What Linux Distros and FOSS Projects Can Learn From Zorin OS

Zorin OS has rather quietly become a success story in the desktop Linux space. But what ingredients led to that success? What is developer Zorin Group doing to attract the right kind of attention and press coverage?

I don’t envy any individual or small organization that has to market a Linux distribution (or a FOSS project, or an indie game). There are currently hundreds of Linux distros in active development. 72 of those employ the GNOME desktop environment, and 77 use KDE. There are 51 Linux distributions based on Ubuntu. And Searching Google with the phrase “Linux distro for beginners” returns an astounding 9 million results.

If you think it’s challenging for new Linux users to make the right choice, imagine how challenging it is for Linux distro teams trying to be the chosen ones.

Linux Marketing (Typically) Sucks

Marketing is an art form that requires consistency, finesse, and financial resources. But time after time, year after year, I’ve watched smaller independent teams struggle to find the balance between doing outreach, building a great OS, squashing bugs, managing a community, maintaining a website, and so much more.

Can you blame them? I certainly can’t. Time and money aren’t easy to come by.

Listen to my interview with Artyom Zorin

While I’m not here to give some Masterclass in marketing, I do want to share a series of success stories. More specifically, I want to call out what has impressed me, as someone regularly creating content about Linux. Someone, admittedly, with limited time. Just like the rest of the journalists or podcasters, or video producers out there.

What style of communication convinces me to write about a certain distro? Is there a certain type of coverage opportunity that makes the biggest impact? What can distros do to make it easier for the press to cover their project?

I’m writing this series from the unique perspective of a tech journalist (I wrote full-time at Forbes for 8 years). But also as someone who’s been on the other side: I was a Senior Technical Marketing Specialist at AMD’s Radeon Technologies Group.

Success Story #1: Zorin OS

I first covered Zorin OS in 2019 at Forbes. That article (click warning: lots of ads) garnered nearly 200,000 views and played a role in the increased mindshare surrounding the distribution. But of all the things I could have devoted my time to, why Zorin OS?

Well, to begin with: because Zorin OS co-founder Artyom Zorin sent me an email.

Do you want coverage? It never hurts to ask. Reach out and establish a dialogue. Start a relationship. That’s the initial step. And avoid the generic, boilerplate message.

Get to know the content creator. Where do they write? What recent videos have they published? Do you have feedback about that? If you watched it and enjoyed it, say why. Dig a bit through their social media and find out what their daily driver is. What they’re passionate about.

For the past two years, Zorin has continued that relationship with personalized messages and ongoing coverage opportunities. And with gratitude for the last video or article. It’s nice to have that acknowledged!

Quotes about Zorin OS from Forbes, TechRepublic, Tech Radar and PCWorld.
Accolades are important. Share them! (Yep, that’s my quote)

Zorin also does something critically important to me: he respects my time. Whenever a major version of Zorin OS is planned for release, I’ll get a private beta 3 or 4 days in advance. It’s just enough time to install it and work up some impressions without feeling rushed.

Crucially, Artyom is responsive when asked follow-up questions. Whether it’s providing a direct quote to use, or just giving some background information, I’ll get a useful answer.

One Sentence Made The Difference

But it wasn’t just that initial email that impressed me. What sealed the deal — what prompted me to immediately install it for a test drive — was the Zorin OS website. It was this section of the homepage:

a screenshot from the Zorin OS website

“A familiar desktop you already know how to use.”

Zorin OS Website

Folks, that is a powerful and impactful sentence. Imagine I’m a Linux novice hunting for a distro to use, and I see these clean screenshots. And they resemble a desktop appearance I’m already comfortable with. Then I see that brilliant, bolded line? I think my search is over.

Let me illustrate this another way.

Ubuntu is a popular, well-established distro. It’s frequently recommended to beginners. But if you’re an average everyday PC user looking to migrate from Windows or macOS (or even just add Linux to the mix), which of these websites would inspire you more?

Use the slider to view the Ubuntu homepage and the Zorin OS homepage.

I’m not here for a debate about which Linux OS new users should try. Nor am I trying to shame or devalue Ubuntu, which has made substantial contributions to the desktop Linux ecosystem.

I am here to say that Zorin OS does a substantially better job marketing to desktop users than Ubuntu does.

The underlying point is that Zorin OS has a razor-sharp focus with its messaging! You can’t browse any portion of its website without that being crystal clear.

Look at this:

Zorin OS Homepage showing "Make your computer better"
This is what you see at the top of the Zorin OS homepage

Visual Messaging Matters, Too!

The Zorin OS team extends the messaging beyond just words, however.

A perfect example of that is the recent release of Zorin OS 16 Lite, a version designed for older computers. It uses a beautified version of the Xfce desktop environment and has various tweaks under the hood to reduce its resource usage. Does the average user need to know that? Not really!

Instead, the top of the page says this:

Breathe new life into your old and low-spec computers with the latest Zorin OS.

Straight to the point.

Simple. Direct. Understandable.

