After my positive experience of Debian it was time to move on and this time I chose Slackware 12 to try out. I didn’t know anything about Slackware going into it and I certainly didn’t know what I was getting myself into, “fools rush in” as they say. I certainly did. Slackware was an effort to say the least, I spent a couple of days with it. So, here’s what happened on my Slackware adventure…
A Little Background:
As I’ve said I really didn’t know anything about Slackware before this and it was something of a black spot in my Linux knowledge, not the only one as you will probably have guessed. I’d never even heard anything about it and I assumed it would be an easy distro to use because the term “slacker” usually means someone who likes to take life easy, boy was I wrong. When I started this project to try out different distros I decided to leave Gentoo out because while I know how fast and powerful it can be I wanted to focus on the more user friendly distros to start with. I stupidly thought Slackware would be in that category but now people are advising me that if I want an easier option I should go for Gentoo. I suppose the moral is “look before you leap”.
My first clue that this wasn’t going to be easy came right at the start of the install, you have to do everything in the terminal and while I’m not a Linux guru by any stretch of the imagination, I wasn’t phased so I pressed on. I set up some preliminary options like keyboard language and so on using the green screen menus. Something of a flashback to my youth “where’s the cassette drive?” I thought but enough said about that. I was greeted with a terminal and a login prompt advising me to login as root, so I typed “root” at the prompt and left the password blank, this logged me in and I then had to type the command “setup” to start the installer. Expecting a system to start an installer automatically for you when you boot the install CD would be far to simple of course, don’t be stupid 😉 I could see this was going to take a while and I wasn’t wrong.
I spent at least half an hour navigating my way through the various green screen prompts and solving what seemed more like logic puzzles than an install wizard, until I was finally ready to install the system. It was like some kind of aptitude test before you can proceed and I suspect a lot of people like it this way. I set the installer in motion and watched as a succession of green screens flew by telling me about each and every package that was being installed. It took about 15-20mins which is not a massive amount of time and then prompted me to press CTRL+ALT+DEL to reboot, I also removed the CD.
THE FLICKR SLIDESHOW
Please note: The slideshow only includes some of the install screens and not all of them simply because the sheer volume was too much.
Configuring The System:
Upon reboot the system kept freezing after I chose Linux from the LILO boot manager menu, at first I was a little stumped by this but then I had an idea. I typed “Linux noapic” at the boot prompt and thankfully this worked. It seems the old APIC problem with my motherboard had raised it’s ugly head again. Most distributions have this problem when booting the initial installer on my machine but not after, it seemed with Slackware every time I booted I would have to do this. I could of course modify the entries in the LILO boot manager configuration files to prevent this but it all seemed a little over the top to me.
I got the system booted and was expecting to see the KDE splash screen, no such luck. I got the terminal login prompt again. At this point I gave up trying to do this on my own and got hold of a backup machine to search the net for help. I found this guide on HowToForge.com and it was a real life saver.
I followed the guide and it helped me to add a user account and set up ALSA in the terminal before using the “startx” command to start KDE, which I then also had to configure. I was told by a few people that Slackware used to ship without any window manager at all so I guess I should be thankful for small mercies. I configured KDE and got into the desktop, thinking that I must be on the home straight by now… wrong!!! I decided to update the system with security patches and so on. In most distributions that would involve no more than choosing a mirror to download the packages possibly and letting the update manager do it’s thing. In Slackware YOU are the update manager it seems. You have to subscribe to a mailing list to get notifications of new updates and then you manually install them on the system. Slackware 12 was released in July this year and I installed it at the end of October so there were about 20 updates to do manually, one by one. This took me ages and I do mean ages, if I hadn’t already had a beard at the start of this process I certainly would have done by the end. Nevertheless I’m not a quitter and I continued on installing all the patches until it was done.
