June 13, 2006

My desktop OS: Zenwalk

Author: Henning Jaeger

There are so many desktop distributions that I often find myself testing them like I'm looking for the Holy Grail and forgetting what I really want: An operating system for my daily tasks at home. I found my Grail in Zenwalk, a Slackware-based Linux distro that uses the lightweight Xfce desktop environment along with an up-to-date 2.6.16 kernel.

A desktop OS that everybody will fall in love with needs two major features: easy installation and easy daily use. When you first try Zenwalk, don`t be scared by the installer; it does not look that nice, but it is pretty straightforward. Including the time it takes for partitioning (which you have to do before starting setup) you are booting into your new Zenwalk desktop within 40 minutes. The setup routine installs the LILO boot loader, and sets up the graphics display, keyboard, mouse, network, ALSA, time zone, users, and password settings.

After installation is when the daily ease of use comes in. Zenwalk offers just a few great applications, a clean desktop, a nice look, and lightning-fast performance.

My USB hard drive mounts itself instantly when connected, so I have all my "Friends" episodes available for my free time after work. There's no codec hassle when I try to load the episodes with gxine; they just start playing. My all-in-one card reader, which doesn't even work in Windows Service Pack 2 or SUSE, works out of the box in Zenwalk, so I can finally get some use from my Sony memory stick.

Even the little things are well-integrated, such as Zenwalk's dolphin logo in the Audacious audio player (XMMS-based) and in the GIMP logo as well.

Zenwalk is not so arrogant as to put itself as the first boot choice; it will let your Windows partitions boot first, because it knows that quality matters, and you will reboot into Zenwalk more and more each day.

I always change some minor things to make Zenwalk look the way I like, such as setting the taskbar to 100% width and changing the window manager style to Wallis so my Windows-loving girlfriend will feel at home.

Here in Germany many people get their news from "tagesschau," which is on TV but available online as well hourly as a live video stream. Other than Xandros, not one today's distributions is able to play this RealMedia stream, but Zenwalk does with no worries.

With Zenwalk I can achieve everything I want to do at home, including exchanging email with Thunderbird, Web browsing with Mozilla, listening to my MP3s in Audacious, watching video in gxine, and writing my uncle an old-fashioned letter with AbiWord. I can even cling to some Windows stuff, like Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver, which work well thanks to the Crossover Office software installed with Zenwalk.

You might ask if there is any downside at all to this. In the 2.4 release, gnomebaker was broken, but it is fixed in the 2.6 release. Zenwalk doesn't carry as many printer drivers as you may be used to from other distros. Apart from these, I have nothing negative to mention.

At this point I'd like to offer you a review of the support available for the distro, but I have not been in any need of support; so far, everything here works fine.

Zenwalk is my favourite desktop Linux because after installation you can just sit back and enjoy using it. It is the perfect combination of stability and competence.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, Gentoo, VectorLinux, CentOS, Damn Small Linux, Frugalware, Kubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Arch Linux, Fedora Core 5, Debian Etch, and Zeta.

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  • Linux
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