Linux optimize

Slackware: Remember your roots

Jack Wallen revisits a Linux distribution he hadn't touched in years, only to find himself pleasantly surprised. Do you have what it takes to install and administer a Slackware Linux distribution and get back in touch with your roots?

In the land of Linux, I have been guilty, on a number of occasions, of following the trends and only working with and writing about distributions suited for the new user. After all, aren't the new users the audience the Linux community really needs to focus on? How else can the user base grow? And there are some incredibly wonderful distributions focused on the new user.

But what about the skilled user? What about the user who has already put their time in the trenches and earned the right to be challenged by the more technical, less user-friendly distributions? Or what about the new user that doesn't want the depth and breadth of their Linux education to be determined by a company or community known to veer away from standards or force users into an environment unique to only one distribution?

For any user wanting more from their distribution -- more power, more security, more LINUX -- I would ask you to look back to your roots, to that moment when you first discovered that thing called Linux, and give Slackware 13.37 a try. Why? It's all about Linux... real, true, honest Linux that doesn't pander, doesn't do the work for you, and doesn't compromise.

Let me digress a bit.

When I first started using Linux -- some twelve years ago -- it was not easy. Everything had to be configured through flat-text files (or, if you were lucky, using Linuxconf) and the support for hardware was slim (at best). Getting modems to work was a nightmare (unless you had a US Robotics 36.6 external modem) and X was iffy. But when you got it to work, and you browsed that first web site (or set up your first Apache server), there was magic happening. You worked hard and that work was paid back by an operating system that never suffered from the issues that sent you away from the competition.

At some point, during your adventures in Linux-land, you may have come across a distribution that made things easier. That's all fine and good, because you had already put your time in and knew the systems and sub-systems like the back of your hand. If X Windows went south, you could drop into a command prompt and fix it... no sweat. But that ease of use was sure a breath of fresh air. And all that sweet integration of layers and clouds? Wow! You could purchase music and have it in sync with every machine you have associated with an account.

Linux life was all of a sudden as user-friendly as any other operating system. But then, you begin longing for the old days when it was actually impressive that you could command a Linux system to do your bidding. You wanted something pure, something standard, something really and truly Linux. The answer is Slackware.

Why Slackware? What's so special about this distribution? Aren't they all pretty much the same, save a desktop variant or two? Oh, no. Slackware is a Linux distribution that will remind you what it was like when you first started using Linux. It will take you back to your Linux roots, both welcoming and challenging you. Gone are all the GUIs that handle every single tasks. If you want a new user added, you better know the useradd command. You want Samba shares? Bone up on your smb.conf configuration options. But along with that challenge comes a great deal of good.

  • Good is the standard Linux you will be dealing with.
  • Good is the fact that Slackware upholds the GPL better than most distributions.
  • Good is the deep, rich understanding of the Linux operating system you will have.
  • Good are the administrative skills you will learn.
  • Good is the respect you will gain -- even from your fellow Linux users.

It had been 10 years since my last attempt with Slackware. So, imagine my surprise when I installed 13.37 and was greeted by KDE 4.5. What was this? A modern desktop on Slackware. From my perspective, it's a combination that makes perfect sense -- especially when you see a Windows 7-like interface on Windows Server 2008. Why not give Slackware a face lift? Beside, KDE 4.5 (and now, of course 4.6) is an incredibly stable, reliable desktop that deserves such a solid foundation as Slackware.

Don't think, for a second, that Slackware is some antiquated, irrelevant Linux distribution that should be left to the uber-nerds in Comp-Sci departments across the globe. Although Slackware is serious Linux, it's also serious about turning out seriously intelligent users.

I highly recommend, to everyone reading my blog, giving Slackware 13.37 a go. You might find, as did I, that it feels good to be working in a true-to-form Linux distribution that makes you go back to your roots and really think about what you're doing.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

27 comments
gi7omy
gi7omy

I've tried slackware recently but was a bit disappointed really. The lack of choice on desktop was one thing, but it all seemed 'dumbed down' really. If you want a system that is honed to your arch and a choice of desktops, I'd suggest Gentoo (www.gentoo.org). It does require a bit of knowledge but the online handbook does take a comparative newbie through the installation step by step. As for 'leet', while that's bad enough, the alternative of l33t usually has me running screaming

bond.masuda
bond.masuda

i remember installing it on a Pentium 90 using something like 30 different floppies. I may in fact still have those floppies somewhere in a box!! I've since become a RedHat/Fedora/CentOS/SciLinux person and those are the distros I deal with the most in my profession (and I've been using Fedora as my main desktop OS for 4 yrs now) with a little Debian, Gentoo, and recently Ubuntu LTS. Although I haven't tried a recent Slackware distro, does it now have some sort of package management beyond compressed archives of files?

