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Slackware 11.0 - a Review

Date/Time Permalink: 11/19/06 10:26:11 am
Category: Reviews

It doesn't take much these days for a die-hard Slackware user to question themselves. Slackware, the oldest surviving Linux distro, has been guided through the years by just one man - Patrick Volkerding, whose own unique vision of how things should be has determined what goes on in his pet distribution. And we usually grant that his choices are appropriate; not everything makes sense at first, but given time you usually discover that there's a very good reason for the decisions behind the building of the distro.

Slackware screen shot 1

Right up until the decision to drop Gnome. Now, Gnome desktops may not be the best that Linux has to offer, and I'm certainly no big fan of the desktop itself. But with Gnome comes support for at least half of the programs available on the entirety of Free and Open Source software. My initial install of Slackware was disappointing - had I not known that it would be fairly easy to extend, I actually would have replaced it with another distro! After all, the last time I got Slackware was 10.1, when it came with everything under the sun and was running quite well! I was cooing with joy over 10.1, which was almost a one-stop shop for everything I needed. So there was a marked difference in getting 11.0

On installing, which was easy enough, I had this insistent feeling that I'd missed something. After the install was finished, I roamed through the setup menus again and again, trying to find hidden options that simply weren't there. This couldn't be all there was? Apparently so. For instance, we've heard that you can have your choice of installing a modern 2.6 kernel. What that means is that you go ahead and finish the install with a 2.4 kernel, then go fetch the 2.6 kernel and put it in yourself. Thank God I found a tutorial site that could walk me through it with clear instructions.
UPDATE: See the incredibly helpful comment below from visitor Nillie on installing the 2.6 kernel from the disk itself. And, yes, I missed that! Semi-temporary insanity is my continuous pleaded defense.

Slackware screen shot 2

That kernel was mandatory, because for the next step - installing Gnome and with it the dozens of programs that I cannot live without - you need the 2.6 kernel or you're in for a devil of a time. The Open Source world has moved on since the days of 2.4, and quite a few programs will balk at meeting the antique version of kernels past. So, in getting Gnome, I shopped around before settling on Dropline.

Dropline practically deserves it's own review separate from Slackware. I used the Net download and install. Be warned, this takes about six to eight hours on a standard broadband connection, rather like what it took to get the whole Ubuntu ISO. You first download an install script from Dropline, then run the script, which will automagically download and install everything you need - and I do mean everything. It even upgraded my Firefox from 1.5 to 2.0! There was no hassle at all; it was comparable to my best experiences working with Debian apt-get packages. And this was on a clean Slackware 11.0 install, which is what Dropline recommends. All I can say about Dropline is that it's like getting the second half of Slackware!

Slackware screen shot 3

Now that I have Slackware 11.0, a 2.6.17 kernel, and the latest Dropline, I have a pretty rocking distro! It all works flawlessly together on my system - so I wonder why it couldn't have been offered together on one set of install disks, instead of making me assemble it piecemeal?

Other quirks of Slackware still live on. You still need to ferret out those hardware glitches and fix them. The good news is that you can easily find the places to fix problems in the text configuration files. Try repairing Fedora or Mandriva from the command line - I dare you - it can be done, but only by the very brave. The bad news is that (to give one example), unlike Fedora or Mandriva, Slackware still doesn't recognize a scroll-wheel out of the box. So you have to go in and add that "Option: ZAxisMapping 4 5" line to your xorg.conf file. And then there's the broad choice of custom fonts, but I have to be careful not to pick the wrong one because my monitor still seems to confuse Slackware as to exactly where it's screen borders lie. Dozens of little nits like this make it the Slackware experience you remember. No problem for experienced hands like me, but I can see where perhaps it's time to fix some of these issues.

When it's all said and done - and installed - (and tweaked!) - Slackware/Dropline is the very stable workhorse I've come to know and love. I'm a power user who needs a full software suite. I depend on my machine for my living, which encompasses everything from writing to graphics design to programming, not to mention maintaining this website. Games, what are those? I leave the games to the other computers in the house (with a couple of guilty pleasures reserved for Nethack and Goban).

So, in this age of specialized micro-distros which do one or two things well and the rest not very well at all, I have about two choices: Debian and Slackware with a few feasible derivatives on the side. And Debian always starts out great, but then several dozen apt-gets later I find myself with a lap-full of broken packages. Slackware makes you do more of the work yourself, but I find that I end up doing it anyway no matter what distro I use. I might as well start with a distro that puts all the tools in my hands to start with, as quite a few of the tools I depend on require me to compile tarballs anyway.

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