Zorin OS 16 beta is out now! Based on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS, this release will be supported untill April 2025. Zorin promises better performance, an updated look, new touch pad gestures, a more customizable task bar and a few other new features. Let’s take it for a spin and see if it delivers!
I have used Zorin OS extensively in the past. Mainly version 12, both in the “Lite” Xfce version and the “Core” Gnome based version. I really liked their theming and the slower pace of development. This meant I didn’t need to upgrade often. It was a very solid experience and if version 16 performs in the same fashion I will probably install it long term to my desktop.
I downloaded the 2.49 beta ISO from Zorin’s Sourceforge link here, then burned it to my USB stick using Etcher. This is the “Core” version of Zorin, based on Gnome. There will probably be another lighter version based on Xfce coming sometime later.
Keep in mind this is still beta quality so there will be issues as we shall see further below.
I proceeded to install it onto my Dell E7240 test laptop. The Zorin installer is very similar to Ubuntu’s and thankfully had the option to install the system alongside an existing installation – something I have been missing lately. There is a user census one can opt out of and the usual option to install third party proprietary software.
All seemed to be going well until at the very end the installer crashed. It spit-out the following error message: “grub-install /dev/sda/ failed. This is a fatal error”. Sure enough, the system was un-bootable.
I repeated the installation process a second time, this time starting the installation immediately after booting without “trying” the system first. Unfortunately the result was the same only this time Zorin returned me to the desktop and suggested I use repair tools to try to fix the issue. Neat, only that Boot Repair failed to solve the issue. Boot Repair said there was a small bios boot partition missing. I added it manually with Gparted but still got error messages that were beyond my skills and patience. I decided to try a 3rd time, this time with LVM partioning: Logical Volume Management.
Success! The LVM option did the trick. It installed in around 5 minutes and boot times to the log-in screen were around 13 seconds plus a few more after entering credentials. Zorin has a fancy splash screen with a glowing logo that transforms into text.
We are greeted with Zorin’s new Welcome app. It just gives the user a few tips on how to start using the system like changing the appearance, connect to online accounts, link a phone with “Zorin Connect”, and where to find additional software.
The default set-up is very traditional and any user should feel comfortable using the system right out of the box. We get a bottom panel with a menu on the left and the system tray on the right. Favorites can be pinned to give dock-like functionality and there is a multi-tasking toggle right next to the menu. The default wallpaper is a stunning view of snow covered mountains, the Alps perhaps?
The multi-tasking view and the settings remind us that Gnome is running the show here, albeit heavily tweaked. Zorin, like many others, have chosen to round things up a bit. Windows now have rounded corners. Thankfully, they didn’t use too much curve although I would have preferred an option to have traditional angular windows.
htop showed the following values after a fresh boot:
- 1.15 GB RAM !
- 106 Tasks
- 237 Threads
These figures confirm we’re running Gnome! The system is using the X11 display driver. The underlying Gnome version is 3.38.4 and the Linux Kernel is at version 5.8 – Remember this is based on Ubuntu 20.04 LTS.
Layout: Zorin always offered different desktop layouts to choose from and version 16 is no different. Zorin Appearance has 4 different layouts in the Core version. The Ultimate version coming later usually has even more. The first two are very similar with the panel at the bottom and only minor differences. The 4th one is the closest to a standard Gnome set-up while the 3rd one is a hybrid with elements from Gnome and a traditional layout.
Theme: We can choose from different accent colors and between a light and dark theme. There is also an option to have the theme switch from light to dark according to time of day – neat! The different accent colors are really nice and look especially stunning with the dark theme.
Interface: Here we can move the window buttons from right to left, enable Gnome’s left hot corner (crucial for my personal work flow), enable animations and toggle:
It reminded me instantly of the scene above from Airplane! (1980) with Robert Hays and Leslie Nielsen. So, if you need to be reminded of that movie on a daily basis, go ahead and toggle Jelly Mode on 🙂 If you haven’t seen the movie yet make sure you do, an absolute classic.
We also get a good set of options for the Taskbar (Panel): Position, auto-hide, size, opacity, etc
Desktop: Toggles desktop icons.
Fonts: That is rather self explanatory.
I must admit they’ve done an excellent job giving the user this kind of customization control. They really kept to their roots. After some tweaking I managed to get the same cool desktop I used to have with Zorin 12, only more modern.
There is a huge collection of Software included out of the box and this is only the Core version. Since this is merely a preview I will just do a quick mention of some:
Other than the system relevant Gnome apps we also get: Maps, Weather, Photos, Sound Recorder and To Do. For the Web we get Firefox and for email Evolution. The whole LibreOffice suite is present as is GIMP for photo editing and Pitivi for video editing. For music there is Rhythmbox and for those who still use CDs and DVDs there is Brasero.
Despite having selected to install restricted extras not all media files would play. My mp4 files wouldn’t launch as the H.264 decoder was missing.
I didn’t get to test Zorin Connect which looks quite promising but will do so when the final version is released. I saw there was some complaining about Bluetooth on the previous version. I did a quick test connecting my JBL speaker and I can report it worked just fine.
Installing additional software: Zorin’s Software center is very responsive and it has Snaps as well as Flatpaks enabled by default. If a piece of software has multiple source options, there will be a drop-down menu on the top right to choose the source to install. As usual I looked for Abiword and got two options: A Flatpak version with a 994 MB download or the regular version from Zorin OS repositories, a 1.3 MB download! 994 vs 1.3 MBs! You can imagine which one I chose. It installed and worked just fine.
I thoroughly enjoyed doing this review and by the end of it I was sure I would be using the final product on my desktop once released. They have done an amazing job. They let you customize Gnome the way you want it and overall kept to their roots. I wish Gnome itself would take this route instead of making periodic radical changes.
Except for the issue during installation, the system was solid and very responsive throughout my testing. Despite Gnome’s high memory usage the OS felt very snappy. The developers said they optimized the system at every level and it really shows. This is a very polished system and is one I can warmly recommend for anyone to try out.
If you have tested the beta yourself, share with us your experience in the comments below!