For three months now, I have been a Slackware user. I am also an OSNews reader. Being so, I see that there are a lot of myths about Slackware. Some of them seem to be misleading. I’d like to comment on a number of them basing on my (not so long) experience using Slackware.
From 1999-2002 my experience with Linux was confined to major rpm-based distributions: Red Hat, Mandrake (about 90% in summation), and SuSE. Here I must stress that until recently I could only run Linux at work because I didn’t have a suitable PC at home. On the other hand, there is no Linux system administrator in our lab. And I don’t have time at work to try different distributions. In such conditions, Red Hat and Mandrake suited me fine.
In December 2002, I became a happy owner of a Celeron-1.7GHz PC (thanks to my friends!). After about three weeks of “jumping” from one “smaller” rpm-based distro to another (Caldera, Conectiva, the CERN edition of RH, and ASPLinux) I installed Slackware 8.1. Since then, it is always in my box so that now I am a three month Slackware user (mostly Slackware 8.1 and a little bit of 9.0). This means that I (hopefully) have some experience that may be useful for others. If you read, keep in mind that I am definitely a newbie both in Linux itself and Slackware in particular. Well, I guess I won’t
give you a chance to forget about this
Myth 1. Slackware is for geeks/developers.
First of all, I think that if an instrument is used by experts and professionals then this means that it is a really good instrument, though it may really look or be too complicated for a rank and file user. To figure out whether this is true or not for Slackware, let’s split the above claim into parts.
1a. Slackware is user-unfriendly.
It seems that Slackware developers make two a prior assumptions about potential users of their distro: (i) users are not hopelessly dumb and (ii) from time to time, users are able to use a keyboard and perhaps even read docs. If these assumptions are not valid then Slackware may look user-unfriendly.
(In my opinion, a Windows-like GUI as the one used in RH 8.0 and 9.0 releases doesn’t mean user-friendliness. Perhaps, this is a matter of taste.)
1b. Slackware is difficult to install.
This is definitely true if you have only one finger and it is deadly glued to your mouse. Slackware installation procedure does not have a GUI in the sense of Red Hat or Mandrake. One who decides to install Slackware will need to type “root” and even “setup.” If the hard drive is not ready for the installation it will also be necessary to type “(c)fdisk” after “root.” Believe me, this is not so difficult as it may look. More than this, it is much less time consuming than clicking here and there. The rest of the installation needs approximately the same number of keystrokes as it is necessary in RH or Mandrake.
By the way, the installation procedure is exhaustively documented — just check Slackware-HOWTO and other docs included in the distribution.
In fact, there is nothing much to talk about. Installation of Slackware is straightforward and easy. In comparison with the installation procedure
of Windows XP, it’s a snap.
1c. Slackware is difficult to configure.
At first, I was a bit perplexed by the fact that there is no “All-in-one Configuration Center.” Very soon, I found out that it is not needed. There are very few settings that are not configured during the installation procedure and that one would like to change. The BSD-style init scripts used in Slackware are simple enough to be understood/edited even by a newbie like me. They also have extensive comments inside, so don’t worry.
If you really need a GUI program to configure your box, install linuxconf. It works well. But better you don’t.
There may be a problem with configuring X. Slackware does not detect a monitor “on the fly” like say Red Hat or Mandrake do. For the first time, one may prefer to use XF86Config from his/her previous Linux distribution. If you start X anyhow, go to KDE’s kxconfig (available in KDE 3.1, Slackware 9.0). It will do the job for you. More than this, it can do the job fine. As for me, it has tuned my monitor better than it has ever been (even with original NVIDIA drivers for Windows).
Settings of your favorite WM are made exactly as in other distros.
In my opinion, a Slackware user feels him/herself closer to Nature, i.e., to Linux, than say with Red Hat or Mandrake. After you edit a script or two instead of clicking your mouse here and there you’ll find that the entire system has become closer to you. Believe me, this is a wonderful feeling!
1d. Slackware is difficult to run or manage.
As far as I understand, this is mainly concerned with the Slackware package management. This is true that pkgtool does not check dependencies for the packages you mean to install. (This is not done even during installation.) Well, being an rpm-minded person, I missed this feature at first. Then I have found that (i) there are bash scripts that can check dependencies for you, just check Google, (ii) in most cases, READMEs provide all necessary information. Surprisingly, I have found that after reading a README I use the corresponding program much more efficiently than I do without. Thus, my advice is: read READMEs. They are written for us.
If you want to have an automated procedure for making updates, install autoslack, available at http://www.linuxpackages.net/.
It is also worth mentioning that Slackware’s installation CD can also be used as a rescue one.
Myth 2. There are no or very few docs on Slackware.
As I have already mentioned, every Slackware distribution includes a detailed installation guide and not only. Besides this, there is The
Official Guide To Slackware Linux, available at Slackware’s site. It seems to be a little bit outdated
(it was released with Slackware 8.0) but in unimportant details only. I found it to be very useful, at least for a newbie like me.
Besides this, one can find a Meta-FAQ, an “unofficial” Slackware book, and numerous other Slackware-related FAQs and docs. Just check the daily FAQ posting at Slackware news group.
