Hands-On: Zorin OS 8 Linux

Hands-On: Zorin OS 8 Linux

Summary: This is the distribution that is touted as the "easiest" transition from Windows to Linux, so how does it stack up?


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  • Zorin Desktop

    I've had several comments recently asking or recommending that I look at Zorin OS. Whenever this distribution is mentioned, it is invariably said to be the easiest/best migration path for Windows users to change to Linux. 

    To be honest, I haven't given it much serious consideration because I thought of it as YAUD (Yet Another Ubuntu Derivative), and there are plenty of those around. A lot of them are good, solid Linux distributions, and they work very well for their users, but there is generally not enough that is different about any of them to really catch my interest. 

    But Zorin 8 was released a few weeks ago, and I've gotten even more suggestions about checking it out, so I decided to give the new release a try.

    There are several choices which have to be made when getting Zorin OS.  You see the first when you click 'Get It' on their web page — there is a free and a 'premium' version. If you choose the premium version you get Zorin OS 8 Ultimate, which includes preloaded applications and utilities for multimedia, gaming, business and such. 

    Of course, as this is Linux you could start with the free version and add the extras yourself, but there are a number of good reasons to get a pre-packaged and tested version, and besides giving financial support to any Linux distribution is a good thing. The "minimum donation" for the premium version is €9.99 if you want to download it, or €14.99 (plus €3 shipping) for physical media.  

    The Get It premium page also contains a very good piece of advice — before purchasing the premium version, at least download and boot the free Live version, to make sure that it works on your computer and supports all of the hardware.

    If you choose the free version, you will then be offered a choice between the latest release (currently Zorin OS 8.1), which is based on Ubuntu 13.10, or the current Long Term Support (LTS) release (Zorin OS 6.4), which is based on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS.  Furthermore, both the current and LTS releases have three versions: Core, Educational and Gaming. That's quite a variety of versions to choose from — and there might even be a "Lite" version coming with LXDE! 

    Anyway, I've looked around for a clear list of the differences between the Core, Educational and Gaming versions, but I haven't found anything so I chose to download the Core version.

    The Core ISO file is about 1.75GB, so it obviously won't fit on a CD. I guess we should have given up expecting that quite some time ago now, and just note the few exceptional cases where there is a download that would fit on a CD. Anyway, the download page notes that you can either burn this image to a DVD, or create a bootable Live USB stick using our old friend unetbootin. I took the latter route, and it booted to a nice looking Linux desktop with an "Install Zorin 8" icon on it.

    Unfortunately there is no UEFI support in these Live images, so if you have a computer with UEFI firmware, you would have to either use Legacy Boot, if it is available, or install some other boot manager such as rEFInd. I am nowhere near that determined to get Zorin running, so I just dragged out my old Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 and booted it on that.

    Zorin uses the Ubuntu installer (ubiquity), rebranded with Zorin graphics and messages. I won't spend a lot of time going through that in detail, it has been described many times and in many places. I will, however, pass along the biggest and most important piece of advice that I have about installing Zorin at this point (here comes the rant).

    When you get to "Who are You", where you create your user account, you should select the "Log in Automatically" box. This is something that I never do, and I never recommend, but I am making an exception here. Why? Because if you don't, then when you reboot after installing you will get a login screen, with "Guest Session" as the default account.

    You can then login with any password you like, or no password at all, and you will be in a special temporary restricted account. You can run user programs — browsers, office and such - but you can't do anything administrative to the system. You can't enter a wi-fi password to connect to a wireless network, for example.

    You can't sudo to get around these restrictions, and you can't even su to whatever user account you created during the installation. What you can do, I can tell you from experience, is get more and more frustrated and angry as you try to understand what is going on, until you are ready to throw the computer down on the floor and stomp on it, or play it a little safer and just fire the Zorin OS USB stick out the window into the cow pasture.

    If you find yourself in this situation, the correct thing to do is logout, and then on the login screen click where it says "Guest Session", and the user name you created during installation will "magically" appear above the login prompt.  You're still not home and dry, though, because you then have to click on your name, and that will change the login prompt to your account, and you can login.

