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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

By Drew Ames on June 03, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Pat Volkerding and the Slackware team released the latest version of Slackware Linux, 12.1, on May 2. Even though it is a "point one" release, the list of new features reads like what other distributions would consider a major new version. Slackware 12.1 features the latest KDE 3.5.9, Xfce 4.4.2, and a number of improvements, especially to udev. The full list of updated features is in the official product announcement. From a user's perspective, version 12.1 is a true refinement of the previous version.

Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution; its first release was in 1993. It is a very "hands-on" distribution -- nearly all the system configuration chores require editing text files. Additionally, Slackware is a very plain distribution. The Slackware team makes few changes to sources, preferring to compile them and pass them on.

The same philosophy is evident in how Slackware performs package management. Slackware has easy-to-use package management features both from the command line and graphically (ncurses-based). But Slackware does not check packages for the presence of libraries they depend on, nor will the package management tools automatically download and install dependencies. Slackware users consider this a feature. Making the process of installing dependencies separate from installing applications means that when problems occur, the process fails gracefully. The full installation of Slackware provides a comprehensive selection of libraries, so most dependencies are already available. When they're not, it is usually a simple matter to download, compile, and install them. Tools such as slackbuild scripts available from Slackbuilds.org, and scr2pkg, make compiling Slackware packages a breeze.

Distro maintainer Volkerding tends to be conservative, choosing to wait to add the very latest features to Slackware. For example, while a 2.6 kernel was available in Slackware 11, its default installation featured a 2.4-series kernel, even though most distributions had moved to 2.6 kernels. Most recently, Slackware 12.1 uses KDE 3.5.9 instead of KDE 4.0, even though Debian, Fedora, Kubuntu, openSUSE, and others have released packages for KDE 4.0. The consequence of taking a conservative approach is that Slackware is a rock-solid, stable distribution. Once Slackware is properly configured, it runs without trouble. System maintenance is minimal beyond applying security updates when they become available. Security updates are available for previous versions of Slackware back to version 8.

Slackware 12.1 refines the features introduced in the previous version. It uses HAL, D-Bus, and udev in the default installation. Those technologies make it possible for devices such as removable media to communicate with the operating system and be mounted as soon as they're inserted. This behavior is exactly what most users expect from a desktop operating system. Once Slackware is properly set up, even beginning users will find it easy to use.

Most of Slackware 12.1's improvements are under the hood. It includes the latest versions of Python, Ruby, the latest modular X11 system, and more. Slackware 12.1 installs glibc 2.7, which has great compatibility with existing binaries. This means that users generally do not need to recompile applications used in Slackware 12. My testing generally bore out the compatibility of applications compiled under Slackware 12 in Slackware 12.1. The most notable improvement from the previous version to the current one is that the X Window System is noticeably faster than before -- an important consideration with the older hardware I am running.

How to upgrade

I upgraded two computers to 12.1. My desktop computer has been running Slackware 11 since the final months of 2006, and my laptop computer has been running Slackware 12 since last December. Although putting Slackware 12.1 on both computers is technically an "upgrade," the techniques I used for each computer varied. Going from version 12 to 12.1 is an upgrade in place: installing a new kernel, new tool chain, new software, and upgrading existing software. Going from version 11 to 12.1 required wiping off the existing Slackware 11 installation and putting a fresh copy of 12.1 on the hard drive.

In both cases there are a few things to do before you install 12.1:

  • Read the documentation. The Slackware installation CDs or DVD come with a lot of information in text files. All of the information is valuable, and reading it will save you a lot of frustration later.
  • Browse the Slackware forum at the Linux Questions Web site, the official support forum for Slackware. Sometimes even after reading the documentation, something remains unclear. A lot of friendly and knowledgeable people, including some of the Slackware developers, read the posts and help answer users' questions. If you have a problem, somebody has probably already posted a solution.
  • Back up your /etc directory. I backed mine up to a .tar file and moved it to a drive partition that was not slated to be reformatted. Back up your /home and /root directories too.

At that point, you should be ready to go.

Upgrading Slackware

I will not give a blow-by-blow account of my experiences upgrading Slackware on two computers, but here are the highlights and pitfalls I encountered.

