Microsoft has announced that on April 8, 2014, it will stop supporting Windows XP. This means that the 12-year-old OS will no longer receive security updates to fix vulnerabilities which have been reported to Microsoft. The result is that hackers could increase their attacks on Windows XP users, especially in the case of any zero-day vulnerabilities that Microsoft subsequently fixes in other versions of Windows but which remain in XP. If you do stick with XP, you should read our XP end of support guide.
Microsoft’s own website tells users to not let their PCs “go unprotected.” And, of course, they want you to upgrade to another version of Windows which costs money. If you are looking for a free alternative to Windows XP, Zorin OS could be the one for you.
Zorin OS is a Linux distribution which tries to bridge the gap to Windows. It has been designed specifically for Windows users who want to move away from XP. It is based on Ubuntu and can be installed alongside XP. It also provides a way to run Microsoft Windows programs with the help of WINE and PlayOnLinux. Programs like Adobe Photoshop CS3 (10.0) or Yahoo! Messenger are reported to work without any problems. Also games like Final Fantasy XI Online and StarCraft should run out-of-the-box.
Installing Zorin OS is quite simple, especially if you want to replace XP with Linux. Since Zorin OS is based on Ubuntu, creating a dual-boot setup is simple enough. You can find details in our guide to dual-booting Windows and Ubuntu. The first step to installing Zorin OS is to boot the Live CD and then run the “Install Zorin OS” program. Follow the steps, but make sure that you don’t delete your existing Windows installation by mistake. When the installation has finished reboot your PC.
Zorin OS has been designed to be familiar to XP users, however it doesn’t try to blatantly copy the Windows look and feel. In the bottom left is the Z icon which serves as the “Start” button and gives you access to the installed programs. Along the bottom is the task bar, and at the bottom right is the clock and other tray icons.
Double-click on the Home icon to open the file explorer (the equivalent of Windows Explorer). The file explorer in Zorin OS uses a Windows-like theme which should make it familiar to Windows users. Down the left hand side is Places (including Home, Desktop, Downloads, Pictures etc) followed by the Devices list (the hard drives etc) and a way to browse the network. The right hand pane shows the files and folders. There is an option to display the icons as a list or in a grid along with options to change the sort order.
To install Windows software that you have downloaded from the Internet, open the Downloads folder in the file explorer but do not double-click on the “.exe” file. Instead right-click on it and select “Open With.” Click on “Wine Windows Program Loader.” This will launch the Windows program under WINE and enable you to install it on Zorin OS. The process is very similar for Windows applications that you have on CD or DVD, but rather than opening the Downloads folder, you would browse to the optical drive.
To run an installed Windows program, click on the Z icon and then click “Other” to see a list of programs installed via WINE.
Overall Zorin OS manages to make the transition from Windows to Linux a little bit easier. The UI is designed to be familiar to Windows users, and the inclusion of WINE helps with software that is only available for Windows. However, Zorin OS is still Linux and it can’t be considered as a slot in replacement for XP. The differences between the two operating systems, although in no way insurmountable, mean that only those with a reasonable level of technical competence will find Zorin OS a viable alternative. However, if you can’t upgrade to a newer version of Windows and you are stuck with XP, then there is no harm in giving Zorin OS a try! Being able to dual boot also helps as you can always return to Windows XP if you don’t like Zorin OS.
If you have any questions about Zorin OS, please feel free to ask them in the comments section below.