Some general questions about ZorinOS, and switching from Windows

Hi, I'm new to ZorinOS but not new to Linux or computers. I use Windows and different Linux distros on my main pc.

I've been trying out ZorinOS 16.2 Core for last ~1 week and have been very impressed. I am now considering moving my parents/family from Windows to ZorinOS.

I will be using Core edition, and perhaps Pro if needed. I also plan to do a fresh install after saving all the data, and not have dual boot, it will just be Linux.

The hardware they have is -

Lenovo ThinkCentre M93p
old Dell/HP business laptop

This is 8-9yr old hardware, I buy them used on ebay for cheap, upgrade with ssd, and they are business class machines which work very well. I don't think there will be any compatibility issues as this is pretty standard hardware.

Questions I have about software setup -

  1. Backups: as I understand Timeshift is the best for system backups, and another app for ~ folder? Also I know you can configure snapshots to show up in grub but I don't know how newbie friendly that is. Do you recommend a separate partition for these or not? I'd much rather use an external drive, backup everything to it automatically whenever attached, and have a way to recover from it if system wont boot

  2. What extra apps/extensions/tweaks are recommended esp for elderly and non-techie people? Theres a huge thread here Top X+1 things to do after installing Zorin OS 16 but it has all kinds of stuff

  3. Office - they use an old copy of Office 2010 for now. There are docx files also. I see LibreOffice supports them but also read that OnlyOffice is better - should I install that instead? They use gmail for email

  4. Remote Desktop - I need a way to do this as they are very far away. Alternatives to Windows Apps - Zorin Help has a few listed, I use teamViewer now, is that still the best option for Linux?

  5. Windows app support - would you recommend using Wine support built into the OS, or having a small VM running Windows 10 in virtualbox, for the Windows apps that are needed? Can the vm apps be run headless - i.e. launch the app from Linux desktop and it starts the VM and app runs in a window but its actually running inside the VM ?

Also I'd like to know what are the areas they might run into problems with and the biggest missing gaps compared to Windows in your opinion. e.g one thing I can think of is getting them to understand there are no drive letters.

But the biggest qn - should I even consider this? My own level of experience is very different. They are very happy with their current Windows setup, and to be honest I'm concerned any change for its own sake is a bad idea. My main motivation for this is things in Windows can be confusing, but so can Linux, often much more so, and I also know Linux is much more efficient. But in the end its all about usability and being familiar and comfortable.

Thanks

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I have my own opinions on your above questions.
For example, I recommend Virtual Machine running Windows rather than Wine.

But I would like to really focus on this question first.

No, you should not. Not at all.
Instead...
They should consider this.
And you can only respect their own wants.

If they are happy with their set up - Enjoy that they are happy.

Perhaps they might enjoy Linux More. But... they must be willing on their own, at their own choice, to try it out.
And if they seem like any agreement is just trying to please you then... they won't be happy.

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I fully agree with what you said, and I do not want to force my desires on them.

My dad calls me sometimes with some popup from some software or the OS which he doesnt understand. These are not malware. e.g. I installed Classic Shell for him (for the familiar Win7 start menu) and he got an update message from it. Same for various Windows messages.

I've also told them very strongly not to run any attachments or visit random sites. but sometimes he will get an imp email with an attachment (e.g. zip file/self extracting) that he needs.

With Linux I'd also feel comfortable asking them to try out other software they may like, e.g small games like scrabble etc for my dad of which are are many. Or other utility apps.

I will only make the switch if they are happy with it.

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For a GUI managed application, I prefer Timeshift. Timeshift is reliable, stable and easy to use.
Others like Rescuezilla. The only reason I do not is the space that Rescuezilla requires in order to be used. For your described applicability, Rescuezilla may be the better fit. It can create a snapshot of the entire OS, allowing fast restoration.
Having your ~ directory on a separate partition helps protect your personal files and data from loss.
There are means of backing up to an external drive that allow you to remotely restore from the back up. I have used these systems, but am not well versed in setting them up.

