2013-06-18

Review: Zorin OS 7 Core

It has been almost exactly a year since I reviewed Zorin OS 6 Core, which was based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin". The new version is based on Ubuntu 13.04 "Raring Ringtail", so I'm reviewing that now.

Main Screen + Zorin OS Menu
What is Zorin OS? It is based on Ubuntu, uses a heavily customized GNOME 3 environment with Compiz as the WM and AWN as a panel. It also aims to look as close to Microsoft Windows as possible; at the moment, the target is specifically Microsoft Windows 8. There haven't been a huge number of changes from version 6 to version 7 of Zorin OS, aside from some theme and branding updates along with the usual package updates.

I tried this as a live USB made with UnetBootin; the Zorin OS website warns that the live system may be less stable than the installed system, so I'll see how that plays out. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a boot splash consisting of the Zorin OS logo fading in and then pulsating against a white background. Shortly after that came the desktop.

Google Chrome + LibreOffice Writer
The desktop is mostly the same as before with some visual updates. There are still the usual desktop icons, though without the "Computer" shortcut. AWN still functions as a bottom panel featuring, from left to right, the Zorin OS menu resembling that of Microsoft Windows 7, a taskbar resembling that of Microsoft Windows 7/8, and a notification area/system tray. The icon theme has been customized significantly, so while the folder icons are from Oxygen, the other icons are flat grayscale icons, and the result seems to be unique to Zorin OS. The GTK+ and window titlebar themes are very, very flat, emulating the new look of Microsoft Windows 8 with the "Metro" design paradigm. I am of the opinion that the blue colors are too garish and could be toned down a bit; on a similar note, many design elements like text boxes blend in completely with the background gray in the GTK+ theme, making them harder to distinguish. Part of the blame goes to Microsoft for making such a sterile theme for its own Windows 8, and part of it goes to Zorin OS for emulating the look of Microsoft Windows to that extent. Otherwise, though, the desktop looks very polished and works quite well.

Most of what I would say in this review actually turns out to be much the same as what was the case in my review of version 6. If you want to read the similarities, read that review. After this I will mainly be highlighting the differences along with other general comments.

There are several style choices for the Zorin OS Menu. One of them is the Slab Menu, which replicates the menu from old versions of openSUSE using GNOME 2; in fact, this was the precursor to the Linux Mint Menu. Consequently, although the Linux Mint Menu can't really be used in AWN, the Slab Menu is the closest equivalent (even better than the KDE Lancelot menu) and I'm fairly happy with it, so if I were to install Zorin OS 7 Core on my computer, I wouldn't gripe too much about the absence of the Linux Mint Menu. The only other thing to report is that any time the menu style is changed and the applet is chosen to restart, it crashes, but this is not a problem because clicking on it in AWN allows it to function normally again.
GNOME Files + GNOME Sushi
Compiz is included, and many of the bugs that were in the previous version have since been resolved. This means that I can use effects like the desktop cube with no issues at all right out of the box. Furthermore, I can pick which effects I want and those choices persist, which was not the case for my experiences with Linux Mint 15 "Olivia" MATE, despite the fact that the versions of Compiz are the same in each case. Clearly, the Zorin OS developers have taken the time and care to ensure that Compiz works well with Zorin OS, and I really appreciate that.
Zorin OS 7 Core used 280 MB of RAM at idle even with Compiz and all of its effects at work. This is a vast improvement over the previous version, so clearly the developers have been doing more to optimize the resource usage of this distribution/DE. Furthermore, I never experienced any instability (aside from the extremely minor Zorin OS Menu issue which was really more of a non-issue) or sluggishness, so I guess the warning on the Zorin OS website turned out to be too cautious for my experiences.

