Wonderful Zen Experience.
Couple of months ago, Zenwalk 4.8 was reviewed here. Since the review, Zenwalk has climbed Distrowatch ranking to #14. Zenwalk aims to be a multi-purpose Linux distribution by focusing on Internet applications, multimedia and programming tools.
According to the project website; Zenwalk is a GNU/Linux operating system, designed to provide the following characteristics: Modern and user-friendly (latest stable software, selected applications), Fast (optimized for performance capabilities), Rational (one mainstream application for each task), Complete (full development/desktop/multimedia environment) and Evolutionary (simple network package management tool - netpkg)
AMD Athlon 64 3200+, with 2 gig of RAM, Nvidia 5300GS with 256 meg RAM and 19" wide screen monitor. Though some argue that its not appropriate to review a "lightweight" Linux distribution, like Zenwalk, on fairly modern hardware, but I have my own considerations. Firstly, I do not aim to benchmark the distributions, I want to see their desktop viability. Secondly, I do not have the luxury to arrange an outdated hardware mentioned by other reviewers.
Zenwalk comes with a Live CD edition, but the Standard edition that I used to review does not support Live environment. The install CD still comes with ncurses based text installer. After installation the desktop came at 1280x1024 and proprietary nvidia drivers were not installed by default. GCC and kernel-headers were installed by default that allowed me to install nvidia drivers.
There is no reason to be intimidated with the text based installer; it's really easy. Its asks the standard questions: root partition, swap partition and begins installation.
Once the installation is finished, user can configure the system. Last time I had problems with automatic loading of network module, but this time the network module was properly loaded. It might be because of my machine change or because of proper hardware detection. But I will give benefit of doubt to Zenwalk and say "good job in network detection". Wireless card installation was also a breeze. The wireless network was not shown by default in WiCD manager; user has to click on "hidden" menu item and type in ESSID to connect.
This time Zenwalk also shows a couple of Licenses, even when you are not using the driver covered under the license. It is a minor issue and I hope to see, in future release, license agreements that are applicable to my machine only. It was nice to see GPL though.
Simple, beautiful and pleasing, are the words that describe look and feel: flaunted by Zenwalk. The theme is unified, and the login-manager bug mentioned in the last release is gone. Furthermore, Zenwalk retains the true spirit of XFCE; does not try to imitate other desktop environments as done by default installation of some other distributions.
Zenwalk has a rational choice; one mainstream application for each task. And it is really nice. It means ease of use for a newbie. I still say Open Office would have been a better choice, but things are way they are.
All the applications are in there latest packages(at the time of Zenwalk release). For windows network browsing you have fusesmb tool (I missed it in the last review). To view your network shares, create a directory (probably ~/smb), launch the fusesmbtool under network applications, specify the folder where you want to mount the network shares, specify the windows username & password, and hit connect. User will see the windows network under the directory specified.
Zenwalk comes with a simple control-panel called aptly called Zenpanel. It contains almost every aspect of computer customization, that an average desktop user will require. Zenwalk 5.0 comes with HAL (hardware abstraction layer) instead of its own custom hot-plug system. And it means better support for plug-and-play devices.
XFCE supports a list of images for the wallpaper, but does not allow user to choose when to change the wallpaper. There is a way around this; the command "killall -USR1 xfdesktop" changes the wallpaper on the desktop. So those of you who want automatic cycling of wallpaper can create a cron job, or create a desktop icon to do the same.
Zenwalk supports proprietary codecs out of box. I was able to play MP3 and WMV files. DVD playback was also supported.
Neither Beryl nor Compiz is installed by default. But XFCE has its own window compositor and gives really nice effects
Zenwalk is a really old distribution; one of the very few pre-2000 surviving distribution. I would really like to see a 64 it binary version of Zenwalk. Some better hardware detection(monitor) is also expected.
Zenwalk is a really great distribution for Linux newbies, just because of the fact that it chooses single mainstream application for each task. And this does not mean that Zenwalk will not appeal to Linux gurus. I will just say "Try the Zen computing" and see it yourself.