Linux users: it’s time to check out Zenwalk again.
Seven years ago this operating system was among the top ten listed on DistroWatch; these days Zenwalk is relatively obscure at 113th place. So not many people noticed when, earlier this year, a new version came out – a prelude to the upcoming 8.0 release. The result is a lightweight Linux setup, compatible with SlackWare packages, that’s fast to set up and comes with a complete suite of software for everyday use.
You can download the latest version of Zenwalk right now, if you want. As it downloads, keep reading to find out what you can expect.
It’s Lightweight, But Still Usable
Zenwalk’s been compared to the likes of lightweight distro Puppy Linux, a lightweight distro designed to run from a live CD. Zenwalk isn’t competing in that space: it’s intended for installation. It is, however, designed to run quickly without compromising usability.
To this end it uses the speedy but lightweight desktop environment XFCE. This choice gives you an idea of what Zenwalk is going for: it’s a complete desktop environment – not just a window manager – but without the excess CPU and memory consumption of current versions of Gnome or KDE.
It Comes With a Complete Set of Software
Zenwalk is not a “tiny” distro by historic standards – at 900 MB, it won’t fit on a CD. But it’s also not massive: the duplication of function seen in other distros isn’t present. By design, there’s one tool here for every job needed by most computer users. A lot of great tools come out of the box. A few highlights:
- Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox
- Email Client: Thunderbird
- Office Suite: LibreOffice
- Photo Editor: The GIMP
- Music Player: GMusicBrowser
- Video Player: MPlayer
There’s a lot more offered by default, from development environments to an FTP client. It’s hard to think of much you’ll need that’s not offered out of the box.
It’s Ready to Use, Out of the Box
With all of these programs offered by default, most people will find themselves with a usable computer right away.
Even things like Flash and codecs come with the system, meaning you don’t have to spend time hunting these things down.
There’s Access to More Software
If you do think of something, however, you’re not totally out of luck. Netpkg, Zenwalk’s built-in package manager offers a range of programs you can install in just a few clicks.
You Can Access Slackware Mirrors
Can’t find what you want in the default mirrors offered by Zenwalk? Click the arrow and you can check the Slackware mirrors, giving you access to even more software.
Be sure to update your mirrors by clicking the gear icon at top-right, then browse to your heart’s content.
It’s Easy to Configure
Zenwalk comes with an integrated settings tool, with GUI access to a lot of different options.
Dig through the menu and you’ll find a few other tools for configuring things, meaning this is a great distro for first-time users to explore and experiment. In many ways it reminds me of old-school Linux – exploring and tweaking things feels rewarding. You’ll like it.
It’s Much Easier to Set up Than Slackware
Slackware, the oldest existing Linux distro, is great but not really easy to set up. You need to decide everything, which is overwhelming for new Linux users.
Zenwalk might not be exactly what you want out-of-the-box, but at least it offers you with a range of defaults. Once you get comfortable, you can use the package manager to explore other programs – or even move on to SlackWare, if you’re ready.
The Downside: It’s Probably Not For New Users
Zenwalk’s come a long way since Danny reviewed it back in 2011. And yet it’s still probably not right for new Linux users.
- The installer will likely be confusing for new Linux users: it requires you partition everything yourself, using command-line tools, before you can install.
- There’s not a lot in the way of documentation out there, outside the official Zenwalk forums. There doesn’t even seem to be a home page for the distro as of this writing – heading to Zenwalk.org redirects you to the forums.
- The installer doesn’t create a non-root account, so you’ll have to log in as root and create one before you can use your newly installed setup.
These issues and more mean Zenwalk might not be ready for our list of the best Linux distros, but don’t let that stop you: once you get everything set up, it’s a very usable distro.
Check Out Zenwalk, You Might Like It
Did you give Zenwalk a spin? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below!
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