‘Zorin’ is a GNU/Linux distribution that I always wanted to try but never had the chance to do so. One of the reasons why I was attracted to it was because its desktop resembled a traditional Microsoft Windows desktop (users can easily make it look like Windows 7, XP or Gnome Classic by using its own ‘Look changer’ utility) which is quite deliberately designed to look that way, and that got it somewhat highlighted in the long list of other distributions.
‘Zorin’ achieves this default look through a combination of ‘Avant Window Navigator’ (application dock), its own theme, Compiz window manager and Gnome 3 applications, mainly. It is based on Ubuntu’s core and comes with two versions -- a free and a premium version (which basically ships with more software and few more ‘Zorin’ themes), and they both include proprietary multimedia codecs by default.
They also ship a ‘Lite’ version based on LXDE desktop (not yet included in the latest release) and an educational version which are both released under the ‘free’ version, separately. The system requirements for running ‘Zorin’ is also somewhat low (1 GHz processor, 512MiB RAM …) when compared to some other distributions.
For this review, I downloaded the 64-bit version of the latest release (‘8’, released in January 27, 2014), the disc image is about 1.6GB. And like always, I was most interested in its performance related details because the looks of an OS means next to nothing if it is not efficient. For the comparison I decided use Ubuntu 13.10 because it is the most popular open-source operating system & ‘Linux Mint 15 Cinnamon‘, since both Zorin and LM 15 seem to be targeting the same audience (due to the appearance of their respective desktops).
Before I begin, below is a brief information of my computer’s hardware.
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
The Installer …
Other than the theme and the slightly better fonts used, ‘Zorin’ uses Ubuntu’s installer so I will not add anything more. That said, I chose the ‘Dvorak’ keyboard layout during the installation but it failed to apply it to the installed system because the first time I logged into the desktop it had been replaced by the default one (‘QWERTY’), and I had to add it again for fixing it. The installation time was slightly longer, mostly because of the hardware recognition system took its time (nothing major), other than that, it was all good.
First Boot & the Desktop …
‘Zorin OS 8’ uses GRUB and comes with a bright and a beautiful looking Bluish theme. The boot screen also looks very similar (clean & simple), I liked them both.
Then I was greeted with the desktop which as mentioned in the beginning looks very much like the traditional Windows desktop. The ‘AWN’ serves as the bottom panel and houses a start-menu, application launcher area, window navigator area and a system tray. Thanks to the colors used, different areas look quite distinctive as well.
You can also bring to front or close a running application by simply hovering over its icon in ‘AWN’.
The start-menu (written by the ‘Zorin’ developers), shows applications in categories, recently used files etc and includes a search box. When you put your mouse pointer over the star-menu a tool-tip message is displayed saying ‘Zorin Menu’. It did not go away, even when I was using the search box (unless I clicked on it) and as a result, I could hardly see what I was typing. And while displaying results for a search query there is always a slight delay, where in other distributions such as Linux Mint, displays them almost instantly. I also disliked the start-menu opening animation.
When you switch between windows, the application window that you just switched into ‘shakes’ up and down (effect) which I also found to be a distraction. This can be disabled through ‘Compiz settings manager’, but if you are a Windows user who just switched to GNU/Linux then it is not something that you are going to be aware of.
The width of the scroll-bars is too small, even when compared to the one that Gnome 3 comes with. That perhaps is because I am used to the ones that ‘Unity’ comes with. Nonetheless, I think specially the touchpad users, might struggle with them. These are of course not major issues, but sometimes it is the little things that matter.
I liked the default theme in ‘Zorin’ and they have added a brand new, slightly darker version of the default theme with this release as well (shown below).
Since this version of Zorin is based on ‘Gnome 3’ (3.8+), the desktop also features a simple right-click context menu as shown below. The wallpaper collection is also pretty decent.
Included Applications …
‘Zorin’ 8 comes with LibreOffice 220.127.116.11, GIMP 2.8, Gnome Image Viewer 3.8.2, Document Viewer 3.10.0, Shotwell 0.15.0, Simple Scan 3.10.2, Google Chrome 32.0.1700.77, Thunderbird 24.2.0, Empathy 3.8.4, Ubuntu Software Center 13.10, ‘apt-get’ 0.9.9, Play On Linux 4.2.2 (a tool that lets native Windows programs to be run in GNU/Linux -- well, at least some of them), Brasero 3.8.0, Cheese 3.8.3 (web cam recorder), OpenShot 1.4.3.
‘Zorin 8’, for the first time uses ‘Music’ 2.0.4 -- the default music manager of Elementary OS.