    Okay, who thought this was a good idea, and why? This is supposed to be an "easy transition from Windows" kind of a system. Does Windows contain this bizarre behaviour, and I'm just not aware of it? I've certainly never seen it before.  

    Does it seem natural, obvious or intuitive to anyone? If it didn't come from Windows, then where did it come from? Zorin is derived from Ubuntu, did it come from there? I install every new release of Ubuntu, and login at least once, and I follow exactly the procedure that I used here, and I've never seen Ubuntu do this either.

    This is without a doubt one of the most obnoxious things I have ever seen a Linux distribution do, and I just can't make any sense of it.  If someone would like to enlighten me about it in the comments, I would really appreciate it.

    If you take my advice above and set "Log in Automatically", then when you reboot after the installation is complete you will be logged into whatever account you created. That makes perfect sense to me — I don't particularly like it from a security viewpoint, but it certainly makes more sense than presenting you with an intentionally misleading login screen.

    Unfortunately, if you happen to logout you will then still be presented with the "Guest Session" default login.  If that happens, go back to the beginning of my rant and read it all again.

    Here is the most important question of all.  Why is there no mention of this in the Release Notes or the Installation Guide (such as it is)? Would that be too much to ask?

    Maybe I am just as thick as a brick, but I don't seem to be the only person who has run into this, once you start looking around you can find comments on the release announcement and in the Zorin User Forums from people who have had it too. Of course, it is one of those things that once you figure it out it's obvious, and you probably never think about it again.

    But until you figure it out, it's maddening — and if the objective is to make a Linux distribution which provides an "easy" transition for Windows users, I would suggest that avoiding or at least clearly documenting things like this should be a top priority.  But maybe that's just me...

  • XP Look

    One of the best features about Zorin OS is that you can change the look of the desktop. The default is "Windows 7", shown on the previous page. Shown above is the "Windows XP" look. When you switch between these two, the first thing you notice is that the bottom panel changes, both in layout and content.  

    The "Quick Launch" application area disappears from the left side of the panel, and when you click on the "Zorin Menu" (at the left end of the bottom panel, where the Windows "Start" button is by default) you see that the layout and content of the menu has changed.  

    This menu is vaguely reminiscent of the Windows XP Start menu, but it is far from identical to it. Maybe I sound like I am splitting hairs here, but considering the way Zorin is promoted, I feel like it should be a lot closer being identical to Windows XP (and/or 7). However, if you will forgive them the variance, this is a very nifty feature, and it certainly does work very well.

    If you hover the cursor on "All Applications", it will pop up a new window with the Application/Category menus.  Again, not quite the way XP did it, but probably close enough that a user would recognise it.

    There you can navigate through the menu hierarchy to find whatever program or application you might want. One thing I haven't figured out how to do yet is add more items to the static (left) portion of the Zorin menu.

  • Gnome Look

    The third option in the Zorin Look Changer is Gnome 2, shown above. It has top and bottom panels, with 'Applications' and 'Places' menus and various icons on the top panel, and a task bar and desktop selection on the bottom panel.

    Those who are used to Gnome 2 (or MATE) should be comfortable with this desktop, although they might be surprised and disappointed (as I was) to find that you can't right-click the panels to change Preferences. Perhaps this is possible in some other way or some other place. Perhaps not...

    This is the last of the Zorin "Looks", there is no Windows 8 (thank God for that). However, if you right-click on the Zorin Menu button in the panel, and then choose 'Preferences' you will find a list of other menu styles and icons. Some of these are pretty nice, so take a look if this kind of thing interests you.

Topics: Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems

J.A. Watson

About J.A. Watson

I started working with what we called "analog computers" in aircraft maintenance with the United States Air Force in 1970. After finishing military service and returning to university, I was introduced to microprocessors and machine language programming on Intel 4040 processors. After that I also worked on, operated and programmed Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8, PDP-11 (/45 and /70) and VAX minicomputers. I was involved with the first wave of Unix-based microcomputers, in the early '80s. I have been working in software development, operation, installation and support since then.

