A brief look at Slackware 11.0

October 23, 2006
When you hear the name Slackware, you are at once transported to a world where Linux users feel more at home in setting the configurations by editing ordinary text files. In fact the credo of Slackware is to keep it as simple as possible. In popular speak, it is known by the acronym KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). When I use the word simple, I mean simple in relation to a person who is already well versed in the use of Linux. So you won't find any Slackware specific memory hogging GUI front-ends to set up simple day to day configuration parameters. Apart from the ones provided by KDE - the default desktop of Slackware, you will not find any GUI helper apps as are common in other popular Linux distributions.

Another aspect of Slackware which has amazed me is that the whole project is the outcome of the efforts of one person - Patrick Volkerding. He has designed Slackware around the idea that the system should be a complete installation kept updated with any official patches. I couldn't help thinking that perhaps Patrick had been an avid user of one of the BSDs before he started the Slackware project and had been swayed enough to make Slackware as similar to the BSD which also consider the kernel together with the tools bundled with it as a single entity.

The latest version of Slackware is ver 11.0 which was released a couple of weeks back. Blame it on my internet connection, but in the past, I have had difficulties in downloading the ISOs of Slackware but this time round, I was successful in downloading and burning Slackware 11.0 on to the CDs. The whole Slackware distribution will fit into 3 CDs. If you do not care about X, then you can easily manage with just the first CD which contain a collection of Linux kernels and all the command line tools. But if you want to install KDE, you will need the second one. The third CD contain miscellaneous packages such as the language packs. It is prudent to download all the three CDs even though the installer bundled with Slackware will allow you to pick and choose between packages.

And while talking about the installer, Slackware comes bundled with a text based installer which is very similar to that found in FreeBSD. That means, you have a master menu which contain sub-menus to execute different functions. Such as a menu for partitioning the hard disk, a menu to format the disk, one for setting up and turning on swap, one to start the copying of packages to the hard disk and so on. And once all the tasks are completed, you are placed back into the master menu. The whole process is quite intuitive for anybody who has prior experience in installing an OS using a text installer. Of course unlike other Linux distributions, when you boot the computer using the first CD, you are put into a root shell and you have to type the command 'setup' to initiate the Slackware installation process.

I chose the full install since I had with me all the 3 CDs and within a little time all the packages were installed on one of the partitions on my machine which took around 4.0 GB space. Oh yeah, Slackware still bundles with it the LILO boot loader when most Linux distributions have graduated to the more user friendly Grub. Since I already had Grub installed in the MBR on my machine, I chose to edit the grub menu to include Slackware instead. During the installation, Slackware correctly detected the Windows NTFS and Fat32 partitions on my drive and prompted me for the path where I wanted it to be mounted.

The default kernel in Slackware is still the battle worn time tested 2.4 series (2.4.33.3) but you can also opt for the latest 2.6 (2.6.17.13) version of kernel at the time of installation by entering the command 'huge26.s' at the boot prompt.

As far as window managers are concerned, Slackware bundles with it a total of seven window managers which includes KDE 3.5.4, Xfce 4.2.3.2, Fluxbox, Blackbox, WindowMaker, Fvwm2 and Twm. But if you are a die hard Gnome user, then you will be disappointed though because Pat has long since discarded Gnome for its perceived difficulty in maintenance.

Slackware follows the BSD style init scripts
One note worthy fact about Slackware is its adoption of the BSD style init scripts over the System V init scripts more commonly embraced by the rest of the Linux distributions. What it translates for the Slackware user is simplicity in enabling and disabling services. You do not have to dirty your hands by changing the sym-links as you do in System V init scripts.

For example, say I want to enable the firewall in Slackware when it is booting up. All I have to do is move to the /etc/rc.d/ directory and set the executable bit of the file rc.firewall. And the next time Slackware boots up it will have the firewall up and running. On a similar note if you want to disable the firewall, then just unset the executable bit of the file rc.firewall. But that is not all. The contents of the rc.firewall file are in the same format as the iptables rules you enter in the command line which makes it quite easy to maintain in the long run. There is no iptables-save or iptables-restore for you.

Similarly for loading any extra drivers in the Linux kernel, you enter the module name in the liberally commented rc.modules file. For each service that is available in the system, there is a corresponding rc.<servicename> bash script in the /etc/rc.d/ directory and depending upon whether the executable bits are set or unset, Slackware chooses to start/stop the service during system startup.

Useful configuration scripts in Slackware
Earlier I had mentioned the obvious lack of any Slackware specific GUI front-ends. Well, it was more of a white lie ;-). Even though there are no GUI front-ends for configuration, there are a collection of curses based programs (scripts) which you can use to set up and configure a variety of features in Slackware including setting up networking. Some of them that I am aware of are as follows:
  • netconfig - A menu based program that will help in configuring your network.
  • pppsetup - A menu based program that helps in connecting to the Internet via a dial up modem.
  • xwmconfig - Choose your default window manager.
  • liloconfig - Setup and install LiLO to the boot drive.
  • xorgcfg - Setup the configuration for X Windows. It will automatically generate the xorg.conf file which is saved in the /etc/X11/ directory.
  • alsaconf - Automatically detects the sound cards and configures the sound.
More over, Slackware specific tools like Swaret, Slapt-get - a clone of apt-get and Slackupdate make it easy to keep the system updated with the latest security patches or even upgrade the entire system to a new version.

