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Monday, 10 October 2011

Slackware 13.37 - Perfect for My Laptop

Most people who have dabbled in Linux for a while "know" that Slackware is difficult to install, configure, make work and keep up to date. It is an OS only for geeks. Not so. These days the developments in the wider universe have trickled down to Slackware as well, and having something like KDE 4 as default desktop already means plenty of things taken care of, with all the utilities and options this desktop environment is providing.

The graphical X server has so far always detected and set my max. screen resolution just right, and there's no need anymore to learn and enter cryptic mount/unmount commands in the terminal. In many ways it's as easy as (K)ubuntu these days. Perhaps, arguably, with a better package manager. Keep your core Slackware distribution packages updated with slackpkg.

I've got Slackware 13.37 on a partition on my Acer Aspire 5551, with ATI/AMD HD 4250 graphics, an AMD Phenom X3 2100MHz, plenty of ram and Broadcom wired and wireless chips for network connectivity.  I'm not into running more than I need, so I stay with the free drivers instead of the proprietary ones from AMD when ever I can, that is unless wanting to play a game that absolutely requires them. I'm not actually using KDE in Slackware, but desktop effects usually work well in KDE on this machine if you want them. Switching on Compositing in Xfce also gives me some nice effects. No problems with the free drivers, no tearing or strange visual artifacts. Cpu frequency was detected and governors set automatically which in 13.1 still needed editing a file. Hibernate and suspend are both extremely smooth, in fact this is probably the most reliable and the smoothest performance out of all the distributions I've had the pleasure of testing and using on this laptop. No black screen after coming back up, no wireless refusing to reconnect.

The only major issue facing Linux users these days, except perhaps printing, is wireless networking and sometimes even getting wired connections to work. Many distributions adhering to the free software standard according to the FSF do not include support for my wired Broadcom Netlink tg3 chip, among them Debian and several derivatives, Red Hat and Scientific Linux. The presence of firmware for the 43225 Broadcom 802.11n wifi is also non-existent in all these and spotty in many others. Slackware has always taken a more practical approach and does not seem too bothered what it includes in order to present a good experience. My wired interface worked out of the proverbial box after installation, and getting a wifi connection was a two step process. Firmware for many popular wireless devices is part of a default install, incl. a long list of intel chips, ralink, and several USB dongles. Atheros chips are already supported in the kernel and are the best option. From release to release firmware and support for newer devices is being added. Ralink USB adapters that did not work for me in 13.0 and 13.1 without compiling a kernel module now have their firmware included.

Multimedia and installing from source with sbopkg in Slackware

After your typical install there's only little to do. No.1, set up your desktop to your liking, carry over config files from /etc and locations if you wish, and No.2, install Sbopkg. This gives you access to the entire repository of scripts on SlackBuilds.org (SBo) that will compile and install additional applications for you.
Don't let the ncurses interface scare you. Everything you need is here, and it's easy to understand. In my wireless case, the first thing I did after syncing was to tell it to compile and install the broadcom-sta module and that was it. After a reboot, wifi was up. I am using Wicd for that which is in /extra repository, together with such consumer oriented stuff like Google-Chrome and dependencies and the mplayer-plugin. You can see, Slackware is pretty modern., far from conservative and outdated as it is painted to be. You can take the build script for Chrome and adapt it to compile the open source Chromium instead. OTOH it does not include PAM or systemd but I'm happy with those choices, and the average user does not need to care about this.

Recently I got a bit into the social networking thing, mainly to send out updates relating to this blog. I found qtwitter in the SBo repository which is a full featured client that can connect not only to Twitter but also the free and GPL compliant identi.ca service and several others. There isn't much you need after a full install. Mplayer for instance is part of it these days. Grab the gstreamer codecs from SBo as well, Adobe Flash if you like, and VLC from the site of one of the developers and you're ready to go. With Qt and most libraries in a full install there isn't much to add to start enjoying your computer. That's also perhaps my only complaint. I usually like a frugal install and chastise many distributions for taking up so much space. A new install of Sabayon 6 KDE x64 for example put 5.6 GB on my partition. At the time of writing Slackware 13.37 is taking up 6.7 GB, and that is without KDE 4, and no LibreOffice either. It all depends on what you get in return though. I have added everything else I could want, including Wireshark, SMplayer and several browsers. Even Opera is on the cards again.