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  • Flavor of the week

    This is why Linux can't be taken seriously.
    • Wrong

      It merely means that one should choose his distro with care.
      John L. Ries
      • No it means them them all

        out there and one will stick. That's OK for techies but you everyday computer user doesn't want to choose between double digit distro's.
        • Choice...

          Does your everyday computer user want to choose between double digit breakfast cereals? New cars? Fill in whatever everyday item you want here. The point is, it is called choice. It implies not being dictated to, about what operating system you use, or what desktop, or whatever else. If you are happy paying Microsoft for the privilege of having them take away your choice, then good for you. A lot of people are not.

          Thanks for reading and commenting

          • A choice without meaningful selection criteria ...

            ... is NO CHOICE AT ALL.

            Most people choose breakfast cereal by taste - and if they don't like it they find out in ten seconds and lose very little time or money for their trouble.

            If they liked their old car, they go back to the same brand. If they don't, they look at something else based upon color, appearance, features, reliability, and PRICE. After the first car, they know what they want and don't want based upon their experience. In general, all cars essnetially work the same way so the learning curve is negligible.

            The computer user knows only what they found with their last computer.

            Switching operating systems is much more complicated than switching cars. The learning curve for any new operating system can be staggering.

            Yes, all versions of Linux are "about the same" ... as are all versions of Windows (or Mac OS X) yet many, many, Windows users are complaining about the Metro UI (even though bypassing it is trivial).

            You think you will get these people to spend hours installing this (or any) flavor of Linux just to see if they MIGHT like it as much as they like Windows? Then expect them to follow the learning curve long enough to figure out what is "good" or "bad" about their choice?

            Until you can buy a Linux computer off-the-shelf from a big-box store with the various flavors of Linux, the typical consumer is never going to have the information they need to choose between those flavors.

            The only thing of which you can be sure with Linux is that, if it runs Firefox, the user can access the Internet and therefore use MS Office On-Line.

            Everything else is a crapshoot with a long learning curve.

            BTW, using Windows allows me to choose from more applications than any other platform, including nearly all open-source titles - as most of them were long ago ported from UNIX and Linux to Windows.

            In other words, the more you know, the more varied your choices. If you do not understand the more subtle trade-offs between operating systems, you have no basis on which to make a choice. This is certainly true of most consumers.

            You criticize Microsoft for limiting your choice of OS but you fail to recognize that Microsoft is offering simplicity in exchange for price - in addition to much more choice when it comes to applications.

            You ignore Apple altogether - who offers far less choice of applications in exchange for even more simplicity but for a much higher cost.
            M Wagner
          • EdUbuntu

            In the Grand Forks, North Dakota public schools the 5th graders use Netbooks (mostly ASUS) running EdUbuntu. If kids can navigate a new OS easily (my grandson is on his most of the time!) don't you think us "duffers" should give Linux the old "college try" before condemning it?

            BTW, the netbooks were SUPPLIED with Linux installed. Each of the Linux distros I've installed were up and running in about 10-15 minutes from install to going online. XP always took at least 45 minutes and didn't always find all of the hardware drivers. Just my experience.
        • You don't have to know about all of them to make a choice

          Try out two or three that you've heard of and if you like one of them, install it (live CDs are good for that); if after doing that you want to keep looking, then you may. Or you could simply try one on a friend's recommendation (or based on reviews like this one); if you don't like it, try another one.

          On the whole, I think most people prefer more choices to fewer, or none.
          John L. Ries
          • Some merit to that sentiment in general,...

            ...but not really applicable to the preponderance of consumers in the context of "choosing" an OS. Most people buy computing hardware (whether that be desktop, laptop, tablet, phablet, smartphone, etc.) to DO something, not to figure out how to make it do whatever it is they want to do.

