Sparkling fresh updates to Ubuntu, Mint and Zorin on way

What's new in the world of Irish Ubuntu derivatives

It seems to be kernel update season out there. The current Ubuntu LTS gets a new kernel, Zorin OS 17 gets a new point release – and Mint announces two updated editions, coming really soon now.

It is very nearly one year since Ubuntu 22.04.1 was released, and as long term support versions get semiannual updates, release 22.04.3 is expected any day. Once the next Ubuntu interim release appears, it's normal for the following minor–point-release of the LTS to get a new kernel. So, six months after 22.04.1 and four months after 22.10 "Kinetic Kudu", the next point-version of Jammy, Ubuntu 22.04.2, duly delivered kernel 5.19.

So, with 23.04 "Lunar Lobster" out for four months and proving fairly stable on The Reg FOSS Desk's kit, we were expecting 22.04.3 any day now, including a second Hardware Enablement update, including the kernel from Lunar.

Surprisingly, though, Canonical has jumped the gun slightly. We read some reports, via OMGUbuntu, that the latest update to "Jammy Jellyfish" includes the new kernel 6.2. We've tried it on our own Thinkpad X220, and it's true: without prompting, we got upgraded from kernel 5.19 to 6.2. It seems to be working perfectly smoothly, and if we hadn't been watching out for it we might not even have noticed.

Meanwhile, over in Ireland…

Two of the more polished end-user desktop Linux distros are Linux Mint and Zorin OS. For two entirely separate projects, there's quite a lot of common ground between them. Both are small families of distros, rather than a single edition. Both are based on Ubuntu LTS releases. Both aim to deliver a more comfortable, Windows-like experience. Both add Flatpak support, which Ubuntu omits from recent versions. Both offer a high-end desktop based on GNOME plus extensive customisations, which bring it closer to the look and feel of Windows 10 or 11, but both also offer lighter editions for lower-end kit, based on Xfce. Both are developed in the Republic of Ireland, but by developers who originally hail from elsewhere.

Mint is probably the better known. There are four editions: each Ubuntu-based release comes with a choice of three desktops, Cinnamon (forked from GNOME 3), MATE (forked from GNOME 2) or Xfce. The latest release is 21.2, released just last month. The fourth variant is Linux Mint Debian Edition, which is currently on version 5, codenamed "Elsie", which is based on Debian 11.

The latest blog post from the Mint project reveals that work has begun on LMDE 6, to be codenamed "Faye". Debian 12 "Bookworm" came out in June, and just got its first point release, which will form the basis of the next LMDE release, expected at the end of the year.

The other thing announced in the blog post is something new for the Mint project: what it terms "EDGE" releases, which will also feature the new kernel 6.2. As we have described previously, Mint normally does not adopt the HWE kernel updates from its upstream Ubuntu LTS – Mint 21.2 retains the original 5.15 that Ubuntu shipped in April last year – so this is a bit of a departure. The purpose of Ubuntu's HWE updates is to make it easier to install a year or two old LTS release on the latest brand-new hardware, and now, that benefit should extend to Mint as well.

Zorin freshens up, too – in more ways than one

The other Irish Ubuntu derivative that we know about here at Vulture Towers in the Irish Sea is Zorin OS. Developed by brothers Kyrill and Artyom Zorin, the current major version 16, based on Ubuntu 20.04, came out the year after its upstream.

Now, version 16.3 is here. This is just a point release; the next major release will be based on Ubuntu Jammy. CEO Artyom told us:

We're now thick in the development of Zorin OS 17, which is progressing nicely. We work under a "release when ready" policy, so we don't have a specific release date set, but we're planning to launch it in the second half of this year

A welcome addition in the current 16.3 is the new Zorin OS Upgrader. With previous releases of Zorin OS, the only way to upgrade to a newer version was to reinstall, but the new tool permits users not only to move to newer versions, such as from 2019's version 15.x to 16.x, but also to change editions.

As before, there's a somewhat confusing array of offerings, and we feel that the company would benefit from clearer explanations of the differences on its website. There are three tiers: Core and Education are free, while Pro must be paid for and comes with bundled support. All use GNOME, version 3.38.4, plus some 24 bundled GNOME extensions which provide desktop layouts resembling various versions of Windows, as well as macOS, Ubuntu and upstream GNOME layouts. For all three, there are also Lite variants, which use the Xfce desktop and have lighter system requirements.

Zorin OS looks very elegant, with a very clean, flat theme in bright white. The Zorin Appearance app for switching desktop layouts, which we showed when looking at 16.2, is excellent, and we're impressed that the themes and desktop layouts are reproduced in the Xfce editions too.

Zorin supports all the major cross-distro app formats: Snap, and Flatpak, and AppImage. No snaps are preinstalled, but we counted no less than 62 Flatpak packages, consuming 18GB of disk space on their own. This is possibly the heaviest distro of any kind that we've seen yet.

Needing 40GB of disk space is not a lot to ask in 2023, but there are no fancy features to show for it, like Deepin's redundant root partitions, or openSUSE style snapshots and rollback, as also found in Spiral Linux, Garuda Linux and siduction.

Zorin looks great, but the differences are just skin deep. The primary desktop is still GNOME, and changing the layout doesn't equip the various GNOME accessories with traditional UIs. For that, we feel that Mint still has the edge. Zorin OS has a lot of extra apps bundled, as we listed when we covered the launch of 16.0 back in 2021.

Compared to some of the other Ubuntu remixes out there, we feel that Zoris OS comes up somewhat lacking. It doesn't change much of the underlying base OS, which is now distinctly dated. Linux Lite offers more tools for tweaking screen resolutions and so on, while Teejeetech's Zinc 22.04 offers richer tools for finding and managing native .deb packages. It's good that Zorin OS now offers version upgrades, although to be honest, we were surprised to learn that this was a new feature.

We suggest the teams behind Linux Lite, Mint, Zinc, and Zorin get together, and hash out a way to combine their efforts. There's a great deal of overlap between them: all use Ubuntu and Xfce, and all have unique features to bring to the table. If they could combine their efforts and work out a combined hybrid remix for the Ubuntu 24.04 release cycle, they could do something very special. ®

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