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Review of the Zenwalk distribution release 1.2 by Claus Futtrup
(September 16rd, 2005)
Zenwalk 1.2 has been out since August 12. It is a successor of Minislack 1.1. Same distribution, just a new name. The name change reflects the desire to distance this distribution from Slackware.
What is the focus for Zenwalk?
* Be simple and fast
* Provide one application for one task
* Be a complete development/desktop environment
* Be compact, small 400 Mb ISO
Same philosophy as earlier, no surprises there. Hopefully it'll make you feel good. Besides, the nature of the package is to use Open Source, nothing that requires licences.
Zenwalk is for coding, multimedia and everyday desktop usage. I personally use the browser (Firefox), the graphics applications (GIMP, now also Inkscape, which is currently available for download with netpkg) + the Word processor and Spreadsheet that comes with OpenOffice (added with netpkg). I am working on converted email yet - it is a critical process for me, so I need to do this with care.
Further more, Zenwalk contains applications for chatting (gaim), listening to music and watching videos in various formats (Gxine), programming in C, Perl, Python and Ruby (compilers, full set of libraries, interpreters and the Bluefish editor). Scanning (with Sane, Xsane). Burning CD's and DVD's (with Gnomebaker). You can also connect your digital camera and edit your photographs (all done with GIMP).
When you look at all these options I would say that Zenwalk is a system that can be considered a complete package.
New features are the hardware Discover service (v2.0.7), Gnome System Tools (v1.2) which provide a more user-friendly way to setup network, users, time, and Gnome Cups Manager for easy printer setup. All these new features are about making Zenwalk easier to install and configure.
A large amount of packages have been updated since the last ISO release - more than 100. Anyway, if you download the ISO and install Zenwalk, don't forget to logon to the internet and run "netpkg upgrade-all" as one of your first actions. Then Zenwalk gets updated to the latest (most current) status.
If you're already running Minislack, then running netpkg upgrades will give you the new Zenwalk packages, and your system is litterally converted. Easy and simple. Structural changes (packages removed from the system) will not be removed this way, though, so if you want a fresh start (like I did), there is no other way than to download the ISO.
Further more I have installed KDE now. The KDE packages included with Zenwalk are nice (it is not on the ISO, but available from the repository - just fetch it with netpkg), it contains the basics only (not eg. Koffice), and the maintainer is really doing a great job.
Why am I continuing to use Zenwalk? (former Minislack) - because there is simply nothing else that beats it - for me that is. Small footprint, all the applications I need, easy maintenance and upgrade - with the neat "netpkg" feature you keep Zenwalk up to the Zen level at any given time.
Zen is used in the japanese language as "feel good", I think, and in this perspective, Zenwalk is a walk towards a linux distribution that feels good. It's good because the graphics is nice, the speed is nice and the nice applications are carefully selected.
The Forum is more active than ever, and Minislack is now placed higher on the DistroWatch "Hits Per Day" statistics than just a few months ago. It is easy for me to understand why the popularity is increasing.
Check it out at http://www.zenwalk.org/
Regarding the future, I see a tendency toward more focus on graphics - also for system tools, maintenance and perhaps also (in the future) a graphical installer, and more use of the netpkg tool, because this network interface to the pkgtools is such a great way to keep your system updated, and also the use of netpkg for more options (extra packages) made available on the zenwalk repository, for which there was no room on the ISO.
This concept maintains the distro as a lean one, balancing between minimal and complete (admittetdly a difficult balance) with your personal choices for improvements. I cross my fingers that the increased user base also will increase the amount of people handling packages and building options.
I am still walking "child footsteps" in this area, but I keep my eyes open for other distributions, and I feel confident when saying that at the moment Zenwalk hits the head on the nail - straight on - it is a perfect match for my needs. I can only hope that you will try Zenwalk and see if it matches your requirements too.
