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Monday, March 28, 2011

ZorinOS Revealed…

In a previous post I promised that I would review ZorinOS.  For those who missed it and are to lazy to go back and read it, or for those who forgot about it, let me explain it again quickly.  ZorinOS is a Linux operating system, which is distributed free of charge.  It’s built on Ubuntu, which is probably the most popular Linux distribution out there.  The Core Edition is distributed free of charge, but there are also Multimedia, Gaming, and Ultimate Editions available to purchase.  ZorinOS claims to have Windows-like interfaces and good Windows compatibility, as well as being faster than Ubuntu.  Well, thanks to one of my students I finally got my hands on ZorinOS 4 Core Edition, and as promised, here are my thoughts.

My overall first impression was good.  I installed it in a dual-boot configuration with Windows 7.  The installation itself was virtually painless; my only complaint is that the partitioning section could be a bit complicated for new users (even the Wizard interface can easily overwrite your other OS accidentally if you’re not careful).

I was very impressed when Zorin booted up and, after logging in, I saw what could easily be mistaken for Windows 7:


The desktop, the “Start Menu”, even the Control Panel, were all so similar to Windows 7 that someone who’s used to working in Windows 7 will be able to work with ZorinOS very easily.

ZorinOS also comes with the “Look Changer”, which is used to change the interface.  The Core Edition comes with interfaces that makes ZorinOS look like Windows 7, Windows XP, or the more “Linuxey” GNOME interface that Ubuntu uses by default.  The other editions also have other interfaces to choose from, such as a MacOSX Interface.


Even the Windows XP interface looks very realistic:


I was also very impressed with the software included with ZorinOS.  It includes most of what Ubuntu offers –, the JukeBox Music Player, etc.  But it comes with the Google Chrome browser by default instead of Mozilla Firefox, which would be a good thing for most people, but I personally prefer Firefox over Chrome.  Luckily there’s the built-in Browser Changer which can easily install another browser if you aren’t satisfied.  ZorinOS also comes with all of the codecs and software needed to play MP3’s, DVD’s and other media files, which is one thing that I always felt was missing from Ubuntu.  (And before my Ubuntu-fan friends complain about that statement, yes, I know why support for those things were left out, but in a world where PC’s are used more and more to watch DVD’s and listen to MP3’s, I find it very absurd that an OS should ship without support for it.)  In other words, just like Windows 7, ZorinOS just works straight out of the box.  With Ubuntu I always had to download about 500MB’s software just to do the things I wanted to do; not so with ZorinOS.

The claims about being very Windows compatible… Well, yes and no.  The Windows compatibility relies on two things – WINE (the Windows compatibility layer for Linux – it’s “NOT an emulator”), and the PlayOnLinux system (which also uses WINE).  So in theory there’s nothing that you can run in Zorin that you can’t run in Ubuntu if you manually install WINE and PlayOnLinux (it’s installed by default in ZorinOS); however, I find that WINE is configured better in ZorinOS.  I managed to install and run Microsoft Office 2007, for example, without changing any settings:


But having said that, it isn’t perfect.  I had some problems installing Office 2010, Paint Shop Pro, E-Sword, and a few games.  But that’s where PlayOnLinux comes in – I was able to get Far Cry 2 running perfectly, but only after PlayOnLinux downloaded about 300MB of extra files from the internet.  After that I had a 13fps improvement over Windows 7, which is awesome.  But still, if I have to download 300MB of data from the internet every time I try to install Windows software, my internet cap simply won’t last.

Concerning the claims about being faster than Ubuntu – It booted almost 5 seconds faster than Ubuntu 10.10 on my PC, and most software also loads faster.

So in conclusion: For Windows users who want to move to Linux for whatever reason, whether it’s because Linux is free, or because they want more stability or power, or just want to try something new, ZorinOS 4 is the perfect Linux distro to go for.  For die-hard Linux fans, ZorinOS is still as good as any other version of Linux.  It’s 100% pure Ubuntu under the hood, and the good old Terminal is just a mouse-click away.  But it’s still lacking in the compatibility department, and in a world where PC games are overwhelmingly Windows-based, that’s a bit of a problem.  But even in that area, I’ve had fewer problems installing Windows games in ZorinOS than in any other distribution of Linux.  In my opinion, and for my purposes, ZorinOS 4 is the most perfect Linux ever; and that’s not just because it looks like Windows.  I’ll be watching this one with interest!

Lourens, out.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Over-Rated Technology Rant

I apologize for my intermittent posts the last few months; I've been really busy trying to find my feet in my new job.

Today I want to rant a bit about what I feel is the most over-rated and overpriced piece of technology ever. I am talking, of course, about the Tablet PC.

I mean, honestly. What makes a Tablet so awesome? I don't think a tablet can do anything that can't be done on another device just as well, or even better, and usually with more style.

For example, what can you do on an iPad that I can't do on my BlackBerry? My Berry can send and receive e-mails, browse the web, play music, take photos, show movies, and open and edit Office documents, just like a tablet. But even more, my Berry can also make and receive calls, send messages, and fit in my pocket, all of it at a fraction of the price of a Tablet.

So my question is this: Why are tablets so popular then? Could someone please explain it to me? The discussion is open. Feel free to comment.

Lourens, out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Frequent Web Stops

I know, I know. I'm really not living up to my early blogging promises, am I? My sincerest apologies. But, here I am.