Being non-techie seems age independent. So what apps are really best covered between you and your users. If you give us ideas of Needs or applications they want, we can make Linux Friendly recommendations...
As general as your current question is - you will end up with as many suggestions as the thread you linked. Many of which won't apply to you.

I always used Teamviewer on Windows and Remmina on Linux.

I answered this one earlier... I will detail here:
Wine is great. But not all apps work on Wine and not all apps work the way they do on Windows OS. Wine is a compatibility layer and while it is very good, there are limits to reason.
Wine can also get complicated pretty quickly, be difficult to manage remotely and it can only run Windows Applications - the user cannot browse and operate as they would in Windows.
For your needs, a Virtual Windows Machine really sounds the way to go. It may be a bit more work to set it up, but would fulfill your requirements better and be easier to manage and reset. It also would be utterly unable to affect or alter the Linux Distro install.

The biggest hurdle switching users face is Application install / removal and the Terminal.
When I switched, the terminal was a very scary place. Now, it is my go-to tool for most things. I do not use Software store or Synaptic - only terminal for file modification, search, package checks, kernel, installs... I thoroughly understand both sides- the migrants aversion to it... And the Linux users that love it.
But not everyone responds to the terminal the same way.
While it is my own goal to encourage the terminal for the efficient and powerful tool that it is, minimizing the exposure to a new and non-tech user is a great way to help ease them into the pool.
While I personally dislike the Software store, it is very easy for newcomers to use.
It's not complex like Synaptic is.
And the terminal scares new users that feel lost as to what to type into the empty blank looking thing.
Using GUI applications that come with Zorin OS like the Software & Updates app, Software Updater and Software store can keep them from the most common terminal use.
The next familiarity issue is inevitable: Knowing where to find the settings that they want.
I usually recommend Zorin Lite or Zorin Pro Lite depending on the users need for Settings and ability to really sete things up their own way.
And with Cinnamon D.E., a machine can be set up to resemble Windows so closely, that many users don't realize it is Linux (Like many city libraries do).

Lastly, even as you shoulder the burden of being their tech support; this forum can help you there with individualized support and troubleshooting. Don't hesitate to send them our way if you need.

Only @Frog bites. But he's lost his teeth. I'm sure he will find them, though.
Soon as he remembers where he put his glasses.

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scream

disguised_face

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Does Remmina work over the Internet, without having to open ports, knowing target ip etc?

My dad is in his late 70s. He knows his way around a browser and Word, but doesnt understand much about file systems, file associations, fixing things or OS error messages etc. He knows not to go random websites, and to reboot when Windows Update says to, after closing open documents. He has never used the command line and I see no reason why he'd need to.

He needs a Office compatible suite, browser, some kind of video chat, media player, and mulitlingual typing, that is pretty much it.

I spent a lot of time on youtube searching for timeshift usage, hundreds of videos all showing the same screenshots. They were all running high powered modern pc's with multiple internal ssd's which they used as backup target.

Not a single one showed how to store backups on external drive, or how to recover from system disaster, or how to run backup when drive is connected.

It was completely pointless and left me with a very bad taste of the Linux content creators.

I love the terminal, in windows I use cmdline all the time and install most software via scoop (Linux like package manager), in Linux I use zsh. My family will not and should not ever need to.

Also, if they do end up using Linux, and I can get an external dns working for their pc's, I'm hoping I can ssh into them remotely and diagnose/fix most problems much easier than I would be able to in Windows. Unless its some hardware issue.

:rofl:
But when I think about it, it's no wonder frogs have few teeth.

