If you’re on the hunt for a reliable, lightweight Linux distro that also looks good you need to check out Zorin OS 16 Lite.

Released December 8, Zorin OS 16 Lite is a slimmed down version of the full (GNOME Shell based) Zorin OS 16 release. It’s still based on Ubuntu 20.04.3 LTS and Linux Kernel 5.11 but comes with a user experience crafted from Xfce 4.16 and companion utilities.

And at first glance it’s hard to tell them apart; this semi-skimmed spin looks similar to its full-fat family member. Both use a traditional desktop layout, both come with a bright default theme, colourful icon set, and high-quality wallpapers.

a screenshot of zorin os 16 lite desktop with the app menu open
Zorin OS 16 Lite makes a good first impression

Similarities don’t stop there.

The new Zorin Appearance tool we raved about in the main release? It’s included in the Lite variant. This makes tweaking the look and feel of the desktop as easy as pie (including accent colour and dark mode). You also get a pair of alternative desktop layouts to choose from, though 6 are available to buyers of Zorin OS 16 Pro Lite.

Zorin OS Appearance App
Pick an accent colour

Software wise Zorin OS 16 Lite keeps things minimal out of the box, though the Pro Lite edition ships with an extensive catalogue of apps preinstalled. Highlights include Rhythmbox on the default ISO, and the new GNOME Sound Recorder tool preinstalled.

Also included is a helpful assistant that tells you when if a windows installer file you try to install has a native Linux equivalent.

Updated to Xfce 4.16, Zorin OS 16 Lite benefits from fractional scaling support, a more accurate power applet/battery icon, and a panel hiding transition (should you enable panel hiding). Hovering over task bar items now reveals a small thumbnail preview too:

Zorin OS 16 window thumbnails
Window thumbnails in the task bar

Zorin OS 16 Lite at-a-glance:

  • Refreshed theme
  • Zorin Appearance app
  • First-run tour
  • Flathub enabled by default
  • Windows app assistant
  • Window thumbnails in the taskbar
  • New sound recorder app
  • Rhythmbox is installed by default

Plus a ton of bug fixes, performance tweaks, library updates, and general spit-and-polish.

Download Zorin OS 16 Lite

Zorin OS 16 Lite is available to download for free, from the Zorin OS website as a 64-bit .iso:

Download Zorin OS 16 Lite

If you want to support Zorin OS development then consider purchasing the “Pro” version. This comes with more preinstalled apps and additional desktop layouts to choose from, including set-ups modelled after Windows 11, macOS, and Chrome OS.

Zorin OS 16 Lite: How Well Does it Run?

a screenshot of zorin appearance settings
Zorin OS 16 Lite has several layouts

“By pairing the most advanced and efficient software with a user-friendly experience, we’ve made it possible for anyone to extend the lifespan of their computers for years to come,” says the distro founder, Artyom Zorin.

But how well does that claim match up with reality?

I fired up my (recently revived) Chromebook to find out how the distro fares on genuine older harder. My device has a weak Intel Celeron CPU and a pitiful 2GB RAM — yet these specs are above Zorin OS’s minimum system requirements!

And my experience is that it runs well.

I can’t say Zorin OS 16 Lite runs any better than Gallium OS (a Chromebook-specific distro based on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS and using the older Xfce 4.10 release) but it feels comparable in general usage. The Xfce desktop is as responsive as I’m used to, apps open fast, and window management is unhindered.

a screenshot of the task manager open on Zorin OS 16 Lite
Memory usage in Zorin OS 16 Lite

Also: it looks so dang good. The Zorin OS theme, the panel setup, the icon set, and the choice of fonts and wallpaper all combine to create a visual vibe vacant in other (often full-featured) distros, much less minimally-minded ones like this.

If there is a weak point in the Zorin OS 16 Lite experience (in my testing) it’s GNOME Software.

I know: a resource-constrained computer is never going to run ‘modern’ tools like GNOME Software comfortably. But just opening the app maxes out memory, slows the entire system down. With so many software backends to plug into, Ubuntu repos, Flathub, and Snap store, the client takes an eon to refresh its software catalog on startup.

For me, the best graphical package manager for lightweight distros remains Synaptic (though I don’t actually use it; I prefer to use apt and the command line).

But in all, that is a minor crease in an otherwise well-ironed distro. If you thought low-end computing had to be austere, Zorin OS 16 Lite will make you think again.

Distros xfce xfce 4.16 Zorin OS