            Windows has succeeded in large part because it was introduced at the right time and was able to greatly influence the expectations and experiences of personal and enterprise computing. Today, its dominance continues largely due to the momentum and inertia established over the last 25 years or so.

            That's not to imply its the "best" OS, or that they are immune to challenge. It does mean that they have the bankroll and time to continually tweak the formula. Everyone seems to think MS needs to do something earth-shattering in order to remain relevant, but that plainly isn't the case and, frankly, isn't good business. I cite Win8 as proof. The biggest critique is that it changes too much from past experiences.

            The error in logic with your suggestion (and Mr. Watson's above) is that you start from a flawed premise - that people really _do_ want more choices in an OS. A very small subset of the population does. Most don't -they just want to be able to turn on an appliance and do what they want to do.

            That's why Linux (and other contenders) will remain solidly in the category of "hobby" industry until either A) MS performs some colossally huge error that simultaneously alienates both consumer and enterprise markets (extremely unlikely) or B) the contenders develop an offering that is _at least_ as easy and compatible, AND offers some other significant incentive to move, whether that be cost or feature.

            And, as Mr. Watson's experience clearly illustrates, this distro ain't it. And as a "bonus suggestion" to those in the Linux camp - you can forget about any significant consumer penetration as long as there is any requirement to know (or care) that "su" is something other than mom's first name, or that "sudo" isn't some martial arts variant.
          • Agreed, but misses my point

            I agree with almost everything you said. On the order of 99%. I cling to some frail hope that either Windows 8 will prove to be the "colossal blunder", or it it is indicative of the direction MS is moving, to even larger blunders.

            But your comment misses the point of what I said above. I was replying to the comment about "users don't want to choose between double-digit options", I don't think that is the problem at all. Users can and will choose between almost any number of options, when they want/need to. But I think you are right, consumers until now have clearly shown that they don't want to "choose" an operating system, period. From one from ten or more, or one from three, or even one of two. None. Only recently has Android, and iOS, and Chromebooks started chip away at that, and make people aware that they even CAN choose, and that it might be worthwhile to choose.

            But even that might be an illusion - are the consumers really "choosing" to buy Android or Chromebooks, or is it nothing more than the price that is driving that choice? Android phones are much less expensive than iPhones, and Chromebooks are much less expensive than PCs or Macs...

            If that is the case, then the only "benefit" of this for Linux in the market is that it is making people aware that there is a choice, and showing that Linux and derivatives actually have a lot to offer.

            Oh, and I also agree, if using a Linux system requires knowledge of Linux CLI commands, whether it be su, sudo or whatever, then it will not succeed in the mass market.

            Thanks for reading and commenting.

          • Kudos

            While we may not agree on the desirability/utility of a MS colossal blunder (myself, I'd rather see that they continually improve under pressure from competition, which I think they are - just not fast enough), I do want to applaud your efforts as a worthy, fair-minded and articulate Linux advocate.
          • Windows 8 might just be that blunder...

            ...as Mr. Watson also indicates. And that _does_ play directly in to choice vs. no choice as well. Each Windows version requires 'relearning' Windows all over again, which can be EXTREMELY difficult for the light home user (I'm not talking teens or folks who work on a PC for a living). Case in point: We just replaced my mother-in-law's XP with Windows 8. I, being the 'computer guy' (I'm a programmer by profession), was tasked with easing her in the transition. However, EVERYTHING changed in Windows 8. How much frustration do you think there was when both of us were learning ('all I want to do is send email, Chuck').
            Case in point #2: I frequently help friends and relatives troubleshoot problems remotely. Tell me, Windows proponents, how you access network settings in a) XP; b) Vista, c) Windows 7, d) Windows 8.
            Ditto for adding printers, user accounts, and SO MANY other things.
            In my experience, once you pick a distro, you can stay with it ad nauseum without these huge paradigm shifts of how to do things.
          • Agree in principle...

            ...but I think you both overstate the degree of change (Win8 notwithstanding) and understate the relevant timelines. For most consumers (and even most businesses), they buy a piece of hardware, and run the included OS until the hardware dies, or until they _need_ some functionality/software that's not available on a current OS.