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I dislike Video Guides in general, but I know others seem to like them. Here is one on Remmina as it may answer more questions more clearly:

There are a ton on Linux. You can pick and choose based on what tickles you the most. I find Audacious to be a simple and easy to use music player. I use Exaile, myself.
I used VLC almost exclusively on Windows and it works on Linux, too. But I prefer the default Video Players over VLC these days.
The default Totem should work well for any video for your needs. It is simple, easy to navigate without a ton of options.
You probably will need to remember to install some of the restricted extras due to media having some proprietary stuff.

Just about any browser that works on Windows will work perfectly fine on Linux. You can even install MS Edge Browser. It works great. I have used it.
Plus a great many more. If he is used to a browser he uses now, you can continue using that one and even port his stuff over to it.

Opinions are strong about the best MS Office alternative on Linux. many of these opinions are based on the expertise and stricter requirements of the users. For basic home office use, the default LibreOffice should fill all needs.

Zorin OS includes this default which you will set up during the installation process.

I mentioned not liking Video guides... and you describe why I do not like them.
They are often long-winded, winding and hard to follow. There is no guided structure a person can follow to zero in on the needed information. It's just a generalized video blog.
Timeshift backup can be done on external drive, but the external drive must be formatted to ext4 or brtfs.
Here is a written guide (It used Mint as its example OS, but it is the same procedures generally on Zorin OS).
https://linuxhint.com/timeshift_linux_mint_usb/

Also, the toofless Frog had posted a great guide on using Rescuezilla:

I do as well. I enjoy the add-ons in the shell that facilitate faster terminaling.

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I looked at that Remmina video and its not what I'm looking for - it seems to be a wrapper over VNC, it still needs you to enter ip addr, ports, ssh tunneling etc. I dont see how this will help new users as it seems too technical and a very different solution from TeamViewer/AnyDesk etc. But thank you for the help.

If I am understanding - you are looking for something that your dad (user) does not need to do much more on than Click Accept like Teamviewer does?

Thats right. I think what this needs is a hosted service, in which both sender and receiver can register their computer, so it knows how to find the device, and it works over http.

Right now when my dad has issues, or I want to check, I simply remote into his machine if its on. He doesnt need to Accept or even know, as its setup for unattended access (which I did last time I visited him).

With Linux, if I can find a way to get his machines hostname and open it up without risk, I could also do remote ssh. But TeamViewer like solution is still needed. It is a great relief for non techie people.

Well, we could try Teamviewer for Linux...

I am quite sorry. I got caught up with assuming that I needed to find an alternative, it took me this long to actually check for a Linux Teamviewer application.

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It might be worth to have a look at anyDesk also, they have a Linux client and I like anyDesk more than TeamViewer. I use it to control 3 different remote machines (they run win11 in the moment, but I plan to change this later, when I know more about zorinOS / Linux). I have completely unattended access to them, no click necessary to accept an incoming remote connection. (if this is true if the receiver is also on zorinOS I can't prove in the moment)

:heart_eyes:

and it's free for private use, of course

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Hi, I'm in a very similar situation although with one key difference: my mother is not happy with Windows as is. The whole system is insanely slow because there are so many processes and background services running. RAM and CPU are at 100% practically all the time! (Whereas trying a Live distro on it, the system is very quick.)
I've been trying to do something about it and made a few small improvements so far. But in the meantime I'm setting up Zorin Lite on her old laptop (where Windows 7 was no longer working properly). The idea being that every time I'm working on her current laptop's Windows, she can still be doing things using her old laptop in Zorin. Hopefully she will be able to do what she wants on Zorin, get familiar with it and maybe even accept me installing Zorin on her current laptop too. (Especially if I set up a few nice extras she doesn't currently have on her Windows setup.)
(Also, I'll be replacing Windows 7 & 8 on my own old machines too. To make it easier I want to use the same distro for all 4 machines.)
So I'm dealing with a lot of the same issues and questions as you:

