I saw the Zenwalk 6.2 Release Announcement a couple of days ago. As I have been quite pleased with the Slackware 13.0 installation on my Multiboot Mini Server for the past week, and Zenwalk is generally known as "Slackware refined for the desktop", I decided to give it a try. I'm already pleased that I did!
First, you need to be aware that although there are at least four different versions of the Zenwalk distribution (Standard, Core, Live and Gnome), at this point only the Standard Edition has been updated to the 6.2 release. Don't get confused - the LiveCD is not the 6.2 release (yet), and the Standard Edition is an installation CD, not a LiveCD, so the only thing you can do is download and install it, you can't just "try it out" yet.
The installation is relatively easy; like Slackware, Zenwalk uses an ASCII/text installer, not a GUI, but they have obviously put a lot of time and effort into refining the installer, removing unnecessary and confusing questions and trying to make what is left as clear as possible. It's still not as "mindlessly easy" as the GUI installers in newer Ubuntu or Mandriva distributions, but then again if you are looking for "mindless", then Zenwalk and Slackware are probably not what you are looking for. Also be aware that Zenwalk uses the LILO bootloader (no surprise, since Slackware does too), which I don't want, but that was not a big deal, I was able to simply tell it not to install LILO, and then add it to my GRUB configuration manually.
What is the difference between Zenwalk and Slackware? In many ways, I would say it is the same as the difference between Ubuntu and Debian. Slackware is a very good server distribution, which an experienced Linux administrator (or user) can make into a good desktop distribution with some time and effort, while Zenwalk has already put in that time and effort for you, and is a very nice desktop Linux distribution right out of the box. Zenwalk is not, however, a blind follower or repackager of Slackware, they do add significant enhancement and improvement to the distribution beyond just integrating a number of other packages. The improvements in the installation dialog are one example of that; another is that while the recent Slackware 13.0 distribution uses Linux kernel 220.127.116.11, the Zenwalk 6.2 distribution already has Linux kernel 18.104.22.168. That is a worthwhile improvement for me, because it means that my Logitech Audio Hub speakers work correctly!
When the installation finishes, you see the more differences. Slackware leaves you in init state 3 by default, which is a text console, and you have to figure our for yourself that if you want a graphical desktop, you need to either run startx or change to init state 4; if you want that to be the default startup, you have to figure out how to change the initdefault in /etc/inittab. When the Zenwalk installation finishes, it boots to a graphical login screen (using gdm, the Gnome desktop manager), which will then log you into an Xfce desktop by default. Likewise, Slackware doesn't create an ordinary user account for you during installation, so you are expected to login as root and create your own account; Zenwalk at least creates one user account for you during installation.
I chose to install Zenwalk on my ASUS N10J netbook, first because there was an empty partition on it that I could install to, and second because I wanted to see how it would work on a netbook. I'm very pleased to say that it installs and runs quite well. It handled all of the hardware with no trouble, including the Intel Atom CPU and 945/950 graphic controller (at 1024x600 resolution), and both wired and wireless networking. It uses Wicd for network management (which I am becoming more and more fond of, by the way - I think the panel/tray icon is particularly easy to use), and I was about to set it up on my WiFi network with no trouble at all. The sound also works just fine, both on the built-in speakers and on a Logitech Audio Hub USB speaker system (yay!).
Zenwalk includes the latest release of Xfce (4.6.1), and I find the default desktop setup (primarily panel placement and content) to be much more pleasant than Xubuntu, for example. However, as this is a netbook that I have installed it on, I went ahead and changed the desktop to my "preferred" layout, but even that only required moving the panels around, and moving one or two icons between panels.
Zenwalk also includes a very good selection of the latest software packages and applications. The most obvious example of this is that it has OpenOffice.org 3.1 (most Linux distributions still have 3.0 or 3.0.1). It also includes GIMP and gThumb for picture viewing and editing, lots of multimedia programs for playing/viewing music and videos and burning CD/DVDs, and of course various programs for network access, web browsing, email, IM chat and such.
I am every bit as pleased with Zenwalk after just a couple of days as I have been with Slackware after a week or so. I can easily imagine an installation with Slackware on the servers and Zenwalk on the clients, for example.