Finally, there are two books available that one can buy at http://store.slackware.com/
Myth 3. There are tons of rpms and debs around but nothing for Slackware.
First of all, Slackware includes a lot of the latest stable versions of miscellaneous software. Next, one can find even more in its “extra” folder. Besides this, one can find tons of packages configured especially for Slackware at http://www.linuxpackages.net/ and its ftp twin.
Finally, don’t forget that you can (almost) always install your favorite program from source (if one is available). Slackware 9.0’s “extra” includes a nice program — checkinstall — that helps one to maintain the software data base properly. In particular, it creates packages in Slackware-specific format so that you don’t need to recompile your favorite program in case you uninstall it and then decide to install it again. With checkinstall, one can manage packages installed form source in a standard Slackware way — by running pkgtool.
Myth 4. Slackware is for servers (Vector Linux is for desktops).
Well, I agree that Slackware is so stable that it can work as a world server. This doesn’t somehow mean that it cannot be successfully used at a desktop PC. It includes all widely spread window managers — KDE 3.1, Gnome 2.2, blackbox 0.65 to mention a few — and a lot of office/multimedia software.
As for Vector Linux (VL below), I have tried 3 (downloadable) releases: 3.0, 3.2, and 3.2-Soho. In my opinion, this is a pretty nice distribution
though it is not polished yet. (Just take a look at /tmp or /var/tmp immediately after the installation.) It includes a number of configuration
programs that may be handy and that are not included in Slackware: sndconfig and Xconfigurator taken from Red Hat, SaX from SuSE (this one worked
for me in SuSE but didn’t work in VL) and perhaps some other. It is quite colorful and makes an impression of a distro prepared with a user in mind. Still, having tried this three releases I didn’t find anything that could make VL a better choice for a desktop PC than Slackware. To the contrary,
I found a number of features that I didn’t like. For example, I was unable to boot Vector with the /boot partition using ext3 filesystem. To compare, ArchLinux, which is only at its 0.4 release handles this easily. More important is that VL doesn’t give one an opportunity to choose which packages to install and which to omit. As a result, VL-3.2 (Soho) occupies around 1.5Gb on the hard drive. More than this, if you uninstall a package and then decide to install it again, there is no straightforward way to do this: VL doesn’t provide either separate packages or their sources. Here comes another VL-related issue that seems a bit strange for me: an absence of package sources. I had a discussion on the subject with a guy from the VL team at their forum. It looked like this:
Q: Where can I find the sources?
A: We don’t want to occupy extra space at ftp.ibiblio.org.
Check Slackware’s sites if you need sources.
Q: Slackware does not include sndconfig and SaX.
Where can I find them?
A: You are trolling our forum!
To be fair, all other VL users who took part in the discussion were very polite and friendly.
I am not sure whether this is a violation of the GPL or not but I am not going to buy/run Vector on a regular basis until its team provides package sources.
Myth 5. Slackware’s forum is abusive.
Well, according to my experience, one can meet a couple of guys at alt.os.linux.slackware whose answers roughly mean “RTFM”. Just don’t mind or … follow their suggestion. The overwhelming majority of people at the newsgroup are very friendly and helpful. Most of my (dumb) questions received clear and comprehensive answers within an hour or so. Thank you, men!
Besides this, there is another Slackware forum: http://www.linuxpackages.net/forum/. It is nice, friendly, and useful.
Myth 6. Slackware’s site is ugly and outdated.
This is true if you mean that it does not contain tons of blinking advertisements. It is simple and clear. I like it. Though it could possibly include links to the sources of “unofficial” information. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.
Myth 7. Slackware is damn fast and stable.
Do you expect that I will argue that it is not? Surprisingly, I won’t. Slackware is really fast and stable. I don’t mean that Red Hat or Mandrake or SuSE or whatever of the main Linux distros are not stable. Surely, they are. But Slackware boots up approximately two times faster then these three do. Isn’t this what one would like to have for a home PC?
So, my point of view is that Slackware is definitely a very good distribution. Is it right for you? Maybe not. But if you can afford yourself to spend a couple of hours on weekends to look “inside” Slackware then in a month or so you may find that you enjoy using Linux more than ever — as this happened to me
Does all this mean that I am going to confine my Linux experience to Slackware? Definitely not. My “GETFUN” list includes: (i) take a closer look at ArchLinux, CRUX, Debian, and Gentoo (in alphabetical order) and (ii) get rid of Red Hat at work. Don’t ask me why. Just give yourself a chance to try Slackware
About the Author:
About me and my background with computers: I am a physicist, I am definitely not a computer/Linux guru. I have no idea about C. Nor vi. About 20 years ago I took a course on FORTRAN. IMHO, this doesn’t count. From 1996-1998 I used Window 95 and felt (more or less) happy with it. In 1999, I installed Red Hat. The first installation made me develop my computer skills: I read the RH Installation Guide and Dos-to-Linux-HOWTO. As far as I remember, the most difficult thing with Linux was figuring out how to quit a man page. In a couple of months, I have found that: (i) I am deeply in love with Linux (ii) I don’t need Windows any more (iii) I don’t even want to see Windows any more.