This time the install was so easy it felt bizarre. Using Sbopkg beats downloading every source code and compile script by hand big time and is a huge time saver. It didn't take long and the system was fully functional, by that I mean multimedia and wireless working. Not even half an hour.

If you don't even want to do that there are distributions that include all this too where you hardly need to do anything except replace the mail program if you don't like it. Ubuntu does not include every codec either, but makes it easy to install those. Linux Mint includes everything a consumer could want for their home or SOHO desktop. In comparison Slackware isn't exactly hard though either. The Slackware offspring Salix even provides a codec installer.
In the end it depends on which philosophy you want to subscribe to. Choose your BDFL- Mark, Clem, Texstar or Patrick. Mint or Slack.
Of course you can struggle with Debian or build your own with Crux or even LFS, but the emphasis here is on easy and simple. Enjoy ~


  1. I have not tried Slackware myself yet. But I have Salix installed, which is based on Slackware.
    Still too scary for me.
    Slackware has different, and I should admit more difficult to understand, concept of software distribution. On one forum or blog I read something like "you're not a real slacker if you can't compile from source". I don't want to compile from source, I still prefer pre-packaged software which works. In this terms Gentoo approach is more appealing.
    Maybe my understanding will change over time.

  2. If slackware used took rpm and took debconf it would have the best packaging system in Linux?

    If slackware also took yum (as it works better than apt for rpm) I might be tempted.

    I want transactional, self configuring, repeatable installs of packages on my OS's, when is slackware going to catch and pass the other OS's in these features? I have had more functionality with packaging in debian for 10 years than slackware has to this day.

  3. I really like slackware. I found it very easy to install. Took some research to get mt broadcom wireless working, but even that wasn't difficult. There was a lot less for me to set up with cslack than with other distributions like ubuntu or debian. KDE runs better on my laptop with slack than with any other distribution and I'm really starting to like the plasma desktop. All in all slackware is the perfect desktop for me as well.

  4. Hmm, different distro different philosophy different level of knowhow different way to use etc.etc.
    In my opinion Slackware is stable, very stable and indeed with sbopkg a more greater distro. Oke with sbopkg you have to compile from source but a way faster than gentoo if you give yourself some education time. The base distrobution and that is without sbopkg,has everything a normal desktop-user wants but also a business-user will be satisfied, I think.
    You can choose by default between kde xfce windowmaker fluxbox blackbox fvwm2 and twm. Because I prefer xfce4 (typing on it right now) you can add programs on the start-button as in windows and normally this program with icon will appear in the menu.
    Most common programs you will find on Slackware the same as at the more popular distro's like buntu's fedora's and mint but now working fast on even older pc's. Installation is simple these days, don't want to think about the past... but this is besides evolution also education and skill-level. Even for a newbie with time and courage it won't be to difficult to setup and work with. With sbopkg/gslapt/pkgtools and all the derivates like zenwalk salix vector and f.e. alt it has enough tgz xz packages. Slw +sbopkg about 5000/6000. Again all distro's have there pro and contra's and Slackware is no different.

  5. Yeah, Slackware rules. My first Linux distro back in 2001. Right now in my office I have Slackware64 13.37 chugging away on a HP Proliant Microserver, and five desktop clients all running a heavily personalized version of Slackware 13.37 with KDE 4.6.5. Wouldn't want any other distro.

  6. To me, the only drawback of Slackware is that there is always a gap between Slackware's pkgs and others'. For instance, some current 4.8 XFCE distros already built in support for samba share in local network whilst one has to play with Slackware XFCE a bit before they can have smb access to another computer in the same LAN.

    I think Pat and crew can still come up with some ideas of how to keep their renowned "stable" together with (not bleeding edge but please not too old) up-to-date pkgs.

    Nothing personal and nothing against Slackware, it is still a nice distro :)

  7. Biggest problem with Slackware isn't Slackware. It's Wicd, which is buggy when using WPA2 (bad password issue that has been reported for 2 years and has never been fixed).

    Network Manager is the only one that fully works with wireless, and for that, you need GNOME. For this reason, I use Mint on my portable machines and Slackware on servers and nettops.