The display resolution was 1024×768 and after seeing how everything else is done in Slackware I assumed fixing that would involve getting the binary Nvidia drivers from the company website and installing them manually before editing my Xorg.conf file. I’m sure Slackware advocates will be reading this and thinking “what’s wrong with that? It only takes 15mins. What’s he complaining about??!!!” you may be right and I have no doubt that a hardened Slackware commando could do this in a flash (probably while under fire) but sadly that’s not me. I just couldn’t face it and I decided to just put up with the resolution rather then spend a few hours trying to fix it. I had to squint a bit to read the text at times though 🙂
I continued to work my way though the guide and it was heavy work but I got some things installed and managed to remove Koffice before installing OpenOffice.org from source. I also got Skype installed from the Slackbuilds.org website and a couple of other things. The package manager in Slackware doesn’t deal with dependencies it seems and you almost always end up having to build the packages yourself by getting the slackbuild scripts and using them to compile the source code. I don’t understand this system at all, I managed to do it a few times and I even got faster at it but to me it seemed like a massive waste of time and effort. What use is a package manager that can’t handle dependencies? Honestly it’s about as much use as a chocolate teapot. I’m sorry, I know people won’t like me saying that but it’s the way I feel.
I found for some reason I couldn’t open DVD discs or any external hard discs which were mounted. I kept getting this error screen:
It prevented me from getting my files off the external drives to test things but I did manage to download some mp3 files from the web to at least see if it would play them. I can report that it did but I never tested video playback. I’d been going at this for a few hours and I was fast losing the will to live by this point. So I just switched the machine off for the night. I did come back the next day and spend another whole afternoon and evening banging my head against the screen trying to get things working but in the end I’d just had enough. Like I said I’m no quitter and very few things beat me but I really couldn’t take any more, 2 days with Slackware was enough for me. I wanted to give it a really good go so nobody could say I hadn’t tried it properly but it seems I failed in the end. I’m sad to admit that but it’s true. I was left flailing my fist in the air and shouting “I’ll get you next time Slackware!!!” which can draw some attention to you in a crowded area I realized.
As you can tell I had a rough time with Slackware and it seemed even things which I believe should be simple took too much time and effort to achieve. I get the impression that Slackware is supposed to be hard. I think maybe it’s meant to be an intelligence test or something, one which I failed I have to admit. I just couldn’t see me ever wanting to run this day to day as my main desktop, I’m sure it could be configured properly after a lot of work and I don’t know how well it would run after that, it might be great I can’t say. For me though it just didn’t work sadly.
I know a lot of people really love Slackware and that’s great I’m not knocking it, it’s just not for me. I don’t want you to think I’m just bashing it indiscriminately, it has plenty of things going for it as a distribution. If you like a challenge and you’re prepared to work then maybe it will suit you. The most appropriate analogy I can think of for this involves cars, I know nothing about cars and I readily admit that. I know a lot of people like stripping engines and getting oil on them and that’s great, it’s not my thing though. To me Slackware is the equivalent of having to build your own car piece by piece just to go to the shops and I’m sorry I don’t want to do that. At times it seemed to me like I’d accidentally slipped through a wormhole and somehow I was installing Linux in 1995. It shouldn’t have to be this hard but if you want it to be then good for you.
I think possibly the fact that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into has influenced my opinion, rightly or wrongly. I can’t blame the software for my lack of research of course and I tried not to. As I said lots of people love Slackware and I respect them for that, it’s their choice and I hope they have fun, I honestly do. If you run Slackware and you think I’m an idiot that’s great, more power to you. I think this distribution is like Marmite in a way, you either love it or hate it, it seems to divide people. The system obviously has it strengths in that it’s highly customizable and you can have full control over every aspect of it, I also suspect that compiling every little bit of software for your system rather than installing pre built packages could have some performance benefits. Kind of like getting a tailor made suit instead of buying off the rack. I didn’t notice any particular speed increases over other distributions to be honest but it was a little difficult to see clearly though my tears. If you like a challenge and you are curious to try Slackware then go for it by all means, you never know you might like it. Just be aware what you are taking on. After all some people like Marmite… apparently.
To boil all this down into one sentence, here are a few possible slogans I came up with for Slackware: “Slackware: It won’t kill you… but it’ll have a bloody good go!!” – “Slackware: For Those Who Think Gentoo Is Aimed At Newbs”
…and finally: “Slackware: It’s About As Easy As Pushing A Pea Up Everest With Your Nose” 🙂
So that’s it for Slackware and I’m moving on to pastures new. I’m about to install the newly released Sabayon 1.1 Professional and I’m anxious to see what that’s like. I’ve used an earlier release of the distro but it was only on a virtual machine and I’d like to see how it performs in a full install. Stay tuned for more adventures soon 🙂