Is Zorin OS 17 the Best Linux Distribution for Beginners

· 8 min read
Is Zorin OS 17 the Best Linux Distribution for Beginners

Zorin OS has developed a reputation over the years as one of the best Linux distributions for beginners making the transition from Windows or macOS. The recently launched Zorin OS 17 brings some significant updates to improve the user experience. But with its delayed release schedule and aging base, does Zorin OS still deserve its renown as the ideal introductory Linux distro?

Brief Background on Zorin OS

Zorin OS is an Ubuntu-based distribution developed by Ireland-based Zorin Group. It uses a heavily customized GNOME desktop environment to provide an interface familiar to newcomers from other operating systems. This helps ease the transition for new adopters looking to switch to Linux.

The developers create different desktop layouts that mimic popular operating systems, like Windows and macOS. These layouts change elements like the position of the taskbar, menu style, and window controls to match what users already know. Under the hood, it’s still GNOME, but it looks familiar on the surface.

Beyond desktop modifications, Zorin incorporates tools to simplify system setup like a software store with 1-click installs. It also adds integrations like Zorin Connect to sync between Linux and mobile devices. These enhancements reduce the learning curve for getting started.

The target audience for Zorin OS is clearly Linux beginners migrating from something else, rather than intermediate and advanced users. For these newcomers, familiar interfaces and intuitive tools provide a more welcoming first experience.

However, Zorin’s approach introduces some drawbacks we need to assess. By heavily customizing a base Ubuntu/GNOME install and mismatching versions, it increases the potential for bugs and complications down the road. Additionally, as a smaller distribution than Ubuntu or Fedora, the available support resources are more limited.

What’s New in Zorin OS 17

Zorin OS 17 arrived over 18 months after version 16. This unusually long release cycle, shared by all Zorin OS point releases, invariably raises questions about the distro falling behind.

Base Operating System and Linux Kernel
Zorin OS 17 uses Ubuntu 22.04 LTS as its base, which gives access to the software in the main Ubuntu repositories. So while not completely bleeding edge, updated packages are still accessible.

However, it is still using the aging Linux kernel 6.2, which reached end-of-life in May 2023. Given 6.6 LTS was available and will be supported through Ubuntu’s lifecycle, it is an odd choice not to upgrade. Using EOL components increases vulnerability risks.

Desktop Environment
The desktop environment is GNOME 43, but it’s cobbled together from components of various GNOME versions. The software app store is from GNOME 45, while other apps like the image viewer remain on older codebases like GNOME 42.

This mismatch of GNOME versions is confusing. While you gain access to some updated features, you miss out on recent improvements to the file picker, settings app, Activities view, and more. The impact for new users may be minimal, but it exhibits the downsides of excessive customization.

Display Manager and Desktop Layouts
Zorin’s key desktop modifications include customized login screens and the different layout presets mentioned earlier. For instance, people switching from Windows can enable a bottom taskbar and Start-style menu instantly with a couple clicks.

Creating these familiar layouts for new adopters has always been one of Zorin’s biggest strengths. It undoubtedly eases the initial transition away from proprietary operating systems.

Other New Features
Among the enhancements highlighted for this release are:
• New quick settings menu with toggles for brightness, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.
• Power profiles for battery life or performance tuning
• Improved built-in screenshot tool
• Search box conveniently placed in the application menu
• “All Apps” view to see everything installed alphabetically
• Enabled Wayland display server by default for better touchpad and HiDPI support

Additionally, some flashy Compiz-inspired effects make a return:
• Desktop cube effect for the workspace switcher
• 3D application switcher

These effects can be disabled if desired. But they add some visual polish likely to please Linux newcomers.

The cube effect specifically introduces inconsistent desktop geometry though. Since GNOME dynamically spawns and removes workspaces, the cube shape constantly changes as windows open and close on different virtual desktops.

Finally, some advanced window tiling options reinforce productivity use cases. But these features stay hidden given their complexity for entry-level users.

