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Zenwalk has always had the reputation as being a distro for the more seasoned Linux user, with the release of Zenwalk 6 Gnome, has this changed? Has this Slackware based distro taken the route of Ubuntu?  Short answer – not really, but then why should it?

Dont expect an Ubuntu or Fedora style installation process, who needs that anyway?
Dont expect an Ubuntu or Fedora style installation process, who needs that anyway?

Installation

If you are expecting an Ubuntu type experience here forget it and anyone with a phobia of the command line will panic the second they boot the ISO (although all that is needed is a harmless return key press)  That being said the basic menu system does offer the feature of automatic install, which is great for those who just want to dedicate their entire harddisk to Zenwalk and don’t want to “fiddle”

The ISO itself is around the 680meg mark, so it wont take long to download and there are plenty of available options for the source of the download.

The installation was smooth, taking around 10 minutes to complete and during this time most console messages are hidden (maybe to avoid the blind panic of some users when met with a comment they cannot comprehend)

Transparent console window!  This is not the default Zenwalk Wallpaper, but it is lovely...
Transparent console window! This is not the default Zenwalk Wallpaper, but it is lovely...

Software

Lets start with some basics.  Zenwalk 6 is running off Linux Kernel 2.6.28.7 and using Gnome 2.26.0 DE.  This immediately creates some nice features, the first one is that Zenwalk is quick on the bootup and the second is that you are up to date with Gnome DE. The default file system is XFS.

Netpkg handles your software requirements here and the GUI makes it very simple to search for the packages/files that you require.  A nice feature of Netpkg is that it allows you to find Orphan files and remove them.

Iceweasel is the pre-packaged browser here (3.0.8) and Icedove for your mail requirements.  Python is running 2.6.2 and other packages of note include:  Transmission 1.51 (now currently at 1.73) and Openoffice 3.0.  Pidgin is included as part of the default installation and thank fully there is no duplication.

There is out of the box compatibility for BBCI Player and most of your media requirements, which is one less job to think of – although you will need libdvdcss to enable the playback of encrypted DVD disks.

It is also worth noting that you will have to install proprietary graphics drivers yourself (unlike Ubuntu which automates the process)  this will involve you getting your hands dirty with the command line.

Conclusions

I get tired of giving the “great distro” badge out, but here is another distro that has performed exactly how I expected.   Whilst some users will say that a weakness of Linux is the amount of distro’s, I see that as a strength, afterall you can run the latest Firefox release on Zenwalk, Mepis, Ubuntu, Wolvix etc etc.  I look at Linux like petrol, there may be different brands but they all make your car move.  Linux is in a good position IMO, because unlike Windows where one size has to pretty much fit all, with Linux you can have a distro aimed solely at the advanced user or soley at the new one.  I would suggest Zenwalk is more towards the former rather than the latter, but having said that its hardly difficult to follow some online tutorials if you are unsure.

Pidgin for me is a bad choice.  How many people still use ICQ? and for me the others (with the exception of IRC) have no worth.  I don’t like the IRC support of Pidgin and always favor the IRSSI or the X-chat route.

I am pleased to see there is no major duplication in the pre-installed packages and Zenwalk really has (IMO) taken time to consider the apps included.

I would like to see future versions of Zenwalk moving away from Iceweasel and/or Firefox.  I personally have seen (on my hardware) how slugish Firefox and derivatives can be compared to Chromium which whilst still in beta is leaping in front of Firefox in terms of execution, rendering and even the simple Java input box.   Since Zenwalk seems to pride itself on being fast and bloat free, a new direction in browsers may echo that ethos (IMO).

Theres no silly games that you will play only once out of curiousity, although as default, Zenwalk was VERY guilty of defaulting to “one click executing” which causes for an oldtimer like myself who is used to clicking once for focus, twice for execution alot of heart ache.  I just cannot get used to the “hover focus” so that was one of the first things that had to be changed.  I’ve noticed in the past many KDE distro’s are defaulted to this.  Am I behind the times? or simply stuck in my ways?

Conversely a nice feature was that as default the terminal has a transparent backdrop (which is one of my few vices in relation to screen visual effects)

Zenwalk is fast, stable and well supported.  From what I’ve seen of the Zenwalk community it appears friendly and helpful.

Zenwalk isn’t going to hold your hand in the way Ubuntu does, but for those that take the time with it, will be rewarded with yet another snappy distro that doesn’t see asthetics and hand holding as a priority over performance.  As with all distro’s it will be unlikely that you find one that exactly meets your requirements and a little fiddling/fine tuning is always required.

So how does it compare with my distro of choice (Wolvix)? Very well, although on my hardware Wolvix Wine performance is better than Zenwalk as is many of the emulation projects I am running.  The memory footprint for running Zenwalk and a few basic operations was a respectable 120mb…very impressive, infact even running a rather large document in OO didn’t take it much above 150mb.   Compare that to Ubuntu which has a footprint in similar conditions of 255mb.

A great distro and one of many that offers a tight and stable experience. It is also available as a live CD.  Visit the homepage:  http://www.zenwalk.org/ for download options!

I will still be sticking with my beloved Wolvix though!

Goblin – bytes4free@googlemail.com