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Feature: Slackware

Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

By Susan Linton on July 10, 2007 (9:00:00 AM)

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Slackware Linux is the oldest surviving Linux distribution, and still one of the most popular. Last week's release of version 12.0 is a milestone for the Slackware team, as it marks Slackware's first use of a default 2.6.x kernel. Other new components include KDE 3.5.7, Xfce 4.4.1, Xorg 7.2.0, and GCC 4.1.2. Slackware is now nearing the bleeding edge without sacrificing stability, making this truly an exciting release.

I downloaded the first three CD-ROM images as torrents. They came in suprisingly fast for torrents, indicating many seeders.

Slackware's installer has remained largely unchanged -- a menu-driven interactive ncurses installer. The basic steps include partitioning the drive if necessary, activating a swap partition, designating a root partition, choosing software, setting up a root password, and installing LILO (or not). Slackware provides four kernel choices: the generic kernel, generic-smp (for multiprocessor/multicore machines), huge (built with about every driver in kernel), and huge-smp. I used a huge kernel for my Hewlett-Packard dv6105 notebook. With a 2.0GHz AMD Turion CPU and 512MB RAM, it boots in an impressive 30 seconds. One new option available during install is the choice of making a USB boot stick instead of a boot diskette, but that option didn't do anything for me -- it didn't format the media or write anything.

Slackware has been a long-time favorite of mine because of its simplicity in hardware configuration. Now with Linux 2.6.21.5, udev, and HAL, hardware configuration is supposed to be even easier, but I still had to do some manual setup. Most of my common hardware was functional at boot, but I had to add support for my wireless chipset, ACPI, and CPU scaling. It was refreshing to find I could still easily enable these by manually editing the /etc/rc.d/rc.modules file. Users should be able to automount removable media if they are members of the cdrom and plugdev groups, but that didn't seem to work for me; I receive an error with USB sticks and saw an empty window with CD-ROMS and DVDs.

Slackware doesn't ship with Ndiswrapper, which I needed to get my network adapter working. I downloaded the latest stable version from SourceForge.net and easily compiled it and brought up my Internet connection. This is another reason Slackware has found its way into my heart and onto my disks; I can't remember having a source package that would not compile in Slackware.

On the other hand, you don't really have to do very much compiling. Slackware comes with an impressive list of software.

As in Slackwares past, KDE is delivered just as KDE developers packaged it. I visited kde-look.org for a background and window decoration. After five minutes and three or four tweaks, Slackware looked as pretty as any distro.

Besides the complete suite of KDE, including Accesssibility, Games, Edutainment, and Development applications, Slackware also ships with KOffice, K3b for CD burning, Amarok music player, Firefox and Seamonkey for Web browsing, Thunderbird for email, Pan for newsgroup reading, and XChat for IRC. For image viewing and manipulation it offers GQView and the GIMP, and for multimedia needs it has Audacious, Juk, Xine, and Gxine. Browser plugins include support for Java and video formats. Xine includes support for all the video formats I tested, including AVI and MP4, but the audio apps lacked support for the Ogg Vorbis format, and Gxine froze when it started up.

Slackware doesn't ship with a lot of graphical configuration utilities. Some of what isn't automatically configured can be handled by the desktop environments. For example, after loading the correct kernel modules, I used KLaptop to set up my laptop battery monitoring and CPU performance profiles. They worked fairly well, although the suspend and hibernate options weren't available. Slackware provides the CUPS browser interface for printers. I had to use standard configuration files or the command line for other tasks, such as for setting up my wireless connection using Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) or making adjustments to my screen resolution.

You can use KDE's Kpackage to assist with package management, but Slackware's primary software manager is pkgtool, a menu-driven console tool to add, remove, and upgrade Slackware packages. Unfortunately, it still won't download packages from a remote location. At one time one could install slapt-get or swaret for that functionality, but it looks like those projects haven't been updated in a while. To install software using pkgtool you'll need to download Slackware packages to your local machine and navigate to their location. Beside Slackware's repositories, there are third-party collection such as Linuxpackages, and many individual projects offer Slackware packages. You can also use pkgtool to make your own Slackware packages out of source directories, to ease in management.

This release also gives users the ability to upgrade 11.0 to 12.0 using the slackpkg tool. You can find instructions on how to use it in the CHANGES_AND_HINTS.TXT file. The procedure looks long and complicated; I think it would be easier and faster to back up all needed files and start with a fresh install. However, the option is available for those who wish to use it.

If KDE isn't your first choice in a desktop environment, Slackware offers others. Xfce 4.4.1, for instance, like KDE, is delivered as the original developers intended. Xfce is easier than ever to customize, as it provides graphical configurations for backgrounds, icons, themes, window behavior, and much more. Fluxbox, another available option, is a wonderful choice for anyone needing a lightweight desktop environment. Still others are WindowMaker, Blackbox, and FWMV. Third-party GNOME packages for Slackware were available for operating system versions past, but I found no 12.0 support as of yet.

With all the improvements in the new version, Slackware is better than ever. Hardware support and autoconfiguration are about on par with most other Linux distros. The software included is the latest versions available, yet Slackware remains one of the most stable systems I have used. Limited package management, a complicated upgrade procedure, buggy removable media support, and a lack of graphical configuration tools are some of the drawbacks I found in using Slackware.

