||Slackware Linux is the oldest surviving Linux distribution; its beginnings precede even the Linux Kernel 1.0. With the advent of newer, flashier and more commercialised distributions, all vying for media attention, it is easy to forget why Slackware is here and why it has been around for such a long time. Let us revisit the simple principles which make up the Slackware distribution and take a look at how ten years of development have changed it.
|Slackware Linux has changed very little since 1993 when Patrick Volkerding first started it as a bug fix for the SLS distribution. It quickly gained popularity and Patrick was encouraged by the community to continue its development. The goal was a simple and stable distribution and this goal is still retained today.|
The review will be split into 4 sections. First some general discussion where some typical questions about Slackware will be addressed and a few myths dispelled. The installation will be looked at. Next we'll take a look at Slackware on the desktop and discuss its advantages and problems. Finally, a look at the Slackware package management system.
|A few things should be mentioned before we begin the review. This include the things that users would like to know before getting and installing Slackware, including topics such as Slackware's target niche, its difficulty of installation, etc.
Slackware is a general distribution. It runs equally well as a server, workstation or desktop. Although it is generally not recommended for the absolute beginner or a long time Windows user, most people with some simple UNIX/Linux knowledge should have no problems with the installation, general running and administration of Slackware. It aims to be a simple and stable distribution, and this can be seen from its menu based installation and its package management system.
It is important to note however that "simple" in our case means quick, efficient and transparent. This definition differs greatly from, for example, what Xandros and Lycoris see as "simple". In their cases it means point-and-click nature of Windows where processes are covered up by GUIs. As mentioned before, Slackware is not for the absolute newbie. It can be used by the average user who would like to experience a steep learning curve and begin to understand the processes of UNIX/Linux. The power users, however can use it to tweak Slackware Linux to their liking.
Installation requires some knowledge and preparation, however, if the documentation on the Slackware web site is examined beforehand, it really isn't as difficult as some people exaggerate it to be.
Another important thing to remember is that Slackware is not a commercialised distribution. What this means that you won't experience the technical support and customer service of those larger companies, however there is also a general sense of community in the presence of Slackware and help can be easily obtained from there. Slackware Linux can be freely downloaded, but we obtained the official set for the purpose of this review.
|The official Slackware set comes with four CDs in a jewel case. It's pretty basic with no manual, although documentation can be found on the Slackware web site. The first CD is the only one needed for a full install. The second is a live CD. The third contains sources. The last one contains contributed packages not maintained by Patrick Volkerding.|
The installation of Slackware hasn't changed in over five years. Why? Because it is as stable and efficient as any installer can be, so if it isn't broken, it doesn't need to be fixed. It is a menu-based install and no eye candy but it gets the job done.
One of the downfalls of the Slackware installation program is that it doesn't include its own partition manager/re-sizer The partitioning would have to be done beforehand with either fdisk or cfdisk which the installation CD contains.
Screenshot 1: Slackware's menu-driven installation.
Before the installation of packages the installer allows the following to be done: selecting keymap, adding swap space, selecting the installation media and choosing the location to install packages to.
Despite the old school looks, the installer is actually very powerful when it comes to control of the packages which the user wants to install. There is a full installation where all the packages are installed (2GB) or a custom option where the user looks through every single package and chooses whether they are to be installed. A few others are there in between the two extremes including a "tag file" option which allows users to create a list to installed packages beforehand. These options really give the user a sense of control that many other installers fail to present.
The installer also goes through to allow network, mouse and modem configuration. An interesting feature of the Slackware installation process is that is allows the user to choose from a selection of pre-compiled kernels for additional hardware support. This feature could save the user a lot of hassle later on. All other configuration such as X-Windows and printers are done afterwards.
Screenshot 2: Configuring a window manager in Slackware
|Slackware on the Desktop|
|Slackware 8.1 comes with XFree86 4.2.0 and a selection of window managers including KDE 3.0.1 and Gnome 1.4. All packages are minimally tweaked so that users are allowed to customise their own desktop settings.
