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Feature: Slax

Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

By Susan Linton on March 04, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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Slax, a Slackware-based modular Linux distribution, released version 6.0 last month. This release brings a new tar install format along with a new donation request, but also includes some noticeable bugs.

One of the new interesting developments with Slax since the 5.x releases is the availability of a 190MB tar image as well as the more traditional ISO install file. The tar file is for use primarily on USB media, but you can use it to perform a hard drive install as well. Installing the archive onto a memory stick was easy. I used a 512MB pen drive with one partition formatted with the VFAT filesystem. I mounted and navigated to the partition and untarred the Slax-6.0.0.tar. Then I changed directory into /boot and ran the bootinst.sh script. I was then able to boot Slax from the pen drive without any trouble, and any changes I made to the pen drive install were retained after I shut down the operating system, just as if Slax were installed onto a hard drive.

The Slax boot menu offers some handy options. The default boot option is Graphics mode into KDE, but others include Copy to Ram, Always Fresh, Vesa Mode, Text Mode, and Run Memtest. In Default Graphics Mode, Slax tries to detect your graphics chip and start with the best configuration. Copy to Ram loads the system into your system memory and provides improved performance, which is most noticeable when you're booting from CD-ROM media. Always Fresh starts the system in read-only mode and doesn't load any previous changes or save any new ones. Vesa Mode can be likened to Safe Video mode, as most any graphics chip will run on Vesa drivers. Memtest tests your system RAM.

The Slax KDE 3.5.8 desktop appearance is unimpressive. The developers have updated the wallpaper, but it's still the same tired pair of sneakers from earlier versions. The remaining theme elements are pretty much KDE default. With the Linux landscape today full of beautiful desktops, Slax does little to compete.

Slax and hardware support

I had mixed feelings about Slax's hardware support at first. Slax booted into the optimal resolution for my Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv6105us laptop of 1280x800 using the "nv" Xorg driver, but the startup sound was very distorted even at very low volume levels. Fortunately, it only occurred at startup, and I never learned why. Application and system sounds worked as well as expected at all other times.

I soon found that Ndiswrapper wouldn't work for my Broadcom BCM94311MCG wireless Ethernet chip. I checked the logs to see if there was any clue as to why Ndiswrapper wasn't bringing my wireless network card to life and saw the suggestion to use the firmware from linuxwireless.org. Despite reservations, I connected an RJ-45 cable to my machine to visit the site. I found a link to the b43 driver and instructions for utilizing fw-cutter to extract it. After following the instructions, to my surprise, my NIC was activated next boot. Since Slax doesn't come with wpa_supplicant, the component that negotiates passkey authentication for Wi-Fi Protected Access, I had to download and build it from source. Then, finally, I could connect.

You can enable many power-saving features in Slax. I had to load specific modules for my hardware, such as powernow-k8 and cpufreq_ondemand, but once I had done that I could enable power-saving through the included Klaptop program. In the applet menu under Performance Profile I could adjust the CPU Frequency Scaling to lower the processor speed to reduce heat and conserve the battery charge. Suspend was available, but didn't function well for my laptop. It would go to sleep, but couldn't wake back up. Hibernate never did show up in the menu options.

Software with Slax

Under the hood Slax uses Linux 2.6.24, Xorg Server 1.4.0.90, and GCC 4.1.2. Even deeper, the developers have utilized LZMA with squashfs to make Slax and its modules smaller and blocks larger in order to deliver more software in a smaller package. Slax also uses AUFS to allow users to save their changes. However, the higher compression seems to hinder the overall performance of Slax compared to the last release, as evidenced by a delay in opening and navigating the menu, slower startup of system and apps, and some multimedia issues I'll get to in a moment.

The software lineup of Slax hasn't changed much since the 5.x releases. As a 300MB installed KDE system, it comprises almost entirely KDE applications.

Games start the menu and include KBattleship, KBounce, and Patience. The Graphics applications are Kuickshow, KolourPaint, KSnapshot, and KColorChooser. Office applications include KWord, KPresenter, KSpread, KPDF, and Kontact. KCalc, Kjots, KWrite, Ark, KNotes, and Klipper are found in Utilities. It is a bit inconvenient that Slax doesn't include a console editor.

