I was quite excited about the release of Slackware 10.1, the same way I was excited about 10.0 and versions before that. As a self confessed ‘Linux Desktop Dabbler’, to date, I’ve found Slackware my favourite Linux flavour to Dabble with.
As far as I can see, there’s isn’t any huge changes over the 10.0 release, which is to be expected, but it’s the quality of the updates and the stability of slackware that always wins me over.
Other popular distributions will dazzle you with cutting edge releases of more software and window manager options than you can shake a ‘Linux in a Nutshell’ book at. Slackware remains true to what makes it so popular. Simple, no fluff, stable.
I decided to backup the few config files that I generally have custom versions of to save time. These are smb.conf, xorg.conf, lilo.conf, my 2.6 kernel config and a few others. During installation, I then formatted my hda1 partition, leaving just the home partition intact. I guess this is a habit I’ve acquired from using MS-Windows for so many years. I’m never truly comfortable with trying to upgrade and while I know it’s very possible with Slackware, I wasn’t feeling brave enough to attempt the Slackware 10.0 to 10.1 Upgrade HOWTO.
There’s not much that can be said for the Slackware install process that hasn’t been said many times before, but I’ll go ahead and say it again, in perhaps a slightly different way.
The install process is functional, it’s curses based and plain as bread and water.
I’m not really a fan of incredibly fancy install processes for Operating Systems – I just want to get the job over and done with as quickly as possible. Suffice to say, Slackware installs damn quickly. There are no sections for adding a user or configuring X. It basically boils down to setting up your partitions, choosing the install source, choosing the package selection / packages and basic configuration. As with most Linux distributions, you can spend time customising the packages to be installed, however, with Slackware, I tend to find I’m comfortable with the defaults.
This is not a distribution that Linux newbies can install easily, as some work is required after Installation to get up and running.
I’ve pretty much got the Slackware post install down pat to suit my needs, but I did have a few issues, which to be fair, were not the fault of slackware. One issue was compiling the 2.6.10 kernel and then the latest NVIDIA drivers, only to find that there some sort of patch made to the kernel that is causing issues. Of course, I spent 40 minutes trying to get X configured before deciding that there must be a conflict – my bad. Installing and compiling the 126.96.36.199 kernel got me back on course again.
Another hiccup I had was sound. For reasons that escape me, had I disabled the onboard VIA82xx sound card in BIOS and spent 10 minutes wondering why alsaconfig wouldn’t detect any PCI sound devices – oops.
Besides those little problems it must be said that you have to know your hardware to install X successfully. It can be daunting if you’ve recently come from the comfy GUI Install world of Mandrake or Fedora, but it’s not insurmountable.
I’ll be honest and say that I spent some time with past versions of Slackware configuring X windows to exactly suit my needs and now simply keep my old config file backed up, always a good idea.
Slackware 10.1 ships with KDE3.3.2, Gnome2.6, XFCE4.2 and blackbox-0.65. It should be noted that KDE seems to be the default Window Manager of choice, judging by the official 10.1 release announcement.
I decided to see if Dropline Gnome 2.8 for Slackware 10.0 was compatible with 10.1 and it turns out it is, but on my fairly low-end system specifications, specifically the video card, it was incredibly sluggish. I turned off whatever eye candy I could, but I just couldn’t work effectively with it.
What the heck, I gave KDE3.3.2 a whirl, switched off literally ALL the eye candy and it runs smooth at 1024x768x24 – I’m happy. I took XFCE4.2 for a spin too and I quite liked it, but KDE will be my desktop of choice for my simple needs.
Kernel / Applications
Slackware 10.1 ships with Kernel 2.4.29 and supports the 2.6 kernel, which can easily be installed from the second CD.
The Applications are a very standard selection, as is always the case with Slackware.
There are some notable ommissions, such as Firefox and Open Office, but they are so readily available, it really isn’t an issue at all.
From a multimedia perspective, divx, xvid, DVD and mp3 are supported from default install, which I find great. I’ve spent a lot of wasted time messing around with Fedora in the past trying to get my multimedia needs sorted out, so it’s always a pleasure to have it all ready as default.
KOffice suite 3.3.2 and abiword 2.0.12 are included for your Office documentation needs.
If you need Open Office and can’t find a copy to install, then you’ve been living in a cupboard for the past 5 years. I think I’ve got 5 copies of various versions from first release to latest lying around my office.
Browsers include Konqueror 3.3.2, Netscape 7.2, Mozilla 1.7.5. I’m not sure why both Netscape and Mozilla are required, but I’m sure the reasoning behind that is sound.
Day to day use
I’m not fully qualified to comment extensively on the day to day use of Linux on the desktop without going completely of the subject of Slackware 10.1
What I can say is that I use a lot of graphics applications and do a large amount of website maintenance, my clients and design skills require me to use applications not yet natively available for Linux.
For my Desktop Linux purposes, which include browsing the internet, listening to music, watching movies and typing the occassional document, I’ve found Slackware to be my Linux distribution of choice. I don’t use Desktop Linux for heavy production work.
It’s my opinion that an experienced Linux user cannot go wrong with Slackware 10.1.
It’s also my opinion that a cheap PC, correctly configured with Slackware 10.1, would work perfectly as an office desktop solution for your Gran, Mom or Auntie Sally, providing they had a kind geek to set everything up for them !
I love Slackware. It may stem from the fact that it was the very first Linux distribution I got my hands dirty with, albiet for purely terminal use basis, but I don’t think that’s the main reason. I think the main reason behind it is the elegance of it’s simplicity and no-bloat approach.
While so many other popular distributions are shipping with bucket loads of software, Slackware has a simple 2 CD release that results in a rock solid Linux distribution. You get the sense that great care has been taken to ensure that everything just works, the feeling that the package choices were made not for the ‘latest greatest bleeding edge’, but for stability and merit.
Review PC Specications
MSI KM4M-L Micro ATX mainboard
32Mb TNT2 Video Card
256Mb DDR266 RAM
40Gb IDE HD
About the authour
I’ve dabbled with Linux on and off since 1997. The vast majority of that time has been terminal based – maintaining websites, email accounts, DNS entries and the like. Linux is the only platform I’ll consider for my server uses, which are currently web & email hosting, firewall and file server. My main platform for producing content is MS-Windows. I’m a web and multimedia designer with my own small one-man-show company. I currently dabble with Linux on the Desktop with the hope that the applications I use to produce my content will either see native Linux equivalents, native Linux versions or will run in an emulation mode at acceptable speed with 100% guaranteed performance. I currently use Linux on the Desktop for 20% of my spare time. This review was written in gedit using the KDE 3.3.2 window manager on Slackware 10.1 running a custom compiled 188.8.131.52 kernel. (I’m proud of my custom kernel).
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