Slackware contains a generous amount of software if the full installation is used. The user can have quite a choice when selecting an application to do a task. Browsing the Internet could be done with Netscape, Mozilla and the file explorers that come with KDE and Gnome. Mail can be read with Pine, Mozilla mail and Evolution. Text editing can be done with Emacs, Vi, Vim, pico, gedit and many more. Slackware really puts the user in control here.
Administering the system is incredibly easy. With web and mail server set up out of the box, only minor configurations are needed to get them running. Installing software on Slackware is simple. The package management system will allow users to compile programs from source, then create their own packages.
Slackware has two things which are not up to par with other major distributions. One is the lack of documentation and a lack of its own control centre. The control centre issue isn't big -- Slackware has its own set of menu and command line tools to do some of the tasks. It ties in with the UNIX philosophy of lots of tools, each with specific usage. Since Slackware isn't tweaked and integrated to a great extent, most of the relevant information can be found on man pages and home pages of the tools themselves. Slackware doesn't have too many added features as far as desktops are concerned, but it still does a good job.
|Package management is a big issue in the world of Linux. RPMs and DEBs get the most attention in the media; both have been practically turned inside out by reviewers and users. They are really quite complex systems and most Linux users have to rely on developers to maintain binary packages for their favourite software.|
This is where Slackware's TGZ packages come in. Slackware uses a very simple package management system which is also extraordinarily efficient and easy to use. The packages are comprised of binaries and installation scripts.
There are several tools in Slackware's package management suite with pkgtool as the end user's interface. Save for pkgtool, the rest are command line tools and together they are a powerful set. The user can make their own packages from source code, upgrade or remove software with one command. This is a powerful package manager which keeps things simple and does not create unnecessary complications.
Screenshot 3: Slackware's package management
|Overall Slackware is a distribution for the user who wants to use the system to its fullest potential in a most efficient way. It fulfils its purpose as a general distribution made to be simple and stable, following UNIX philosophies. It is not aimed at the absolute beginner, although anyone with some basic knowledge of UNIX/Linux should be able to install and run it without problems. Bugs in Slackware are rare, but if there are any then they usually come from the software packages themselves.
If you have come to expect those tightly integrated desktops, GUI dependent wizards, immediate tech support, lots of highly specialised documentation and other bells and whistles then Slackware is not for you. If however you are looking for a self-dependent, highly efficient, stable and incredibly powerful distribution, Slackware is worth every cent. So pick up the official version and show your support for the most mature distribution there is.
Slackware - efficient, dependable Linux!
|Copyright (C) 2002 Jeremy Huang|
Verbatim copying and distribution of this article is permitted in any medium, provided this copyright notice is preserved.
|19 December 2002|
|About the Author|
|A young Linux enthusiast who, in his spare time, enjoys toying around with cracking tools.|
|AMD Athlon 1700+ XP
|Soltek SL-75 DRVt
VIA KT 266 Chipset
|Leadtech GForce4 MMX 440|
|ASUS IDE CD-ROM 52x|
Liteon CD-R/RW 24/20/40
|Realtek RT8139 PCI|
|AC 97 (on board)|
|18 June 2002|
• i386 processor|
• 16MB RAM
• 500MB hard disk space
• CD-ROM or floppy drive
|i386 and higher|
• Slackware Package Management|
• BSD-style init scripts
• AbiWord 1.0.2|
• Apache 1.3.26
• GCC 2.95.3
• Gimp 1.2.3
• glibc 2.2.5
• GNOME 188.8.131.52
• GTK+ 1.2.10
• KDE 3.0.1
• KOffice 1.1.1
• Mozilla 1.0
• MySQL 3.23.51
• Perl 5.6.1
• Python 2.2.1
• Samba 2.2.4
• XFree86 4.2.0
• Xmms 1.2.7
|Slackware was the first Linux distribution to achieve widespread use. It was started by Patrick Volkerding in late 1992. He had gotten introduced to Linux when he needed an inexpensive LISP interpreter for a project. At that time, there were very few distributions, so Patrick went with the distribution from Soft Landing Systems (SLS Linux).|
What is Slackware...
|pkgtool is a menu-driven program that allows installation and removal of packages.|
|A very simple package format used by Slackware Linux. It is basically a set of files, including an installation script, tarred and compressed with gzip.|