNOME + GnoMenu
(Microsoft Windows XP look)
Zorin OS also includes a "look changer", which allows for the changing of the desktop interface from that of Microsoft Windows 7 to that of either Microsoft Windows XP or a standard GNOME 2 interface. The Microsoft Windows XP look changes the GnoMenu setup from mimicking Microsoft Windows 7 to mimicking Microsoft Windows XP, and replaces the DockBarX shortcuts and window switcher by the GNOME standard panel shortcuts and window switcher. Changing to the GNOME 2 look does exactly what is expected. Both of these worked really well, though I have to admit that I grew tired of the Microsoft Windows XP look because that OS is exactly what I wanted to avoid when I first started using Linux. And that's where my time with these distributions ended.

So after having looked at both distributions, I've come to realize that perhaps this comparison wasn't entirely fair. Pear OS is a younger project, uses GNOME 3 (which is known to be harder to customize), and aims to almost completely ape Apple's Mac OS X from top to bottom, so despite its best efforts, it invariably falls short. Plus, its youth means that some bugs, like the French-language Linux Mint Software Manager, are added to the mix. By contrast, Zorin OS is a much more mature project, uses GNOME 2, and aims only to provide a similar interface to that of Microsoft Windows. Hence, Zorin OS will of course meet its goals much more easily than Pear OS will meet its goals, because Pear OS has to meet much higher expectations (in my mind at least). That's why I think this may not be an entirely fair comparison. With all that said though, I think Zorin OS feels like a much more polished, less buggy, and well put together product than Pear OS, and I think newbies would rather take a souped-up Microsoft Windows 7 lookalike than a stripped-down and slightly buggy Mac OS X lookalike. So Zorin OS wins this one, but I'll keep an eye on Pear OS for sure.
You can get Pear OS here, and you can get Zorin OS here.

9 comments:

  1. Nice article. I tried both distros before (even had Zorin on my mail laptop a year ago) and came to the same conclusion. Zorin is more polished and professional, but PearOS is a nice try anyway.. =:^)

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  2. @Anonymous 1: Read the last paragraph.

    @Anonymous 2: It might interest you that Pear OS now has a Debian-based edition as well, and it uses GNOME 2.30 rather than GNOME 3. That should make things more interesting.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  3. @Antonio Jones: I'd like you then to read my review of it from a few months ago.

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  4. Zorin OS is a nice distribution. Version 5.2 is even better than version 4 which I've tried earlier.
    My review of Zorin OS 5.2.

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  5. @DarkDuck: I saw your review, and it was nice to see that you came to relatively similar conclusions compared to this. Thanks for the comment!

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  6. I have to agree with this too. I wasn't overly impressed with Pear but it could shape up nicely in the future. Right now though I'm enjoying Zorin 5.2 on my laptop alongside Pinguy OS which is also very good.

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    Replies
    1. @Anonymous: I too will have to take a look at the more recent/upcoming versions of Pear OS, Zorin OS, and Pinguy OS. Thanks for the comment!

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