Further Confessions of a Slacker

About a year and a half ago, I wrote an article for OSNews about my experiences with Slackware 9.1. Today, I am happily using Slackware-current (ISO snapshot from 12-23-04 -current snapshots are out there if you look hard enough) as my server and my normal desktop.

Frst, let me say, AGAIN, that I started out with Slackware back in 1995, tried a bunch of other distros, and always ended up back on Slack. Imagine my horror at Pat’s near-death experiences in November! Pat, I’m glad you pulled through. I would’ve paid your medical bills myself ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, back to the article… Though I keep trying other distributions just because I’m that kind of geek, I always cuddle up with Slackware at the end of the day. This article will discuss my experiences over the past year, what I’m doing now, and more. As always, these are my opinions.

<pedestal>If you do not like opinion pieces, GO AWAY. If you do not want to read another article about Slackware, GO AWAY. If you are some bored, pasty geek with no life that just likes to post to be a jerk, GO AWAY.</pedestal> There, shall we begin?

Slackware, click for a larger view While I’ve got your attendion, I would like to clear up a misconception – Slackware has automatic package installations via slapt-get or swaret (swaret toasted my system once and I permanently switched to slapt-get as a result). All those users that brag about Debian and Gentoo’s package management, let me tell you that it’s just as easy on Slackware: slapt-get --install packagename. You can also stay current: slapt-get --update && slapt-get --upgrade. Linuxpackages.net has darn near every package you will ever need or want, and the ones it does not have you can easily compile from source with the standard ./configure && make && make install routine. I can tell you, from personal experience, that very few packages do not install. Slackware also works with RPM files, too, and comes with rpm2tgz if you don’t like that. I would, however, like Jason at jaos.org to hurry up with GSlapt-get (or KSlapt-get?) ๐Ÿ™‚

Use whichever distribution that makes you happy, but don’t spread lies about others. We simply cannot quarrel with each other; inter-Linux wars accomplish NOTHING. Slackware is not perfect but neither is any other distribution. Please, no “my distro is better than your distro” flames, okay? You just make us all look bad.

My system has changed three times since my last article – due to various hardware failures, nothing of Slackware’s doing. Currently, I have a dual PIII 750 system on an older 440 chipset, running Adaptec SCSI (not hardware RAID) as a software RAID 1. I also have an IDE drive in there that has my SWAP space on it (2 512MB partitions) and some backups. Oh, yeah, the RAID 1 has a hot spare. 384MB PC133 SDRAM. No audio (yet). I am using Quanta+ on this system to write this article.

On a side note, Intel finally fixed their 865G driver, for those that were getting the gdg.ko error. That’s a different story but I thought I’d throw that out there (I had an 865G-based system at one point). Intel also released fixed audio drivers. Check out the motherboard download pages on support.intel.com.

Slackware-current, as of 12-23-04, has kernel 2.4.28, and I am running KDE 3.3.2 (too many problems with Dropline, which I think requires 2.6.x now). I am using this system as my webserver and my normal desktop tinkering system. I would like to get another system to tinker with, but I’m really just hosting my personal web site, an ftp server, and a VNC server for myself, so no real loss if I send my system into oblivion. Have a look at Slackware.com’s /current directory to see what is coming in Slackware 10.1.

I am booting from my software RAID 1, which was actually pretty easy to do. In my research, I found two ways to do this, but I decided on the easiest; essentially, boot to the CD, use cfdisk to create your partitions as type FD, create your /etc/raidtab file, run mkraid as appropriate, and then start the Slackware install. I picked the adaptec.s kernel, obviously. The Slackware installer is md-aware so it sees your md devices just like regular drives. I would recommend that you more /proc/mdstat and let the build finish before installing or it will take a lot longer to run the install. Do not use the installer to install LILO – do it yourself. You can find Slackware RAID installation HOWTOs all over the internet.

On a side note, Linux only supports booting to a software RAID 1. I made the mistake of putting my 3 SCSI drives into a RAID 5 configuration only to find out, after the install, that this is a no-no – it will tell you after you reboot that you can only boot to software RAID 1. D’oh! Learn from my mistakes.

I mentioned that my system is a dual PIII system – Slackware, unfortunately, does not ship with SMP kernels. You can, however, edit your kernel after installation and get that running. I would recommend making an additional entry in LILO just in case you flubbed it so you are not left with a kernel panic. All is not lost if you are, however, because you can always boot to the Slackware CD, chroot, and fix your mistakes.

Check your SMP with cat /proc/cpuinfo – you should see CPU 0 and 1. Sweet.

About a billion people have “how to install Slackware” HOWTOs out there, so I won’t go into the normal stuff. The Slackware installer is so easy that my brother-in-law, who knows nearly nothing about computers, managed to go through with all defaults and his old Intel 815 system was up and running in no time.

