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Saturday, July 10, 2004

LINUX: A look at Slackware 10.0

LWN: A look at Slackware 10.0

The long-awaited Slackware 10 release has hit the streets, so to speak. Though Patrick Volkerding's Slackware wasn't the very first Linux distribution (it was originally based on the SLS distribution) it has outlived all of its predecessors. First released on July 16, 1993, Slackware has come a long way since its floppy-based origins -- though in some ways, it has also remained very much the same.

The Slackware installer, for example, has changed very little over the years. Though the lack of a graphical installer may intimidate new users, the text-based menu installer still serves well and is quite simple to use if one will only take the time to read the text. This writer installed Slackware 10, using the "install everything" option, on a Toshiba Satellite 1415-S105 notebook in about twenty minutes. That includes disk partitioning, network setup and reboot. Slackware's installer may lack bells and whistles, but it serves just fine on almost any hardware.

Slackware also continues to use the BSD-style init scripts, though slightly streamlined in this release, as opposed to the SYSV style init scripts that are used by most other Linux distributions. Whether this is an annoyance or feature largely depends on the personal preference of the user.

The latest Slackware release is based on the stock 2.4.26 Linux kernel, with an optional 2.6.7 kernel for users who wish to run the 2.6 series. Apparently, the 2.6 kernel series hasn't quite yet lived up to Volkerding's standards for a default kernel. Nor has Slackware jumped to the Apache 2.0.x series yet; it still ships with Apache 1.3.31. Slackware also still includes lprng and LILO, which have been replaced by CUPS and GRUB in most distributions -- though Slackware also now includes CUPS alongside lprng.

Slackware still includes a wide array of window managers and desktop environments, and tends to stay on or close to the cutting edge there. KDE 3.2.3 is included, as is GNOME 2.6.1, XFce 4.0.5, Blackbox, Fluxbox, and many others. While most popular distributions tend to brand the window managers and desktop environments -- Red Hat's "Bluecurve" and Mandrake's "Galaxy" themes come to mind -- Slackware ships them more or less as-is. In fact, all packages shipped with Slackware "follows the setup and installation instructions from its author(s) as closely as possible." This writer tends to prefer the "generic" version of packages, so Slackware is his favored choice in this area.

Though not part of the default install, there are a few new package tools for Slackware 10. There's now a "slackpkg" tool to help with upgrading an older release of Slackware, and "slacktrack" to help building Slackware packages. Users who wish to try these new tools will find them in /extras, on the third Slackware disk.

Speaking of disks, it's also worth noting that Slackware is still fairly lightweight in terms of disks required for installation. Only the first disk is necessary for a basic install with KDE, while the second disk will be necessary for users wishing to use GNOME. Users who wish to use the ZipSlack distribution will need to grab disk four. Users interested in trying Slackware before it's available in stores or to subscribers can find ISOs through BitTorrent or through one of the unofficial mirrors.

The only complaint this writer has about Slackware 10 is the lack of a simple sound configuration utility. Configuring sound on the Toshiba laptop with Slackware was a bit more challenging than with other distributions, which usually find and enable the sound card without any user intervention. Other than that, however, installing and configuring Slackware was a pleasure.

In all, Slackware is a solid distribution that's easy to set up and run. For users who are already running Slackware-based systems, the upgrade is well worth it. Users who have never tried Slackware might find that it's well worth the time to test out.

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