Now, unfortunately I couldn't get my hands on a working copy of ZorinOS yet, and due to my new teaching career I really didn't focus as much on migrating to Ubuntu as I planned. So don't expect a discussion on any of those subjects yet. Rather, in this post, I would like to share some of my favorite on-line places with you.

Firstly, there's Facebook. Obviously I don't really need to say much about it. I know, their privacy and security features are notoriously pathetic. But hey, none of that has ever affected me before. I find that Facebook is a great place to find old friends, and an even greater place to maintain some form of communication with people that are far away or that I just can't reach regularly in any other way in these rushed times. Yes, I'm addicted to Facebook. So sue me.

Secondly, there's Weather24. A very informative, though sometimes completely inaccurate, weather service. And I can access it from my BlackBerry, which definitely gives it Brownie Points.

Thirdly, theres PCMech. In their own words, "Helping Normal People Get Their Geek On". An awesome resource of IT and computer-related news and tips. They even inspire some of my own blog posts. I'm subscribed to their weekly newsletter, so I can get all the PCMech goodness in my inbox.

There are also quite a few blogs that I love to visit, some of them purely for entertainment purposes, and others for their intellectual or spiritual content:

  • Blog of Ice: This blog belongs to my oldest friend and his wife (oldest not by age, but simply because we've been friends the longest, since 1st grade). They emigrated from South Africa to Sweden a few years ago, and this blog lists their interesting (and often humorous) experiences.
  • Me, Myself and I: A blog by a very sweet person. She's sharing her struggles with Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder), and the healing process that she has to go through to deal with all of the abuse she went through in her childhood. A very thought-provoking (and often tear-inducing) read.
  • Purple Black and Blue: Another blog by an old High School friend of mine. It's about abuse, all kinds of abuse, and ways to fight it. Very interesting thoughts and facts, and a good read for anyone, especially those of us with children.
  • 4 Seisoene: Mostly an Afrikaans blog, but with some very creative and inspiring thoughts by another old school friend of mine. Highly recommended as a light but uplifting read.
  • Life and Times of Jaco the Wizard: He describes me as being "...the proverbial band-camp IT geek". Very appropriate, since we really got to know each other in our High School Marching Band. Jaco (a.k.a. The Wizard) is very passionate about photography, and he shows off some of his work on this site, as well as sharing some humorous and thought-provoking insights.
I hope you will get as much out of these pages as I do. If you have any recommendations, please leave a comment...

Lourens, out.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Return of the Penguin

I apologize for my absence of almost 3 months. The truth is that very little has been happening IT-wise that I felt worth discussing. But today is different...

According to several rumors (some of them from very reliable sources, but please don't quote me on any of this since I'm not to be held responsible for any false information, I'm just telling it as I hear it), Microsoft isn't doing as well as expected. Some of these rumors state that there is a lack of confidence in Microsoft's current CEO, Steve Ballmer, even from within Microsoft's own staff. Even worse, some rumors say that Windows 7 isn't selling as well as Microsoft estimated, and even that they went so far as to lie about these sales figures to the public. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, is it?

But a cold hard fact is that Windows XP will officially be showing its age this year (it is, after all, 10 years old). You see, several new technologies will be emerging this year, including USB 3.0 and the ability to access hard drives over 3TB in capacity. These are major advances. And none of these technologies will be supported in Windows XP. Despite this fact, web statistics show that at November 2010, a whopping 47% of computer users were still running XP (compared to the second highest number, 28.5% of people running Windows 7).

People have two options - Either they have to upgrade to Windows 7, or they have to migrate to another OS. I personally support both options.

Firstly, let me make plain once again that I am a big fan of Windows 7. If you look at some of my previous posts you will see that I am quite impressed with many of the changes that Microsoft made to their software and business approaches in the last year and a half. And I stick by that - really, I'm all for buying a Windows 7 license.

But I also have to admit that the other option is starting to look better and better each day. When it comes to migrating to another OS, I wholeheartedly recommend going for Ubuntu.

I won't be going into detail now, since I already did a review of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS in a previous post. However, let me just mention that I'm running the above-mentioned version of Ubuntu alongside my Windows 7 installation, and I find myself booting into Ubuntu more and more often, and less and less into Windows. I'm basically only using Windows for gaming right now.

The reason why I recommend Ubuntu over other distributions of Linux? Thank you for asking. Well, there are various reasons, among others:
  1. Ubuntu is probably the most popular Linux distribution.
  2. Ubuntu is very user-friendly.
  3. The learning curve for someone migrating from Windows isn't that complicated.
  4. It's a very stable, fast, and well-supported operating system.
However, another Linux distribution has recently come to my attention. It's called Zorin OS.

Zorin OS is based on Ubuntu, so it has the same support and stability levels. But it is optimized for people migrating from other operating systems. It claims to have better Windows compatibility, even claiming to play many Windows games faster and better than Windows itself. And it includes a way to change its user interface so that it can look and function exactly like Windows XP, Windows 7, MacOS, and others. Sounds impressive indeed...

I will be looking into Zorin OS in the next few weeks, and I will post my findings as soon as I have them. I am also planning to explain the process of migrating from Windows to Linux in more detail soon, so for those of you who are interested, check back soon. But for those of you who are sticking with Windows, don't worry, I'm not planning on abandoning the system completely. This blog is, after all, not dedicated to Linux but to IT in general.

So until next time, be blessed.

Lourens, out.