    And I don't recommend 64-bit Slackware unless you can live without _any_ 32-bit apps. Multilib installs easily but makes the system a bit unstable. Flash, Skype, & Wine are 32-bit only.

  8. Thanks for your comments guys, some of the most interesting I´ve had on this site, but that may be due to the topic ;).
    Anonymous 2 is right about the Wicd issue, I´ve run into it as well on Arch and on Slack. No big issue though, just delete and retype the password, although admittedly a bit annoying. Can´t stand Network Manager though so it´s not an alternative.

    64-bit Slackware works great. Flash installs seamlessly and works without flaws much better and less resource hungry than on other distributions. I didn´t even think about 32 v 64 and it just works. I heard Wine can now also be compiled for 64-bit - http://wiki.winehq.org/Wine64. Multilib may be required for gamers but I´ld rather keep another install around for that (think replaying Heretic 2). Or use DOSbox or a virtual machine.
    Skype though, no idea. Perhaps use Google Talk instead? Take care everybody.

  9. It might be an idea to follow-up this tutorial with a couple of distro's that try to take the Slackware base a little further into new user territory. Salix, Vectorlinux and Zenwalk come to mind. Speaking for myself Vectorlinux is one I'd like to see.

  10. @Anonymous
    Thank you for your interest! If you look at the right column under Published on other sites, I have already written quite a bit about Zenwalk, VectorLinux and Salix, there´s also already a review of an earlier Salix 13.1 on this blog. Just check the tag cloud or the Reviews page. Hope you´ll like them too. Cheers!

  11. Hi. I'm very curious about the window manager you use on the screenshot. Couldn't make it out. Is that a highly themed XFCE? Tweaked Openbox? Mind sharing your configuration? I like it!

    Cheers from a born-again Slacker (started on 7.1).

  12. Wow, this is great.installation from source and multimedia file are running simultaneously.

    As Seen On TV

  13. @Niki KovacsHi Niki, it´s just XFCE with the top panel auto-hiding, wbar to the right and tint2 panel for a combined pager and task bar at the bottom. The tray can only be in one of the two panels, it won´t show up in both. I´ve got the raindrop background from kde-look.org. A good tint2rc is here, at http://pastebin.com/4T6h6K35. It´s almost identical to mine, a good start for customizing. I have made it a bit thinner under panel_size. This link, http://www.salixos.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=10088 , may also be interesting.
    I only really got into Slack with 11.0, but tried (I think) 9.1 for first contact. Thanks for commenting! Take care.

  14. That sounds unusual. Was that a newly-launched system? I do have a laptop, and I want to install some software for security reasons. I've never heard of that OS before. Thanks for the loads of information. Would you mind posting some demos of it someday?

  15. If I could get my printer/scanner to work (MP560) and a mail checker app that sits in the tray to monitor my emails I would go with slackware. I spent a week trying every angle including wine but kept running into problems constantly. I've tried VectorLinux XFCE and really like it (it flies on my computer) but I can't log on to their forum page because they lost the host and you can't register. So it is a dead page for newcomers who have questions. If you can't log on you can't ask questions and learn. Any way I like slackware for it's speed.

  16. Well I tried this Slackware 13.37. This is the worst setup I've seen since the 90s. Apparently the programmers don't know how to program in a graphic installer for the new comers. A black and white screen telling you to type this and set this up and on and on. Then lets trying installing and oh it's not right you have to do more steps. I kept expecting it to ask me if I love my mother and if so type MOM or if I have to go to the bathroom type potty and the program will pause until you come back so it can ask you another half of dozen more silly questions. Oh and a LIVE INSTALL whats that! They don't know what that is. Over two hours wasted and a DVD in the trash I know why people stay with Windows. If you want a easy setup don't use this it is horrible. STAY AWAY!

  17. To the guy above me, you don't know what you are talking about. Slackware gives the user control to do what they want by manually doing things themself, the way they want to. Slackware installer is so easy. Slackware really isn't hard, so instead of staying away like the guy above me is saying, download and try it, I bet you will like it.

  18. Wow, this is great.installation from source and multimedia file are running simultaneously.
    crack windows 7 password

  19. Best Linux distribution ever!

    Absolutely flies on my machine.

  20. For computer professers the Linux is always the best.
    But i am not, I am the guy who just can convert AVI to DVD on Mac and windows.


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