Review: Slackware 12.2

I already tried installing Gentoo.  Twice.  The other Linux distro for the hardcore, for whom the Ubuntus and the Fedoras is too easy, is Slackware.  Slackware is, of course, the oldest surviving Linux distro.  I’ve already reviewed some distros based off of Slackware such as Zenwalk and Slax.  Along the way I’ve come to learn about some of the appeal of Slackware and why people would base distributions off of it.  However, it does have a reputation as a very hard distro to install.  Fab, of Linux Outlaws, refers to it as the distro for those who “love the pain”.  But Slackware has always held a special place in my mind for the quirky reason that I almost selected it as my first distro (as I recount here).  I had no idea that the Slack in Slackware was a reference to the Church of the Sub-Genius.  (that’s why the Slackware Penguin smokes a pipe)

slackpenguinlogo

So I was quite excited when the latest LXF issue came with Slackware 12.2 on the cover disc.  Well, let’s get reviewing!  Right away, the following pops up:

Slackware 12.2 - Installation

The default kernel is called hugesmp.s so I figure it’s huge because it has all the options and smp because most processors are at least hyperthreading, if not dual core.  I hit enter and a bunch of text scrolls by.  Then I’m told to pick my keyboard.  So far it’s not as pretty as a “modern” distro, but nothing intimidating.  So what if it’s just text?

Slackware 12.2 - select a keyboard

and then it gets hard right away.

Slackware 12.2 - login and create partitions

I’m going to have to partition before installation.  But it doesn’t look as though I’ll be guided.  Also, I see that even with 64 MB you can have an install of Slackware.  You can’t probably do much more than create a simple server, but it’s nice to know you can go that low.  I think the minimum for SLI installs of Fedora, Ubuntu, etc are 128 MB or maybe even 256.  At least it tells me to use fdisk to get my hard drive ready.  I do a dmesg and see that my hard drive is /dev/hda.  Fedora and some other distros have changed to even the main drives being listed as sda, sdb, etc so this is important to know.  I use fdisk sparingingly, so I check the slackware site.  It has enough tips at this page to jog my memory, but I need to check out this page to remember how to do the swap partition.  I make my boot partition 110 MB.  I give my swap partition 1 GB and the rest of my HD goes to root.

I then type setup and get:

Slackware 12.2 - setup initial screen

I start out with setup your swap partitions.  It’s pretty easy and dumps me into setups your target partitions afterwards.  It’s nothing difficult, but at the same time, I wouldn’t recommend it as the first intro to Linux.  I was a little anxious that it appears not to care about the boot partition at this time.  Perhaps that comes when Lilo or Grub is installed.  I get to package selection.

Slackware 12.2 - select packages to install

I go with the defaults after a quick review.  I then select a full install.  In a fun change from a lot of distros, instead of just telling you what the package is named, it also tells you what it does!

Slackware 12.2 - package installation

However, it doesn’t give you a progress bar.  Although, in my experience, telling you how much time is left is always optimistically wrong, it would be nice to see how far along the process was.  So far, other than partitioning, it’s been pretty easy.  We’ll see if I’ve done the right thing once I can (or can’t boot) the system.

Installation takes about an hour (twice as long as most modern distros) and then I get asked questions about Lili, my mouse, network, and what devices to start up at boot.  The last one is the toughest one to decide on.  I pretty much stick with the default.  Then timezone.  Then comes the Window Manager.  I accidentally don’t pick Xfce and I’m annoyed that there’s no way to go back.  And I’m done.  Overall the installation routine wasn’t too bad.  Let’s see if it boots.  I reboot the virtual machine.

Slackware 12.2 - lilo screen

Neat minimalist lilo screen.  I end up at:

Slackware 12.2 - login screen

Another reason why Slackware is not for the new user.  I know (from experience) that I need to login and run startx, but the new user will think they did something wrong.  It says I have mail.  I type mutt and there’s an email to register to be counted as a Linux user and a Welcome email from Patrick Voldkeding, creator of Slackware.  That’s pretty awesome.  I use the adduser program to interactively create a non-root account for myself.  Then I logout from root and login as myself.  (Another thing most modern distros handle automatically for you)  Then I type startx and I see that I have accidentally selected Fluxbox instead of Xfce.