One would think that the clean installation would be the easier of the two processes, but the opposite is true. The general idea is to install everything cleanly, and then move your backed-up configuration and data files to the new installation. I did the installation a few times to figure out the best way to accomplish this seemingly simple task. The snag I encountered was with recreating my unprivileged user accounts. I initially wanted to leave my existing /home directories untouched, but when I created new users and pointed their home directories to the existing ones, the user IDs were inconsistent. I ended up having to recreate them from scratch and move the configuration files (such as Firefox and Thunderbird profiles) to the new directories from the backups. In retrospect, I should have copied my group, passwd, and shadow files from the /etc directory backup. Then I probably would have had no trouble logging in and using the existing home directories.

I ran into two other snags with the upgrade from Slackware 11 to 12.1. First, the xorg.conf generated by both the xorgsetup and xorgconfig utilities gave unsatisfactory results. I copied over the new file, replacing it with the backed-up xorg.conf from Slackware 11. After that, everything worked fine. The other snag seems to be a hardware incompatibility with HAL. My seven-year-old Hewlett-Packard CD-R drive kept spontaneously ejecting the CDs. Posts on the Ubuntu forums seem to indicate the problem happens with older drives. A good workaround is to add the drive to the fstab file and then manually mount it when you want to use it. The problem did not happen with the newer DVD drive in the same computer.

My final chore was to download and install a few applications not included in Slackware: primarily OpenOffice.org, Frozen Bubble, Kaffeine, Scribus, and MPlayer. Even on my ancient Pentium III, this was not a time-consuming process.

In comparison to the clean installation, the upgrade in place from Slackware 12 to 12.1 was nearly painless. The UPGRADE.TXT file has simple and complete instructions for the process. With my data safely backed up, I copied the contents of the /slackware directory from each of the three installation CDs to my /root directory. That way, the new packages were installed from the hard drive rather than the CDs. I then followed the directions, and everything went as advertised. The updatepkg program updated existing packages to the new versions and installed new packages. New configuration files are given the ".new" extension. A script in the UPGRADE.TXT file installs the .new files and renames the old ones with a ".bak" extension. The script leaves the group, shadow, and passwd files alone. Final cleanup required updating my startup files (making a new initial RAM disk pointing to the new kernel and updating lilo.conf), merging the contents of six or so other backed-up .conf files with the new ones, and removing a handful of obsolete packages. The one new package that I had to download and upgrade was MadWifi, which I need for my wireless card; it is not included with Slackware. All of my settings transferred to the new version with no problems.

Conclusion

Slackware 12.1 is worthy upgrade to a fine distribution. I recommend it highly. It presents something of a paradox for users. It does not attempt to make system configuration easier for users, yet it is well documented and requires only a handful of edits to text files for configuration to get it running -- simple and understandable rather than easy. The end result is a modern Linux system that is powerful and requires little maintenance.

Drew Ames is a transportation planner in Harrisburg, Penn.

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on Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.8.66.15] on June 03, 2008 05:35 PM
In my search for a perfect linux distribution and after trying out over 100 distributions, I finally settled with Slackware. What makes it so good? Its fast, stable, minimal, and works. It is also one of the few distributions where everything compiles correctly from source and has most the needed dependencies already installed. I frequently install new software that is only available from source so this is very important. It's great when trying to make a minimal OS free from Gnome or KDE. The command line tools "pkgtool", "netconfig","adduser", etc make it simple to setup from the command line. It also has great security updates and focused on reliability over cool wallpapers. It is so easy to start/stop daemons just "chmod -x" any of the daemons under /etc/rc.d to turn off. I think that Slackware does not get the press it deserves and for me it is much better than Debian or Ubuntu derivatives.

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Re: Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.42.177.175] on June 06, 2008 09:29 PM
"It is also one of the few distributions where everything compiles correctly from source and has most the needed dependencies already installed."

This is a killer feature in my opinion: no -dev packages. I occasionally found with Debian that ./configure options for packages (ircd-hybrid springs to mind) leave a lot to be desired so I'd decide to roll my own... then spend more time apt-getting -dev packages than the actual build takes. None of this pain with Slack... and if you don't like Pat's ./configure options (can't recall this happening) the Slackbuilds and original source are on the FTP mirrors to easily create your own package with the options of your choosing.

