Slackware 12.1 First Impressions

Posted by caitlyn on May 28, 2008 3:13 AM EDT
Ever Increasing Entropy; By Caitlyn Martin
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Late last week I downloaded and installed Slackware 12.1 on my aging (OK, old) Toshiba laptop side by side with Vector Linux Light. I'll post a full review to my O'Reilly Linux Dev Center blog once I've had more opportunity to use the latest version of Slack.

My first impression: Slackware is still Slackware.

The installer assumes you know what you are doing (think Expert install if you're an Ubuntu user) and that you want the ability to control every aspect of the installation. A newcomer to Linux would be utterly, totally lost. I've actually done two installations: a fully functional one with an Xfce desktop and all the dev tools that currently occupies about 2.7GB of disk space, and a truly minimal but usable installation with a minimalist window manager (PekWM) and a handful of apps and tools. That takes up only 600MB of disk space. Slackware always was flexible and that hasn't changed.

You can tell you're dealing with a distro for serious Linux geeks when booting into the GUI isn't even offered as an option by the installer. Heck, the installer doesn't even deal with X configuration. You start at the command line. GUI system administration tools? You can get them from third parties but Slackware itself is devoid of such things. Edit your config files or use command line tools.

Is this a bad thing? If you know what you're doing and don't mind taking some time to get your configuration right and your favorite apps from various third party sources it really isn't. OK, it's time consuming but the end result is a fast, rock solid system. That's what Slackware is known for. It remains seriously user unfriendly, hence all the derivative distributions like Zenwalk, Vector Linux, Wolvix, etc... that try and fix that. They all succeed to a large degree, giving users a friendly environment with all of the speed and stability.

Most of the usual third party packages sources like and don't have a full selection of apps built for 12.1 yet but that is rapidly changing. The project I'm working on is going to force me to do a lot of compiling from source in any case.

Could I live with Slackware as my main distro? Yes, easily. Would I recommend it? Only to those who know what they are getting into.

In a way I've come full circle. In late 1995 I was introduced to Linux by a coworker. When I asked which distribution to choose she suggested two: Red Hat Linux and Slackware. I chose Red Hat because she said it was easier to learn. It's also what she ran on her workstation in the office. Slackware was the second distro I looked at all those years ago.

What's changed since then? First off, I was very skeptical about Linux at the time and probably for about three or four years after that. I didn't think it would ever be a serious OS or that it was anywhere near ready for prime time. That sounds silly now but 13 years ago the state of Linux was still pretty primitive. Second, I don't think any of us would have dreamed of downloading a 3.8GB DVD iso image in an hour and a half and burning it ourselves. Thankfully time and technology really do march on.

What hasn't changed? In a fundamental way Slackware is the same as it ever was. It isn't any easier to get going now than it was all those years ago. You really do have to either know how Linux works under the hood or else you have to be willing to learn.

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