            And generally speaking, each iteration of Windows _has_ been better than the last, from a consumer perspective (again, Win8 notwithstanding). Most of the trouble with Win OS upgrades happen when you start to get "under the covers".

            I do wonder why you moved your M-I-L from XP to Win8 without, it would seem, any advance anticipation of the key differences, or how to take advantage of configurations that allow you to essentially bypass most of the glaring changes? It's fairly well-documented at this point. Or you could have bypassed the issue entirely and just migrated to Win7.

            As to your case #2, isn't that what the manufacturer/OEM is for? Again, most of the things you describe are 'under the covers' and don't impinge regularly on the day-to-day of the consumer (e.g., how often do you actually need to set up a new user?). Your frustration is understandable, from a tech "insider's" perspective, but you have apparently volunteered your services. You can't fault MS for changes to their product because your life is made more difficult (well - you can, but it isn't justifiable).

            It is possible to argue the finer points of "improvement" vs. "change for change sake", but it would appear that it isn't a big enough issue in the mind of the consumer to have driven them away from Windows en masse. And, as I said in my previous post, MS has the bankroll and time to tweak the formula. Win8 flopped, but Win8.1 shows that they listened and are making adjustments (again - probably not fast enough for many).
          • Two Minor Objections

            Again, I see your point and agree on some things, but I have two objections.

            "Each iteration of Windows has been better than the last" - I strongly disagree with this statement. Try to get someone at Microsoft to say the word "Vista". They will behave as if their tongue will turn to stone and break off if they try to say it. Further, the magnitude of their screw-up with Windows 8 tells me that they didn't learn anything from the Vista experience.

            "Win 8.1 shows that they are listened" - I mildly disagree. I suppose you could say that they listened, but not for the correct reasons. They listened to the bad publicity, negative reviews, and the fact that Windows 8 was selling even worse than Vista did - but I don't think they ever accepted the fact that Win8 is a disaster, they still assume that the rest of the world is simply wrong. If they didn't, then Windows 8.1 would have done something more than bring back a "Start" button that does nothing other than take the user to the generally despised "Start Screen", as just one small example.

            Thanks again for reading and commenting, and interesting discussion.

          • Vista

            I think the lesson that to be learned from Vista is that MS needed to take a stronger role in directing OEMs and/or becoming more involved in the hardware (perhaps leading to the Surface line??). Vista itself wasn't bad per se from a consumer feature/functionality perspective _on the right hardware_. The problem is that MS finished the product, dusted their hands and expected OEMs to ensure decent performance/compatible hardware.

            There are similar parallels with Win8 in that it was designed for touch-enabled hardware, but works really well (from a resource utilization aspect) on older hardware. Consumers that upgraded quickly discovered that the default configuration was kludgy for the traditional desktop, and MS failed to anticipate that backlash. I'll make absolutely no argument that they didn't (again) blow the message and fail to set expectations.

            However, I think the overall direction is correct. The future of the PC OS won't be keyboard and mouse, at least not as we know them now. Yes - they'll be around for a good long while yet, but arguably due more to inertia than requirement.

            At this point, I think we are seeing the fruition of the Chinese proverb/curse, "may you live in interesting times". The next 2-3 years will undoubtedly be "interesting" in the OS/hardware market.
          • Windows XP pre-dates most network features ...

            ... available today. Thus those features have been "tacked on" to the original code, and therefore much more complicated to use. Since Vista, most all of these network settings are in the same place.

