The Sourcerer's Apprentice

The adventures of David Heinemann in IT & software development

Attack of the Slack

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After spending a couple of weeks with Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty) on my new ThinkPad, I ran into some problems that ultimately lead me to seek out a different distro. I decided to try out Slackware 13.37 after investigating a few others and finding them lacking. Despite having used several flavours of Linux over a few years, I hadn’t tried Slackware before, or even bothered to read about it. For years I had been under the impression that Slackware was a very advanced distribution with no package manager, and therefore quite user unfriendly. As I quickly found, this is very wrong.

It turns out that Slackware does have a package manager. What it lacks is automatic package fetching and dependency resolution. That is, it’s up to you to download any packages you want to install, along with their dependencies. Slackware will install them for you, but it won’t download them or their dependencies. This worried me a bit at first, but I found it wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Slackware comes with about 6GB of packages in its default installation, including many development packages and libraries, which gives you a lot less dependencies to worry about when installing new packages. It even comes with Common Lisp out of the box!

Slackware also isn’t quite as advanced or user-unfriendly as I had thought, either. Well, no more unfriendly than distros like Arch Linux. In fact, I’d say it’s even a little friendlier. Like Arch Linux, Slackware tries to stay out of the user’s way and simply provide the resources necessary to build his own system to his liking. The difference is that while Arch gives the user a mere package manager and console to start with, Slackware includes working KDE and Xfce desktop environments, plus the aforementioned 6GB of packages. It’s a little bloated, but nearly everything you’ll need is available out of the box, including drivers and good default config files. I really enjoyed Arch in the past, but found it was a little too hands-on for my liking, especially when it came to drivers and config files; Slackware is a great middle ground between Arch and distros that hold your hand through everything.

Right now, the only thing I miss from Slackware is Gnome, which was dropped several years ago for a number of reasons archive. There are a few Gnome projects for Slackware (some are mentioned in that link), but since I’m managing fine with KDE, I haven’t bothered installing them.

Overall, my Slackware experience is great. I really regret not trying it much sooner, because it seems to match my needs perfectly.

My desktop

My Slackware desktop includes the Ratpoison window manager, Trayer for system tray icons, the ROXTerm terminal emulator, plus Wicd, xfce4-power-manager and Volume Icon to manage network devices, power and volume respectively. As my ThinkPad is currently away for warranty repairs, this screenshot was taken on my much smaller Eee PC 1000HA.

Slackware 13.37 on my ASUS Eee PC

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