Sunday, September 22, 2013

Zorin 6.4 "Educational" Review: Very good for Kids, Fun to use, but lags a bit behind for Graduate students

During post graduate education and doctoral studies I was relying primarily on Windows 2000 and Windows XP to write my thesis. I could recall the nights spent with Adobe Pagemaker, LaTeX and MS Word for writing dissertation, managing references and citations using EndNote and many other software which actually helped me a lot in my research work. Unfortunately those days I wasn't initiated to Linux and today I feel Linux could have helped me a lot better to finish my work faster. For example, once my Windows crashed and I lost about 3 months of work. Fortunately, I had backup of my research data.

With that context, it is not surprising that I check out a lot of the Linux distros which come with "Education" tag. I tried UberStudent 2 earlier this year and was very impressed by the developer's focus on post graduate students. Similarly, Edubuntu is another distro which impressed me a lot. However, majority of the so-called "Educational" distros I tried have little to offer in terms of aesthetics. In fact, quite a few of them look pretty ugly and/or boring.

The Zorin 6 "Educational" is an effort in that direction to combine an aesthetically pleasing interface to a host of educationally relevant software. Like Zorin 6 Core, it is based on Ubuntu 12.04.*, has an LTS focus (5 year support ending Apr'17) and comes with a tweaked GNOME 3.4 DE.


From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
I checked out Zorin 6 Educational earlier but didn't get time to write a review. So, here I am with my review of Zorin 6.4 Educational - the latest update which brings in the goodness of Ubuntu 12.04.3 release. 

One point here: unlike Ubuntu 12.04.3, Zorin still comes with long term Linux kernel 3.2.0 and hence, may not work as good as Ubuntu LTS on machines with the latest Intel Haswell processors.

Zorin 6.4 Educational comes in two flavors: one, heavier with GNOME 3.4 and another "lite" version with LXDE desktop. For this review, I used the GNOME one.

I first created a live USB of 32-bit Zorin 6.4 "Educational" ISO (~2 GB in size and with GNOME 3.4) using Unetbootin. Then I did a live boot followed by installation on my Asus K54C with Core i3 2.2 Ghz processor and 2 GB RAM. I have only proprietary Intel graphics and hence, didn't have to worry of installing Bumblebee or AMD Radeon specific drivers. Installation is pretty simple - for details please refer my Zorin 7 review.

Aesthetics
Zorin 6.4 Educational looks like typical Zorin Core and is aesthetically more pleasing than any of the educational distros I have used. Refinement is evident right from the boot splash and the attention to details in the distro is amazing.


From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Zorin 6.4 has a Zorin menu which looks good but I found it to be a little less functional. For me, a simple menu, where I have to click less, works best.  

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

The OS comes with compiz pre-installed and has a lot of animations. It feels good in the beginning but may become a bit distracting after a point. The best option is to remove all unnecessary effects from the compiz-settings-manager. Anyway, Zorin supports nice looking desktop cubes and can be a good showoff!

Zorin comes with three themes, Windows 7 (the default one), Windows XP (looks pretty dull) and GNOME 2. Thankfully the lame MacOSX theme is not included here!

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

In overall, Zorin 6.4 "Educational" is shipped with brilliant aesthetics which is unparalleled in the educational distro niche. The over-use of animation may be annoying but that can be controlled.

Finally, to spice up the desktop, I added a simple conky. Conky works quite well with Zorin.


From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

Hardware Recognition
Normally all Zorin releases I have used are very good in correctly recognizing hardware and 6.4 Educational is no exception. Without any manual intervention, it recognized correctly my wifi, screen resolution, touchpad and sound card among others.

Applications
Zorin 6.4 Educational ships with all the good applications in Zorin 6.4 Core along with a host of educational ones. Further, all multimedia codecs and Adobe flash-plugin 11 are pre-installed. Even the browser installer of Zorin Core is present in Zorin Educational. It works pretty much out of the box which is a good thing for those who want to use it for production purposes. 

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
  • Office: LibreOffice 3.5.7.2 suite – Calc, Writer, Impress, Base, Math, Draw, Document viewer, Dictionary, Calibre E-book Management, VYM (View Your Mind)
  • Internet: Google Chrome 29, Empathy Instant Messaging, Gwibber Social Client, Remmina Remote Desktop Client, Thunderbird 17, Zorin Web Browser Manager
  • Graphics: Dia Diagram Editor, GIMP 2.8.6, Image Viewer, Inkscape, Pencil, Shotwell Photo Manager, Simple Scan
  • Multimedia: Brasero, Cheese 3.4.1, Totem Movie Player 3.0.1, Openshot Video Editor 1.4.3, Rhythmbox Music Player 2.96, Sound Recorder, VLC 2.0.8
  • Accessories: Activity Journal, Archive Manager, Calculator, Screenshot, Terminal, Text Editor, Tomboy Notes, Xournal
  • Others: Nepomuk Backup, Ubuntu Tweak, Compiz Config, Wine, PlayonLinux
The discussion below primarily centers around the unique features of Zorin 6.4 Educational. For Zorin 6 Core features like settings manager, controls, repositories, etc. please refer any Zorin 6 Review.