            Linux is, for all intents ad purposes, a UNIX clone and, as such, is an EXCELLENT operating system but it requires an IT professional to learn to use. Asking the typical consumer to make the transition from Windows is extremely naïve.
            M Wagner
          • well here is your issue than

            if you do not know
            [QUOTE] "how you access network settings in a) XP; b) Vista, c) Windows 7, d) Windows 8.
            Ditto for adding printers, user accounts" [\QUOTE]

            in all version of windows you can use control panel to do any and all of the things you asked for.

            starting from win 95 the procedure is always "Start>Contorl Pannel> any feature you need"
            there are some short-cuts you can take though.
            to change network setting you can right click on the net icon in the task bar and go into properties.

            for printers there is a devices and printer menu item in the start menu that existed from win95 and up.
            new users can be added from control panel or by right-clicking on my-computer and choosing manage or type add user in run bar etc.

            my issue with Linux is the fact that there are so many differences in how you do things between distros that is confising to say the least.

            and to expect average user to learn all that is unreasonable.

            I am however is on the path to switching all my PCs to Linux and having a very difficult time of it.
            some distor does not work on my laptop, some do not work on my desktop (I do not mean they do not work but that they do not work well)
            I can install it and run it but some of the distros are too slow(mind you I have an AMD dual-core 2gHz+ laptop with 4GB ram. nothing to sneeze at )
            my nVidia card is not properly supported and can not find a good driver for it. my WiFi is not working. many issues. can not connect to my file server shares directly as I could in windows.
            windows simply find all network stuff and let me choose where I want to go right out of the box.
            why Linux can not do the same, especially if my file server is Linux based.

            and for any proponents of CLI out there no it is not easier and/or better.
            I hated DOS for that, why would I want to do this now when a nice GUI based systems exists and readily available?
            that is why I gave up Linux 20 years ago. it wasn't ready.
            now 20 years later it came along way. but still not 100% ready for many average users.
            but not all of this is Linux fault per say.
            hardware manufactures need to embrace the notion of Linux existence and provide drivers for linux or at the very least API to the open-source community for the drivers to be developed. many applications company need to do similar things to at least expand their base to linux users. so we could have a PhotoShop for Linux instead of Gimp. (not sure which is better and don't care. let the actual users decide if they want to pay for photoshop on Linux or use Gimp for me Gimp will do, for a professional photoshop might be the only option)

            I am moving to Linux because for me it might be an option. I am knowledgeable enough to make the switch. my neighbor is not.
          • Actually....

            ...that's why Windows continues to be dominant. And as long as MS makes no effort to enforce that dominance, I have no objections. And there's no logical reason for those who want to go with the default to object to availability of choices for others.

            If you don't want to try out hundreds of Linux distros, then don't (few people do). If you want to stick with the Windows preloaded on your machine, then by all means. But stop being so concerned about the software choices of others. It really, truly, isn't a moral issue.
            John L. Ries
          • Apologies if I offended...

            ...but not sure where you got the impression I'm opposed to choice, or where I dictated that Windows is (or should be) the only viable OS. I'm not pushing any agenda. I simply was expressing what most OS advocates fail to acknowledge and/or consider - the average consumer "really, truly" doesn't care. All the noise, fury and speculation generated among the "technocrati" doesn't impinge on the larger market reality. It may flavor it, certainly, but doesn't drive it.

            Contrary to perceived slight you think I inflicted, I could honestly care less about the software choice of others (unless, of course, it affects me in some way), but it's counter-productive to the FOSS movement to wear the "but it's technically better" blinders. Joe Plumber doesn't _want_ to know anything about "technically better". He just wants to do what he do...

            FWIW - I run a Win7x64 work desktop (company mandated), Win8.1 home "work" desktop (for ease of integration with work-related activities) and an Ubuntu "family" laptop, which has worked reasonably well for email/browsing needs, but lost a serious degree of credibility as a viable OS contender when I had to research CLI commands/procedures just to upgrade Adobe Reader plugin.
          • Good post!

            M Wagner
        • Did you know

          That if you stick to the most highly used distros, the choice becomes quite reasonable? Here are the top 10 by page ranking last month:
          1 Mint 3875>
          2 Ubuntu 2053>
          3 Debian 1860<
          4 Mageia 1618>
          5 Fedora 1462<
          6 openSUSE 1387>
          7 Arch 1024>
          8 PCLinuxOS 1022<
          9 elementary 976>
          10 Manjaro 935<
          Iman Oldgeek