Monday 11th December 2006
It's no secret that I like Zenwalk - the lightweight attitude proves to be a refreshing change from many other distributions. However, thus far, I've been reluctant to recommend Zenwalk to users fairly new to Linux, or those that want things to just work. As the version number shows, Zenwalk has recently undergone some major changes - let's see what effect they have.
On installation, the effect is just about... zero. It is more or less the same as last time, which in turn was about the same as the time before that. That means that the installation can be a little intimidating to new users, but they should be able to work through most of it, especially if they bring up the Zenwalk manual.
Editing partitions is still done via cfdisk, which is accessible from within the installation. I still prefer GParted over cfdisk, although there are also some text-based partitioners that I would prefer - the one included in the Debian installer springs to mind.
CUPS is still disabled during setup - although this might be to reduce the number of unnecessary processes running, a quick question asking whether you want to have CUPS / printing on by default wouldn't go amiss (as opposed to CUPS just being another option on a long list of services that many users may well not understand).
The problem of swap space selection still remains. You get given a choice of what swap space partitions you wish to use on the installation, but deselecting one of the two I have on my machine made no difference - it still used both.
Zenwalk remains as fast and nippy as ever - on the same machine, complete with an AMD Athlon 1.2GHZ and 384MB of RAM, I could not detect any real speed difference from Zenwalk 3.0.
Similarly, there are relatively few changes to the application list. XFCE still serves as the desktop environment, this time version 3.99.2 - the second release candidate. Despite the non-final status of XFCE, it was rock-solid for me. Other applications include:
- Firefox - web browser
- Thunderbird - e-mail client
- GAIM - instant messenger
- gxine - media player
- Bluefish - advanced editor
- Geany - programming IDE
- The GIMP - graphics editor
- Evince - document viewer
- Abiword - word processor
- Gnumeric - spreadsheet program
- gFTP - FTP program
- Mousepad - text editor
- vim - text editor
- tightvnc - VNC server and client
There are relatively few things to say about this list. All the programs are reasonably small, as they should be, and most people would be happy with those choices. Admittedly, I had to get use to vim the first time I used Zenwalk owing to the lack of nano, but a quick search on the Internet gets you going.
Notably absent from this release is LinNeighborhood, the beloved networking tool. Essentially, this allows you to browse the network, and mount any shares that you find. Although FuseSmbTool is the remaining alternative, and works by selecting a folder on which to mount the entire network. This has two major deficiencies from LinNeighborhood. Firstly, it always gives out an error messages on startup, namely about fusesmbtool.conf, and the default directory for putting the shares is not automatically created. Second, and far more important, is that FuseSmbTool makes it very difficult to access shares that require different usernames. You cannot set the username and password on a per machine and per share basis, unlike in LinNeighborhood, meaning that getting to those other shares requires you to unmount the entire network, type in the relevant username and password, and go to the share you want, making life unnecessarily tedious.
My other minor criticism of Zenwalk is that there is no easy place for a user to go to figure out how to access their network. In GNOME, you can go "Network Servers" in the "Places" menu, or "Network" in the "Go" menu of Nautilus. No such luck in Zenwalk.
Multimedia support in Zenwalk is provided by gxine and ffmpeg. This combination means that it played all the files I could find, including DivX, Real, Sorenson, Theora, WMV8, WMV9 and MPEG-4. The only minor problem I had was that when double-clicking some files, gxine opened but did not play the file - I had to go to the "Open" option in order to get it to play.
Plugging in my USB stick gets it mounted in /mnt/usbdisk, while CD-ROMs get an appropriately named directory in /mnt, depending on which CD drive you use. Both are mounted without any sort of visual notification, which can be either good or bad depending on your point of view. There are no icons created on the desktop, which I think I would prefer. Instead, they are just silently mounted in /mnt, which you can access via a link on the desktop called "Mountpoints". By right-clicking on the CD-ROM icons, you can easily eject them, but the only such option for USB sticks is to Sync them. Despite the name, this command will both sync and unmount the drive (i.e. Sync just seems to be a pseudonym for Unmount), although it will not eject it.
When using QEMU to test Zenwalk, the addition of a sound card proved to be no problem - it was fully working as soon as I logged in. In other words, there appears to be no configuration necessary.