Slackware 12.2 - fluxbox

After some googling I find out that I can switch this with the command xwmconfig.

Slackware 12.2 - Xfce

Now I have Xfce!  The default colour scheme for the title bars is not as nice looking as with Fedora.  Interestingly enough both Fedora 10 and Slackware 12.2 are running Xfce 4.4.3.  This is surprising because Slackware is usually seen as having old software like Debian.  For some reason, the terminal program doesn’t work.

Slackware 12.2 - terminal acting weird

Firefox works fine and it’s version 3.0.4 – so just a little behind.  I also learn at this point that my scroll wheel doesn’t work.

Slackware 12.2 - Firefox

Emacs is included for editing, games consists of Chess, Gimp 2.4 (one version behind Fedora), multimedia is Xine (no rhythmbox), on the network front is Firefox, Seamonkey, Thunderbird, and Xchat.  No Office Programs have been installed.  So now I basically need to figure out how to install programs.  I’ll install Blender, as usual.  This, I find, is where Slackware falls over in terms of ease of use when compared to Fedora, Debian, etc.  You see, the Slackware repositories are tiny.  I guess that makes sense because officially it’s all done by just one man.  Blender is not in the repositories.  So I search around the net and I find a place hosting Blender 2.45.  But I don’t even know why I should trust this guy.  With the regular distros’ repositories, you’re supposed to be able to trust the packages.  They’ve been signed and if someone was doing something dishonest – their keys would get revoked, etc.  But I decided, since it’s just a virtual machine, to go along with it.  So I use wget to pull the package.

Then I su to root and type installpkg blender-2.45-i386-3as.tgz and it installs.  Just as I expected, when I try to launch it, it gives me an error about missing libopenal.  So this is like rpm dependency hell, except all of the rpm distros have dependency resolving package managers nowadays.  So I’d have to figure out where to get that file and install that – which might require other files to be installed first and so on and so forth.  Not good.

So what is my ultimate verdict for Slackware?  On the one hand, stories of how hard it is to install Slackware are greatly exagerated.  They may have been true in the past, but nowadays, it’s pretty darned easy to install.  I wouldn’t have someone do it as their first experience of Linux, but I was able to get to a working desktop pretty easily.  In fact, I would point out that I was able to get to a working desktop in Slackware and not in Gentoo.  However, with a lack of dependency resolution and a lack of repositories I just can’t see Slackware as being viable for anyone except those that need the most stable computer.  I imagine once you get everything installed the way you like it, you’d probably be fine.  But then when it was time to update those programs, you’d have to go hunting again for new versions.  I think I’d probably recommend Zenwalk over Slackware for someone who’s a little more casual (or wants “less pain”) but still wants a Slackware core to work with.  It would also seem like a good tinkerer’s system.  They really have not done any customization to the upstream packages – not even a Slackware background in Xfce.  So if you want a nice untainted core from which to experiment, Slackware’s good there.  If my readers point to a repository that can be used with Slackware, I’ll check it out.  I won’t delete my virtual machine for a few days for that purpose.

45 thoughts on “Review: Slackware 12.2

  1. Nice review.
    Some critic/feedback:

    “Installation takes about an hour (twice as long as most modern distros)”
    The e, f, xap, y and TCL groups would be best to deselect.
    In comparison a 12.2 installation here took about 30 minutes max. (package groups selected: a, ap, d, k, l, n, x).

    “I accidentally don’t pick Xfce and I’m annoyed that there’s no way to go back.”
    There is. The menu selection “CONFIGURE” right above “EXIT”. ;)

    “Then I type startx and I see that I have accidentally selected Fluxbox instead of Xfce.”
    Yeah, I guess the WM-selection you did during isntallation was for the root account.

    “This is surprising because Slackware is usually seen as having old software like Debian.”
    Sorry, but this is plain wrong. IIRC the Firefox version was the most up2date when Slackware 12.2 was released.

          1. What’s the problem with optional alternative to (that time) more stable versions? :)

          2. (looks like we’ve reached the reply threading limit here)
            detto:

            Nothing wrong with it, but perhaps that’s part of why people think Slackware’s behind the times.