jeslurkin
jeslurkin

...install and 'play' with VectorLinux.so I can say I'm a linuxhead. Apparently designed for Windy-polluted noobs, it claims to be based on Slack.

rmjivaro
rmjivaro

I was totally able to relate to this article. I got into Linux 6 months after buying my first computer in December of '95. My brother steered my into minix and then Linux. It kicked my ass for several years while I learned everything I could, but the ease of M$ was hard to ignore. Eventually, ease of use developed in Linux land and I grew very weary of Billy Bob's Bugware. It is so far out of my life now that I wonder why anyone would use it. With Mac for people that don't care what's under the hood and Linux for weirdos like me that like to play with the innards and write code to make it do our bidding, that other choice just seems goofy and ill advised. I think I'll buy me a nuclear powered computer so it has enough juice to run my antivirus and antimalware software all the time on everything. Huh? Why? But I digress. I got into Redhat at version 4.2 and largely stayed with it. I like it, and what's more, I know it, but the scholarly distributions of Slackware and Debian have always exerted a pull on me. While I can get lots of work done at the command line, there are holes in what I know. It sounds like Slackware has evolved enough to be simple(r) to use while still providing that blood and guts experience that separates the rangers from the infantry, the men from the boys, whatever metaphor works for ye. I am running in Fedora 14, but will be installing Slackware in VMware to try and to learn from.

mark
mark

It has certainly come a long way since I firsted started playing with it. I think that it was around 1993/94 when I first started using it and was pretty faithful to it until I found Debian and I have used Debian or distro's based on Debian ever since. I have a spare box at home that I might throw slack onto just for the nostalgia feeling. Its a good distro and I am surprised that it isnt more popular amongst the enthusiasts.

Jessie
Jessie

- Haven't tried it but I think I might give it a whirl - I had to use "I have no opinion" instead.

R.Growler
R.Growler

Coming from a UNIX background I love Slackware for the way it tries to stick to the standard[1] UNIX way of doing things. For me that makes it feel more like home and it is easier to configure right. When the budgets did not leave any room for HP, IBM or Sun systems, there were always the possibility of a stock server (and in some cases, any old PC) and a Slackware install disc. The slow release cycle and well tested patches, where everything has to be rock solid takes some of the fear of upgrading and patching out of my working day. These days, slapt-get and a few well crafted scripts will see your system running with very little work. Slackware has a little higher learning threshold than the newer distros but the lessons you learn are very valuable for any *nix system, and it is fun[2]. :-) I *love* it. -RG. [1] - for wildly differing values of "standard". [2] - In much of the way S&M can be said to be an expression of tenderness. YMMV

cougar0100
cougar0100

When I started looking for a Linux OS a few years ago, I wanted a small memory footprint at boot, something that ran fast on older hardware, and something that provided an X window manger that didn't consume a lot of memory. I found Crunchbang. Have your tried it? Originally based on Ubuntu, Crunchbang is now based on Debian. I love it and have stuck with it. Even though I did not have a lot of experience with Linux, I have had growing pangs learning the Linux OS with Crunchbang. Sure it works out of the ISO. What you learn comes from using the OS like drivers, uninstalling apps, and the like. If you have not tried it, why not give it a try. I love to run it off of a 2 GB thumb drive. I run it on an old Toshiba laptop and an old desktop 2.4 GHz CPU. I also run it with OpenVM and VMware Player. No problems.

russoisraeli
russoisraeli

You should add something like "Need to try it again", or "Need to come back" to your options list. I've first tried Slackware at the end of 2004. I wanted to try out something new that would work fine on an old PII with 64M RAM, to use for miscellaneous services (Samba, printer sharing, etc). Slackware took a bit of time configuring, but it worked flawlessly. Since then, I went back to Fedora, and then to Gentoo, which definitely deserves checking out. It's not much different from Slackware in terms of configuration, plainness, and is about choice. I guess it's time to check what Slackware is up to.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

Never cared for KDE since I first experienced it with SuSE 9.2 Pro... But to me, KDE (or Gnome for that matter) on Slackware is rather like having an automatic transmission in a Corvette; why hamper a perfectly good sports car with an inefficient transmission, especially when (IMHO) the point of running a distro like Slackware is to enjoy the feeling of shifting through 6 speeds of heaven? I'm not saying "Don't have a window manager..." If it bundled with (or at least easily gave you the option to install) Xfce, my personal favorite FVWM or your precious Enlightenment I'd be downloading an .iso right now. ;-) 'Course, I may still look at it for my servers (which are SSH/CLI only - no GUI) -- IMHO Ubuntu obfuscates services a bit "too" much - I'd still rather adjust a single /etc/init.d/grumble file and link it to /etc/rc3.d/S80grumble than diddlywack around with Ubuntu's supposedly "easier" solution... For those who think Slackware is still to "Easy," there's always LFS. ;-) LFS stands for Linux From Scratch, and it's not a distro, it's a *book* that teaches you how to download the individual tarballs & compile linux completely from scratch. It took me over a month the first time (on a Crusoe 933MHz laptop) but having a Linux tailored & optimized for that platform was 1) a great feeling of accomplishment and 2) faster than you could believe for a low-power platform. Laterz, LFS ID # 9350.

