Back in Nov of 2008 I checked out Zenwalk 5.2 and a recent LXF contained Zenwalk 6.0 – so let’s see what has changed. It loads up with the usual Kernel messages going past on the screen. The first screen for the installation hasn’t changed one bit from Zenwalk 5.2.
Once again, as before, I chose autoinstall. Once again, the installation was sparse, but very, very informative. I don’t think I mentioned this last time, but it appears that Zenwalk 6.0 (maybe earlier versions as awell) uses the xfs file system instead of the more usual ext3. (Or, recently, ext4) According to the wikipedia article I linked to, XFS is very good for large files and is one of the oldest file systems for *nix systems. Just like last time, the installation had information on every single package as it was installed. Just as last time I want to say that this installation was very, very simple. I don’t see why anyone new to Linux (but not a total computer noob) would have any problems installing it. Sure, it’s very short on eye candy – but who cares? You should only ever see the installation screen once. Just as before, I am convinced that Zenwalk is a very good introduction to a Slackware-type distribution thanks to this ease of installation.
Installation took a little while. Overall, it appears the Zenwalk team have decided to maintain the same visual theme from the 5.2 release. I can’t speak to what things looked like before that because I never used an earlier version of Zenwalk. I then installed the LILO boot loader as before. Then it was time to reboot.
Once again it asks for the user to agree to licenses for the GNU GPL, Adobe, and Intel Wireless Drivers. Then I selected the system language. Then it was time to set the root password. I’m happy that it asks you again for confirmation. Then I created a user and password. It was pretty easy. Only every so slightly intimidating for the new user. Same LILO screen as last time. It looked like it got stuck, but I probably got impatient. So I rebooted and it didn’t have Xorg working correclty. So I logged in as root and typed xorgconfig. Again, this is probably my fault, not Zenwalk’s. I couldnt get it to work after about 10 tries with different options. So I just reinstalled. This time I will be patient! I left it on ALL day while I was at work and the gym (>9 hours) and still no GUI. This is not good. So I go to the IRC. Turns out I was getting this weird error:
X: symbol lookup error: /usr/lib/xorg/modules/drivers//vedsa_drv.so: undefined symbol: xf86GTFMode
waiting for X server to begin accepting connections
I was told on the IRC I had to do an update. He sent me to a page that showed this was ocurring for people using nVidia cards. This is weird because usually nVidia is better supported than ATI. At any rate, it appears that something was borked with the xorg-driver-vesa package. I upgraded using netpkg on the command line. And then it worked! w00t w00t! For anyone else in my situation what you need to do is this:
- at the LILO screen hit tab
- type Zenwalk 3
- login as root
- type netpkg mirror
- select a mirror that has i486 in the name (NOT one that says restricted!) and also ends with current
- type netpkg xorg-driver-vesa
- Hit the number that corresponts to upgrade
Many thanks to the person (I’m pretty sure it was a guy) in the IRC under the handle of stillborn1.
Ok, so +1 point for the Zenwalk community being helpful. (Also thanks to someone who, in a comment on one of my recent Linux reviews, suggested I go to the community for help before giving up) And -2 points for Zenwalk 6.0 having the vesa driver broken out of the box. Afterall, that’s the fallback driver if nothing else works. Hopefully they have either remastered the disc with the vesa driver fixed or will soon release a Zenwalk 6.1 with it fixed. Come on guys – you have a beautiful distro that works well, you don’t need these simple things messing up someone’s first experience with you. If I were trying to pick a Linux distro, I might just give up when X didn’t come up and move to Mandriva or Ubuntu. (It depends on the person’s personailty – some love a challenge and some will see it as something annoying)
So now we can move on.
Ok, the background is a little different and the Zenwalk logo has a little more colour, but overall, it looks the same as Zenwalk 5.2. So I go ahead and login. The desktop looks exactly the same as in 5.2 but with a different background picture. But, hey, if it’s not broke – don’t fix it! They also seem to be using the same icon set as before. Ok, so before I faulted Zenwalk for not labeling Netpkg in their settings page as being the program for installation. Let’s see if that’s the same. It’s now found under System -> Control Panel. And it’s still only called Netpkg. HOWEVER, one user did comment last time that new users should read the documentation where this is all spelt out. So, I’m not going to beat that horse. Basically everyone will fall into one of two camps – you think people will read the manual or you think they won’t. And that’s what dictates your settings.
Program-wise Zenwalk 6.0 is running OpenOffice.org 3.0 and Iceweasel (Firefox) 3.0.6. Other than that, the basic install of Zenwalk has a small selection of programs. They follow the same trend that nearly all distros are following now – initially give the users one program per task and let them discover other programs later. To get a feel for the depth of the Zenwalk repositories, I decided to search for two programs only being added to the latest distro releases – Conky and Gwibber. This time Netpkg GUI says, “No mirror selected – select on and load it.” A HUGE improvement over Zenwalk 5.2. Conky was available, but Gwibber was not. Darn – again something non-intuitive. If you don’t click on the filter “not installed” you can’t select it for installation. This is quite a bit annoying and counter-intuitive. Come on – don’t fix one thing and break another!
Ok, so what’s the conclusion for this Slackware-based or Slackware-derived distro? Let’s start with the good stuff. Installation is very simple. If you aren’t automatically scared by the fact that it’s not a GUI, it’s pretty darned easy. It still would be nice if there was a little bit more explanation on what the user is choosing, but I guess if you’re installing a Linux distro you can be expected to do a bit of research or revoke your license to gripe. As before the desktop is beautiful (at least for me) and the icon set is nice. The default setup makes sense. It works well. Last time I checked out Zenwalk I had not yet tried Slackware. After having tried Slackware – Zenwalk is easily a much friendlier distro to get up and working. Now for the negatives. First of all, the problem with the vesa driver is a major issue, but it won’t affect everyone. I was left scratching my head because I couldn’t figure out what was going wrong and I knew how to check the Xorg logs. After all, vesa is supposed to be the fallback. Again, this probably won’t affect you too much. Another negative, but a really tiny one is that Firefox is called Iceweasel. Debian does this as well. Both are distros that most people probably wouldn’t try as their first distro, so I guess it’s ok. But if I were to hand it to someone and say try out this Linux thing and they can’t find Firefox they might panic a bit. I understand why Debian does it and I assume Zenwalk does it for the same reasons. No need to rehash that argument, but it is true that it will be a [very small] stumbling block for the new user if they don’t read the manuals. Finally, there’s Netpkg. I have to give the maintainers props for fixing the issue before where it would just sit there and not give you any instructions whatsoever. However, having to manually check the filter “not installed” is quite annoying. Given these design issues and seeing how they could logically fit in, I think it’s clear Zenwalk is a distro for people who are more technical or geeky and just don’t have the patience to deal with Slackware and its non-dependency-calculating nonsense.
Ok, so I’d say Zenwalk is a good, beautiful distro. I would only recommend it to a new user if they have done their research on this Linux thing. They need to know how to find help or why Firefox is called Iceweasel or they need to have a geek friend they can ask. For Linux veterans, Zenwalk seems nice and easy. It seems to give all the power of Slackware with none of the (IMHO) BS. The repos are not as large as Fedora or Ubuntu, so check that you don’t need programs that aren’t there or are ok with compiling software. I’m still of the opinion that anyone who is unhappy with his or her current distro should try this one out. You may find it to be a good fit. It has nice, light requirements including Pentium 3 and 128 MB RAM so it might be great for resurrecting some old computers without having to resort to a “light” distro. It’s also good if you like Xfce or Gnome. There does not appear to be an official KDE version.