In the end, Slackware 12.0 is still Slackware -- steeped in nostalgia, patriarch to a whole generation of distros, and still trying to keep it simple.

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on Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

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Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

Posted by: Tony Granberg on July 10, 2007 12:30 PM
I think this distribution still matters, and most of all as a perfect starting point for someone who is in their early learning and findings about open source software for Linux. I remember it as being a very pragmatic and basic distribution and it seems to have continued on that route. You can compare the basic approach to those who on the contrary are full-fledged ones such as Fedora 7 or the latest version of OpenSUSE. Then there is Debian of course, where it's all about GNU and liberated free software which fills a need for a whole other target group of users who are concerned about the ethical and moral aspects of software availability, but at the same time always have been a most interesting choice for production servers because of the consistent focus they have on providing a completely stable bransch of the distribution for those who need it badly.

All in all, which distribution to choose is up to the users to decide themselves. They only need to consider: what do I need and expect from the distribution? Is it going to sit on a desktop computer and serve a family or is it going to sit on a server where productive maintenance matters the most?

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Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

Posted by: Vertana on July 10, 2007 03:20 PM
Great article, however, some see Slackware as an "expert only" distro if you will, so the lack of graphical configuration tools is to be expected.

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GNOME

Posted by: casaxa on July 10, 2007 10:14 PM
Nice article man !!

Third-party GNOME packages for Slackware were available for operating system versions past, but I found no 12.0 support as of yet.

As a droplinegnome developer, I can say that work is going on, and soon we will have 2.18.3 on Slackware 12.0 so you can try it and review it.

Rgds
Saxa

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Clarification of some things...

Posted by: rworkman on July 10, 2007 10:57 PM

On the HAL errors, there's been some semblance of an "errata" since the release. It's not really an error, per se, but a default configuration choice that can be misleading. You must manually add your user to both the cdrom and plugdev groups in /etc/group for it to work, even though shadow adds them at login via /etc/login.defs. This is a dbus problem, actually, and in hindsight, the plugdev addition probably should not have been made in /etc/login.defs, but the idea was to make things "just work" out of the box. So much for that... :-)



On upgrading, the <a href="http://slackware.osuosl.org/slackware-12.0/CHANGES_AND_HINTS.TXT">CHANGES_AND_HINTS.TXT</a> document is *not* intended to be used with <a href="http://slackpkg.org">slackpkg</a> (which is an unofficial tool written by one of the Slackware team), but it can certainly work. That document was intended as reading for *all* users (as evidenced by its mention in several of the other release-pertinent docs), and it includes instructions for upgrading with the pkgtool suite.



On another note, I should mention the <a href="http://slackbuilds.org">SlackBuilds.org</a> - repository of build scripts to create packages from source code of many different applications. Building the packages on your own system avoids the problems with undocumented package dependencies that plague many users of unofficial package repositories.

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Slackware rules!

Posted by: hrp2171 on July 11, 2007 12:04 AM
Could you share with us where you got that wallpaper? Thanks.

On GNOME, I will have to say that if I don't have the same good experience as in Ubuntu, then I'll revert to KDE immediately. GNOME in Ubuntu is so cohesive and rock solid in my opinion. So, I'm looking forward to the GNOME packages for Slackware 12 and try it out.

On Slackware being an "Expert Distro", that's exactly what I kept hearing when I first tried it back at version 7. I still went ahead and installed it. I don't regret having done it, then. I learned so much about Linux. It also came to me at a time when I was so bored with Windows that I soaked Linux in like a sponge.

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Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

Posted by: Thomas Zajic on July 11, 2007 06:37 AM
> At one time one could install slapt-get or swaret for that functionality, but it looks like those projects haven't been updated in a while.



http://unix.freshmeat.net/projects/slaptget/?branch_id=44163&release_id=257494

http://unix.freshmeat.net/projects/gslapt/?branch_id=56377&release_id=257495


:-)

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Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.245.57.94] on August 28, 2007 12:34 AM
I really wish that they would add x86_64 support, but other than that, I am a huge fan of Slackware.

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Venerable Slackware 12 gets a sporty new wardrobe

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.20.39.39] on September 07, 2007 02:00 AM
Good review! Slackware makes you learn things to master them. But the newbies and home desktop users should go for an OS that just works. And that is PCLinuxOS. Visit <a href="http://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com">Tweaking PCLinuxOS</a>.

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Slackware teach you to be a master

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.20.39.39] on September 07, 2007 02:02 AM
Good review! Slackware makes you learn things to master them. But the newbies and home desktop users should go for an OS that just works. And that is PCLinuxOS. Visit <a href="http://pclinuxos2007.blogspot.com">Tweaking PCLinuxOS</a>.

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Nothing else will do.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.231.80.212] on December 03, 2007 06:07 AM
Slackware has literally changed my life. If it were not for Slackware and Linux I would not have gone into Computer Science in the first place. It was my first distro back in 1995 and even though I've used many others, nothing even comes close to Slackware. If a person wants to "learn" Linux then nothing but Slackware will do. If a person wants to "use" Linux then I guess that person should look elsewhere, unless that individual likes a little challenge and is never satisfied until things are "just so". Only Slackware lets you have *that* attitude like no other distro. Slackwre forever!

R. Scott Smith

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