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.