I have been using Slackware for a couple of weeks now and I am definitely impressed with the ease with which you can configure it. And I have started to really like this distribution. I did face some issues once I finished installing Slackware. Like I had to modify the xorg.conf file to get my mouse wheel to work also I had to run alsaconf to get sound to work properly. But nothing serious which warranted any drastic action.

Even though Slackware does not bundle Gnome with it, there is a separate project called Dropline Gnome which provide Slackware specific packages of the latest version of Gnome. Another site which caters to the Slackware crowd is linuxpackages.net which is a repository of Slackware packages.

Slackware is one of the oldest Linux distributions out there. And over the years, it has consistently kept pace with the changes. All the software bundled with Slackware 11.0 is the latest version - for instance Vim 7.0 is included, so is Firefox 1.5.0.7. And this is a remarkable feat since it is a project borne off the efforts of one man - Patrick Volkerding.

21 comments:

  • BlackPanther{k}

    Grub is included with slackware, it's just not the default installer of choice. If you want grub, it's in extra (should be on the second cd)

    on the gnome front there are currently three projects going; as you mentioned Dropline Gnome, Freerock Gnome and Gware.

  • Very nice overview of one of my favorite distros. I especially liked how you didn't bash the text-based installer. Slack's installer is one of the reasons I like it. I don't have to wait 9 minutes for some ugly gui installer to start up on my 233MHz thinkpad, and it's a really easy-to-use installer anyway.

    -SaidinUnleashed

  • Great little review. Longer reviews can get tedious, this did the job well. I miss Slackware. There is a lot of beauty to its simplicity. I liked the fact that everything I compiled worked perfectly. You may also want to check out Arch Linux, it is similar to Slack but has an awesome package manager, Pacman.

    -rich

  • Nice review, hang out at the official forum LinuxQuestions.org people are great. Once you start apreciating the simlicity, speed and stability of Slackware there's no going back

  • I've been using Slackware since v8.1, and, coming from a MS Windows environment followed by Red Hat, I was a little nervous, especially since I was putting Slackware on my laptop! I had not a clue how to configure wireless or if it would even be supported with Slackware.

    Today, I have three laptops, my favorite of which is (gee, big surprise) the Slackware box. DropLine GNOME is what allows me to use it at work, as we are cursed with MS Exchange Server email, so Evolution is my saviour here. The reviewer is correct in that a bit of UNIX/Linux familiarity does help some. But that was also true in the MS-DOG/Windoze days with CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT, WIN.INI, and SYSTEM.INI. Didn't seem to stop droves of people, both at home and at work, from using the systems. :-) To get the built-in Broadcom (YUCK!) wireless to work, I compiled a custom 2.6.17 kernel back when it ran Slackware 10.2. Worked without a hitch.

    "The Slackware Way" of doing things is generally "the cross-distro way" exactly because there aren't all sorts of distro-specific menus. Thus, having learned Slackware, anybody can then SSH into virtually any GNU/Linux box and drive the thing with a lower learning curve than those weaned on redhat-config-network or YaST, for example. There's a little bit of a learning curve to Slackware. But for this former MCSE (yeah, laugh, I still do :-D ), it was, and remains, well worth it.

    I disagree with one thing that the reviewer said, though. I do not find GRUB to be at all more user-friendly than LILO. On the contrary, since LILO is simpler, there's less to break in your /etc/lilo.conf file. /boot/grub/menu.lst does have a slightly more cryptic syntax to it, and GRUB's command interface definitely will stymie the casual user. Not that GRUB is bad; don't get me wrong, and I do use it. But LILO ain't broke, either, and that's probably why Pat continues to use it.

  • rich said...
    "You may also want to check out Arch Linux, it is similar to Slack but has an awesome package manager, Pacman."

    Or frugalware. Its slackware with archlinux pacman and repoman (a source-based installer like gentoo ebuild). best of three.

  • "For example, say I want to enable the firewall in Slackware when it is booting up. All I have to do is move to the /etc/rc.d/ directory and set the executable bit of the file rc.firewall..."

    It's unclear what you are talking about since there is
    no rc.firewall script in the default installation (but a soft link that points to nowhere).


    "For each service that is available in the system, there is a corresponding rc.servicename bash script in the /etc/rc.d/ directory"

    This is not quite correct. Check, e.g., how a number of services are started in rc.M.

    Otherwise, a nice writeup.
    More Slackware-related links can be found here[berlios.de].