The System menu contains KInfoCenter, KSysGuard, and the KDE Printer configuration module, as well as the Slax Module Manager, which is Slax' package management system. Unfortunately, the Slax site is in flux and there don't seem to be too many modules for it available at this time. If you find one you need, however, you can download it and use the manager to install it.

As an alternative you might be able to "use it online" with Slax's implementation of klik, call slik, though it did not work for me. After clicking the "use it online" link to install Firefox, I received a desktop dialog cloud informing me that it was being installed. Afterwards a link appeared in the menu, but clicking it did nothing, and after the next reboot the menu item was gone. I tried to download and install Firefox through the graphical module manager, but I received an error stating that module was already activated despite it not being listed in Slax Module manager with the other installed modules. Using deactivate firefox-2.0.0.12.lzm and activate firefox-2.0.0.12.lzm at the command line fixed things, and I was able to use Firefox. These commands replace the old uselivemod and unuselivemod commands. As an aside, I was able to install and use several Slackware 12.0 packages using the Slackware package management system, pkgtool, which is retained in Slax.

Like the other menus, the Internet menu is also dominated by KDE apps, such as Konqueror, KMail, Kopete, Akregator, Krdc (for remote desktop connections), Krfb (desktop sharing), and KNetAttach (network folder configuration). This menu also contains entries for Network Configurator, KPPP, and KWiFiManager. The Network Configurator helps you define very basic static settings, and KPPP sets up and executes a dial-up modem connection. KWiFiManager is designed to be used to scan and connect to wireless access points. This tool works well for scanning, but it couldn't establish a connection. The most troubling application in this menu was Konqueror. It would freeze, crash, or be reduced to a phantom window with any ordinary use. At times it would render the entire system unusable. I soon discovered that it had to do with the nspluginviewer bugs that have been plaguing Konqueror for quite a while. Disabling plugins in the Konqueror settings worked around the instability, but made installing Firefox a necessity.

For multimedia tasks Slax includes KPlayer, JuK, KsCD, K3b, KAudioCreator, and KMix. With KPlayer I was able to any view video filetypes I had on hand, including encrypted DVDs, but I experienced too many dropped frames for the experience to be enjoyable. Slax doesn't activate a swap partition, and my doing so didn't help. Neither selecting "performance" for the CPU speed scaling nor adjusting the player settings helped either. Online Flash video in Firefox appeared to have the same playback issue, and the libraries for QuickTime video aren't included. Music files and CDs played as desired.

Conclusion

Slax could be a fun hobby OS, but I can't recommend it to the average user. It has gone through some significant infrastructure changes since 5.x and the project's Web site is still under construction. Hardware support is acceptable but not exceptional, multimedia performance is a big disappointment, and the lack of available add-on modules is limiting. The site has little documentation, but the forum is back online.

Slax 6.0 feels as if it's still in transition. All in all, this release seems more like a beta than a final.

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on Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 201.213.1.110] on March 04, 2008 12:17 PM
The last release is 6.0.2, it fix a lot of things

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Re: Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.99.78.158] on March 04, 2008 01:59 PM
Specifically?

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.242.68.181] on March 04, 2008 12:29 PM
Well, 6.0.0 isn't the latest Slax release, 6.0.2 is.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 85.25.138.222] on March 04, 2008 01:02 PM
_Q1_>> With the Linux landscape today full of beautiful desktops, Slax does little to compete.
_A1_>> SLAX 's goal is not the beautiful desktop but swiss army knife Linux on 200MB flash key.



_Q2_>> Unfortunately, the Slax site is in flux and there don't seem to be too many modules for it available at this time. If you find one you need, however, you can download it and use the manager to install it.
_A2_>> You can just get a TGZ package for Slackware and convert it to LZM modul—É for SLAX.
For instance here - http://www.linuxpackages.net, http://www.slacky.eu, http://www.develia.org
That's the power of modular structure of SLAX



_Q3_>> Like the other menus, the Internet menu is also dominated by KDE apps
_A3_>> Yes, of course :-) No reason to use both Gnome and KDE libs altogether for small Live OS. It just a wasting of resources.



_Q4_>> Slax doesn't activate a swap partition, and my doing so didn't help.
_A4_>> Host OS can use swap for hibernation. That's why swap activation disabled by default. But is easy to activate in manually or use flile as swap.