Post-install, however, I make a few tweaks. I change my IP address to a static address and forward all necessary ports from my router. I am using DynDNS with a registered domain name. DynDNS is free, and they offer their own domain names for free, but I splurged on the custom domain name (you can do it all from their site). Then I go to /etc/rc.d/ and do chmod -x on anything services/daemons that I do not need or do not want. Some services, like sendmail, I simply removepkg sendmail and be done with it. I know that sendmail has had most of its flaws worked out but I prefer the modularized postfix over sendmail.

Since I use this system as my webserver AND my desktop (I have a Windows XP system for gaming), I set up X. Slackware-current is using xorg instead of XFree86, and I could not be happier with that decision. I have a cheap PCI GeForce4MX card (this is not a gaming system!), so I need to set up X with Nvidia, which is very simple. Just links www.nvidia.com/linux and get the Linux driver, chmod +x on the driver package, and then ./NVIDIA-installer-blah.sh. Accept defaults and let it do its thing, then exit. Personally, I despise vi, so I use pico. Use pico to edit /etc/X11/xorg.conf and make two changes – delete any “dri” references, change the “driver” entry to “nvidia” (the installer probably picked up “nv” or just used “vesa”), and get the scroll wheel working on my mouse: change the Option "Protocol" "IMPS/2" and then add Option "Buttons" "5" and Option "ZAxisMapping "4 5" to the file, set your default color depth (comment out the others), enter 1280×1024 as my default resolution, save and exit. Make sure you are using the right window manager with xwmconfig and then simply startx. I have found that the xcompmgr shadows and transparency are too buggy still…use them if you’d like but be warned.

With Apache, I edit /etc/apache/httpd.conf to my personal preferences, turning on PHP and SSL, since I’ve been getting into PHP more and more (even on my Windows laptop at work :). A quick apachectl restart and I’m good to go. Well, not quite. For some reason, I have to kill an odd httpd process and then start Apache, but only the first time. Maybe something is broken, maybe it’s me; either way, it has to be done that first time.

Some miscellaneous stuff that I like to install: slapt-get, webmin, firefox, thunderbird, openoffice.org, webalizer, and the gimp. Yeah, I still wish Pat would most of these apps instead, but I understand his desire to stick with defaults (Koffice is okay but not quite good enough). I use slapt-get on the -current packages and I add a link to the Linuxpackages.net repository; slapt-get, like apt-get or Portage, is only as good as its repositories.

I set up my /etc/fstab to work with my USB pendrive and then make a /mnt/pendrive directory. I also have a USB card reader for my CompactFlash card, so I set that up similarly. If you care enough, you can make some desktop icons to mount/unmount your devices but I don’t mind using the command prompt for my USB devices. Just use dmesg on your system after inserting a USB device to see where it is – my pendrive is /dev/sdd1 because I have three SCSI drives. If you don’t have any SCSI drives, you can bet on your pendrive being /dev/sda1.

I have been recently learning more about Samba so I can connect to my Windows shares, even do remote backups, so I built a share on my Windows machine, ran smbtree to see the shares, then ran smbmount /share /mnt/network -o username=steve password=password and I could browse my network shares from within Konquerer. I used to use LinNeighborhood about 2 or 3 years ago on Red Hat 9, but I haven’t touched it since – if you want a more graphical experience, like most things in Linux, it’s out there, you just have to look hard enough (or make one yourself – Gambas recently hit version 1.0 and is very easy to use, especially if you’ve done a lot of VB work like me).

I also experimented for a while with a DLink 802.11b USB drive that I picked up at Fry’s for $24. It uses a Prism 3 chipset and I got it working with Linux-wlan-ng with very few problems – though it would sometimes kick offline and wouldn’t come back without a reboot. I was just messing with that to learn about setting up wireless on Linux, so that’s gone now. This is a FAR CRY from a year or so ago when I tried to get a Linksys USB wireless device working…I never got WEP working on that system, and it was flaky besides. Linux wireless has made significant progress in the past year or two.

Slackware is still easy and only getting easier. I am proud to say that I am still a Slacker, and more a Slacker every day. My system is fast, responsive, and after tweaking it to my liking, it just works. Really. Okay, I have to learn something every now and then, and I’ve been known to goof my system into oblivion, but, as my experience grows, my knowledge grows, and my appreciation for Slackware grows.

I tell people that Linux is not necessarily for everybody – you MUST be willing to learn about your system. I built a Slackware system for my brother, for example, and he wiped it and installed XP because he is not interested in learning about his computer. Okay, whatever, I tried ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, Linux is not for everybody, and, as you can see here, it can take quite a bit on post-install to get it working just the way you want it; but that’s the beauty I find in Linux – it’s MY computer again, and I can do with it what I choose, how I choose; I can run what I want to run, how I want to run it. Slackware happens to be my mode of transport on the long, winding Linux road ahead, but the way I see it, as long as you’re on the road, happy Linux trails.

About the author:
Steve Husted is doing anything but the tech support he
was hired to do in Sacramento, CA. Steve is a long-time computer geek with a not-so-secret love of Slackware Linux. Steve is a web developer, tech support guru, Linux evangelizer, usability expert, and all-around jack of all computer trades. Welcome to the world of today’s IT worker.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


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