Thursday, February 24, 2011

Zorin OS 4 Review

Recently I have reviewed a number of interesting Ubuntu derivatives. Linux Mint is probably the most popular one, but other more obscure picks like MoonOS and PinguyOS also proved to be very interesting options. In future articles I also plan to review Bodhi Linux, but this time I want to talk about Zorin 4 OS, which is based off of Ubuntu 10.10.


An interesting twist on your typical GNOME desktop, Zorin intentionally resembles a Windows 7 desktop visually. The panel positioning, the main menu Look&Feel, the launchers on the panel and even the wallpapers, all convey a Windows vibe to them. I personally don't think there is anything wrong with that. I like Windows 7 Look&Feel myself and it's not like Zorin is a verbatim copy (they could have got a lot closer using certain control, icon and window decoration themes). The idea is to make new users who know Windows feel right at home, and I must say Zorin succeeds.

Zorin OS 4 was released in 4 different flavours, three of which are not free. Core is the free flavor and the one I will be reviewing below. Multimedia, Gaming and Ultimate are the options available for purchase.

To provide a brief visual introduction for those who don't know Zorin, I recorded a short video (with audio for a change!). As usual, the video quality is quite good (can't say the same for audio, sorry), so I recommend watching it full screen under 720p resolution.


In my few years using Linux, I have tested many distros and come to the conclusion that the only significant differences among them is mostly linked to the amount of own software they contain. In other words, a standard user sitting in front of two different machines, one running GNOME Fedora 14 and the other Ubuntu 10.10 will notice some obvious Look&Feel differences, but not a lot more past that point. Applications are the same (i.e., Evolution, Firefox or Shotwell, to name a few, run identically on both), so the most significant differences have to do with what is unique to each distro. The Ubuntu Software Center, its social menu or Fedora's Presto and Deja Dup are examples of things that may tilt the balance one way or the other.

Zorin has many unique elements to it that set it appart from other Ubuntu derivatives, even other Linux distros. There are Zorin specific applications, like Look Changer or the Splash Screen Manager but also very rich customization that certainly provides Zorin with a character of its own. Of all Ubuntu derivatives I have tried, Zorin is probably the one that feels most unique (not that that is better nor worse).

For a full feature description for Zorin OS 4, refer to the official RELEASE NOTES.

As is usually the case with Ubuntu derivatives, the installation process is very resemblant to the original, its just a case of how much deviation from it there is. Zorin is quite faithful to the Ubuntu original, but there are obvious branding changes.


One of the sweet surprises Zorin users will enjoy is that it is one of the few, if not the only Ubuntu derivative whose Plymouth theme works out of the box, even on Intel video cards. In fact, not only does it work, it is one the best looking themes I have seen to date. Along the same lines, the whole booting process is very smooth and quiet, void of command line screens. The GDM screen is somewhat standard, portraying a spacey vibe thanks to its wallpaper.

Click on image to enlarge.

As can be seen from the screenshot above, the default desktop is consistent with the GDM screen in its spaceyness. The panel, main menu, window decoration and controls, as well as the icon theme are custom Zorin. Like it or not (I personally don't), it is one consistent shiny environment, and that is certainly welcome. All too often I find Linux distros which don't pay attention to detail, sporting themes that are incomplete or inconsistent, with missing bits here and there, but that's certainly not the experience I got with Zorin 4.

As I mentioned on the video, the main menu and the DockBarX customization for the panel certainly help providing Zorin its Windows 7 resemblance. The GnoMenu theme looks gorgeous and the functionality is very similar to the Windows 7 main menu, perhaps even more fluid and less cluttered. Zorin provides plenty of themes for GnoMenu, DockBarX, but also in terms of GTK themes and controls. Consistency is once again the word that comes to mind, one feels like nothing is missing, no need to download and/or install anything extra.

Click on image to enlarge.

Nautilus elementary is, as seems to be the case in most GNOME-based distros lately, the file manager of choice. I personally liked how it looks in combination with Zorin's icon theme... I guess I am so used to use it along with Faenza that this icon theme felt refreshing!

Click on image to enlarge.

On the Sound&Video department I was pleased to see VLC and OpenShot (not the latest version, though). Audio playing duties are handled by Rhythmbox while Cheese provides some webcam functionality.

Click on image to enlarge.

Most Linux distributions like to include Chromium instead of Google Chrome, perhaps in an attempt to stay truer to open source standards. Not Zorin, which makes a bold choice here including Google Chrome as the one and only browser.

Click on image to enlarge.

Flash, audio and video codecs are correctly set up for in Zorin. The screenshot above shows a video from Apple trailers working out of the box, a piece of configuration that is often overlooked in Linux distros. Unfortunately, that's as far as things go, for Zorin still suffers from the few several shortcomings Google Chrome has as part of its faulty Linux system integration. I discussed these issues in some detail on a previous ARTICLE, but basically Google Chrome failed to run Java and did not trigger the right applications when required.