Minislack is a distribution which almost exactly fits my needs, with a no-nonsense look and feel and a very helpful group of people managing questions on the forum at http://www.slackplanet.org/.
The choice of applications is mainstream - like Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP and so on. A very nice selection and as a MS-Windows user who has been using OpenSource based applications for a while I am already familiar with these applications.
The distribution is focusing on:
* Desktop usage
* The programming tools
Minislack has the following objectives :
* Be simple, fast, secure and reliable
* Provide one application for one task
* Be a complete development/desktop environment
* Be small, distributed on a single 400MB ISO image
Minislack is not a typical starters distribtion (yet), it is after all based on Slackware, which is usually considered the choice of experienced people, but the helpful instructions on the homepage - http://www.minislack.org/staticpages/index.php?page=20050321023829882 - is what made me dare to take the step. It is worth gold to a newbie.
The "cut" made with Minislack (in comparison to Slackware) is focus on the Desktop user, and with only one application for each purpose. It includes a fairly large and complete portion of programming tools. Any user can add to the installation with personal needs - preferably based on Slackware tarballs (but any other common way can be used, of course). With Minislack you get what you need to watch videos in various formats, write documents, print, scan, burn CD and DVD, connect your camera and edit your photographs. In other words, supporting much of what a desktop user needs for his computer utilities.
In spite of its small size - the installed system is only about 1.1 Gb, Minislack show off a decent amount of "eye-candy" - it does not leave you with the touch and feel of a scraped down almost-nothing Linux. Rather on the contrary, I feel that I could migrate entirely to this distribution of Linux and not be missing a thing. The desktop manager is Xfce, which I think is a nice desktop.
The limited distro means that packages are up to date, well maintained and matches each other. Things have been checked out, and you will not find unexpectedly that some packages work while others do not work together. All packages are tested together as a whole distribution.
With release 1.1 of Minislack there is this special Minislack tool, the "netpkg" command line tool, which can be used to keep Minislack up-to-date in a very easy way. It checks your installation with a public package repository (with http connection - you need to login to your internet service provider before running netpkg). You can then download upgrades and choose to install them either on-the-fly, or manually use Slackware installpkg.
Installing OpenOffice is as simple as "netpkg openoffice" - and the package is fetched from the package repository (http connection), then installed on-the-fly. The KDE and OpenOffice packages are available as add-on packages (not included on the CD-ROM ISO) - I guess they are slightly bloat for a distribution, which intends to be a mini.
I'd expect the next release of Minislack (1.2) to be available around august. In this case all you have to do is run "netpkg upgrade-all" - and your system will be updated. It cannot be easier than that!
Some people have asked, why Minislack and not the real Slackware? To me the answer is easy. As a beginner I need the usual applications, but I do not need too many options, since I have no background for choosing one over the other. A user with routine could easily pick out the packages he needs, but a newbie would not know one package from the other. It is possible to unselect a few applications perhaps, but close to impossible to see through the vast amount of libraries and not least fighting
the feared dependencies.
In Minislack the choices has been taken for me - in my opinion excellent choices. It gives a complete distribution with a small footprint, and you can add packages as you find the need for them. I feel it is better to start with a small system, then add what you need.
Minislack is easy on hardware requirements. I have seen claims of Minislack running on a Pentium 233 MHz with only 64 Mb RAM. Minislack run very smooth on my own PC. It is a Pentium II, 400 MHz, with 256 Mb of RAM and an NVidia RIVA TNT2 Graphics Adapter card (32 Mb RAM). It resides on a 1.5 Gb partition + a second 386 Mb harddrive. Swap is only 32 Mb, which is on the low side. I never see Minislack swapping to it, though, buf if you're going to stream some TV or edit a very large picture with
GIMP, then it will become a problem.
If you're going to install more on top of your Minislack than just a few apps, if you intend to burn CD's (eg. ISO's), then you need more space, say 3 Gb.
The main site is : http://www.minislack.org/ - check it out!