Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution out there. For those who believe that Slackware was the first Linux distribution I have news, because SLS was before Slackware, but that is another story. It is the most
*NIX like distribution and has borrowed many of the things we can find in
BSD *NIX. Here is a mini-review of their latest release, 9.0.
Editorial Notice: All opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of osnews.com
Test hardware: eManchines T2200 with:
AMD AthlonXP 2200+ CPU
512 DDRAM @ 266 (2×133)
WD 100Gb Hard Disk
ATI Radeon 9000 Pro accelerator
Creative SoundBlaster Audigy 2
Realtek RTL8139 NIC
Samsug DVD Rom 16x
Sony CD-RW 48-16-40
PS/2 Wheel Mouse
Cable Modem (connected to NIC)
Samsung SyncMaster 171v LCD Monitor
HP PSC 2110 Printer&Scanner (USB)
I would like to say for the first that I didn’t only download
*just* the official ISO released by Slackware; I also downloaded all of the
other stuff from the /slackware-9 directory including zip-slack (which by
the way I’ve never tried). I also did not upgrade from 8.1 to 9.0 for two
1) I don’t like to upgrade distributions, unless it is
absolutely necessary that I do so.
2) This release is compiled with gcc 3.2.2 so everything
needs to be replaced anyway.
The installation process we all know from 8.1 and earlier releases hasn’t
changed much. In fact, it is almost the same with some
improvements. After the CD booted, I was asked to select a kernel and press
hardware and filesystem needs. I’ve used ReiserFS with the previous release,
and I don’t use SCSI or RAID, so I’ll select bare.i. I would like to
mention that Slackware 9.0 supports all 4 journaling file systems: ReiserFS,
ext3, XFS and JFS. After loading the bare.i kernel, I was surprised that my
USB keyboard worked perfectly. With 8.1 I had to load USB.i and with other
distributions, I had to use “Linux noapic”.
*Notice for newbies and those who don’t know: every Linux distribution
loads a kernel before the install process starts, but Slackware just asks
before so that it can load one with specific drivers for specific hardware.
I selected my keyboard mapping and logged in as root without introducing
any password. This may seem a little strange to people who are used to
distributions like Mandrake or Red Hat, but it is normal. I’ve typed cfdisk
(utility for partitioning a hard disk, pretty intuitive IMHO), and made a
Linux partition and a swap partition. This is not a server, only a desktop,
so I won’t make any extra partitions like for /usr or /home. After this I
simply typed “setup” and I’ve entered in the installation program. The
program looks a little like the install from Free BSD, but it is very
intuitive, although text based. Many users get scared when they see text
based installers and very often they don’t take a Linux distribution into
consideration only because of this particular reason. So, after the
installer formated and mounted my swap partition, it did the same thing to
my Linux partition. Before formatting, it gave me 3 choices: ext2, ext3 or
ReiserFS. Only these three filesystems are supported by the default bare.i
pre-compiled kernel. I formated my Linux partition as ReiserFS
I will not get into depth with the package installation, but I do want to mention
this to those who are new to Linux or Slackware: Slackware’s package
management system doesn’t check for dependencies, so when you install just
make sure you install the bases system and all the libraries if you are
unsure what to install, but I’m sure that everybody will get along here
because the install process is intuitive as I said before. Actually,
Slackware is mainly focused on simplicity.
After installing what I needed, the installer asked me if I have a modem,
and I said no, and then it asked which kernel to use. But I already
installed the kernel-ide package, so I didn’t need any kernel from the CD.
After that it asked me about how to install Lilo (the boot manager). You can
configure Lilo manually at install or let the software install it for you. I
choose “Simple Install” and I was done with Lilo. Next step was the network
configuration. I think this is much easier than in some other distributions.
It asks for hostname, domainname, IP configuration, static or DHCP, and then
it autodetects the NIC and installs the driver for it (well, actually it is
a kernel module, like all other drivers 🙂 ). After this, console
fonts, mouse type, and time zone configurations followed. Finally it asked me
for a root password and I was done.
After rebooting, the system Lilo gave me only one option to boot: Linux
(yeah, I’m also on dual boot like many others). I easily fixed this by
adding my NTFS partition to /etc/lilo.conf. Later I’ve found out that this
is not a bug, Patrick Volkerding has removed the NTFS autodetection from the
installation program because it always got confused and wasn’t unsure if it
is NTFS or HPFS.
