Zenwalk 4.2

I have been playing with a different Linux distro on a couple of my systems for the past couple of weeks or so. I had installed Zenwalk Linux about 3 months ago, and had mixed feelings at that point about then-current version 4.0 of this distro. Version 4.2 was released earlier in January and after seeing some generally positive reviews, I decided to give it another look. Generally speaking, my experience with it has been pretty positive. Some quick thoughts:

The Good

  • Size: It’s a fairly lightweight distro, in several different ways. Single CD ISO for installation. Fairly fast to install. Fairly quick to boot (less than 30 seconds from power-on to desktop, including sign-in, assuming I don’t hork up my password). Very responsive in starting applications.
  • Hardware/System Support: On both my systems, so far it just works in terms of the hardware (video, sound, USB, network), recognizing that the typical tweaking for stuff like wireless networking and Intel i810 video cards has to be done. It has also been very easy to add stuff that I typically use (stock Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird, Eclipse WTP and CFEclipse, Sun Java, Flash plugin, jEdit).
  • XFCE: I am an admitted GNOME bigot, and the first thing I did was go look to see if GNOME was available (it only sort of is at this point, but based on what I see in the distro’s forums, work is on-going there, and E17 is also available), but so far I am reasonably impressed with XFCE. It is running an RC for the new version 4.4 (as of this writing, 4.4 is only in a testing repository). I will admit that I have been a little surprised with how well the XFCE environment works.
  • Basic Stock Configuration: Video, music, digital camera stuff all seems to work great based on the stock system configuration.
  • User Support Forums: The forums have a number of active users that have provided timely and accurate responses to questions posted there. The user community, as is typically the case from my experience with distros like this that aren’t (yet?) mainstream, is pretty committed. And watching the forums over the past couple of days, there is clearly work going on to expand the forums to cover additional areas that have potential to address some of the things that I see as weaknesses.

The Bad

  • Packages and Repositories: It seems that the project is in a state of transition with respect to the management and location of the various package repositories for the system. There are several applications that are important to me (Firestarter and gThumb, for instance) that are not part of any repository, but are in fact maintained and available for the distribution. Finding them for installation, however, involves finding a reference to a fellow ZW user and their URL for downloading them. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of central listing of where I might find something that isn’t part of the distribution or its “extras”. The fact that applications like this aren’t part of any repository that can be managed with the distros package management tool “netpkg” presents something of a hurdle when someone new to the distro comes in. (I, for example, have a list of at least 8 different URLs from which I have pulled packages for installation, just in case I need to start over or go get updated versions.)
  • Documentation: The documentation for the system is a little sparse, especially in comparison to some of the other mainstream distros, and seems to be in need of a major overhaul and expansion. This appears to be an initiative that is gaining some inertia, though, with the presence of a new area in the user forums.
  • Transparency of Process: I can’t really seem to find anything that describes how the project itself is managed or maintained. How do issues that are identified as problems with a particular package that is in the distribution get addressed and factored back into an updated version of that package? How do new versions of packages go from being under development to “snapshot” (new and untested, not necessarily ready for general consumption) to “current” (generally considered ready for use) to “iso” (the most recent system release)? How, if there is a means other than the user forums, are issues identified, assigned for resolution, and resolved?

But all of that aside…

I am still very impressed with this distribution in general. It has proven to be very usable right out of the box; the package management tool, so far, has caused me no problems; it has tools to do all of the stuff I need to do on a day to day basis; it has been easy to add other applications that I want to use; the user community is fairly active, responsive, and knowledgable. Additionally, watching the forums as mostly an outsider, there is obviously energy being expended to address some of the things that I have mentioned above to support the distribution and make it easier to find needed applications.