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Re: Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.35.35.34] on March 04, 2008 07:18 PM
Your post is in Q & A format response to the reviewer. The problem with that is that 1) The reviewer was not asking any questions, and 2) The reviewer was stating his experiences with Slax on his laptop. The review makes it clear that Slax is VERY far from being ready for mass Desktop Users. Thats sad, but perhaps its not the goal of Slax to be a true desktop OS for prime time usage. Perhaps instead, its goal is to be a kind of "jack of all trades" kind of thing for doing repairs on broken windows systems, etc. If thats the case, then it sounds like it can certainly accomplish that task. In any case, Slax really does not have any kind of hope to compete with distro's such as Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Mandriva, Fedora, or OpenSUSE in the desktop arena anyway.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.173.0.195] on March 04, 2008 04:01 PM
You can also increse performance by installing slax a linux partion say ext3 instead of fat32, which is really where slax should be installed. As for the broadcom card where do I begin. Its a shame your computer came with a wireless card that is from a very UN LINUX friendly vendor. I understand how a lot of people want to just get it working and not question how it works. Alot of distros include this driver with the binary firmware. However this goes against the philosophy of a free system. If slax didn't include this binary blob (which is not part of the kernel) I can't really say I blam slax. I would do two things. First, Lets establish your the customer, demand broadcom support linux and release specifications for the hardware so you can use it with other operating systems besides windows (i.e there is a kernel driver without a binary blob). Second I would replace your mini pci wireless card with one that is fully supported under a free system. I would use an atheros based chipset. In the next release of the kernel 2.6.25 atheros cards with the AR5212 chipset will be fully supported by the kernel without any binary blob. Currenly there is a binary hal but this being replaced. When your using the binary blob with your broadcom card you could be opening yourself up to kernel panics and such because your using non free software with a free os.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 208.47.135.227] on March 04, 2008 04:46 PM
Slax is the easiest bootable CD to customize that I have found.
copy the cd content to a folder.
copy in wanted modules.
use the build script.
burn the created iso to a cdr and wala.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.176.247.50] on March 04, 2008 05:10 PM
In fact, most of the times you don't even need to convert the slackware packages to modules. You can really just use installpkg command to install slackware packages directly. That leaves the door open for installing a large multitude of applications.

As for the swap, when the entire system runs from RAM, why need a swap?

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.182.192.18] on March 04, 2008 06:36 PM
SLAX has only one developer as far as I know and that is Tomas Matejicek, something I think the author should be aware of, yet makes references to "the developerS" of SLAX. The author also fails to understand that SLAX was never meant to be a full fledged OS running 24/7 on a machine. More than 3/4 of the article talks about lack of module, lack of applications, only having KDE apps, and not looking good. SLAX is a liveCD and that fact means to install the necessary on the system to save space, although you can easily install SLAX to the hdd of a machine using the built in installer. SLAX is 192MB, small, portable and easy to download and even easier to customise, which many people, including prominant universities, are doing and releasing their own distributions for security, multimedia, lifesciences, etc. You want a complete system - go download the full slackware 12 and customize it.

The author acknowledges the fact that he could install packages from slackware and etc and that all the changes he made remained after rebooting. It shows the modularity of SLAX and that it can either be a stripped down OS or full fledged, depending on what you want from it. Yes the initial 6.0.0 has a few bugs in it that the betas didn't and once the bugs were reported, bug fixes were out immediately resulting in 6.0.1 and not 6.0.2 released.

In fact the entire article, referencing eyecandy and lack of apps and asking about swap (when SLAX runs from RAM) shows the author has no clue about what SLAX is for. Writing an article critiquing a person's work without actually understanding the purpose of the work says very little for the author. Maybe its time he learned to do a little research before flaming the good work of others.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.182.192.18] on March 04, 2008 06:38 PM
"Yes the initial 6.0.0 has a few bugs in it that the betas didn't and once the bugs were reported, bug fixes were out immediately resulting in 6.0.1 and not 6.0.2 released."

is supposed to be

"Yes the initial 6.0.0 has a few bugs in it that the betas didn't and once the bugs were reported, bug fixes were out immediately resulting in 6.0.1 and now 6.0.2 released."

