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zen operating systemLinux offers us plenty of choices as to what kind of operating system we want to run on our computer. While this is great, it is often overlooked. Yes, there are the usual “big boy” choices, such as Ubuntu, Fedora Fedora 15 - Bringing You The Latest In Linux Fedora 15 - Bringing You The Latest In Linux It's another great day in the world of Linux. Fedora 15 was finally released yesterday, and this new release brings a massive amount of changes compared to Fedora 14. In fact, there's so many changes... Read More , openSUSE openSUSE 11.2 - A Linux System Perfect For New Users and Pros Alike openSUSE 11.2 - A Linux System Perfect For New Users and Pros Alike Read More , and more, but by looking at just those you are skipping over much smaller distributions that could possibly suit your needs better or showcase ideas that you like which no other distribution has.

The distribution featured in this article tries to incorporate a number of different elements into its distribution to create an environment which it calls “zen computing”.

About Zenwalk

zen operating system

Zenwalk is a relatively small distribution that was originally based off of Slackware. Although today it is much different when compared to Slackware, it still maintains binary compatibility to Slackware, so any Slackware packages are installable in Zenwalk.

The main aim with the Zenwalk project is to create a distribution that allows “zen computing”, which is simply defined as computing that is easy on the user and doesn’t cause any headaches. Zenwalk’s website describes how it achieves this in five main steps.

  • Zenwalk is modern (uses the latest stable versions) and user-friendly.
  • Zenwalk is very fast (optimized for performance).
  • Zenwalk is rational. This means that it in a default installation it only offers one application to do one task, and not multiple applications to do the same thing.
  • Zenwalk is complete, so it is ready for development/desktop/multimedia experiences.
  • Zenwalk is evolutionary (talking about its package manager, netpkg).

Zenwalk does come with plenty of software, as their lightweight nature allows more software to be included by default. These are nicely organized in the XFCE menu.

zen computing

Some of those points imply that certain software be used. For example, the point which states that Zenwalk is very fast implies that by default it uses lightweight software, including the desktop environment itself (it uses XFCE). However, one point it doesn’t mention is that it isn’t quite noob-friendly, so the distribution is more useable for those who know some Linux and general computer terminology.

Another point it also missed is that it is still very customizable, thanks to the XFCE desktop environment.

zen operating system

Different Offerings

Zenwalk comes in a couple of different flavors. The site offers Standard, Core, Live, Gnome, and Openbox editions of the distribution, where Standard comes with the XFCE desktop, Core comes without any graphical user interface, Live is for testing, and so on. I’ve found that you cannot install a system using the Live CD, so you’ll need to use the Live CD to try out Zenwalk and then use a different CD for the actual installation. However, as far as installation goes, just follow the prompts as they appear. If you need help with specifics like partitioning, you’ll find plenty of information via Google, as those topics are out of the scope of this article.


Overall, Zenwalk is a good choice for those who want a system that just works. It doesn’t contain much eye candy at all, but in a way that’s the point. Eye candy can be a cause for distractions and instability, and while plenty of people love eye candy, others would rather do away with them. The lightweight nature of the distro does fulfill on its promise to be speedy, so it can also run on much older hardware. Simply put, if the big boys are giving you a hard time for one reason or another, give Zenwalk a try.

What do you like or dislike about Zenwalk? What do you prefer most in your Linux distro? Let us know in the comments!

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  1. istok
    September 16, 2011 at 12:56 am

    that's true tacos, but if they truly care about minimalism in computing, they're probably not ninnies who can't/won't learn how to install their liquorix or whathaver without somebody's precooked script. so why not install debian's base system and tweak it from there. after all crunchbang is literally debian stable customized (with a selection of programs, artwork, menus etc) to some guy's liking. you can do the same only make it exactly to your liking. that's what i do anyway.
    as for zenwalk, appalling visual style :) but since first impressions don't matter, really i think i'll download it and put it on my testing notebook. curious to see what they've done with openbox. the distro is apparently more than just customized slackware so it's probably worth learning about.

    • Danny Stieben
      September 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      There seem to be a lot of Debian and Ubuntu based "distros" out there that are simply Ubuntu or Debian tweaked to a guy's liking.

  2. tacos
    September 15, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    If you're liking the minimalism, you might also look into Crunchbang Linux.  It's based off of Debian, minimalistic yet good looking, light and quick enough to be run on older systems, but highly extensible if you've got the hardware.  And the welcome script that runs after install allows you to choose between the stock linux kernel or the zen kernel with one button!

    • Alkopedia Admin
      September 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

      But if you want to have a cool system you have to go for Slackware based! :-P

  3. Cell Travis
    September 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Zenwalk appeals to the minimalist in me so yes, I'll give it a shot. So far, I've been hooking up with Ubuntu and I like the fact that, over the years, Linux distros have become more and more user/newbie friendly.