 The high points of this distro are the educational applications. I checked almost all the applications and feel that most of them are meant for primary and secondary school kids, like:
Stellarium From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

For kids, Zorin Educational offers a host of good fun learning options to keep them engaged. It caters children of all ages starting from 2 years. My 2.5 year old daughter's favorites from the distro are Potato Guy and Tux Paint.

Zorin Educational has a few applications like FreeCAD, LibreCAD and LRF viewer which can of some use for graduate studies. It is a pity that LaTeX or LyX document processor is not included in the list. LibreOffice Writer is there of course, but having a document processor, as good as LaTeX, actually helps while writing dissertation or preparing professional documents for publication.

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

Like UberStudent, Zorin OS could have created some webapps for UG/PG educational resources and that would have definitely added a new dimension to the distro. So far, it is useful specifically for the kids and doesn't provide much options for PG students. I thought most people get interested about Linux in college (at least in the part where I live) and except UberStudent & Scientific Linux, not many distro cater the college going group.

Otherwise, Zorin provides a good combination of KDE Education Project and other third party kids' education applications. Further plus point is it comes with PlayonLinux and Wine. I found them useful in installing quite a few Windows specific softwares like Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, MS Office suite. Even I read Minitab can be installed using Wine.

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

Installing Cran R Statistical Analysis Software in Zorin
Professionally I do statistical modeling for Banking sector. Hence, to make my Zorin installation truly "educational", I installed the freely available open source R project. R has different versions for Debian, Ubuntu, OpenSUSE, etc. Even for Ubuntu, each release has a different version, e.g. Cran R Precise, Cran R Raring, etc.

Zorin 6.4 Educational is based on Precise Pangolin and hence, I followed the steps for installation specifically meant for Precise:

First, get the repository SSL key and import it to APT
gpg --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv-key E084DAB9
gpg -a --export E084DAB9 | sudo apt-key add -

Second, edit the /etc/apt/sources.list to add the Cran R repos
sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

Add the following at the bottom:
deb http://ftp.iitm.ac.in/cran/bin/linux/ubuntu precise/

I stay in India and I added the nearest mirror. You can get the source nearest to you from here.

Third, update and then install R.
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install r-base

Once installed, type R in the terminal to start. Though there was menu entry created for me in Graphics but it won't start R. It is primarily terminal based and is a bit cumbersome to use. So, a GUI front end is required to effectively analyze data.


From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Based on a quick search in Ubuntu repositories, I identified 3 front-end GUIs for R:
  • R Commander
  • JGR
  • RKWard

Both R Commander and JGR worked for me, but I couldn't get the back-end R started for RKWard. Installation details of JGR is given here.


R Commander From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
JGR From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Further, Mathematica has a Ubuntu / Linux version as well. But, it is not free.

Installing SPSS alternative (PSPP)
If you think R is quite complex, there is a simpler alternative - PSPP. The latest version is quite handy for simple analysis and works similar to SPSS. It can be downloaded from Ubuntu Precise repos.

From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in
Post installation, it worked fine for me. It is not as comprehensive as SPSS but never-the-less is a handy option for quick data analysis.
SPSS Linux Alternative PSPP From Zorin 6.4 "Educational" http://mylinuxexplore.blogspot.in

Another good tool to have is SOFA Statistics. It is available for Ubuntu and the key features are given here.

Performance
Zorin 6.4 "Educational" gave me a comparable performance to Zorin 6 Core and is quite smooth to use. At steady state, it consumed about 285 MB of RAM and 1-10% CPU. Overall, I was quite happy with it's performance. It didn't give me any trouble during my 6-7 days of use. Below is a comparison of all the 32-bit GNOME distros that I checked out in 2012-13 on my Asus K54C. The RAM and CPU usage are recorded under comparable conditions and are directional.