Hardware Support Assessment

Given Zorin OS’s aging base software highlighted earlier, a crucial question is whether it properly supports modern PC hardware. Can it handle the latest CPUs, GPUs, and other components users might install in newly built systems?

Linux Kernel
The Linux kernel acts as the intermediary between software and hardware. But as covered already, Zorin OS 17 ships with the end-of-life kernel 6.2 that hasn’t received security patches or hardware enablement updates in over 6 months.

Kernel 6.6 LTS should have slotted in nicely given its long-term support status matching Ubuntu 22.04’s lifecycle. The failure to update creates bigger risks for newer hardware and exposes systems to known vulnerabilities.

NVIDIA and AMD Graphics Drivers
For NVIDIA GPUs, Zorin includes driver version 535. The latest drivers available upstream currently stand at version 545, with critical Wayland fixes and improved game support.

Likewise for AMD graphics, the integrated Mesa library is at version 23.0, while upstream is now on 23.3. This again leaves performance and compatibility improvements on the table.

The good news is that for older and mid-range graphics chips, the drivers present should enable basic functionality. But buyers of new high-end AMD and NVIDIA cards will likely encounter suboptimal experiences like display or resumed crashing.

The open source Nouveau driver for NVIDIA GPUs could serve as a fallback. But explicitly integrating something like Negativo17’s driver repo would have demonstrated better hardware coverage.

Intel and Other Components
Similarly for the latest Intel Arc dedicated graphics cards, the outdated kernel and Mesa packages found here do not inspire confidence in delivering a polished experience.

And while testing every possible hardware combination is infeasible for smaller distros, explicitly addressing support for Intel’s new GPUs would have strengthened Zorin’s case for modern systems.

Likewise for other newer equipment like ARM-based chips, 10 gigabit network gear, cutting edge storage drives, and fancy peripherals, buyers should temper expectations around flawless Linux compatibility. Zorin simply lacks some of the latest kernel features and device driver code to handle shiny new gear.

Flatpak and Snap Compatibility

Fortunately Zorin 17 has Flatpak support functions out the box through integration with Flathub for most third-party apps. Snaps are also enabled by default as an alternative sandboxed package type

Between these two application delivery methods, users can generally access the latest releases of everyday productivity software, multimedia tools, internet clients, and more. So the concerns around outdated software are mostly alleviated at the application layer.

Still, Zorin OS covers the bases well around installing apps through these methods. It’s primarily the lower level system components like the kernel, drivers, libraries, and core utilities that stick rigidly to the older Ubuntu LTS packages. And supplemental compatibility repos could have strengthened support even if avoiding massive package version skews.

Feature Highlights and Value Adds

Zorin Appearance
This theming app provides controls for customizing window colors, icon sets, GRUB bootloader visuals, cursor themes, and more. While power users can tap into most personalization options through GNOME Tweaks, Zorin Appearance centralizes the most popular changes.

Zorin Connect
Zorin Connect which is essentially a fork of KDE Connect facilitates convenient device integration between the Linux desktop and smartphones. It allows things like synchronizing notifications, responding to SMS texts, and browsing phone files.

Windows App Support
This one-click installer sets up Wine and PlayOnLinux to facilitate running Windows software. Considering Wine’s development focus on Windows gaming, the choice feels a bit outdated though. And Wine 6.0+ itself would serve users better for modern app compatibility rather than the older wine 8.0 packaged here.

Still, having streamlined Wine access preconfigured saves hassles for new adopters aiming to run their existing productivity suites. Adding a more visible disclaimer about testing apps before migrating data given Wine’s imperfect reliability would prove wise though.

Software Boutique Store
Access to the Ubuntu Software Center with integrated Flatpak support makes initial software discovery and installs painless. And reviews seem to indicate acceptable performance these days after previous slowness.