  2. Slackware is definately not a distribution thats hard to install.
    “However, it does have a reputation as a very hard distro to install.” is bullshit.
    Slackware is as easy to install as Fedora.
    The difference is what happens after the installation.

  3. Eric –

    I can’t in good conscience recommend any third-party package repository for Slackware. The best way to install third-party packages on Slack is by using scripts called SlackBuilds to make your own packages. Check out http://www.slackbuilds.org for more.

    –JK

    1. Took a look a slackbuilds. Builds a Slackware package, but from what I can tell in the slackbuilds websites directions, it doesn’t resolve dependencies.

  4. “Along the way I’ve come to learn about some of the appeal of Slackware and why people would base distributions off of it. ”

    I know your review is about Slackware, but let me say why we choose it to be the base of our distribution. Slackware is simple, it uses the KISS philosophy and it is one of the most stable distribution with thousand of experience users helping Patrick.

    I never install Slackware to build GoblinX ISOs, never, I just use its distribution philosophy and some packages. Slax and Zenwalk probably do the same. We base our distros because Slackware is simple to work… The Slackware repository (tgz), Slackware boot process and other features are the best and simple comparing to all distributions.

  5. Let’s see if I get this right :

    – most recent videocards have at least 256 MB of RAM, can drive a 24 inch monitor yet it’s a good thing if the Slackware installer looks as if it was designed in 1975

    – projects such as GParted and Parted Magic produce easy to use partitioning tools. On the other hand, Slackware relies on an old program (fdisk), forcing new users to remember things like /dev/hda, /dev/sda and similar gibberish

    – in 2009, Slackware users must put up with the dependency hell under the guise of simplicity, despite the fact that Debian solved that problem years ago, while remaining stable and simple

    – most live CD (Knoppix, Damn Small Linux, Parted Magic, …) offer a GUI in less than 3 minutes. However, while installing Slackware, people should waste almost an hour in order to achieve the same result

    I have a question : what’s the point of building a rig with a dual core cpu, gigabytes of RAM, an impressive videocard and terabytes of hard disk space if we must resort to antics to install an operating system ?

    By all accounts, Patrick Volkerding does a fine job. Unfortunately, people like me don’t have time to fiddle with Gentoo, Slackware or any other sadistic distribution.

    1. That’s because you’re a major n00b, probably too used to winslows/buntu stuff, and arent even able to understand the underlying processes and the ammount of control and power that a distro like slackware, arch, or gentoo gives you, so please, stay away from the big boys and go back to the kiddie garden. (*buntu*)

    2. The lack of a dependency resolving package manager is one of the things i enjoy most on Slackware, and at the same time dislike on Debian and deritive distrinutions.
      I agree that Slackware needs to be updated in some parts, no.1 for me would be package selection, but its package manager IMO is one of its biggest advantages.

        1. Imagine your company wants you to attend a business meeting in another city and you receive the following instructions:

          “A taxicab will pick you up at your house at 8:00AM and the driver will take you to the airport where you will be met by a curbside attendant who will check your luggage and escort you to the departure gate where there will be a ticket waiting. Once in flight, the stewardess will inform you when you arrive at your first stopover, and introduce you to an airport courtesy attendant who will escort you to the departure gate of the connecting flight. When that flight reaches the destination, you will be escorted off the plane to where our company chauffeur will be waiting to drive you downtown to the headquarters building, where the information desk will direct you to the conference room.”

          That all sounds very simple — in fact the only thing you really have to worry about is meeting the cab at 8:00AM — and it certainly leaves you free to focus on other things. However, your arrival at the meeting is dependent upon a lot of other people doing things correctly; and IF something does go amiss, you will be left without a clue as to where you are or what you should do.

          Contrast that approach with if your instructions were merely “2:00PM meeting on the 10th floor of the Prescott Building in San Francisco on Friday” and you are left to make your own travel arrangements. In addition to the flexibility this provides you in adjusting your schedule, if anything does go wrong during the trip then you will have the necessary knowledge to correct the problem.

