Zorin OS is an excellent Linux distro aimed at new users, although it offers a little something for everyone.
Although I briefly played with Linux Mandrake and Caldera Linux a couple of decades ago, Zorin OS was my first introduction to Linux when I decided to switch from the Mac in early 2022. Since I am a former Mac user, where UI design plays a major part in the Apple experience, I was attracted to the professional design of Zorin OS and its desktop-centric focus.
Zorin OS Background
Zorin OS is a Linux distro built and maintained by the two Zorin brothers in Dublin, Ireland.
Zorin is based on Ubuntu LTS (long-term support). Ubuntu is hands-down the most widely-used distro in the world and has the largest selection of available apps, making it a wise choice to base a distro on it. Zorin’s initial release was in 2009, giving the distro a decently long track record.
Editions, Desktop Environments (DE), and Appearance
Zorin comes in three editions: Core, Pro, and Lite.
Core is the main edition and comes with the Gnome DE. This isn’t your father’s Gnome, however, as Zorin has heavily customized the look and feel. In so doing, Zorin avoids many of the criticisms that are often leveled against Gnome.
Read more: Linux Distro Reviews: Gnome
Zorin Lite, on the other hand, uses Xfce for a lighter footprint, although it is a heavily customized implementation like its Gnome counterpart. In fact, while Xfce is often criticized for being fairly plain-looking, Zorin is widely praised as having one of the most beautiful implementations of Xfce.
See also: Linux Distro Reviews: Xfce
Zorin offers a Pro version for both the Core and Lite editions. The Pro versions come with all the software the average user coming from Mac or Windows might need to get up and running. Nothing is unique or something that can’t be installed independently, but for $39 the Pro version saves some work. Upgrading to the Pro version also provides installation support, something that few distros provide.
Springing for the Pro version also provides a way for Zorin OS users and fans to help support the project and ensure its longevity. Certainly not required, but its an easy way to support an important open source project for the price of a few coffees.
One of Zorin’s hallmark features is the Zorin Appearance app. The app allows users to change between several different interface presets, such as macOS, Windows, Ubuntu, and more. Users who spring for the Pro version will have access to a couple of additional presets.
As stated, Zorin OS is based on Ubuntu. As the most popular distro, Ubuntu has the largest selection of apps. In fact, it’s a safe bet that if a developer only has the bandwidth to support one family of distros, it’s probably going to be Ubuntu’s .deb files.
In addition to native packages, Zorin supports Ubuntu’s Snap packages, which are designed to be self-contained applications. Whereas native packages are fairly small in size and rely on whatever system libraries are installed, Snap packages have all their dependencies contained within and are one of a new generation of Linux packaging formats designed to make it easier for developers to support multiple distributions. Since Ubuntu’s parent company, Canonical, developed Snaps, many of Ubuntu’s child distros support the format.
Where Zorin rises above Ubuntu is in its support for Flatpaks, a package format that competes with Snaps. While Snaps are used for desktop, server, and IoT apps, Flatpak is focused exclusively on the desktop. As a result, many users prefer Flatpaks over Snaps, but Flatpak is not installed by default on Ubuntu. Zorin, on the other hand, includes Flatpak out of the box, alongside Snaps and native packages.
To be clear, Flatpak can be easily installed on any distro, including Ubuntu. But the fact that Zorin includes all three package formats out of the box is just one more way in which it is geared toward new users and requires very little additional setup to take advantage of the wealth of apps available. All three package types are supported in the Zorin software store, giving users an easy way to install the package of their choice from a graphical interface.
Zorin also includes Zorin Connect, a fork of KDE Connect, which allows you to connect their Android phone to your computer to sync texts and notifications, send files and pictures, and control various aspects of your computer from your phone.
For users with Nvidia drivers, which are always a bit of a challenge on Linux, Zorin makes it incredibly easy to install the necessary drivers.
At the same time, more experienced users who want to install the apps of their choice can choose the “Minimal install” option and build up their system from there.
Versions and Updates
Since it’s based on Ubuntu LTS, Zorin doesn’t always have the latest and greatest version of the software, as some other distros do. Instead, LTS versions of Ubuntu and its derivatives focus on stability and reliability.
For example, the Core edition of Zorin OS 16.2 (the most current version released October 2022) is still running Gnome 3.36.1, while the latest version of Gnome is 43 (Gnome jumped from 3.38 to Gnome 40). This puts it several versions behind the official release.
At the same time, however, because Zorin relies on such a heavily customized version of Gnome, most users won’t really notice that it’s behind. In fact, some of the features that have just made it into Gnome 43, such as accent colors, have been in Zorin’s customized implementation for some time.
This also holds true for the other apps included with the OS. Because Flatpak and Snap are both supported out of the box, users aren’t stuck with the older versions of apps that are in the native repos. Instead, they can enjoy the benefit of a stable LTS base while relying on Flatpaks and Snaps for more up-to-date versions of their favorite apps.
Support and Community
As mentioned, Zorin OS Pro comes with installation support provided by the development team.
The distribution has a vibrant and friendly forum on the company’s website where users can find answers to any issues they may encounter. In addition, because Zorin is based on Ubuntu, the vast majority of Ubuntu answers and solutions that would show up in a search will work perfectly on Zorin as well.
As stated at the outset, Zorin OS is an outstanding distro with something for everyone. New users will appreciate its pre-built layouts that provide a familiar starting point. More advanced users will no doubt enjoy the option to choose a minimal install while having access to the widest breadth of software available, thanks to the inclusion of both Flatpaks and Snaps.
Ultimately, it’s hard to go wrong with Zorin OS, and it would be one of my first choices for anyone looking to give Linux a spin.
4.5 out of 5 stars