  • Nice review, positive and balanced. A small thing though, the installer won't let you partition a disk, you need to set up the linux partitions beforehand using fdisk or cfdisk. In addition, if you need to resize existing partitions you'll need something like parted or perhaps the commercial Partition Manager if you need to resize an ntfs partition. I myself usually have a separate disk or I have previously unallocated space for Linux/*BSD/etc so I'm not sure what if any tools are available after booting from cd. Oh, and there's actually a dvd available so you don't need to download all six cd images for a complete Slackware 11.0 set ;-)

  • Just some minor comments. Overall I like this review, but wanted to bring up some minor symantical issues:

    1) Init scripts: maybe you could've also included a blurb about how to manually start and stop services (./etc/rc.d/rc.samba stop|start|restart etc...). It almost looks like there's no option with how you described it.

    2) Iptables-save and iptables-restore do exist: they're part of that program's tools. They're just not included in the rc.firewall script (but then again, slackware does not yet ship with a rc.firewall script either).

    3) Maybe you could say that "loading extra drivers" means drivers that were somehow not loaded by udev and hotplug, since those attempt to auto-detect and load the modules for all installed hardware....

    4) Xorgcfg is a program, and alsaconf is a script made by someone at SuSE. Those aren't included with slackware, although they are tools at the user's disposal.

    5) Swaret, slapt-get, and slackupdate are not official tools, but by your wording it seems like they are. You might consider rephrasing. You could also mention that many of the slackware users made their own simple rsync script to pull their updates and install them because they don't like the above tools....

    6) As for gnome, dropline is good to mention, but it would be nice of you to mention other projects, such as Gware (started by long-time slackware users and is, by all accounts, the least "intrusive" of the gnome-for-slackware projects), eGnome (i think), etc.

    7) Linux packages . net is good to mention, but also mention that it is mainly user-run, so the packages are sometimes hit-and-miss.

    8) All software bundled with Slackware 11 is NOT the latest version (see Distrowatch[Slackware section] for a rather large list of programs and their version number: green is "latest", red is "development", etc.)

    But thanks!
    TwinReverb

  • I've been considering a move to slack from Fedora/Kubuntu for some time. The lack of a mailing list has kept me away, though. How do Slack users help each other? By using Linuxquestions.org only?

  • I can't agree more. I've been using Slackware since the 3.1 days and as so many people have said, its beauty is in its simplicity..

    Couple it together with something like slapt-get and you have your patching issues solved as well.

    Kudos to Patrick, keep up the good work :)

  • I run slackware since release 0.95 on floppy's ;-) That was hell... since 10 years it has always been the best distro around... If you are used to real Unix distro's like HPUX Tru64 then slackware is the package to go... Keep it going patrick!

  • @ What is?
    Check out the old usenet news group called alt.os.linux.slackware. Be prepared to deal with some odd characters, but if you have good questions you'll get good answers, so do your homework before asking, by searching the net and reading linuxquestions.org as you mentioned, and also SlackBook.org.

  • I love slack, it's the most unix-like mainstream linux distro and you get the benfit of Pat Volkerding's (and his team's) vast experience with linux going back to the beginning of linux time. Great work Pat&co and please keep going with it, otherwise I'll be forced off linux completely and right over to bsd.

    One small point might be worth mentioning, you say in the review that it's worth getting 3 cd's, but I find I only ever need the first cd, since I use the superb windowmaker window manager (or sometimes fvwm2) and leave the gnome/kde stuff out. CD 1 has everything I need, you can still download a single ISO and make a very nice linux desktop or server machine with it.

  • "How do Slack users help each other?"

    Being a no-frills, highly stable distro, how else but a Usenet newsgroup? There is an unofficial (in that Pat V has no connection to it) newsgroup called alt.os.linux.slackware, in the same vein as alt.os.linux.suse. Because Slackware is considered a no-nonsense, get-your-hands-dirty style of distro, that attitude also flows on into the newsgroup. You will be expected to have done your ground-work with Google, etc., prior to aking for help.

    Apart from that proviso, you will be welcomed into the fold of Happy Slackers.

  • I started out with slackware on the recommendation of a friend about 10 years ago, when Red Hat was getting lots of publicity for developing the "best" distro. Since then I've tried others, such as debian, fedora, suse, etc. but can't get used to the relative inflexibility of their "friendliness." If you are willing to spend just a little time educating yourself on the true inner workings of Linux, I think you'll find that a distro such as slackware is actually the easiest and simplest to install, configure and use.
    My latest project was set up a server using a dual-core processor and 5 hard drives with a raid 1 array containing the OS, and a terrabyte of storage on a raid 5 array.
    No problem with slack!!

  • Наконец-то появилась нормальная поддержка русского языка. Большое спасибо :^)

    translated as:
    At last there is normal support of Russian. Many thanks :^)

    Courtesy: ets6.freetranslation.com

  • Ashok

    Using Slackware after a MS Windows environment and then Red Hat, I was its little bit difficult to be very much familiar with it easily. Configuration is also not easy.

  • FUTURAL

    Hi nice information about slackware.You need to get this good blog to more users.Why dont you list your blog on some blog list like www.buzzerhut.com so that more users can find it.
    Keep up the good work

  • CreditUser

    oh, thank you a lot! I'm interested in Slackware, really. I hope, it will work well for me always.

  • THE LINK FOR SLAPT-GET IS HACKED
    The rest came out fine but that one gives me a be mawlware warning