GNOME Files is the default file manager at version 3.6, meaning it no longer has features like split-pane viewing (which have become especially important to me with regard to my UROP). That said, I was still able to successfully install and use GNOME Sushi.
Skype is not available in the repositories. It can however be installed from the website, and doing so through the [unbranded] Software Center works fine. The only issue is that right-clicking on its system tray icon causes its menu to drop below AWN, rendering it invisible if AWN is at the bottom of the screen; if AWN is at the top, this is not an issue, but I wouldn't move AWN to the top every time I wanted to use Skype, so that's a little annoying.
As Google Chrome is the default browser, I could install the full new Google Hangouts plugin and confirm that it works by carrying out a full conversation. That said, if I were to install Zorin OS on my computer, I would probably use Mozilla Firefox instead, and given that the Google Talk plugin has installed fine there on other distributions based on Ubuntu 13.04 "Raring Ringtail", I figure the situation would probably be the same here as well, so I guess I don't have to worry about much in that regard.
GNOME Tweak Tool + Desktop Cube
Mupen64Plus had the same issues as in Linux Mint 15 "Olivia". I guess I was still a little too harsh in judging Linux Mint for that issue, because it seems to affect all derivatives of the current version of Ubuntu equally. I think that's because the packages in Ubuntu are so new that using Mupen64Plus 1.5 simply doesn't work anymore because it is so old. Hopefully Mupen64Plus is still an active project, and I hope that the developers have plans to release a new official GUI for the newest version sometime in the next 2 years or so. That said, there is a solution. I was able to use a PPA to get wxMupen64Plus (a Mupen64Plus GUI written using the wxWidgets toolkit) along with the latest release candidate of Mupen64Plus 2.0. It has a really intuitive GUI for persistently configuring settings like keyboard button mappings, and furthermore, it allows for maximizing the emulation window, so now the game being emulated is not necessarily restricted to being in a window taking up only a small portion of the screen. If Mupen64Plus 1.5 indeed does not work anymore for current and future versions of Ubuntu and its derivatives and if I do indeed stick with a derivative of Ubuntu, this is probably how I will try installing Mupen64Plus from now on.

That's where my time with Zorin OS 7 Core ended. Most of it has significantly improved, except for the minor niggle with Skype. The issue with (and solution for) Mupen64Plus appears to affect all derivatives of Ubuntu equally, so I would like to take this moment to absolve Linux Mint of any blame I placed on it for that (but at the same time, I would also request that the Linux Mint developers look into the Compiz issue, as the Zorin OS developers seem to have that fixed up). My only remaining issue is not so much with Zorin OS as with Ubuntu, because Ubuntu 13.04 "Raring Ringtail" and its derivatives will only be supported until 2014 January, which is only 7 months from now. It's unfortunate that a distribution targeting newbies would have to be hampered by the fact that said newbies would have to upgrade their installations more frequently than once per year. Otherwise, now that I am mindful of where the issues lie with Mupen64Plus, I can give this essentially my highest recommendation. If I had to upgrade to this for whatever reason, and if it had a longer support period, I would not mind doing so by any means.
You can get it here.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks for the good review. I agree with you - it is sad the Ubuntu 13.04 derivatives are only supported till Oct'13. Like what Fuduntu did with Fedora, some Ubuntu derivative should target of creating a rolling release distro. Anyway, Ubuntu developers were also debating over a rolling release distro last year. I am not sure what is the present status now.

    Regards,
    Arindam

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  2. Zorin does look interesting and I also have a problem with the new release schedule that Ubuntu has now, even tho I know and understand why they are doing it. I don't think that a rolling release would work well and that is just because of some bad experiences I've had with several rolling release distros in the past. The distribution upgrade path for Ubuntu has worked well for me the last several releases but I'm not sure how well a derivative would do. The last time I checked the AWN project had mostly been abandoned. I feel that this could lead to problems with Zorin. Maybe they should take it over. Everything seems to be moving so much faster with distributions now than 10 years ago. It makes me miss the CP/M days. Anyway thanks for a nice review.

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  3. @arindam sen: There are two (related) issues related to following in the footsteps of Fuduntu. The first is that it takes a lot of time and effort to fork each package, host independent repositories, and thereby become truly independent to become rolling-release. The second is that Fuduntu ultimately couldn't keep up with the original parent (Fedora) in maintaining even basic compatibility, and I fear that a similar fate would befall a distribution originally derived from Ubuntu that becomes an independent rolling-release distribution while maintaining some level of compatibility.

    @Eddie: I feel like to compensate for robbing users of 9 months of support, they should more clearly recommend the LTS releases for normal users and push the short-term releases only for people like you and me. Also, given how many customizations of AWN are present only because of Zorin OS, I do believe Zorin OS has essentially taken over (unofficially in many ways at least) development of AWN.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. I hope you'll have the time and are willing to review the new edition of Zorin OS: Lite as well soon! I can hardly wait :)

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  5. Oh, and here's the link: Zorin OS 7 Lite. I missed it at first... it's a "tab" aligned to the right of the download link section, but the link I've provided you with should take you straight to that tab content.

