In the past 20+ years, I’ve used and tested more Linux distributions than I can remember. Many of those variations on an open-source theme were good. Some of them were very good. A few of them have been great. But only a handful have been truly inspired. Of that long list of distributions, I’d consider the likes of Pop!_OS COSMIC, Deepin Linux, Linux Mint and elementaryOS to be of the inspiring sort.

And now, I have another distribution to add to that list: Zorin OS 16.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this distribution. Yes, it’s impressed me in the past. But I’ve always felt Zorin OS to be one of those operating systems trying too hard to be Windows. It always seemed to be clinging to the notion that the Windows GUI was the superior way of doing things. And I get that. The overwhelming majority of desktop PC users are familiar with Windows. It’s what they grew up with and what they know. And change is hard.

That perception of Zorin OS was totally changed with the release of the 16th iteration of the platform. This new release is exactly what a Linux desktop distribution should be: It’s beautiful, productive, stable, clean and fun. Yes, fun. The developers have added just enough special sauce into the mix to give their latest release a bit of much-needed pizzazz. So Zorin OS is no longer a Windows wannabe … it’s Linux, pure and simple. Even better, it’s exactly what modern Linux desktops should strive to emulate.

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I downloaded and installed the Core edition of Zorin OS and installed it as a VirtualBox guest, and wow, did it impress.

It’s all about the UI.

Zorin OS 16 Core allows you to select from four different desktop layouts (Figure A): two that are Windows inspired and two that are GNOME inspired.

Figure A

Selecting your desktop layout of choice in Zorin OS 16.

I went with the GNOME application overview look and feel for my test, but any of the choices are rock solid. I also giddily enabled the Jelly Mode. What is Jelly Mode, you ask? Jelly Mode is a throwback to the old Compiz desktop days. Once enabled, when a window is moved (either by you moving it, resizing it or minimizing it), it wobbles as though it were made of, you guessed it, jelly. It’s a very fun feature that makes me long for those good old days of the Compiz cube and more eye-candy delights.

You can enable Jelly Mode in the Zorin Appearances app under Interface (Figure B).

Figure B

Enabling the Jelly Mode in Zorin OS 16.

The Zorin OS 16 UI is absolutely fantastic. It’s the perfect mixture of fun and professional. It’s clean, it’s easy to use, and it’s absolutely rock solid. Nothing about the UI gets in the way of you being productive.

And speaking of being productive… .

A perfect selection of apps

Many Linux distributions have opted to go the “minimal” route by not including most of the apps we commonly use. It makes perfect sense: Developers want to give users a choice in what’s installed on the desktop. But when a user new to Linux logs in for the first time, you want them to have what they need to get their work done. That’s another area where Zorin OS shines. Out of the box, you’ll find LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox, Evolution (for email), Firefox, GNOME Maps, Cheese (webcam software), Pitivi (video editor), Rhythmbox (audio player), GNOME Weather, a sound recorder, a handful of simple games and more.

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Any user could hop onto Zorin OS 16 and find everything they need without having to install much of anything. Sure, you might want to add the likes of Zoom and Slack, both of which can be found in the GNOME Software app (Figure C). So, with a few quick clicks, you can have the exact software array necessary to fulfill most every need.

Figure C

Installing Slack from within GNOME Software on Zorin OS 16.

You can connect Zorin OS to Android

The icing on this already-delicious cake is that it makes connecting the desktop to your Android device a no-brainer. With Zorin Connect (Figure D), you can pair your phone and your desktop for easy sharing of content. You can manage your text messages, control your cursor (so the phone acts as a trackpad), ring your phone, mount a folder from the phone to the desktop, share files and more. (Next week, I’ll be covering Zorin Connect.)

Figure D

Zorin OS 16 connected to my Pixel 5.

After working with Zorin Connect, I’m actually surprised more Linux distributions aren’t including a similar tool by default. Yes, KDE has KDE Connect, and there are other apps available for this purpose, but Zorin OS 16 absolutely nails Linux/Android sync/connectivity, and every Linux desktop developer should take note.

Who is Zorin OS 16 for?

Anyone. Period. That’s how good Zorin OS 16 is. It doesn’t matter what level of skill you have, Zorin OS 16 is ready to help make your desktop experience a delightful romp through the world of Linux. Since it’s based on Ubuntu 20.04.3, it includes all the usual Ubuntu user-friendliness under the hood. But don’t worry, if you are new to Linux, you shouldn’t have to bother with things like the command-line interface, as the Zorin OS 16 desktop UI will hold your hand just enough to keep you from getting lost in the muck and mire better suited to the Linux devotees.

Zorin OS 16 is as good a desktop operating system as you’ll find. That might sound like hyperbole, but I honestly cannot think of a desktop OS that is as beautiful as it is functional and usable. If you’re looking for a new desktop distribution to challenge what you think Linux is, give Zorin OS 16 a try and see if it doesn’t very quickly win you over.

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