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Not upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 199.164.56.5] on June 03, 2008 06:29 PM
Because my Slackware 11.1 install is still running so perfectly! That is the biggest problem with Slackware - it just works so well that there really isn't any need to upgrade. I tend to upgrade only when glibc becomes outdated enough that building from source becomes problematic. Looking back at my upgrade history, that's been pretty consistent... 7.1 to 9.1 to 11.1, so I guess I'll be due again when 13.1 comes out.

Sorry Pat, I'm sure 12.1 is up to your usual excellent standards, but you're just too good at what you do. It ain't broke, so why fix it? See you in another 18 months or so... ;-)

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Re: Not upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.42.177.175] on June 06, 2008 09:31 PM
"Because my Slackware 11.1 install is still running so perfectly! That is the biggest problem with Slackware - it just works so well that there really isn't any need to upgrade."

My home server still runs 10.2 with security updates. The desktop ran 11.1 until a few weeks age when I got a new machine... Installed 12.1 on there with a selection of /etc entries from the old desktop and, of course, my old home dirs - it just feels like a slicker version of the old machine. Gotta love a stable base.

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Re: Not upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.148.25.231] on June 09, 2008 12:37 PM
"Because my Slackware 11.1 install is still running so perfectly!"

Sorry, but there was never an official 11.1 release. It went from 11 to 12. Don't believe me, check out the official download site: ftp://ftp.slackware.com/pub/slackware

You might have gotten a -current from one of the mirrors. They occasionally like to put the -current as a downloadable/installable iso.

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.57.142.72] on June 03, 2008 11:16 PM
Not so stable. Should'nt have upgraded finally: the X packages breaks apps (due to new async Xlib), especially noatun/artsd, which is critical for me. Plus all multimedia apps, which crash always. I guess new glibc is more strict in memory management too and asserts for memory corruption. Ok apps such as vlc/wxwidgets/xdtv are buggy, but before they ran silently with thei bugs.
Kaffeine works nicely in replacement of noatun/kboodle, should have been distributed by default, because slack KDE is simply unable to play any video (use xine otherwise).

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.141.159.60] on June 03, 2008 11:18 PM
I found Slackware back in 1994 and I've been to other distro's since but I always keep coming back to Slackware. I agree with the other comments, its rock solid and easy to maintain. People seem to frown on having to compile software, however its so easy normally, and I find that a lot of distro's that try to be fancy fall down when something goes wrong in the fancy GUI configuration tools, and its hard to try and figure out how the distro has been customised even to fix things, whereas you know where you stand with Slackware, its not over engineered.

I've also found Slackware has worked with any hardware I've had better than any other distributions, and faster too due to less customisation bloat.

I fell in love with Slackware when I found it because it was so amazing to be able to run Unix on a PC and at the time I'd been landed looking after an SGI Irix webserver for my company (when the web was new in the UK!) and I wouldn't have known what to do if I hadn't been able to install a "Unix-like" system to fool around with on my old Pentium 75Mhz PC :)

Oh the memories.... that's why I just can't keep away from Slackware. May the good times keep on rolling. :-) Thanks Patrick!!!

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.141.159.60] on June 03, 2008 11:22 PM
PS. The only thing I'm not so fond of is the move to KDE-only. I used to like KDE, but I just feel it's a bit overloaded these days and Gnome has
grown on me, anyone installing Slackware, I highly recommend Gnome SlackBuild ( http://gnomeslackbuild.org/ ) which is very easy to install and gives you a very
slick Gnome desktop with Compiz 3D if hardware supports it.

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 41.235.154.215] on June 04, 2008 04:00 AM
I was very enthusiast to try slackware 12.1, but when I tried it..I just decided to give 'Archlinux ' a go instead.. I don't know what exactly went wrong but it was running very slow with KDE .. slower than any other KDE distro I've ever tried !! Archlinux is just simple, optimized for i686 and also make you learn by using it..
However, I do think that if learning is your primary target.. nothing is compared to LinuxFromScratch (LFS) .. you really know what's the role of each package you install and why you need it..

