Exploring the Windows-like Linux distros ChaletOS and Zorin OS

Quick Switch

Article from Issue 194/2017

ChaletOS and Zorin OS are two Ubuntu derivatives designed for users who are migrating from Windows.

Microsoft's massive effort to force Windows 10 on users is causing a whole new round of migration to Linux. If these Windows users decide to make the switch, the first distribution they encounter might be a high-profile desktop system like Ubuntu and Mint. But behind the headlines, the Linux environment is teeming with choice. More than 200 Linux derivatives vie for users' affections, and if you aren't getting what you want, you can always try another Linux.

In an effort to cover the complete Linux experience, we're always ready to explore any inventive Linux alternative. Many Linux distros are created to address a specific need. The question of how to make Linux look like Windows is particularly interesting – and important, if the goal is to attract more Windows users to the open source community. I tested two Ubuntu derivatives, ChaletOS [1] and Zorin OS [2], that are designed to facilitate easy migration from Windows.


ChaletOS, which was created in Serbia, is now available in its fourth major version. The current version is based on Ubuntu 16.04 and Debian 8, inheriting the 16.04 long-term support that lasts until April, 2021.

Although ChaletOS uses the slim Xfce for its desktop, the system looks quite a bit like a clone of current Windows versions (Figure 1). However, the developers allow you free choice over the appearance of the desktop, so you can customize the appearance of the work environment to suit your wishes in the operating system's Style Changer. ChaletOS offers several dozen pre-made styles (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Xfce doing it differently: The ChaletOS desktop operates like a clone of the current Windows versions.
Figure 2: ChaletOS is very versatile thanks to the Style Changer.

Like almost all Ubuntu derivatives, ChaletOS lets you test the system by booting from a DVD into Live mode. If you opt to install, click on the Install ChaletOS 16.04 desktop icon from a Live session or install from the boot manager at boot time. ChaletOS comes in both 32- and 64-bit variants.

With its agile Xfce desktop, ChaletOS is a good option for older computers that don't have enough memory to run big desktops like Gnome, KDE, or Unity. Although the lightweight Xfce offers fewer options than Gnome and KDE, the ChaletOS developers have taken pains to simplify configuration. In the Style Changer dialog, you modify the desktop appearance using templates, and you configure the Conky system monitor with the click of a mouse. For changes configured through the Style Changer, such as hardware management tasks, you can still use the conventional Xfce Settings menu.

Software Inventory

ChaletOS keeps the number of preinstalled programs within manageable limits, although it does provide all the typical capabilities you'd expect from a desktop Linux. Firefox and Gimp are present at first boot, although you won't find LibreOffice in the default configuration.

The VLC video player and Audacious music player are among the multimedia applications preinstalled in the distribution. You can use Brasero to burn CDs and DVDs, and you will not need to load any special codec files manually, because VLC already provides the key codecs.

Alongside the usual set of desktop applications, ChaletOS supplies some of its own flourishes. The Great Little Book Shelf and Great Little Radio Player are both the work of Dejan Petrovic, the main developer of ChaletOS. The radio player, which you will find in Application Center | Multimedia, plays radio broadcasts from the Internet, and the Great Little Bookshelf in Application Center  | Office helps sort PDF documents. The tool displays individual PDF files, with a small image of the front page in list view.

You can manage packages with the well-known Synaptic package manager. ChaletOS also supports other package management programs, such as Ubuntu Software Center, which is no longer maintained by Ubuntu. You can also try out the App Grid package tool, which is intended as an alternative to the Software Center for Ubuntu 16.04 and later systems. Click the Get AppGrid icon on the desktop to install App Grid (Figure  3), which will then appear in the System menu. Like Ubuntu Software Center, App Grid lists available applications with thumbnails, which you can install with a simple click.

Figure 3: The program management tool App Grid provides an attractive alternative to the slightly dusty Synaptic.

Windows Programs

Some games and other Windows programs have no Linux equivalent. ChaletOS provides the Wine run-time environment, so users can run their Windows programs on Linux.

Keep in mind that Wine does not emulate a complete Windows system, meaning that not all Windows programs will run on it. Apps that require a specific proprietary multimedia technology, for instance, do not fare well with Wine. To determine whether Wine can cope with specific Windows software, right-click on the file in the Thunar file manager and select Open in Wine Windows Program Loader from the pop-up menu.

The first time the Wine environment is called up, the automatic initial setup begins, which reloads Mono and Gecko packages from the network and integrates them into the Wine run time. Then, the Windows software's setup routine starts. If the setup routine does not work as expected, the probable cause is an incompatibility preventing the software from working on Wine.

An easier way to manage Windows applications in ChaletOS is with PlayOnLinux (Games | PlayOnLinux). PlayOnLinux [3] lists Windows programs sorted by category in a graphical Wine front end. Most of the options are known programs that have already been successfully tested on Linux with the assistance of Wine. PlayOnLinux sometimes loads the requested Windows applications directly from the Internet (Figure 4), but in some cases, you'll need to provide the application yourself.

Figure 4: The PlayOnLinux front end lets you install Windows software on Linux computers by simply pressing a button. Wine works as a back end.

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