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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.