Pros and Cons of Using Zorin OS 17

Given our analysis of Zorin OS 17's major features so far, let's summarize the notable pros and cons of this Linux distro, particularly for beginners evaluating a switch from Mac or Windows:

Pros

  • Intuitive desktop layouts facilitate easy transition from proprietary OSes
  • Heavily customized themes and styles using upstream GNOME building blocks
  • Feature refinements like window tiling and desktop effects add flair
  • Zorin Connect and Windows App Support deliver nice integration potential
  • Backports some newer packages like Software Boutique from GNOME 45
  • Sane defaults improve out-of-box experience

Cons

  • Mixing and matching GNOME packages invites inconsistencies
  • Aging base Ubuntu 22.04 LTS with older kernel already reached EOL
  • NVIDIA and AMD drivers lag upstream significantly
  • Lack of clear modern hardware enablement focus
  • Limited in situ package upgrade/backport options
  • More risk of theme breakages after major OS updates
  • Less documentation/community support resources compared to bigger distros

Many of the "pros" reinforce how Zorin OS succeeds at crafting a welcoming introduction tailored to converting new users. But the "cons" showcase the downsides of building heavily around a dated stack.

Who Should and Should Not Use Zorin OS 17?

Given the pros and cons just outlined, what types of Linux users are ideal candidates for adopting Zorin OS 17? And for what experience levels or use cases might alternative distros prove preferable?

Good Fit
For Linux newcomers with desktops/laptops 2-3+ years old still running Windows 7, 8, or 10, Zorin OS delivers a superb transitional distribution. With dated hardware, cutting-edge driver and kernel changes matter much less. And users stand to benefit greatly from the intuitive layouts when migrating away from previous OSes.

Likewise for macOS expats with aging but still functional MacBooks, Zorin presents enough familiarity through Global Menu integration, keyboard shortcuts, and UI similarities. Enabling the macOS layout preset and GNOME's gesture support seals a relatively smooth changeover.

Based on extensive anecdotal accounts, much of Zorin's community consists of exactly these cases: former Windows and Mac users now enjoying a revived Linux experience on existing machines.

As this hardware inevitably ages farther, the equipment argument strengthens. Zorin OS 17 guarantees at least 5 more years of support too on Ubuntu 22.04 packages. So there's no rush to upgrade.

Poor Fit
Alternatively, for intermediate and advanced Linux distro hoppers wanting to evaluate latest software, Zorin OS fails to satisfy. Too many core components trail upstream release versions without clear justification. And customization quirks can frustrate those seeking vanilla GNOME 3.38+ performance.

Most critically, newcomers purchasing or building brand new PCs should seek alternatives as well. Those buying or constructing systems with AMD Ryzen 7000 processors, Intel 13th gen Raptor Lake chips, Arc discrete graphics, and other latest tech require maximal driver coverage. Zorin OS 17 can't yet deliver fully here.

Until hardware support sees remediation, buyers wanting to run Linux on freshly minted gear should evaluate options like Fedora 39 Workstation. The presence of a Linux Testing Team pulling in routine kernel and component updates breeds confidence. And while not as novice focused, guides help ease onboarding.

So modern hardware owners have cause to keep watching Zorin OS but need not switch outright given current limitations. Ongoing hardware enablement efforts could make it more compelling for new systems down the road.

Summary and Verdict on Zorin OS 17

Zorin OS 17 showcases both iterative refinements and slight cracks in the façade. It retains the strength of its familiar desktop metaphors transitioning Windows and Mac converts. And small visual and feature enhancements improve quality of life. But signs of an aging stack raise concerns about the distro’s long-term sustainability for hardware support.

This release cannot claim the title of best absolute beginner's introduction in all use cases. But it remains an excellent option for older hardware and proprietary OS escapees. Though monitoring the project’s maintenance commitments moving forward seems warranted.

For existing Zorin OS 16 users, upgrading to 17 bolsters the experience appreciably. Yet migrating from other distros solely to adopt Zorin OS offers limited appeal beyond interface familiarity. And Linux newcomers seeking robust compatibility should verify hardware coverage first given indicated driver risks.

TLDR, Zorin OS 17 is:

  • Strongly recommended for prior Windows/Mac users with older desktops/laptops desiring a familiar Linux introduction
  • Not recommended for Linux enthusiasts focused on latest upstream packages
  • Not recommended for new PC builders with cutting-edge AMD/Intel gear