I have a general gripe about Linux – standards! I would like to see some standards, or at least have all of the desktops agree to let you "opt-in" to their products. Perhaps this is an issue that the Slackware installer could address. Let's take browsers, for example. Konquerer is a great browser, but it works just like Mozilla (but I do not believe that it is based on Mozilla); further, why is it a web browser? This is like Microsoft integrating Internet Explorer into their file manager, Explorer. Dropline Gnome ships with Epiphany as the default browser, which is just a fork of Mozilla. I did not really check to see what the default Gnome installation used as the default browser, but I am sure it was probably Mozilla or Netscape (which is Mozilla). XFCE also uses a Mozilla derivative. Drum roll, please...if all these browsers are either clones of Mozilla, act like Mozilla, or are derivatives of Mozilla, then why not just use Mozilla as the ONE browser for all Linux desktops? I would like to see Mozilla Firefox used as the defacto standard browser for Linux, with the ability to easily install your favorite browser if, for some reason, you are the .0005% of the population that does not like Firefox. While it is easy to download and install Firefox, you must manually switch the default desktop/taskbar launchers to open Firefox instead then change the MIME type in EACH desktop or you will have another browser open up when there is a system request for a URL. I suppose this lends itself to another opportunity – make a unified place to store user settings across desktops. I'm not saying to come up with a Windows Registry clone – I am just saying that there should be ONE place for MIME type definitions. I switch to new Desktop Environments all the time – help me make the transition easier.
Speaking of Mozilla – why include Kmail, Balsa, etc. when there is a cross-platform, open source solution called Mozilla Thunderbird? I have been using this application for months and it is very stable (though it is listed as a 0.5 version). I find Ximian Evolution to be very mature but, in the end, just a clone of Outlook, which I never liked in the first place; Evolution even cloned how slowly Outlook opens. Further, Evolution is just way too much for my home computing needs; why buy the Hummer if the most off-roading you see is a speed bump? Again, make it easy to get your favorite email application but install one by default.
Another standard – PLEASE – is the office environment. KDE and Gnome both ship with their own office applications. Why? Slackware 9.1 also ships with OpenOffice.org which is much better (in my opinion) than all of the KOffice or Gnome Office applications. Here's the secret – OpenOffice.org works across platforms where the KDE and Gnome office applications do not (the OSX version is on the way). I have moved on to OpenOffice.org as much as possible at work and at home and the only drawbacks I have discovered so far: OpenOffice.org does not open PowerPoint 95 files (apparently, Microsoft totally changed the format in PowerPoint 96) and OpenOffice.org does not import your Excel macros (you can rewrite them in the OOo macro language, though).
A big benefit of OOo is that your techno-phobe family and friends can start using OOo on their Windows systems today (and their Mac systems in the near future), making a future migration to Linux that much easier. If you are forced to use Windows at work and are able to install your own office application, install OOo and you can use the same applications at home, all for free. Oh, and this ties me back into Firefox and Thunderbird – they also work across platforms and can help to ease the transition to Linux.
Okay, I thought I was done with my standards rant but I'm not: system administration. I said earlier that I chastised myself because I got into the GUIs and never really learned how to properly administer my Linux system. I would like to extend that statement by saying that Linux administration is different on nearly every distribution I have used. A unifying tool does, however, exist, and it is called Webmin. This is not an abstracted GUI that takes control away from you; rather, it is an all-in-one portal for administering your system. You can edit your httpd.conf directly in Webmin and also restart the service right from your browser (http://localhost:10000) – ANY browser (that's right, no dependence on Qt or GTK). Heck, you can administer darn near anything with Webmin by using a third-party module (see the Webmin web site for more details). Webmin is not on the Slackware CDs, though I really wish it was (Patrick Volkerding
One thing that I mentioned that I like about Linux is choice. That being said, there is such a thing as too much choice! For example, why does Slackware come with WindowMaker, FVWM, FVWM-95, etc? How much market is there for these older window managers? Really? I know that there are the die-hard WindowMaker fans out there, but the space on the Slackware CD could be better spent. I would like the "opt-in" concept applied as much as possible without shoving it down your throat at install time AND without having to babysit the installation. For all its faults, Lindows got this right and Slackware should offer an Express Install option on the existing installer that gets a good system up and running with no user intervention at all, and all from the first CD.
Here is some feedback for Patrick and the gang over at Slackware for what I would like to see in Slackware 10.0. First, follow the lead from the ex-Slackware employees creating GenThree Linux on this one item: ONE and only ONE of each type of application installed by default. This would make Linux so much better if this became standard. Again, make it easy to install alternatives, just do not install them by default. The Slackware installer has two real options: pick all your own stuff or get everything. How about an "express" install that installs ONE of each kind of application? Would that be too much to ask? Slackware could go back to being one CD for 90% of the users. I would like to take this opportunity to outline what I would like to see that would make an ideal express installation. Firefox browser and links to get other browsers installed. Thunderbird email client and links to get other mail clients. OpenOffice.org installed with links to get Koffice and Gnome Office. Kernel 2.6.x (this should be in the works, anyway). CUPS as the only printing system, and enabled by default, but other print systems on the "second" CD. An updated tutorial/book on the Slackware site (the book that's there is outdated). Better: a Lindows-style introduction on the desktop (more on this later). ALSA not muted by default. Get rid of OSS/eSound/aRts altogether. Updated KDE to 3.2.1. Switch to Dropline Gnome as the only Gnome. Updated XFCE. Get rid of at least FVWM and FVWM95, and consider removing WindowMaker. Offer GRUB along with Lilo – GRUB is much prettier and you don't have to run "grub" after modifying the .conf file (KISS, right?). Offer swaret on the first CD and NOT in the "extras" directory, and install it by default. I REALLY like swaret a lot and I highly recommend that anyone new to Slackware at least give swaret a try. It just takes a few minutes to learn and the latest versions have fixed some lingering issues you might see posted on the forums.
I think Slackware, in its self-professed "KISS" mentality, needs to provide some information or tutorials available on the desktop or right on the menu under each particular category. For example, under "multimedia," have a link to an HTML file explaining how to configure audio. This could even be a "deep link" into the appropriate section of the *updated* Slackware manual (that SHOULD be on the hard drive after installation). Alternately, make a "Using Slackware" folder on each installed desktop that is symlinked to one common location. In this folder, place configuration help information. Included in this help system should be a tutorial covering how to configure printing, MySQL, mod_php, inserting modules, the differences in the Slackware (BSD-style) startup scripts and the SysV startup scripts, how to start your own programs at startup, links to any/all known web-based administration utilities installed (SWAT, Webmin, CUPS, etc.), and any common problems, common issues, common applications, etc. Perhaps a quick tutorial on installing the top two or three graphics adapters/drivers – nVidia, ATI, and Intel onboard graphics (yes, Intel is #1 in graphics market share, believe it or not).