I’ve run Zenwalk on some or all of my various Intel-based boxes at various times in the past, initially out of curiosity, and have even used it for several weeks on my primary system here at home as the primary OS. I have always been impressed, in general, with this distro so when a beta for Zenwalk 5 was announced late in December, I thought I would give it a try. Bottom line: I’m not at all disappointed.
The release announcement touches on some fairly significant changes in the basic components comprising the distro, including the latest Xorg 7.3 and HAL. The distro also includes for the first time two components that I view as very positive inclusions: wicd now replaces the older wifi-radar for wireless network connection/configuration and the Intel wireless driver firmware is included as part of the distro’s ISO rather than being something we have to download and install after the fact. I stumbled across wicd earlier this year while briefly trying the XFCE edition of Mint Linux and was impressed, so I was glad to hear that it was now part of this distro. Having the firmware included as part of the installation process is a great convenience, eliminating one step that I always had to take care of myself.
I’m running the beta on a Dell Latitude D600 laptop with 1G of RAM, dual-booting it with WinXP. The installation process is largely unchanged from previous versions, with the exception that the process now provides opportunities to read and accept the license agreements for several packages (including the Intel firmware drivers). Although the installation is text-based, I have always found it to be quite straightforward and fast (less than 10 minutes from start to finish on this box!). Zenwalk has been dinged in the past for it’s installation process being text-based in various reviews, with the biggest complaint being that it can be intimidating for people new to Linux, but I’ve never found it to be problematic or obscure in the least.
Once installed, the system is quick to boot (less than 35 seconds from power-on to sign-in screen), and very responsive. It runs the latest XFCE by default. The first things I have always added are stock Mozilla Firefox (I’m running 3 beta 2) along with Abobe’s Flashplayer plugin and Sun’s Java JRE and plugin. In addition, I always pull in the OpenOffice.org suite (version 2.3.1 is available in the distro’s repos), along with the Liberation font family. Codecs for playing DVDs are available in a separate repo, as well. Within an hour of that first boot, I was finished with adding additional software, including Apache, MySQL, the Railo CFML engine, and Aquafold’s Aqua Data Studio, giving me a platform for local Web development. Sound, video, and removable media all just work. So far, it has been rock solid and stable.
The verdict: Zenwalk has again put together a nice evolution of their distro. It is quick to boot, quite responsive, stable (even accounting for it being a beta), supports all of my hardware without any major tweaking, includes a great cross-section of the software I want (and the rest of what I want is either available in the repos or easily downloaded and installed). The developers continue to push this distro in positive directions with their changes to the underlying architecture and their selections of software tools that fit within their general philosophy of including one tool for each task. The forums continue to be active; both users and developers within the Zenwalk community are quick to respond to questions, suggestions, and requests for help.