Zenwalk Live 4.8

I’m a sucker for a Linux or BSD distro with a live CD. Even if you can’t do an install directly from the disc, at least you can figure out whether the damn thing will boot and how your hardware will react when it does.

One of my favorites, ZenWalk, just released Zenwalk 4.8 Live. Both Zenwalk and Vector — the top Xfce-based, Slackware-derived distributions — are very good, but I like the way Zenwalk looks and works just that much better. I was dismayed when Zenwalk 4.6 wouldn’t install properly on the $0 Laptop (the Gateway Solo 1450). Slackware 12 and Vector Standard 5.8 wouldn’t run once installed  either (I think I need to pass some boot parameters … which means I’ll either have to figure out how to do it in LILO or try to do it in GRUB), so it’s more than likely something that begins in Slackware that the other distros don’t clear up. I have my money on PCMCIA or SCSI services, and it is worth a try.

Anyhow, whether or not an Xfce-based Slack-derived distro can really “save” really old hardware remains an open question. One thing I do know, however, is PCs that do “OK” with standard distros like Ubuntu really do fly with Zenwalk or Vector (and more so with Puppy and Damn Small Linux, but that’s another story).

Before I continue, let me remind you about Zenwalk Live’s root password (you’ll need it if you want to do any configuration in the very-well-thought-out ZenPanel app):


And yes, it is case-sensitive (as are all Linux passwords).

Right now, in the live CD environment, I expect more speed from Zenwalk, but I don’t want to make a full judgment until I’ve done a complete install.

One thing (and it’s a big one) that Zenwalk does have going for it is the Net-Pkg package manager. It makes dealing with packages that much easier. And overall, Zenwalk’s ZenPanel is better in just about every way than Vector’s VASM tool.

And if you want to run Slackware but don’t want KDE — and want easier package management, you should test both Zenwalk and Vector before making any decisions on a permanent install. For me, the relative lack of time between releases for both distros — and what looks like the abandonment of updates for the older versions — gives me pause. Nothing a separate /home partition couldn’t cure, but I prefer the ability to stay up to date as long as possible without a full reinstallation of the operating system. (This is an area in which Debian and Ubuntu excel.)

Another thing before I go: Slackware, Vector and Zenwalk all run exceptionally well with the Fluxbox window manager. It’s included in the initial installs of Slack and Vector (the latter doing it the best, I think) and is readily available in the Zenwalk repositories. With Fluxbox, you get a lot more speed, and if Xfce doesn’t give you the level of performance you seek on an older box, any of these distros just might do what you need with this lightweight window manager.



  1. I was surprised that when I just installed Zenwalk, I was able to figure out some basics like Netpkg, install Nvidia drivers, Wine 0.9.49, and install Oblivion and have it all running in about an hour from starting the Zenwalk install. BTW, I’d never tried any Slackware distro, and have stuck with apt/Synaptic distros. Though I still see that after a year with simple Linux distros, I’m still a beginner, cause I can’t figure out how to mount my other file systems on Zenwalk’s fstab. My basic distros always did that automatically. I tried copying some of their fstab lines to fstab in Zenwalk with no luck. Another problem for me with Zenwalk is poor looking default fonts. I need to look into how to fix that.

  2. Nice, if brief, rundown. I’m running Zenwalk on both my machines now, desktop and laptop, and it is sweet. I don’t think it’s quite as fast as Slackware — just a feeling mind you, but nothing feels cleaner or zippier than a fresh Slackware install (well, Arch and Crux are right there, too). What I like about Fluxbox on Zenwalk is that the system is set up to use the XFCE tools when you use the Fluxbox WM, and they’re a nice set of tools. With some distros you have to set them all up yourself, and with others they default to KDE tools (ark, etc.), which has you loading a bunch of crap you don’t need. All good stuff, mind you, but why load up QT and the KDE libs just to unzip something?

    Anyway, Fluxbox is the best in my opinion — the just-enough window manager. It tells you what’s open, what time it is, and allows you to switch between open applications and desktops. Throw in mouse-wheel desktop changing and right-click menus, and it’s just about perfect. And, you can maximize your windows with the task bar floating over the top and not lose one pixel of space. Handy for a 12.1-inch laptop like mine, though I do it with my 21.5-inch desktop monitor, too. There are quicker WMs — Openbox is one, I think — but you have to have to add things — pager, panel, something — and by the time you’ve got it set up it’s no quicker than Fluxbox and requires more work.

  3. decentralist, I think that Zenwalk may be giving different names to your other filesystems, so copying and pasting might not be working. I suggest a search in the Zenwalk forums. Both Zenwalk and Vector have GREAT users who are eager to help in their forums. The Slackware forum in Linux Questions is almost as good, but not quite. But since Zenwalk and Vector are Slack-based, anything you find out there will probably work in any of the three distros.

    joe f, I agree that the Zenwalk tools — especially the ZenPanel, which is slowly improving from release to release — are what make it a better choice for the Slack user who wants to stay with Xfce as opposed to KDE. But you can certainly run Xfce in Slack and just use the KDE tools when you need them. If you do a Xfce install of Debian, for instance, you don’t get enough tools to properly run the system. Better to do a standard GNOME install and add Xfce later when it comes to Debian. At least Slackware has pkgtool, xwmconfig, netconfig and all the other great Slack utilities that work with any (or no) window manager. And those tools are still there in Vector and Zenwalk.

    I wish Debian had all of those tools. My basic Debian system, which I built up myself from the “standard” install, could use all those Slack-type utilities. As it is, I have to configure everything manually, since I only have Fluxbox, along with the standard aptitude text front-end for apt. Apt is great, obviously, but pkgtool gives you more control, even though it’s neither as quick or easy as apt.

    Fluxbox is great. It’s usually treated as an afterthought and not well-configured in most distros. That includes Debian and Slackware, in my opinion. Fluxbox CAN be really tricked-out and still run great. Just look at Damn Small Linux or AntiX. At least in Vector, Fluxbox looks nice (and runs great, too).

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