This short preview is based on my experiences with Slackware Linux 9.0-RC3; Slackware Linux 9.0 has not yet been released at the moment of writing. UPDATE: And while this story was going live, Slackware 9.0 final is being released.Introduction
At the moment of writing Slackware Linux 9.0RC3 is just released. This
might be a good moment to moment to look what Slackware Linux 9.0 has
to offer. But any good article starts off with an introduction ;).
Slackware is one of the oldest distributions around and is
well-known for adhering to (well, at least unofficially) the KISS (Keep
It Simple, Stupid) principle. That’s right, no graphical installer,
no GUI configuration tools and no advanced package manager. But
in turn you get a very transparent, stable and fast system.
So, What’s New?
Let’s start with the standard stuff (note that this is based on Slackware
9.0RC3, only Patrick Volkerding knows what will be in the final 9.0 version).
The newest XFree86, version 4.3.0, is included. Besides better hardware
support, XFree86 now has alpha blended and animated cursors. On the GUI
side Slackware 9.0 also has KDE 3.1 and Gnome 2.2.
Developers might already have noticed that Slackware has finally switched
to gcc 3.2 (Slackware 9.0 has gcc 3.2.2). Gcc 3.2 has been introduced in
Slackware-Current in august 2002 and has been tested thoroughly afterwards.
Gcc 3.2 generates much more efficient code compared to older gcc versions,
this is especially the case for C++ applications. The gcc 3.2.2-compiled
KDE 3.1 in Slackware 9.0 is really fast on my Athlon XP. Slackware 9 with
KDE 3.1 seems to be somewhat faster then Slackware 8.1 with KDE 3.0. This
may be caused by the transition to gcc 3.2 as well as improvements in the
KDE code base. There is one catch, though: browser plug-ins compiled with older
gcc versions often do not work with gcc 3.2-compiled browsers.
Another great addition is hotplugging support for PCI, Cardbus and USB
devices. The hotplug package is a collection of scripts which automatically
initialize these classes of devices and probe the required modules.
Hotplugging caused some problems with Slackware-Current some time ago
because sometimes framebuffer drivers were modprobed. If the framebuffer
device does not work well with the graphic adapter you get a flickering
screen. Now most “dangerous” drivers are blacklisted, meaning they will
not be loaded. After this blacklisting a notebook which started flickering
after booting Slackware-Current now works perfectly. I also experienced
some problems with the old PCMCIA support which did not correctly initialize
an old Boca card, the new hotplugging support also fixed this mysteriously.
Lastly, I would like to mention some of the applications
included. First of all, Mozilla 1.3 appeared a short time ago in
Slackware-Current. My guess is that it will be included in 9.0. The
office applications included are KOffice, AbiWord and Gnumeric. For
professional typesetting TeTeX 2.02 is included. I also have to mention
that Patrick Volkerding has added checkinstall to the extra/ FTP
directory. Checkinstall is a really handy tool which you invoke after
compiling a program. Checkinstall invokes “make install” and registers
which files are installed. After that it creates a Slackware package
of the software that you just “make install”-ed and installs it. This
provides excellent package management for programs you manually install.
The first problem many people encounter with Slackware is the lack of
a tool to upgrade the system. Slackware Inc. provides security patches
and important fixes in the patches/packages directory on FTP mirrors,
but the standard Slackware distribution has no means to automatically
look for which updates are available and to apply them. Fortunately, this
is where Swaret comes to the rescue.
Swaret is a package tool for Slackware Linux, comparable to Debian’s
apt-get. Of course, it does not provide dependency checking (Slackware
packages do not have the means for that), but it can install and update
packages. A “swaret –update && swaret –upgrade” is enough in
the most cases to interactively update your system. Swaret currently
supports Slackware Linux 8.1 and Slackware-Current, but it should probably
work with 9.0 too. It is actively maintained, so if it does not work
with 9.0 an updated version will probably be released soon after Slackware
Linux 9.0 is released.
Another problem, which is not really Slackware-specific, but reported
on USENET repeatedly is the inability of some BIOSes to boot the Slackware
Install CD. Starting with Slackware Linux 8.1, Slackware switched from
floppy emulation for booting from CD-ROM to ISOLinux. The problem is
that not all BIOSes are able to boot ISOLinux. However, in most cases
this can be solved by using
Smart Bootmanager, which is
a boot manager that can be installed on a floppy disk. It can also
boot El-Torito bootable CD’s, including Slackware Linux 8.1 and newer
The disadvantage of doing a Slackware review is that you cannot review
a brand-new installer or stuff like that. The installer only differs
slightly from the 8.1 installer or the 7.0, or 4.0, or… you get the
point;). I would rather call Slackware development evolutionary than
revolutionary. The distribution in terms of installation and configuration
is very nearly unchanged the last 9 years or so. That is the advantage
of Slackware Linux, during the years we have seen many versions of
XFree come by, we have seen the development of window managers and
desktop enviroments, everything from primitive browsers to the latest
tabbed Konqueror and Mozilla, but someone who has learned to install
and use Slackware five years ago can easily install it right now without
having to learn anything new. And the same story will probably be told
in 2008. Slackware is simply consistent, flexible and transparent and
that won’t change.
Did nothing change? No, a lot changed. Right now Slackware has the
latest desktop environments, server software, utilities and libraries.
Hardware support got better with hotplugging and with the latest gcc
performance has increased. For existing Slackware users Slackware Linux
9.0 is definitely worth buying (at least if you want to support development).
To other people I would like to say: if you do like an adventure, if
you truly want to learn Linux to the bones, Slackware is really worth