As I mentioned already, I think a distro makes its mark mainly thanks to its own software. Zorin incorporates a couple interesting applications, nothing too fancy, but still welcome additions. The Zorin Splash Manager (screenshot above) is a simple tool with a pretty self explanatory name. Additionally, the Zorin Look Changer is an interesting application that allows users to switch between different Windows inspired outfits. The amount of options offered depends on the version of Zorin OS 4 in use, Ultimate being the one with the most, including Windows 7, Vista, XP and even Windows 2000.


If you are a hardcore Linux user, you may not like Zorin's (perhaps exaggerated) Windows influences. Make no mistake, though, Zorin is still very much Linux. All of the features you know and love are there, along with a powerful and rich application catalog.

I personally enjoyed using Zorin quite a bit. Leaving the Windows resemblance aside, I have to admit I liked the default GnoMenu and DockBarX configuration and themes. I think the level of customization is considerable, but designed with standard users in mind, which makes anything from Compiz effects to the application catalog highly usable and convenient. Unlike PinguyOS, Zorin does not sport strange customizations that feel like quirky developer preferences. Everything feels like it makes sense and like it was designed with satisfactory user experience as the ultimate end goal.

Click on image to enlarge.

Being a customization freak myself, I couldn't resist and it didn't take long before I ditched the Windows inspired Look&Feel in favor of something more Linux, as you can see in the screenshot above. A little Conky magic, different menu icon and icon theme and some Debian love... What's not to like?


Whether you find it sacrilegious that an Ubuntu fork offers different versions of Windows "skins" or not is ultimately your call, but I would definitely encourage everybody to leave any kind of prejudices behind and give Zorin (a name that sounds like a God from Norse mythology) a spin. As a matter of fact, I would recommend Zorin to any kind of Linux user, but specially for those who are taking their first steps in the Penguin Universe.



  1. I'm wondering if they have you go trough and agree to Google's EULA like MeeGo does with their Chrome version - if not there could be some legal action on Google's part down the line.

  2. @Jeff91: I have installed Zorin Core a number of times already and can't remember any agreement notice anywhere. Having said so, this and other distros (actually many Ubuntu derivatives) include codecs that can also result in legal issues, depending on the country, so...

  3. Excellent review. Installed to my wife's notebook and she is loving every minute of it. By the way, would you mind sharing how you tweaked the desktop with the debian wallpaper? That is one beautiful desktop. Simple and elegant.

  4. Hi Chema.installed zorin core 4.did not no what to expect im now understanding that the different linux flavours is down to personal taste and all so very importantly what works best on ones individual zorin core 4 every thing just worked from the instal music is my thing and the music from youtube was the most detailed i could here all the instruments property nice and crisp too. the graphics brilliant no going back did a complete full install. this one is for rocks.

  5. i had all the windows experience ... 98 2000 millenium xp vista 7 ---- i also had Mac ... Saw a lot of Linux .. never made the transition... TODAY I DOWNLOADED ZORIN... AND ITS HERE TO STAY....

  6. anyone knows the archive passwords for the following Zorin archives? Thanks to all.


  7. Just a slight correction needed here. Chrome is not the only browser installed - it has a browser chooser - Midori, Opera (out of date link) and Firefox are available alternatives from the browser chooser (different distros have something similar but offered in a different way - Puppy Linux and Vector Linux). However, it certainly has filled the gaping hole left by the absence of Linspire/Freespire for migrants from Windows to make the transition easier. All ubuntu forks and GNU/Linux distros in general could learn a thing or two from Ultimate Edition 2.7 up which have resticted drivers (including necessary licence agreements!)


  8. Well said swafender437, a gaping hole indeed. To those
    who complain about the price, 10-15$ for something that works compared to 200-300$ for something that bites back( and needs 100s$ in protection just to run) brainer here my friends.

  9. The default icon set looks like it's just Oxygen icons -- the default icons for KDE. They aren't unique to Zorin.

  10. I tried Zorin5.1 yesterday , liked very much its polished appearance and ease of use. i don't know why the operating system freezes every now and then for the reasons unknown. so went back to my faithful Linux Mint 11 which is very solid but not as good looking as Zorin 5.1. I will try Zorin after some time when all the bugs are corrected and becomes rocky steady like Linux mint.

  11. I am wondering if I can install MS office and corel (licensed versions) in this. those are the only two things I miss in linux. also did you try out the libraries / coding e.g. gfortran etc.???

  12. I am no WINE expert by any means, but I believe those two apps you are mentioning do run perfectly smoothly on it. If not, you could always get yourself a virtual machine and run them on Windows.

    Regardless, this version of Zorin is quite old, I recommend checking the latest, or better yet, moving to Ubuntu 12.04... a wonderful release!