Get to Know Slackware 9.1

For almost a week now, I’ve been using Slackware 9.1 (RC-1 released today), and I am having a blast. Slackware doesn’t have more than 6-8% of the Linux market these days, but it used to be one of the most-used distros back in the day. Today, many think of Slackware as a true classic, a thought that is often accompanied by a feeling that Slackware is not a user-friendly or an uber-modern Linux distribution. There is some truth in that statement, but there is always the big “But”. Read on for our very positive experience with Slackware 9.1-pre. Update: In less than 24 hours since the RC-1, Slackware 9.1 RC-2 is out.Installation

Click for a larger version Slackware 9.1 comes in two CDs and it’s Installation is text-based. People who have used Debian or FreeBSD before they would find themselves accustomed to the theme. The only snag might be that the user will need to use the command line and not extremely user-friendly fdisk application to create partitions for Slackware. A tip: to avoid problems later, select the “full installation,” it will save you some headaches along the way. Slackware successfully found most of my hardware – 2 sound cards, network card, 2 CD/CDRWs, USB, and my PCI Firewire card. However, XFree86 requires manual tweaking by editing its configuration file and adding your monitor specs and graphics card driver to load. Using a mouse with a wheel would also require you to add the ZAxis and IMPS/2 (for PS/2 mice) options on that file.

The great

Click for a larger version Gnome 2.4 is included, XFree86 4.3.0, kernel 2.4.22, KDE 3.1.4, Apache, Bind and a whole lot of other software too. Soon you are presented with a nice and modern desktop to work with. Configuring the system is also pretty easy to learn, as Slackware is all about simplicity: its /etc/* setup is pretty easy to learn and understand, while its INIT system is BSD-like.

Click for a larger version The packaging system is minimalistic. It does not support dependency resolving, but so far I did not felt that I need any. All packages are coming pre-compiled with some i686 optimizations (Slackware runs minimum on a 486) and usually, all depended .tgz packages are to be found at the same place. Just do an “installpkg *” on the directory you downloaded them, and then you will be ready to fire them up. Getting Java runtime support was extremely easy for example.

Click for a larger version For dependency checking and automatic FTP update there is a handy third party utility named Swaret. If you are using Slackware and need to stay current, this is a must have.


The three main strengths of Slackware I see are these:
1. Simplicity. Init scripts, configuration, package installation are all minimalistic and simple.
2. Speed. Together with Gentoo, I think we are looking into the two fastest consumer distros on the planet. Slackware boots in less than 16 seconds on this AthlonXP 1600+.
3. Stability. I think this is the first Linux distribution that I haven’t managed to crash it completely or just its X within 2-3 days of using it.

The not so great

No matter what driver or front end combination I use (alsa, oss and artsd/esd), I can seem to have only a single application that can use the PCM or /dev/DSP at a time (card is a VIA 8233 on board, chipset is an Avance_Logic_ALC200/200P_rev_0). For example, if XMMS is playing something and I load Totem to play something else, I will get errors like:
audio_alsa_out: snd_pcm_open() failed: Device or resource busy
audio_alsa_out: >>> check if another program don’t already use PCM<<<

ALSA lib pcm_hw.c:597:(snd_pcm_hw_open) open /dev/snd/pcmC0D0p failed: Device or resource busy.

Click for a larger version It is somewhat discouraging to see Alsa to still not have iron out these mixer issues at this time and age. When I changed my sound card into a Hoontech/Yamaha Digital-XG YMF-754, the problems went away. I believe that the via82xx Alsa driver does not support advanced mixer capabilities and this is something that needs fixing in my opinion as these onboard VIA sound cards are very wildly used.

Additionally, I would like to see more graphical administration tools to be included on Slackware, e.g. the Gnome System Tools, Gnome-DB, Bluetooth and Wireless utils, phpMyAdmin and PostgreSQL in addition to the existing mySQL package.


Slackware is my new favorite operating system along with FreeBSD, Windows Server 2003 and Mac OS X. It works great as a workstation and a desktop system and I have no doubt that it would do a great server as well.

Click for a larger version I have tried more than 10+ different Linux distributions in the past 4 years but I never stuck with any. Red Hat/Mandrake/SuSE are too bloated and slow with complex internal structures (however Red Hat evolves faster of the three). Gentoo is way too involved and got bored easily of its long compilation times while Debian is way out of date in many ways (not just packages) for my taste. The ironic part is that my husband, who used to use Slackware when he was studying at the Ecole Polytechnique in France in the ’90s, was always prompting me to try Slackware out, but being so absorbed with the mass’ direction, I was mostly ending up using the well known distros mentioned above when I had this urge to use Linux (I get that from time to time :).

If you are an intermediate/advanced user, you really need to have a look at Slackware’s simple way of doing things. Simplicity and speed is all I am after and while a Unix can never be too simple (as in let’s say, BeOS or Syllable-OS), with Slackware I found a solid Linux OS that just works the way I want it. It could be even more painless though, if the Slackware maintainers realize that times change fast and that the “minimalistic OS nature of 1997” is not the same kind of the “minimalistic OS nature of 2003” and pay more attention in adding hot-plug/automatic support into less mainstream hardware (e.g. firewire/usb drives, bluetooth) and add more admin tools and automation, without of course losing the simplicity and speed that currently Slackware users enjoy.

Installation: 6/10
Hardware Support: 7.5/10
Ease of use: 7/10
Features: 8/10
Credibility: 10/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 8.5/10 (throughput, UI responsiveness, latency)

Overall: 7.83


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