          1. That’s a very good analogy. Let me respond with another of my own.

            To me not having dependency resolution is like going to buy some cereal. But you can’t just buy a box of cereal. Instead you have to buy the grain that goes into cereal. But you can’t do that, because first you need to buy the fertilizer. But you can’t do that because you need to buy the farm. And the cows that make the fertilizer. And grain to feed the cows. And a barn for the cows. And all you wanted was some darned frosted flakes.

          2. recently i downloaded and installed opensuse 11.1 which out of the box doesn’t have mp3 support. ‘cos of that i tried to get some other application like xmms or vlc but each time i tried yast kept trying to download jre i think it was plus some other files; i was tring to install a file < 10m and the package manager was trying to dd some over 50mb of dependencies; well for people with very fast internet connections i guess that’s ok but i found it very irritating (no ofense t openSUSe, i think it’s a beautiful OS); let me find out which package i am lacking and search for it; it would probably take me less time anyway

  6. “I have a question : what’s the point of building a rig with a dual core cpu, gigabytes of RAM, an impressive videocard and terabytes of hard disk space if we must resort to antics to install an operating system ?”

    Kevin —

    Same reason for you posting your comments… what’s the point? You apparently know how slackware works – why gripe about it? If it’s not for you and you are not using it… what’s the point of you posting?

  7. About the terminal not working:

    When I installed 12.2, the terminal was all messed up at first. After I installed the prop. ATI drivers, it worked fine… it’s an xorg issue.

    About the mouse scroll wheel:

    It doesn’t work out of the box because the xorg.conf file defaults to protocal “PS2″ If you
    edit that line to say, “IMPS2″ it works fine.

    Also: I agree with the poster above… Slackbuilds.org is a GREAT resource for extra applications.

    Nice honest review…

    Eric Jackson

  8. Hi Eric,

    Your blender issue is one that people frequently encounter with packages from one particular place (which I will not name). I don’t know if the package dependencies aren’t documented properly, or if people simply fail to read them, but it happens often enough that I suspect the first.

    For precompiled packages, there are a few repositories that are (IMHO) trustworthy (i.e. I would use them myself):
    1. http://alphageek.dyndns.org/linux/slackware-packages.shtml <– Erik Jan Tromp, who is also on the Slackware team. He often doesn’t have packages for the latest -stable release though, as he focuses on whatever he’s running on his own systems.
    2. http://slackware.com/~alien/ <– Eric Hameleers
    3. http://rlworkman.net/pkgs/ <– me :-) (I host mine on my own webspace rather than on slackware.com)

    For stuff that’s not available in one of those places, SlackBuilds.org (as others have suggested) would be my recommendation. DISCLAIMER: I’m one of the founders and maintainers of that project, so I’m a bit biased.

    The Xfce Terminal issue you encountered is a bug in the xorg vesa driver; there’s nothing we can do to work around that. As you found, a different xorg driver (such as the ati proprietary driver, or the xorg radeon driver) will make that bug go away. Usually the best way to configure X for optimal performance is to run “X -configure” as root and then copy the /root/xorg.conf.new to /etc/X11/xorg.conf.

  9. detto says: “Yeah, I guess the WM-selection you did during isntallation was for the root account.”

    the installers window manager script sets up the default window/desktop enviro that all users will be set as a global default to be used once, xdm or kdm is started up at run level 4 (multi users with graphical login manager)

    when individual users invoke this script it affects their ‘startx’ from run level 3 (default install run level).

    re: blender
    ————–
    from http://slackbuilds.org/slackbuilds/12.2/graphics/blender/README <– has no dependencies listed , binary repack of official but offers convenience of Slackware packaging.

    in fact one of the ##slackware/irc.freenode guys builds the binaries for blender :)

    re: depends
    —————
    When you build your own 3rd party software add-on software, you as the admin of your pc thereby control which of the “optional” software your new package “requires”. *You* determine the depends, not someone else for you.

    example: abiword, can link to psiconv. well, I dont have a psion handheld, why do I want to install the libraries. Other distro’s force that lib on my box. If I build abi for my pc, it doesnt link to it, or need it. I could go on all day with examples of this. See my point! :)

    @kevin: “By all accounts, Patrick Volkerding does a fine job. Unfortunately, people like me don’t have time to fiddle with Gentoo, Slackware or any other sadistic distribution.”

