A few months passed and it is now 2004. I inherited a system as part of my standard computer upgrade fee: I get your old stuff. The system is a PIII/750 on an Intel 810 (or i810, as it is sometimes called). I have been running Slackware 9.1 on this system for about 6 weeks now and I think I've finally found my home in Linux.
On to the good stuff. Slackware 9.1 comes with mostly current versions of everything, but, ever the geek, I need to be on the bleeding technological edge. I upgraded to KDE 3.2.1, Dropline Gnome 2.4.3, XFree86 4.4.0, and XFCE 4.04. Not everything about Slackware 9.1 was great, and I still had some problems, but, overall, I really like my system with Slackware 9.1.
My favorite feature of Slackware is its package management system, or should I say its lack of one. I can't tell you how many times I installed an RPM package on Red Hat only to say, okay, now what? Where is my application? Or how many times apt-get wanted to uninstall things I was still using when I was trying to get rid of just certain packages (better yet, when apt-get got corrupted and became difficult or impossible to use). Synaptic, for all its ease of use, brings my system to a crawl even though it is just open, sitting there unused on a Red Hat desktop. Most every major application has .tgz files for Slackware 9.1 available for download (check out Linux Packages for a huge list of downloads in .tgz), which you just download and type "installpkg *.tgz." Voila! You're done. Run updatedb and then "locate mypackage" to find your application. By the way, .tgz files have no dependency checking, they are just compressed files (you can even extract them using tar -zxvf) that are copied to the appropriate locations. Very simple but very effective.
Those of you out there that are keen to Slackware already might point out that you actually can do some package management on Slackware with RPM, rpm2tgz, alien, etc. I know, and I tried these things, but they never seemed to work for me if they worked at all. Additionally, swaret can do some dependency checking; more on swaret later.
I am not a fan of package management systems because every one that I have used I have not entirely enjoyed, except that I do like to the concept of apt-get, but I would prefer it would be more than a dependence on repositories and that it would do everything from source. This would make it more universal for Linux package management, not distribution-centric package management. Perhaps "apt-get + BitTorrent" with a script that finds your dependencies, does all the downloading from the Torrent, does extraction (tar -jxvf packagename.tar.bz2) and then installation (./configure && make && make install). The source, once extracted, would have a file listing dependencies (or, better yet, there should be a way for a script to probe the source files to determine dependencies). Perhaps Gentoo's "Portage" system works like this but I haven't had the gumption to tackle Gentoo (yet).
I found myself really taking to XFCE, and I would probably use it exclusively for a while if I could have icons on my desktop. XFCE, for those that do not know, is a good desktop that is fast and attractive, and if you are seeking a fast alternative to KDE and Gnome, I would recommend staying away from the spartan desktops like BlackBox (and derivatives) and giving XFCE a try.
I upgraded to XFCE 4.04 while I was running KDE and then switched desktops (which was very easy: xwmconfig, select XFCE, shutdown KDE, startx). XFCE 4 started up, upgrades and all. That easy! XFCE starts up extremely quickly – so quickly, in fact, that my first impression was that something was wrong, but that's just how fast XFCE is, even on my old system. I downloaded all of the available extensions and they all worked properly with no tweaking. The interface is clean and easy to use, especially if you are a Gnome fan (XFCE uses GTK2+), but it is difficult to find where your applications are hiding on your hard drive; I do not like cluttering up my taskbar with too many icons, and I do not have all the obscure application executable names and locations memorized (and never will). Speaking of the taskbar, it was difficult to set it up so that it was not "always on top" or always behind maximized windows; Dropline and KDE both hava an easy option for this and XFCE should really fix this.
No mention of XFCE would be complete without mentioning its most excellent file manager – it is an all-in-one utility, the concept of which I would like to see used in other desktops. Careful, though, I don't mean as "all in one" as Konquerer has become. The file manager has integrated network browsing, favorites, Samba shares, and more. Visit the XFCE site for screenshots, information, and downloads.
Dropline Gnome 2.4.3
Dropline Gnome is a great change from the standard Gnome that ships with Slackware. Upgrading Gnome is normally very difficult (gargnome has never worked for me) but Dropline makes it easy with their installer that downloads and installs packages that you select, has an auto-update feature, an "upgrade" feature, and more. I downloaded the installer and told it to go – ~180 package downloads and installations later, all without any user intervention – and it was done. I switched desktops to Gnome and I was presented with a better-looking Gnome desktop than standard Gnome, clean and polished.
Gnome does not have as many configuration options as KDE, but it is still a decent desktop. I have never been a big fan of Gnome and I had really only intended to install Dropline to see what the fuss was all about. I have to say that while I have never preferred Gnome, Dropline is very nice and I have found myself going back to it more than I expected.
I wanted to play around a little in Dropline. I inserted my John Lee Hooker CD and it did not autolaunch. Okay, well, Linux rarely does autorun very well in my experience, and I have not had the time to Google it yet, so I picked a CD player from Gnome's multimedia menu and it looked up the CD in CDDB and started to play. Something caught my eye on the Gnome multimedia menu – Sound Juicer. I opened it and told it to rip my CD, which it dutifully started to do. No advanced options for quality, bit rates, etc., just a simple rip to Ogg format. Oh, did I mention that my CD was still playing while I was ripping it? Very nice.