For some reason, I didn’t get Linux Format Magazine issue #110 when I was supposed to. I ordered another copy and it arrived recently, so it’s time for another slate of Linux reviews. Unfortunately, something appears to be wrong with the way they mastered the magazine DVD, because I was unable to boot into any of the Slax options. So I went online and got the latest ISO off of http://www.slax.org.
Slackware was the original Ubuntu. It was the first very popular Linux distro and it is the oldest distro still in production. Most users have on to Red Hat, Mandriva, Gentoo and, finally, Ubuntu, but Slackware still exists. There are a lot of people out there who still use it. I don’t know if this is because they cut their teeth on Slackware back in the day or because they like the pain of doing everything by hand. You have to admit there’s something nice about Slackware’s programs being the most untainted by the distro. You know that Slackware’s KDE is the closest to bare metal KDE you can get.
Strangely, considering how old Slackware is and how it’s considered the Linux distro for Linux experts, there are a lot of distros based off of Slackware. Slax is a LiveCD based off of Slackware and it’s been getting a lot of attention recently. Some of it has been good and some not so good.
I loaded it into RAM and it runs just as fast, if not faster than my installed Linux distros. Interestingly, compared to other Lightweight Linux distros I’ve reviewed it uses KDE instead of Fluxbox, JWM, or others. Here’s the default desktop upon first boot:
worked without any extra configuration
Slax basically consists only of KDE programs. Of course, this is fine because KDE programs are going to be well known (unlike mtpaint) and a lot of them are at or near the top of their class. Kolourpaint is for creating raster graphics. Kate and Kjots are available for text editing/programming. The KOffice programs are available for Office-level projects.
Kopete is included for instant messaging. Konqeror is the browswer (which is why I don’t have screenshots – it doesn’t work well with WordPress). Kmail for mail, Akregator for RSS feeds, and other tools for the net. Very comprehensive suite.
For multimedia applications we have Juk for audio and Kplayer for video. Gaming consists of KBounce (a very addictive Quix-like game), Patience and KBattleship.
So, last time around, I said that Antix was the new king of Lightweight Linux distros. Does Slax unseat it? On the one hand, Slax has KDE as the base system so it’s automatically going to be more familiar to newer Linux users. On the other hand, the choice of KDE probably means it won’t run on computers that are as old as the ones Feather, Puppy, and Antix run on. Still, there’s room for a distro like Slax for recently obsoleted machines. And, if you want to run it on a 3 year old machine like mine – it flies. Now, some of the other lightweight Linux distros have more programs or DVD ripping software included. However, this brings us to one of the neat aspects of Slax – modules.
While many distros and LiveCD distros are incorporating similar features, Slax is still unique in that you can remix the LiveCD to include whatever programs you want. You just go to the Slax website and download the modules you want. Then you put them into a certain folder and burn a new CD. Bam! Now you have a LiveCD distro with exactly the programs you like….as long as they exist as modules. They have a lot of work to do to get more programs working as modules, but, as far as I can tell, this is a new feature with version 6 so they can be forgiven for missing some programs.
Overall, I’m very impressed with how fast it runs if you have the necessary RAM. The program selection is decent – could be a little better. I would have liked Firefox because Konqeror doesn’t work quite right for me on all sites. I’d say that Slax is tied with Antix. I really like a lot about how Antix works and it truly is lightweight since it runs Fluxbox. Slax, however, has all that KDE has to offer and modules. If I were to walk around with two CDs (I don’t even walk around with one), I’d be sure to have Antix and Slax around for use on any computer where I wanted to run Linux and then leave without a trace of it. One more thing in Slax’s favor – like DSL, you can download files to easily create a bootable thumb drive/memory stick to use if your BIOS supports booting from USB. Definitely check out Slax, you’ll rethink your image of Slackware as a hard to use distro.