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Slackware review

Written by Guillermo Garron .
Date: 2010-11-03 10:36:30 -0400

Slackware Linux Review

— Current version 13.1

Introduction

From Wikipedia:

Slackware is a free and open source operating system. It was one of the earliest operating systems to be built on top of the Linux kernel and is the oldest currently being maintained. Slackware was created by Patrick Volkerding of Slackware Linux, Inc. in 1993. The current stable version is 13.1, released on May 24, 2010. Slackware aims for design stability and simplicity, and to be the most “Unix-like” Linux distribution, using plain text files for configuration and making as few modifications to software packages as possible from upstream.

Slackware has been around a long time, it is stable, reliable and secure.

User Friendly

One of the most common statements about Slackware is that, it is difficult to maintain, and not user friendly. This is only partially true and depends on what is easy for you. If you know nothing about Linux then it may be complicated to start with Slackware, but if you know a little bit about Linux, then it could actually be easier to have a server on Slackware than for example Fedora or Ubuntu. Why?. Well mainly because it is more difficult to break things in Slackware than in others, the lack of a dependency resolution official tool, makes installing and maintaining software more time consuming, but at the same time, more stable. So if easy for you means less time finding and installing software, then Slackware is not easy, but if on the other hand easy for you, means less problems and down times, then Slackware may be your solution.

So, Slackware is not for experienced users only, but it certainly doesn’t do everything for you like Ubuntu, Fedora, PCLinuxOS or others.

Packages

Introduction

All packages in slackware are vanilla, it does not have the huge number of packages available as in Debian, but you can always compile them by yourself. To compile the software not officially available in Slackware repository we have the great help of slackbuilds.org. This is a community driven project, where you can find scripts to create the Slackware binaries from the original sources.

This is the way all official Slackware’s packages are made, therefore is the more secure way to install software in your Slackware powered computer. One more time, keep in mind that the dependencies should be managed by the administrator, in other words, you, and it is really easy to build slackware’s binaries. Using this tool, you will be able to de-install, upgrade, etc the package.

If have worked with Arch Linux or Gentoo before, you will be more comfortable with this way of packages management.

Package manager

The official Slackware’s package manager is pkgtool, it lets you install, upgrade, remove applications really easy, once you have the package binaries.

From: Slackbook

There’s a myth that’s been going around ever since RedHat debuted RedHat Package Manager, that Slackware has no package management tool. This simply couldn’t be further from the truth. Slackware has always included a package manager, even before RedHat existed. While not as full-featured or as ubiquitous as rpm (or for that matter deb), pkgtool and its associated programs are every bit as good at installing packages as rpm. The truth about pkgtool is not that it doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t do any dependency checking.

If you want dependency management you may want to try the no official slapt-get, which work more or less like Debian’s apt-get, which actually does not provide full dependency resolution, but some form of it:

From WikiPedia:

slapt-get does not provide dependency resolution for packages included within the Slackware distribution. It does, however, provide a framework for dependency resolution Slackware compatible packages similar in fashion to the hand-tuned method APT utilizes. Several package sources and Slackware based distributions take advantage of this functionality. Hard, soft, and conditional dependencies along with package conflicts and complementary package suggestions can be expressed using the slapt-get framework.

There are also other options and third party package managers, like slackpkg

Slackpkg is a tool for installing or upgrading packages through a network. You can make a minimal installation of Slackware Linux and then install additional packages from a Slackware mirror.

You don’t need to setup NFS or make dozens of CDs for all of your computers. Just type “slackpkg” and all packages in the Official Slackware Linux mirrors will be in your hands.

To me the best combination is to use slackpkg to install official packages, and slackbuilds.org to get the packages not officially included.

KISS

Slackware just like Arch Linux is simple, but not simple as in easy, actually simple because of its design. There is no customization made by the developers, just like I said before Slackware is a vanilla Linux, no other flavors added.

Another characteristic of Slackware is that it uses BSD style scripts, once again, like Arch Linux (or Arch Linux like Slackware). Debian, Ubuntu and others use the system V style scripts. This doesn’t mean it is better or worse, just different, but, BSD style is simpler.

Installation

There are different ways to install Slackware Linux, but the easiest one is to download the DVD iso, and use it to install all packages, it will take 3+ Gigs, of your hard disk, and you will have the complete package installed, that is if you want to use it as a Desktop, if you need a server disable the X and Desktop sections in the installer menu.

Installing Slackware is actually not difficult, Gentoo and Arch Linux require more knowledge, but Slackware is actually easy, if you have the DVD iso.

Usage scenarios

You can use Slackware for the Desktop or Server, but the first might not be a good scenario for Slackware at least in my opinion, because you usually need to install too much software, like media players, codecs, social networks applications, etc. Applications not officially supported, and therefore, applications that demand time to install and keep them up to date.

On the other hand, Slackware could be a great option as a server, it is stable, secure, and easy to maintain, in this scenario, having a very vanilla server is always a good idea, as you can refer to the developer documentation, and all will apply to your configuration.

Preferred GUI

Slackware comes with KDE, fluxbox, OpenBox, XFCE, and some others to choose at the installation time, you may choose the one you prefer in that time, but you can always change it with the xwmconfig command, Gnome is not by default supported.

You can go the GnomeSlackBuild.org, if you need to install Gnome on Slackware, of course this is just one option to have Gnome running, I have FluxBox installed on my Slackware Desktop.

Community and Documentation

The official forums for Slackware are at Linux Questions, they are great people, with a lot of experience not only in Slackware but in Linux, but anyway newbies are always welcome, and they are prone to help the newcomers.

The SlackBook, is also a great source of info, and a must read for all people trying to be a Slacker.

Release cycle

Like Debian, Slackware releases a new version when it is ready, but usually one per year, sometimes two per year, but only when everything is ready, if you are brave, you can try the current branch and stay in the bleeding edge, but do not do this in a production server.

Conclusion

Slackware is a great Linux Distribution, and often called the one you need to work with if you want to learn Linux, people usually say:

If you learn RHEL, you know RHEL, if you learn Slackware you know Linux.

— Disclaimer:

I am new to Slackware, please let me know if I’m wrong in anything of the above said. Once again, I am new to Slackware but I’m already in love with it.

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