eclypse
eclypse

When we were building our last web server and MySQL db server, I did a lot of benchmark comparisons (this was when 13.1 just came out). Slackware was faster in nearly every area. The only reason I didn't use it was that I could not get the TSM client to work on it (that is a requirement for us). So, I stepped back to CentOS (which was still not slouchy), but I think I might give Slackware 13.37 a test and see what happens. Seems like the base install was smaller, too.

rfolden
rfolden

As my French teacher would say: Subjects and verbs must agree both in number and gender. 2011: Year of the GNU/Linux desktop!

Bob Wya
Bob Wya

Thanks for the heads-up! A timely reminder that I have been using too many noob-friendly distros in recent years! Must try Arch and Slack out properly!

zefficace
zefficace

Did you ever gave ArchLinux a try? All I can say is that there is many points in common with Slackware. Arch doesn't hide things away from the user, from install to daily use. I really learned alot with it. Funny thing is, I wasn't sure I'd stick with it, but now I can't think of a reason to leave it. Oh, and their packaging system - pacman, ABS, AUR - is really top notch.

rmjivaro
rmjivaro

I tried it. What a bunch of work. I enjoy some behind the scenes work, but I also like to be able to use it. After installing in VMware, I was unable to bring it up to a KDE desktop. The others work, but KDE would be preferred. I would imagine that with enough effort I could get it going, but with no effort I could install a different distro and have it functional. Then I could poke around the innards when I want, and use it to do something when I want. I don't regret all the work I did to learn the insides of Linux, but I'm also glad I'm not stuck in an eternal need to fix things that are broken and wait for a driver to get written by someone (else). It's enough to drive a person to Apple. I tried, I'm done. Now I'm going back to Fedora. Have fun. Call me inept.

Tidux
Tidux

Slackware comes with fvwm AND Xfce AND Fluxbox AND Window Maker AND KDE. Slackware's Xfce and Window Maker are perhaps the best versions around.

fourcs
fourcs

Archlinux is good, but you need access to ASL. I use both slack and archlinux when I have access.

IcebergTitanic
IcebergTitanic

I think of it more as just a little tongue-in-cheek nod at their own nerdiness.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

What does the version number say, and what does it say it about?

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

Jack's article mentioned *no* other window managers than KDE. People who haven't worked with Slackware recently may not know it's bundled with other WMs beyond KDE if Jack's article is an individual's only "current" information to go by. I've used many distributions over the years -- my first *nix-like OS was MicroWare OS-9 on a Tandy CoCo2 back in '84. That provided the experience to gain employment working with Linux & SunOS in '95. I've used Slackware back in that time frame, but around '98 or '99 I moved to Caldera OpenLinux & RedHat and (some would say unfortunately) haven't touched Slackware since that time. With a standard Ubuntu install, you get Gnome. Jack's article could easily be interpreted (as was by me) that with a standard Slackware install, you get KDE. Admittedly, Jack's article wasn't a full review of the distro. Some people like KDE, some do not. I certainly don't love Gnome, I just find it easier to "tolerate" than KDE. If I'm going to install a "stripped-down, hard-core, gotta love the CLI" Linux distro, I don't want either of them. (And when I built my LFS installs [2 of them] I certainly didn't use either of them.) And I'll quote myself: """I'm not saying "Don't have a window manager..." If it bundled with (or at least easily gave you the option to install) Xfce, my personal favorite FVWM or your [1] precious Enlightenment I'd be downloading an .iso right now. ;-) """ Guess what: I'm downloading an .iso right now. [1] That was referencing Jack, BTW. He's published several articles on how much he prefers Enlightenment.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leet 1337 == Leet (in English: Elite) It's 'leet speak' for 'leet' itself; a (IMHO sophomoric) method that the hAx0rZ & script kiddies use to supposedly seem kewl by misspelling words with numbers & other sy/\/\bols. I don't mind the occasional obvious misspelling (i.e. kewl or laterz) but if you check the wikipedia page you can see that it can get quite out of hand quite quickly. Laterz!

Laurel Raven
Laurel Raven

Not really arbitrary...the previous version number was 13.1. Patrick Volkerding (the creator of Slackware) simply saw an opportunity in his numbering to do something different. The next to last Release Candidate was RC 3.1415926535897932384626433832.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

I didn't even catch the mapping... Surely you can be subgenius w/o using some arbitrary hacker slang for a version number... What's next in the series, 31173?

apotheon
apotheon

> sophomoric That's part of how the Slackware version number "says it all".