Operating System Size of ISO Base Desktop Linux kernel CPU Usage RAM usage Size of installation
Zorin OS 7 1.5 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.6 3.8.0 1-10% 195 MB 4.0 GB
Antergos 2013.08.20 671 MB Arch GNOME 3.8.4 '3.10.0 1-10% 207 MB 3.6 GB
Ubuntu 12.04.2 LTS 693 MB Ubuntu Unity 5 3.5.0 1-10% 230 MB
Pear OS 6 862 MB Ubuntu Pear Aurora 1.0.5 3.2.0 1-5% 235 MB
ROSA 2012 Fresh Gnome 1.1 GB Mandriva Gnome 3.6.2 3.6.10 1-10% 235 MB
Linux Deepin 12.12.1 1.2 GB Ubuntu GNOME 3.8 3.8.0 1-10% 240 MB 4.0 GB
Ubuntu 12.04.3 LTS 741 MB Ubuntu Unity 5.20.0 3.8.0 1-10% 250 MB 3.06 GB
Elementary OS Beta 1 651 MB Ubuntu Pantheon 3.2.0 1-5% 270 MB
LuninuX 12.10 1500 MB Ubuntu Gnome 3.6 with Docky 3.5.0 1-5% 280 MB
Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS 730 MB Ubuntu Unity 5 3.2.0 1-10% 280 MB
Ubuntu 13.04 Gnome 1 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.8 3.8.0 1-10% 280 MB
Zorin 6.4 Educational 2 GB Ubuntu GNOME 3.4.2 3.2.0 1-10% 285 MB 5.6 GB
Fedora 19 GNOME 964 MB Fedora GNOME 3.8 3.9.8 1-10% 297 MB 3.28 GB
Zorin 6 Core 1.4 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.4.1 3.2.0 1-10% 300 MB
OpenSUSE 12.2 Gnome 704 MB OpenSUSE Gnome 3.4.2 3.4.6 1-10% 310 MB
Ubuntu 13.04 835 MB Ubuntu Unity 7 3.8.0 1-10% 320 MB 4.98 GB
Pinguy OS 12.04 1.8 GB Ubuntu Gnome 3.4.1 3.2.0 1-5% 325 MB
Elementary OS 0.2 (64-bit) 728 MB Ubuntu Pantheon 3.2.0 1-5% 340 MB 2.87 GB
Sabayon 13.08 GNOME 1.8 GB Gentoo GNOME 3.8.3 3.10.0 1-10% 363 MB 6.13 GB
Ubuntu 12.10 790 MB Ubuntu Unity 6 3.5.0 1-10% 412 MB

Also, given Zorin Educational is loaded with normal plus academic softwares, I expected it to take a bit more space than other Ubuntu based distros.

Comparison to other "Educational" distros
As I mentioned, if I compare Zorin Educational to UberStudent, Zorin is miles behind - at best Zorin can be called as a "School goers distro" but nothing beyond that. However, UberStudent, though ships with a whole lot of applications and utilities useful for graduate students, doesn't have the refinement of Zorin and looks pretty ugly.

From Uberstudent Aristotle
Edubuntu, on the other hand, also caters mainly to school goers and manages to look decent. But it is not as refined as Zorin.

Another distro, Scientific Linux, from RHEL stable, is definitely a viable option for any graduate student. However, I have used Scientific Linux - it is nowhere as fun to use as Zorin 6.4 Educational. I would call it a bit boring.

Overall
Zorin 6.4 Educational is primarily meant for school going kids and may be to a certain extent for UG studies. For kids, it offers a lot of good entertaining educational alternatives to keep them engaged. Possibly, that's the mandate set by the Zorin developers. Definitely it lags behind academics oriented distros like UberStudent in terms utility softwares for PG students. However, Ubuntu repository is still there and academically relevant softwares can be installed in Zorin. For this test, I installed a whole lot of statistical softwares with pretty great results in Zorin 6.4 Educational. Definitely I am going to retain this distro after all the effort I put in to install Statistical Software.

For those who are looking for a good looking educational distro, perhaps Zorin is the one. This is particularly one aspect where Zorin has no competition. I definitely recommend to those looking for an educational or academics oriented distro which is more fun to use than Scientific Linux.

You can download the 32 bit version with pae kernel (which works for 64 bit machines as well) from here.

3 comments:

  1. Hello Arindam, I know I am off topic with this post, but I didn't find another way to reach you.

    I read your reviews for quite a while now. I like your style and the fact that you don't use foul language, to me you are always a gentleman to people.

    After exploring and using Ubuntu, Mint, Mageia and Manjaro, I am using SolydXK (formerly known as the Unofficial LMDE KDE) as my KDE (4.11) distro at the moment, and I think I will stick to it for quite a while.

    It is based on Debian Testing, and is updated each month (semi-rolling release). It is not bleeding edge but very up to date, and very stable. There are not much distro's out there who have these features.

    It has a small but active forum user base, with people who are not "fanboys", but who want to help each other out.

    Can you please review this distro in the near future, IMHO I think it deserves more publicity.

    Thank you from a Dutch Linux user, and keep up the good reviewing and writing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Joost,

      Thanks for liking my post. I am also using SolyDK and deeply impressed by it. Actually I didn't get time to pen down a review in August-13. However, I'll definitely cover SolyDK or SolyDX when the next update comes. It is definitely a distro I would like to review and eagerly waiting for the next update.

      Regards,
      Arindam

      Delete
    2. Hi Arindam,

      Thanks for replying. Good to see that you use SolydK to. New Iso's will be out this week. I am looking forward to your review!

      Regards,
      Joost

      Delete