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    1. @bitoolean: I may try it at some point given that it is a much different DE from what is normally used in Zorin OS, but I'll see if I have the time/inclination. Thanks for the tip!

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  6. @PV: I'm just writing to report my experience with Zorin OS 7 Lite. It was way faster to install (less than 5 minutes, on my Sempron 140) although I did use a pen drive as a source this time, I think it would still be faster than Lubuntu for example (which is a very similar distro) anyway. After all, the optical drive doesn't spin at a very significantly different speed than the USB drive (9 MB/s highest) in my case.

    My findings aren't very clear. It's even (at least a little) more barebones than Lubuntu, but it works - I'm not missing anything having been using it for casual operation for a few days. One thing I could find in Lubuntu and I can't find now is the custom preferences for file-type associations for example, but that may not be the OS's fault... On the other hand, there's an option to install Windows wireless drivers, which I didn't notice in Lubuntu (I'm not sure if that's a plus or a minus).

    It may also need some minor finishing touches (the browser manager allows installing only four browsers, and while installing Firefox, it reported an error when finalizing, although the installation seems to have went just fine).

    Thanks for the XFCE suggestion(s) again (the comment on the #! article). They'll be my next stop, when the time comes.

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  7. I've tried Zorin OS Core 7 after Ubuntu froze on my netbook and apparently this is due to Intel graphics hardware having loads of problems with the Mir display server (you can check linux.softpedia.com) so i had to choose another distro and after reading your review i went for Zorin, mainly because i need something that i know well and can also recommend and install for Windows XP users that want to go Linux (and they're growing!) and i must say that not only Zorin works very well but as you said Compiz is wonderfully covered and editable and i also got dConfigure to customize the interface a bit more. My only complaint is the "bloat" software pre-installed (an example: if you want Gimp you download it then... average Windows users don't like Gimp that much) although is nice to have Wine, but after 2 hours uninstalling/installing it now runs like i wanted. Ubuntu is less and less customizable, it's their way or the highway... Many thanks for your review and you got another follower (on G+ also). I also love your Physics articles but that's for another time but you can know that i'm using those as a home/hobbist study guide (yeah i LOVE Physics!). Amazing blog! A real gem.

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    1. @Kaf Shiel: It's great that Zorin OS has worked for you, and I'm very glad that you've been able to enjoy my physics articles as well. Thanks for the support!

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  8. Just installed Zorin 6 then 7 on an unexpectedly not needed new CAD station at work. i7 + 32gig + 256gig SSD seems to handle the distribution pretty well. :)

    I would appreciate the install page having a terminal window option to let me know that the install hasn't bogged down from some hardware problem. On slower machines, watching the bar grow is pretty frustrating.

    At minimum, I'd appreciate the bar running the width of the screen, with tick marks. Also a spinning block so I know there hasn't been a lockup.

    I'd think an option at the beginning to choose elegant vs verbose setup would make everybody happy.

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  9. As long as I'm wishing...
    I'd really like a turnkey file server with a beautiful GUI.

    MS kicked Novell to the curb with an inferior product and a good GUI. Canonical doesn't seem to have noticed, since last I looked Ubuntu server editions didn't even have a gui option.

    I would think that the tiny resource expense of the gui would not even matter, once you logged out. Yet, somehow, nobody seems to realize that there are always 'old' video cards floating around every geek's shop that would just as happily sit in the server as on the shelf.

    Why not make a basic office server with a beautiful interface? Especially if you already have one for your desktop?

    All I want is a beautiful, easy to manage, easy to talk an idiot/grandmother through by telephone file server with password protected directories for different users/departments. One that doesn't make windows 3.11 look like a science fiction beauty queen.

    Imagine that beautiful compiz cube with an access list face, disk status face and a system monitor face, rotating in splendor.

    For payment, plainly write on the website:

    "We ask a $20 donation for the work of putting this together, the licensing is all open, and you don't have to keep Zorin receipts till hell freezes over in fear of a BSA audit. Thank you."

    My wildest dream would be the above, coupled with a simple gui managing zfs.

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    1. @Expendable Faceless Minion: Thanks for the comment!

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