  1. Backup: she has an external portable USB hard drive, but as she never connects it, I know I'd have be the one physically doing the backups. The key files for her are in Dropbox, which I'll set up on Zorin. Not true backup, I know, but the key stuff is saved there and she's been using it for years.
  2. Extras & tweaks for elderly & non-techie: I need to research UI enlarging in XFCE. Will keep an eye on this thread if there are any other tips. Maybe I can add some bookmarks in Firefox to videos showing how to use Zorin.
  3. Office: She does some light office stuff. I can set up to save her own files in open formats, but people send her "full fat" docx, xlsx, and pptx to look at & edit. So instead of installing lighter options (Abiword? Gnumeric?) I might keep LibreOffice or look into setting up a site-specific browser for Google Docs. Some non-libre options are also supposed to be good with those formats: IIRC Kingsoft WPS Free Office Software for Linux | WPS Office Online . Also I've installed Truetype fonts for MS Office compatibility (as per one of the tweak threads).
  4. Remote desktop: I have no experience except for Teamviewer on Windows. I might just use that on Zorin too.
  5. Windows app support: I really need to get WeChat in English with key features (like voice calls, text messages, history) running. This was the deal breaker for migrating her to Linux in the past (I could get all features but in Chinese, or in English but without necessary features), but hopefully it will be possible for me this time. I'll try Wine and also Web version (maybe in SSB or something like Ferdium or Tangram). As for Windows in a virtual machine, I don't know. When I did things like that years ago, there were problems with getting the USB headset to work with the program inside the VM. But I might have to resort to that, maybe with a locked-down "light/tiny" Windows in the VM.
    Overall, I hope that I can get a system up and running that does everything she wants (and maybe a few nice extras to really sell her on it), and the fact that it's not Windows won't matter to her. E.g. She fails to install software in Windows anyways (her downloads folder is full of multiple copies of update installer exe's, as she fails to understands she needs to actually run them after downloading :laughing: .) Frankly I reckon the Zorin software store & updates will be easier for her, not harder.
    Anyways, good luck, and let us know how it goes for you.

This can easily be done with DPI. In current XFCE 4.16 on Zorin Lite
Settings > Appearance > settings > Window Scaling

I recently discovered that Teamviewer is now available on Linux, too.

I do not know if this link is helpful - but if so, it may be preferable to running in Wine:

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Thanks!

Scaling: I only see 2 options: 1x or 2x. Increasing to 2x is way too much, so much doesn't fit on the screen any more (1280x720p). Something like 1.25~1.33 would be nice but it doesn't seem possible with that tweak.
Also the panel plugins got completely messed up, even after returning to 1x. Fortunately playing with the panel width returned them to normal.

WeChat: Now that Windows Apps is installed, I'll try that and also options like Rambox, Franz etc and compare the two. One thing I've read is since that article was published, both Rambox and Franz have really cut down on what's included for free, so I might try fully libre+gratis forks / alternatives like Ferdium, Tangram first. Then if they don't work, Rambox or Franz.
Once I get my mum's passwords and try it all out, I'll post back how it went.

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Fractional Scaling on Linux is a Weak Point of Linux. And this is true on Gnome or XFCE alike.
Here is the documentation that includes how to set fractional scaling in XFCE or Gnome:
HiDPI - ArchWiki.

I see. Given the CPU / GPU hit, I'll leave the scale as it is and just adjust some other settings (e.g. font size) and teach her how to zoom in programs like Firefox.

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From my experience, I'm kind of techie experienced. I don't know everything, but I at least know more than my parents who sometimes need help with technology (not as much these days, tho).

Sometimes I struggle with Zorin OS, and I have to ask questions here. Zorin OS (at least the Lite version) isn't beginner friendly. Sometimes I gotta use the Terminal (Terminal looks like you're doing some computer hacking stuff).

I don't remember having to do that on Windows or Mac. Now, I don't know how easy or hard it is to use the newest Windows or Mac OSes. But this is my experience with Zorin OS Lite (and maybe one or two other Ubuntu Oses I've tried. I don't remember).