Soon, very soon, Windows XP will be
defunct. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of PCs will wind up seemingly
worthless. And so the Linux cry of “Carpe Penguin” is heard around the world.
Although I’ve gone on the record to say that the death of Windows XP shouldn’t
be the sole rallying call for Linux, it’s certainly a moment to be seized.
This is the perfect time for Linux distributions, such as Zorin OS.

The Zorin OS is unique in the world of
Linux in that it wants to embrace the Windows crowd and show them they can
feel at home anywhere. To that end, Zorin OS goes out of its way to emulate
Windows XP and even Windows 7. It does this by employing a user-friendly,
Windows-like desktop that anyone can use. Oddly enough, in this Unity-, GNOME-,
XFCE-, KDE-dominated world of Linux, Zorin OS opts to roll out their own
desktop environment (Zorin Desktop Environment), along with the Zorin Menu, to
create an interface that’s both amazingly familiar and unique.

I installed Zorin OS on one of my
crustier laptops (to see how it would fare on machines about to be hogtied with
an unusable Windows XP). I have to say that this Linux distribution, geared toward
new users, might well appease just about any experience level.

Instead of the usual kicking of
tires, I thought it might be best to look at this from the perspective of a
Windows user. So, what makes Zorin OS the replacement
for Windows XP? More importantly, will it work as a drop-in replacement
for the latest Windows OS? I won’t talk about the
installation (it’s breezily simple) or the specs (they’re fine). Instead, I want to
view this from a new user’s eyes and see if it’s worthy of my time and effort.

Immediate reaction

When I log into Zorin OS, everything
I see is familiar. There’s a start button, a system tray, desktop icons,
taskbar… all the things expected of a computer desktop (Figure A).

Figure A

 

 

The Zorin OS Desktop Environment.

Clicking the start button, I see the
usual suspects (Figure B). From
here, everything pretty much follows the standard desktop metaphor.

Figure B

 

 

The Zorin Menu makes locating apps
easy.

At this point, there are very few
surprises. Zorin OS is an
environment that’s as familiar and as comfortable as an old t-shirt.
Everything is there, waiting to help you get your work done. What’s
interesting about the collection of apps is that they seem to come from
different environments. You have the standard LibreOffice and Chrome web
browser, but then you have the Elementary-based music player (Noise), the
GNOME-based video player (Totem), the Ubuntu Unity language picker, the
GNOME-based file manager (Files, previously known as Nautilus), and the
Ubuntu-based Software Center. After looking around a while, it becomes clear
the Zorin Desktop Environment took the GNOME desktop, gave it a bit of
KDE-flavor, and rolled it all up until it felt like Windows XP.

You’ll also find out that the
task bar is actually a dock — specifically Avant Window Navigator (AWN) — with the specialized Zorin Menu added. This combination makes for an incredible
experience any level of user will appreciate. Anyone who’s used AWN knows that it
can be highly configured to make it unique and an effective means of accessing
applications and information.

In the background, Compiz gives
Zorin OS just the right amount of modern appeal for the tried-and-true Windows
XP user. Anyone with enough experience can take the CompizConfig Settings
Manager (CCSM) tool and make Compiz work some serious magic on the screen. If
you want to tweak Comiz to better meet your needs, you’ll find CCSM (Figure C) in Start | System Tools |
Preferences | CompizConfig Settings Manager. Remember, this tool isn’t for the
faint of heart. One wrong configuration, and you could wind up with a mess on
your hands (or desktop, as it were).

Figure C

 

 

CCSM as seen on the Zorin OS
desktop.

The idea behind Zorin OS is to be the perfect combination of Linux pieces to serve as the ideal desktop
operating system for the new user. Does it succeed? The short answer is a
resounding “yes.” While most other platforms are migrating away from the
traditional desktop design, Zorin OS opts to hang tight to what has worked for
many years. To this end, they’ve created something truly and completely
user-friendly.

The problem will arise when users
expect the same applications they’re accustomed to using. Although Zorin OS
includes the Play On Linux service, where you can install plenty of
Windows-specific apps (thanks to the inclusion of Wine) — even Office 2010
(you’ll need the install DVD or a downloaded install file) — there are no
instructions on how to use Play On Linux. The new user isn’t going to think to
run that service and then install their old faithful tools. Yes, the vast
majority of users can get by with LibreOffice, but if you’re shooting for
familiarity, why not go all the way?

I’ve been harping on this point for
a very long time, and never before has this point been made more clear. Zorin
OS needs to have a welcome screen that allows users to view how-to guides and other
information about the desktop. That welcome screen can be temporarily or
permanently dismissed by the user, but it’s something that’s an absolute
necessity for this type of desktop. Imagine how helpful it would be (for the
new user) to see a how-to on installing Microsoft apps in Zorin OS. That alone
takes the distribution from the realm of “passible” to the single best solution
to replace the soon-to-be defunct Windows XP.

Zorin OS is, in fact, a very solid
distribution for new users. It’s not perfect, but it is familiar enough that new
users wouldn’t experience problems quickly getting up to speed. The only
thing it lacks is the addition of some solid help information to guide users
through the few aspects of Zorin OS that may not be as user-friendly.

What do you think? Is a
distribution like Zorin OS the best route to go for those Windows XP users not
ready to part with their hardware? If not, what would you suggest? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.