    Here’s a news flash, Slackware isn’t for you. Slackware exists because of the contributions made by the community and of course our Benevolent Dictator. Slackware community and contributors are highly technical, experienced guys/gals who see issue’s (a) fix them (b) send in patches (c) help others in forums and irc.

    If you wan’t to sniff binaries for free, have your hand held, not contribute back to a distro, there’s other places for them “humans”. No “mooches” allowed.

  10. Besides http://www.slackbuilds.org, you’ll want to check out
    http://www.slacky.eu. This is a very good repository, the best I
    found for packaged programs.

    I installed slackware just to test it out, and I think it’s great,
    and had no real trouble getting it all up and running. Between
    slackbuilds.org and slacky.eu I also got everything I use
    working. Really working, I mean.

    Daytoday I use debian, but I see why people like slackware, alot.

  11. I’ve installed Slack a number of times, generally on low-spec hardware because it is supposed to be fast. Every single damn time I’ve had to edit the xorg.conf to get the bleeding mouse scroll wheel to work. Not a big deal anymore, I’ve been using Linux for years, but the first time I pulled my hair out. And now the same is true of 12.2, apparently. It seems like Mr. Volkerding could do whatever it is that every Slack-based distro I’ve used in the last few years (Slax, Zenwalk, Vector, Absolute, Wolvix, etc.) has done and just set up the distro to automate this necessary step for a desktop. I don’t see how that would take any control away from the user. I can’t imagine what his motivation is, but none of my guesses seem savory.

    I think this graphic sums up my view about the distro:
    http://www.arouse.net/despair-linux/slackware.jpg

  12. I have to say that Slack was the best distro in the world for me when I started dabbling in 1999. I loved the idea of being able to install from floppies (then!) and the footprint was tiny. I actually ran a DNS/mail/web/samba/ftp server in under 100MB on a 200MB hard drive with 8MB RAM. It also taught me a great deal about linux/unix and windows. I intentionally ran headless servers – true pain!. I wouldn’t change that today; however, I just don’t have the time for it anymore. I run a busy law office and need quick and easy. I currently run the office on an Ubuntu box (headless of course!) which has been a solid workhorse for two years now – but Slack will always have a special place in my heart.

  13. I have learned the guts of linux through the sleepless nights configuring my system with slackware back in the late nineties. Its one of the finest Linux distros I’ve ever used. Its simple, fast and extremely stable. I do agree though that its not as easy for a new linux convert to install. However if your keen to learn Linux, slackware is your choice. . . . hats off Slackers

  14. Since I see you wandered into the territory around my favorite distro, lemme help bail you out before the mob stones you…

    Hello, folks? I’m a huge Slack fan, to the point of being a Slack-tard, and even *I’ll* grant that (A) Slack is not as easy to install, configure, or use as many, many other distros. (B) I will also second the idea that Slackware tends to hang onto old versions of software longer than others, and also old packages that you just can’t find anywhere else.

    For (A), this is because Slackware is not aimed at grandmothers, Joe Sixpack, and kids fooling around. It is a power-distro for power-geeks.

    Speaking as one who both hacks code and renders graphics on a daily basis, as well as working on the computer from home for a living, this makes Slackware my life’s blood and bone’s marrow. There’s some 300 distros out there for non-geek users and Slackware and Debian left for freaks like me.

    For (B) this is partly for the same reason that Debian hangs onto legacy programs longer than other distros (much more so than Slack): for the stability. In the places where it really counts, Slackware updates to the latest stable version. but by default, it chooses tried-and-true stable, dependable choices over the latest bleeding edge.

    By the way, calling something “old” isn’t an insult, OK? Some problems were solved very well years ago, and do not need further improvement.

    As for package-managers, I still don’t see much on the horizon for Slack. I’ve tried many, and they all fail somewhere. For that matter, package managers generally suck IMNSHO. They’re great for the first month, and then something updates that breaks something else that breaks something else and you go to fix it and something else breaks. They’re a safe option for someone whose needs never change from the day they set up the machine.

