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Revised Slackware keeps it simple

Posted by: Brian Masinick on December 24, 2008 07:22 PM
Slackware was the first Linux distribution that I ever attempted to use - way back in 1995. I bought a book containing in depth details about how to install, configure, and use it. Before even attempting my first installation, I read many chapters, certainly the ones relevant to installation and configuration, highlighted, marked, or otherwise noted areas I thought would be particularly germane to my use, and then after some time, at least days, maybe even a week or two, I gave it my first try.

The software itself installed effortlessly, but configuring the X server was another matter. Since the version I was using came from a book, it was already dated. It turned out that back then, Diamond Stealth graphics cards had not been supported a year or two earlier. Therefore, the only way that I could get it going was to use 8 color VGA graphics. I used the sneakernet to get a driver, saved it on disk from a machine running UNIX at work, then brought it home. I got it going and had no further problems.

Today Slackware is much easier to set up, mostly because X is so much more automatic than it used to be. I believe that there have been a few minor changes in the installation itself to make it slightly easier to just install everything in the Slackware distribution. Veterans, of course, will do what they want.

Now to the question about Slackware and ease of installation, ease of management, and ease of use. From the standpoint of someone coming from a Windows background, there is no way that anyone is going to call Slackware "easy", but on the other hand, those who have never even given it a try are equally ignorant about its capabilities and possibilities. I would claim that even an ignorant installation has a reasonable chance of being successful. Most default responses are reasonable and well chosen. Nevertheless, Slackware is one distribution where it is far better to research it up front, then have the ability to get it to do precisely what you want it to do. With that kind of emphasis, Slackware is actually "easy" - it does not get in your way and "prevent" you from doing what you want, unlike a major proprietary desktop operating system that many of us have either moved away from or avoid whenever possible.

This all begs the question though. Is Slackware easy or not? I think that Susan was pretty accurate with her description. I would suggest that if you want a scared novice to run Slackware, install it for them. It is easy to use, but not the easiest system to figure out, unless you come from a classic UNIX and BSD background like I did. Anyone who is willing to read, study, and learn, though, will not have any problems at all getting Slackware up and running, and to them, it might be just the right thing.

Someone suggested sidux. It turns out that is my favorite system. However, once again, I would not hoist sidux on a scared novice, I would install it for them. sidux does not enable any non-free software. Like Slackware, it has great documentation and it is easy to follow the instructions to do anything with it, but beginners are not always great instruction followers. Sidux, to me, takes less time to maintain because it has so many great tools. Slackware is very flexible, because you can do whatever you want with it and it stays out of your way.

Button pushers are not best off with either Slackware or sidux. That's where something like Ubuntu comes in to the equation. To me, though, the distribution I really like that will work for a button pusher, yet it remains simple, yet extensible, is SimplyMEPIS. It makes the Debian experience easy, yet at the same time, you can get any and all Debian software on it, or in the extreme case, transform it into a true Debian system. That class of system is more what I would propose to the true beginner.

Nevertheless, Slackware's reputation of being challenging is a bit overstated. While not a button pushing kind of experience, Slackware can be tackled with relative ease by anyone willing to spend even an hour reading about it in the documentation before launching forward.

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