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.84.196.212] on March 04, 2008 08:59 PM
I think this is an issue that needs more attention. There are many different uses for Gnu/Linux distros. Each one is not designed to be a drop in Windows replacement with a full GUI and integrated desktop and all the Apps windows doesn't come with.

There are so many different uses for a Gnu/Linux OS. Firewall/router, pen-drive, small footprint, older hardware, kitchen sink, Asterisk/Voip server, multimedia box, SAN/NAS, embedded and on and on. One would hardly criticize a firewall for it's lack of a web browser or an embedded OS for it's limited hardware support.

Just so a "Swiss Army Knife" like Slax should be reviewed for what it is and not compared to Mandriva, OpenSuse, Fedora or Ubuntu. The latter being drop in replacements for Windows and are "kitchen sink" distros. Enabling hardware modules and browsing Slackware repositories is not for Joe and Jane user, obviously.

Regardless I'm sure the Slax folks appreciate the attention:)

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: h3lder on March 04, 2008 10:11 PM
I think Slax does well as a system administrator tool. It was never intended for the main user I guess.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 12.208.38.236] on March 04, 2008 11:54 PM
Slax is really an awesome OS. 6.0 did have some issues, but as others have said 6.02 has most of those sorted. I suggest that people try it before jumping to conclusions based on a review. Slax really is adaptable to any situation. Linux gurus may not appreciate this, but is modular structure makes it easy to customize a linux system with very little actual working knowledge of linux. I have been using it for a little over a year to slowly make the transition from win. As a long time slax forum user I can tell you that slax has done alot for the cause when it comes to getting win users (like me) to try linux. I was able to get results quickly without a lot of research. These initial sucesses encouraged me to dig deeper into linux. I feel proud to have reached the rank of 'linux noob' (as opposed to 'what is linux?'). The interest in linux that slax has sparked in me will most likely eventually lead to slackware, but I think I will always have a pendrive around w/ the latest slax and my personal customizations, if for no other reason then the fun and shear ease of builing an os that contains just what I want and is portable.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.94.59.175] on March 05, 2008 01:30 AM
I am a Slax user and think the current version 6.0.2 is the most advanced live distribution available. I don't like the wallpaper either, but it is so easy to change as it is just just installed in the normal KDE fashion. I am concerned by the critisism of the multimedia performance. As standard programs are being used, I can't see Slax can be the problem ( I wonder if Susan really has only 512mb of memory in her laptop, also using a 512mb usb stick seems pretty unusual - is it one of those really slow old ones?). I would like to know which live distribution will give better multimedia performance using the same hardware.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 146.114.69.89] on March 05, 2008 01:57 AM
SLAX has always been the most useful Linux Live CD for me. Small, fast, looks sharp, can run entirely in ram, can be used without X, etc.....

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#1 Use for Slax

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.197.182.144] on March 05, 2008 04:35 AM
USB Drives.

Download Slax. Untar it on your USB drive. Run the installation bat file from Windows. Reboot into RAM and enjoy the persistant changes!

An easy to install persistant RAM drive Linux on a USB drive is extremely satisfying. The hard part is done, now I can customize until my heart's content.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.10.10.150] on March 05, 2008 10:12 AM
Susan,
you don't like slax.
Too bad...

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 62.64.208.199] on March 05, 2008 04:42 PM
I love Slax as my favourite portable Linux. Run it from boot with the copy2ram command & it runs lightning fast.

Tomas' Linux Live scripts also easily enable anyone to turn their Slackware install (or other distros) into a live CD, check them out, truly awesome!

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SLAX's strength is in its hackability

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.92.238.66] on March 07, 2008 09:18 PM
I have yet to find another modular live distro. SLAX's module system is conceptually simple, and incredibly powerful. I won't disagree on the reviewer's criticisms of SLAX as a desktop OS, which is arguably what it aims to be, but it can't be overlooked in the live distro scene.

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Latest Slax release needs more time in the oven

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.106.253.183] on March 08, 2008 05:26 PM
It seems this reviews deals more on LOOKS and on PERFORMANCE. Are you a woman by the way. I like those "old tired pair of sneakers". Seeing those is like, well an old pair of sneakers. Looks don't run a Linux system in case of haven't noticed. This is one of the best small distros around, period!

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