Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

A look at Slackware 13.0

5th June 2010

Some curiosity has come upon me and I have been giving a few Linux distros a spin in fVirtualBox virtual machines. One was Slackware and I recall a fellow university student using it in the mid/late 1990’s. Since then, my exploration took me into Redhat, SuSE, Mandrake and eventually to Ubuntu, Debian and Fedora. All of that bypassed Slackware so it was to give the thing a look.

While the current version is 13.1, it was 13.0 that I had to hand so I had a go with that. In many ways, the installation was a flashback to the 1990’s and I can see it looking intimidating to many computer users with its now old-fashioned installation GUI. If you can see through that though, the reality is that it isn’t too hard to install.

After all, the DVD was bootable. However, it did leave you at a command prompt and I can see that throwing many. The next step is to use cfdisk to create partitions (at least two are needed, swap and normal). Once that is done, it is time to issue the command setup and things look more graphical again. I picked the item for setting the locale of the keyboard and everything followed from there but there is a help option too for those who need it. If you have installed Linux before, you’ll recognise a lot of what you see. It’ll finish off the set up of disk partitions for you and supports ext4 too; it’s best not to let antique impressions fool you. For most of the time, I stuck with defaults and left it to perform a full installation with KDE as the desktop environment. If there is any real criticism, it is the absence of an overall progress bar to see where it is with package installation.

Once the installation was complete, it was time to restart the virtual machine and I found myself left at the command prompt. Only the root user was set up during installation so I needed to add a normal user too. Issuing startx was enough to get me into KDE (along with included alternatives like XCFE, there is a community build using GNOME too) for that but I wanted to have that loading automatically. To fix that, you need to edit /etc/inittab to change the default run level from 3 to 4 (hint: look for a line with id:3:initdefault: in it near the top of the file and change that; the file is well commented so you can find your way around it easily without having to look for specific esoteric test strings).

After all this, I ended up with a usable Slackware 130.0 installation. Login screens have a pleasing dark theme by default while the desktop is very blue. There may be no OpenOffice but KOffice is there in its place and Seamonkey is an unusual inclusion along with Firefox. It looks as if it’ll take a little more time to get to know Slackware but it looks good so far; I may even go about getting 13.1 to see how things might have changed and report my impressions accordingly. Some will complain about the rough edges that I describe here but comments about using Slackware to learn about Linux persist. Maybe, Linux distributions are like camera film; some are right for you and some aren’t. Personally, I wouldn’t thrust Slackware upon a new Linux user if they have to install it themselves but it’s not at all bad for that.

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