But just in case, here’s the visual that sits beneath that explanation:

Visuals play an important role in telling your project’s story

Utilizing that image of a chunky old-school monitor is smart and instantly conveys the intended message. It’s also relatable to anyone who might have an old PC like that. Perhaps one that refuses to run a modern version of Windows.

Once again, critical and valuable information is conveyed quickly through both words and visuals. Before the user even scrolls down the page!

Random aside: I find it fascinating that the word “Linux” isn’t frequently used on their website. At least, not above the fold where first impressions are concerned.

OK, Let’s Recap!

The team at Zorin OS has a great product. For proof of that, look no further than the fact that Zorin OS 16 has reached 1 million downloads within 4 months of release. But you already know that merely creating a quality product isn’t enough in a world where everything is short on time and driven by short attention spans.

Where the Zorin OS team succeeds is in quickly showing precisely what Zorin OS is. They do it with convincing words and strong visuals. And they do it by establishing personal relationships with the journalists, content creators, and influencers who are in a position to show their product to a very engaged group of fans and followers.

One more thing I can’t emphasize enough: the Zorin OS team respects the time of both their press partners and their potential new users. Clear, concise, persuasive communication across the board.

I’ve got more success stories to highlight, so stay tuned! In the next article, we’ll hear directly from Danielle Foré and Cassidy James Blaede of elementary OS!

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6 thoughts on “What Linux Distros and FOSS Projects Can Learn From Zorin OS

  1. Qushy says:

    I just want to say that apart from their marketing being smart, concise and effective the main thing to keep here is that their product delivers.They’re not making exaggerations in their marketing, they’re not promising something that isn’t there. They have an unbelievably cool piece of software and they are also marketing it in a very good way, partly because the product allows them to do that. Generally I would say Zorin is one of the best distros overall and absolutely the best distro for newcomers. I had my personal one week challenge where I tried more than 20 distros and spinoffs looking for the best Linux for new users. My main criteria were:

    Have a familiar UI.
    Have all the main programs and applications a Windows user might look for in the App Store.
    Have the ability to install programs from websites (cause in my experience new Windows users ALWAYS try to install things from the web and not the App Store when they first install the system)
    Be stable even if I do weird things in it like install another kernel or the latest drivers.
    Have Nvidia and Optimus support out of the box.
    Be light and smooth when using it.
    Have good dual-booting support.
    ** Have a welcoming commuinity ** (ABSOLUTELY essential for a new Linux user)

    Zorin was the only distro that passed the test in all these points. For reference here is what I experienced in other distros:

    Ubuntu has snaps which are slow and a nightmare if not configured properly like the Brave Snap. Alsoi the UI is completely alien to a former Windows/Mac user.
    PopOS install would crash reliably after formatting the disk.
    Linux Mint had some issues while installing Steam that I could never figure out.
    Fedora was very good but vanilla Gnome really feels weird for a new user.
    Fedora KDE and Kinoite need Flathub to be enabled in the Settings of Discover for some reason, something a new user would have no idea about.
    OpenSUSE would crash Steam when a game was requiring too many resources from the system.
    XeroLinux would do the same as with OpenSUSE.
    Solus Plasma was also phenomenal but Flatpaks are not supported in the App Store. How can I install Minecraft like this? XD
    Garuda while seriously user friendly has a really elitistic community which is a shame as the distro has so much potential.

    So, my main point here is that Zorin has been designed and developed in as professionally as it’s marketed and that’s why I ended up buying the Pro version and also started recommending it to my whole family and friends as the distro they should be using as casual users or even for more advanced usage like gaming and streaming.

    A major congartulations to the team and I seriously hope Zorin gets some more traction and becomes as widely known as Manjaro, Pop, Mint or even Ubuntu itself in the future. One of the best Linux products out there in my opinion.

    Reply
  2. MICHAEL B CREAMER says:

    Excellent points in this piece. People keep asking if Linux has a future on the desktop of the average user. I’m a decades-long user but I never thought this likely. But with the quality of Zorin’s OS and their direct and plainspoken marketing of that OS, they are the first company who make me think it is still possible. Not likely, but possible.

    Reply
  3. Jeffrey D says:

    Zorin has a great OS and great marketing. I would love to see them take their marketing beyond their website and include tv and web like Microsoft and Apple do, which is who they are competing against.

    Reply
    1. Jason Evangelho says:

      That would take a considerable amount of money! But it would be 100% amazing to see a Linux distro ad from them on youTube or TV.

      Reply
  4. Charles says:

    Maybe they will get lucky. Internet Explorer really pissed off some rich guy so he paid for a full page advert for Firefox. At the time IE had like 95% market share. That was the start of Firefox becomeing a Major browser with 35%+ market share however Chrome came along and ate Firefox’s lunch and it’s under 5% now but
    who knows something like that might happen again. The real thing we need is for some hardwire venders to sell good and not way overpriced Linux laptops.

    Reply
    1. Jason Evangelho says:

      That’s the real trick: selling AFFORDABLE laptops, which is more difficult to do since the smaller Linux vendors can’t utilize economy of scale. They’re not selling TONS of them, so it’s tough to make them cheaper. I have to applaud European Linux hardware companies like Star Labs, however. They have a wide range of pricing.

      Reply

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