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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.
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...
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.
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.