For video playback you have Totem 3.8.2. And as mentioned previously, ‘Zorin’ can play all the proprietary codecs and also includes Adobe Flash player as well.
Zorin Applications …
‘Zorin’ also features few applications of its own. First we have the ‘Look Changer’ which lets you change you desktop style to ‘Windows 7’, ‘XP or ‘Gnome Classic’. Then the ‘Theme Changer’ for changing between the two built-in themes. And finally ‘Web Browser Manager’ that lets users install Firefox, Opera and Midori easily.
Performance Details …
I measured performance related details first (without ‘touching’ the OS. Except I had disabled ‘software-updater’ periodic update checking for maintaining a solid memory usage readings). I also ran each test 5 times for obtaining average readings.
Boot Speed …
Being based on Ubuntu’s core, ‘Zorin OS 8’ also uses ‘ureadhead’ (a tool that can significantly improve the boot-up times). But as you can see, even with it running, it was the slowest to boot (39% slower than LM 15 and 81% slower when compared to Ubuntu 13.10!).
Although it should not be a huge factor, it is worth mentioning that ‘Zorin’ comes with ‘preload‘ (a tool that speeds up application loading times which can affect the boot-up speeds, slightly).
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading …
As shown, ‘Zorin OS 8’ used 43% more RAM when compared to LM 15 & 13% when put up against Ubuntu 13.10.
CPU Usage at Idle …
CPU usage readings were also good in ‘Zorin’ at idle, except for the ‘gnome-system-monitor’ that kept consuming 3-4% (though I will not hold it against ‘Zorin’ as it is a fault in the Gnome-3 system monitor. I have seen it doing that in other distributions), other processes simply leave the CPU alone.
Power Usage at Idle …
I measured the power usage using ‘powerstat’. I had turned-off Bluetooth, disabled automatic screen turning-off & dimming, kept the screen at the maximum brightness, and had Wi-Fi running (connected to my Wi-Fi router). But as you can see, ‘Zorin OS 8’ was the most power hungry of the bunch. In fact, it was the most power consuming distribution that I have used so far. As for the conditions that created it, I do not have an answer.
Note: I used the data from Ubuntu 13.04 here as I do not have power consumption details of Ubuntu 13.10.
System Responsiveness …
I ran my standard test for observing the OS’s responsiveness which involves opening multiple programs while a large file is being copied and then observing the smoothness of the mouse pointer movements. So while a 1.4GB file was being copied (within the ‘Home’ folder) I opened a video file through Totem.
Then I clicked on the start-menu and opened LibreOffice Writer, OpenShot, Terminal by searching for them. I also opened Google Chrome, Ubuntu Software Center and system monitor by navigating the menus. I also right-clicked on the desktop and opened the background changer as well.
So how did it all go ?
The underlying desktop applications being Gnome-3, ‘Zorin OS 8’ did not disappoint me. Although the video playback was interrupted several times (I have had other distributions that played a multimedia file without any interruptions, such as ‘KaOS 2014‘) the OS was able to keep the overall responsiveness at a very satisfying level (excellent mouse pointer movements included!).
Hardware Recognition and ACPI …
Except for the fingerprint reader (not yet supported by Linux), all the other hardware were recognized correctly by ‘Zorin OS 8’, though just like in Ubuntu, the screen brightness gets reset to maximum upon each desktop login. Suspending does not take more than a second or a two either, nice.
Shutdown Delay …
‘Zorin’ rocked the shutdown delay test as it was the fastest to do so!. Although being based on Ubuntu 13.10, sometimes the process takes about 9-12 seconds. Again I will not hold it against ‘Zorin’ as it is clearly the Ubuntu core’s fault (it happens in Ubuntu also).
Final Words …
Nothing is perfect, an OS that one dislikes might be loved by someone else. And I also am aware of how much a tedious task it is maintaining a distribution, so I do not want to disrespect the hard work of ‘Zorin’ developers either. However, it is quite difficult to always see the best in everything, thus from the short experience that I had while using ‘Zorin OS 8’, I will say this much.
If you are looking for a free operating system that is fast, lightweight, responsive, mobile friendly, beautiful and one that resembles a traditional Windows desktop, then ‘Linux Mint Cinnamon’ edition is your best choice.
But that is just the opinion of a single individual, derived from the short experience that he had. So, if you own a desktop computer, hope to run some MS Windows applications (because ‘Zorin’ includes ‘Play On Linux’ by default) and willing to accept some of its drawbacks, then I see no reason why you should not try ‘Zorin’ either.