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 203.114.178.34] on June 05, 2008 11:41 AM
yes, slackware is beautiful for all the reasons given above, especially the fact that packages tend to build from source without problems. re slackware moving to "kde only", this is not true: it provides several light window managers, but if you need a full "desktop environment" (other than kde...maybe because you like gtk apps), xfce is an excellent gtk-based desktop that fits much better with the slackware philosophy than gnome does. yes, gnome slackbuild is a very nice gnome desktop, but i can't bring myself to inflict all those hundreds of packages (i see over sixty of them in the "libraries" directory alone!) on my nice clean slackware when slackware's single xfce package (around 20M, or about half the size of the latest adobe acrobat reader for linux!) gives me a complete desktop with session management, a compositing window manager (shadows & transparency), decent panels, a nice file manager, gui configuration tools, device icons appearing on the desktop as you plug them in, etc. etc...heck, i don't even need all that, let alone the bloat of gnome. i'm not dissing gnome--my "bloat" is someone else's must-have feature--but calling slackware "kde only" due to its having ditched gnome is unfair to some excellent projects...not only the light (but popular) stuff like fluxbox, but also the relatively full-featured xfce, which--for me, at least--is gnome without the ten bags of unnecessary luggage.

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: joe.attaboy on June 05, 2008 02:51 PM
I've also used Slackware for years...for a time between '98 and '06, Slackware Linux was the server OS of choice in my shop. Like others here, I never really upgraded those systems between versions...there was never a need, other than adding the occasional security patch.

I just did a fresh install of 12.1 on a laptop partition. I've been using the Ubuntus for my day-to-day stuff for a while now, but I missed the get-your-hands-dirty enjoyment of booting for the first time and hitting that familiar terminal prompt. I also enjoyed seeing that the system initialization file structure hasn't changed much from the old BSD-style rc files. I jumped right back into hand configuration once again.

A couple of folks have complained about the KDE default GUI. Xfce is also installed and is easily available as a choice, once which I also prefer. The standard install adds a number of KDE apps and tools to the xfce menus, also a nice touch if you like some of them (I prefer konversation for IRC myself, and k3b for CD/DVD burning).

I also spent a few hours building my own kernel, something I've always done on my servers. Having a kitchen-sink kernel for setup is fine, but I believe small is better, so I like to strip as much unnecessary stuff out as I can, and build modules only for my existing hardware. This makes booting a bit faster and keeps the bloat out of the kernel. (I recall when the kernel build would warn you if the kernel image was too big to fit on a floppy drive. Don't see that warning anymore!). One bit of advice for those considering rolling their own kernel: unless you build an initialization ramdisk image (initrd), make sure you compile your drive's file system support (ext2, etc3, reiserfs, etc.)into the kernel, and not as a module. Things won't boot if you don't!

One other recent issue I discovered is one that some might have experienced if they use Grub as a boot loader vice the Slackware default LILO. I installed grub in a separate partition on my laptop disk some time ago. I wanted to have full control over the configuration, rather then let things be arbitrarily changed or "updated" by other system installs. The problem is that the version of grub 0.97 I installed wouldn't boot my new Slackware 12.1 installation. I could boot via the DVD, and could even mount the Slackware partition after booting Kubuntu or Xubuntu on other partitions.

Turns out that the default inode size for ext2 and ext3 in Slackware 12 is 256 bytes. Grub, by default, looks for a 128-byte inode on the file system, and when it can't find it, it fails, usually with a grub error 2. On the Slackware DVD, you'll find a version of grub that works under the "extras" directory. If you install that over your current grub boot files, things should work fine. I won't go into the in-and-out of a grub installation, since that varies a lot based on how you set it up. I fought with this for a couple of days before finding the reason for the problem on line.

Please note that this isn't a "bug." Slackware has always used LILO as the default boot manager. You could also change the inode size on your system disk when installing Slackware. But if you install the system out-of-the-box and use the tools provided, you'll have no issues.

I'm quickly getting things set up my way, and really enjoying using Slack for mt everyday system again. Old can be beautiful.

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Good writeup, Drew!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.168.13.50] on June 08, 2008 07:46 AM
Thanks! :-)

--rworkman

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Upgrading to Slackware 12.1

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 93.149.141.213] on July 02, 2008 10:50 PM
you slacky fans should try Archlinux. it is very similar to slackware yet: simple configuration file, simple way to build from source code with "abs", bsd-like init scripts, fantastic wiki, a lot of packages or PKGBUILD (the equivalent of slackbuilds), and pacman: the package manager (Actually the main difference from slackware)...
sorry 4 my English guys

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