    But for the sheer power of Slackware, I actually prefer doing it all by hand. To support the vast array of my special requirements, no other solution is remotely feasible. It could be that the power and stability of Slackware simply excludes the possibility of a standard package manager forever. I do know this: when I fix a problem in Slackware, it stays fixed. When I fix a managed distro, I turn around and five minutes later it’s broken again.

    If you want Slackware with super package management, I recommend Zenwalk.

  15. Hi,

    I installed Slackware in July 2008 and I’ve been a Slackware user since then. Frankly, I don’t intend to change.

    As a non-expert, I really like what this distro makes me learn. By the way, you don’t have to learn “everything” to be able to use Slackware. Some documents on the Internet are very interesting but almost frightening… Step by step, I take the information I need to do what I want to do. It’s by far the most interesting distro I’ve tried. And it gives me satisfaction when I succeed in something new. :o)

    Regards,
    Oncle Jean

  16. Once again – combating the notion that slackware is not modern or has old software, Distrowatch is reporting that KDE 4.2 and Xfce 4.6 will likely be in the next version as they have been moved into the “current” tree

  17. I remember the pain of building MythTV on Slackware 10.2. . . . . I spent about a day locating and downloading source for various codecs. To be fair though I’ve barely touched the box since other than to move house, it just chugs along in the cellar (I have a minimyth mythfrontend in the lounge).
    I’ve lost the enthusiasm to use Slack on a desktop though, I’ve just installed opensuse as I wanted good (painless) Mono support for some C# I’m working on, the Slackware experience I gained over the years has proved invaluable for fixing the little teething issues I’m having with Suse, if only that it taught me to read a lot.

  18. Oh by the way I don’t think the Slackware ncurses installer has changed in donkeys years, so if it’s easy to install now . . . .

    (Personally with Slack I usually managed to create a non bootable system on occasion having to resort to a bootmagic disk to rectify my foul up, it’s always been redeemable though!)

  19. Hello Eric,

    I’ve been working with linux since 1995…. Indirectly I had to play this way before… Unlikely as it may seem I’ve never used Slackware… What got me into complying from source was infact an old version of Red hat… At the time I was trying to get Xine mplayer to work… So I complied from source as so many Slackware users tried to put so basically and simply put that source gave a better package and more understanding of what your loading….

    This is were the monster comes in at with both sides of thinking….

    1. Slackware user is stating in many examples above that after complying code they back up the system…. If crash load in system from previous disk and you are back at the same spot… Load time from disc 30 minutes give or take…

    2. Ubuntu back up the home folder and save data and reinstall Os… This inturn takes 30 minutes from disc… Problem preset Desktop effects are gone with programs….. Which may take another 2 hours to load all effects…..

    Eric your idea of up to date is matter of opinion on what is important…

    Its like saying if I go right here I can take the back roads to grandma’s house get there in about 3 hours(your in the family van with movie player, music player and video game machine full luxury)…

    Or

    I go left get on the freeway and at grandma’s house in 1 hour(of course your on a ninja sports bike)….

  20. Regarding you issue with mouse wheel: after installation (while in runlevel 3, before startx) just run xorgsetup and it will automagically make it work.

    If also makes sure native resolution of you monitor is autodetected, which is important for flat screens. Of course, if you have some card like nVidia, Ati or Via’s Chrome, you’ll need to install a specific driver first to make that one work.

    Basically, once install is done, just run:
    xorgsetup
    xwmconfig
    adduser

    Maybe Pat should add those as installation steps and make life easier for Slackware newbies.

    BTW, one thing I don’t get is 1hour install. On most modern boxes I did it (about 50+) it takes less than 30 minutes. Maybe there were some issues reading from DVD (if you did read from DVD, that is).

  21. You did as well as you could with the knowledge you had. There is a linux-slackware email list on yahoogroups.com in which you can get much more help. http://www.linuxpackages.net is one 3rd party repository and you really do need to check out http://software.jaos.org for slapt-get and gslapt-get. Finally please look up two things on google “gnome slack build” and “alien bob” slackware that last one is a compound search. You may have cause to upgrade your review after checking all of this out. One thing slackware could use is its own podcast though.

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