One more thing needed to be done: XFree86 configuration. This is done with
“xfree86setup” which detects and configures the graphics accelerator. It
detected perfectly my ATI Radeon 9000 Pro and configured my mouse and
keyboard, with 2 little problems:
1) It didn’t set any resolution for any color depth (I’ve selected
24 bit as default). I’ve added the like < Modes "1280x1024" > to
2) I have a wheel mouse, but the wheel didn’t work. There is a
workaround also for this:
I’ve added the following line in the Mouse Input Device area in
Option “ZAxisMapping” “4 5”
Then I created an user and fired up KDE. Everything worked fine,:
graphics, sound (I have a Creative Audigy 2, even Mandrake 9.1 didn’t work
with it!), mouse, keyboard…except for 3D hardware acceleration. This is
due the agpgart module. I have a VIA KM266 chipset and agpgart doesn’t know
how to handle it. So I’ve added the following line to /etc/modules.conf:
“options agpgart agp_try_unsupported=1” and rebooted. After trying glxinfo
again, I had some acceleration. Lets hope the DRI team will write better
drivers for the Radeon.
The reason why I’m not saying much about Slackware’s hardware
support is that Slackware supports all hardware that the Linux kernel does,
and usually the kernel is not bloated with unnecessary stuff. Supporting my
Audigy 2 was nice enough:)
Slackware 9.0 comes with USB utilities and PCMCIA utilities. It is also
configured out of the box to mount the USB filesystem on /proc/bus/usb. I
mention this because I also have an USB printer/scanner. I’ve installed CUPS
and configured my printer via the browser interface it provides. For those
who don’t know it is: http://[hostname]:631. I was done very fast, and my
USB printer works great. The only thing that I couldn’t get to work is the
scanner, and I probably won’t for a while. But I don’t use the scanner much.
Java suport was easier to install than in Mandrake. I downloaded
Blackdown Java 1.4.1 RE, compiled with gcc 3.2 and installed it. I just had
to link the java plugin to the Mozzila and Netscape plugin directories in
/usr/lib. I also added the path to /etc/profile.
In the /extra directory there is more useful stuff, like checkinstall,
which can be used to build packages or to install software from source (so
that the user is able also to uninstall), cups, emu-tools for creative sound
cards, debug version of glibc, aumix, libsafe and much more. By the way,
libsafe is a great tool. It is mostly usable on a server to prevent attacks
that make use of the “stack overflow vulnerability.” It just needs to be
installed and it takes care of the stack at no performance cost.
Many of you will say that Slackware is old, or that this distribution
doesn’t follow the trends. Many will say that package management is weak or
that the distribution is compiled for i386 and that’s why it is not as fast
as other distributions that are optimized for i586 and i686.
First of all, let me say that it comes with the latest packages like:
Mozilla 1.3 ,
and many more….
Package management doesn’t check dependencies and it has not the
functionality of rpm or deb packages, but tgz files are smaller and they can
be very easily build up. Slackware has package management tools like:
pkgtool, installpkg, removepkg, rpm2tgz and so on…
Almost the whole distribution is compiled with the CFLAGS set to:
“-O2 -march=i386 -mcpu=i686”
which means that it is i686 optimized and i386 compatible.
Slackware 9.0 is overall a very up to date release, rock solid and damn stable. Out of the box it comes pretty “Vanilla” configured, and the package management system and install system could be improved. I recommend it to the intermediate Linux users who want to learn Linux to the bone. For more control than available with Slackware you should probably consider a source distribution such as LFS (Linux From Scratch) or Gentoo. I also recommend it to the advanced users who want to have a good development environment with the latest development tools. It is also very suitable for servers, especially due the fact that Slackware 9.0 performs pretty well on older hardware. Configuration files and init scripts are simple to reconfigure because there are explanations inside these files. All in one this is another great release from Slackware and it follows the same development path as it always did. Remember people, “Simplicity is Divine.”
About the Author:
Marc A. Mironescu has been using Linux since 1997. Back then, when he was 16, he started with Red Hat Linux 4.2 which he found bundled with a Computer Magazine. Now 21 with a degree as Computer Analyst Programmer Assistant which he earned after 4 years of high-school, Marc has studied Pascal, C/C++, Delphi, programming algorithms, Windows, DOS, Linux, Word processing, Excel and Fox Pro. He also did 2 years of college with the Specialization in Industrial Design and 1 year in Computer Programming, both simultaneously before I’ve moved to the US. Mark has worked with computers since he was 10 years old and his first development environment was Amiga Basic on an old Amiga 500 running… Amiga OS. His current occupation is preparing for the Act test and looking for a job in IT. Slackware is his favorite distribution.