Lagrange Point

Distro reviews: Slackware

Slackware, an unusual name for anyone who isn’t familiar with the Linux ecosystem. As far as history goes, Slackware is one of the oldest Linux distributions still around. Some of the others are SoftLanding Linux(Slackware has it’s roots in that distribution) and Yggdrasil. In any case, that’s not what we’re reviewing today.

I’m not the type to go into Slackware’s long history and what and why they still chose to use certain features that other Linux distributions have abandoned or are considered “outdated”. Nevertheless, these decisions do affect what you can and can’t do with Slackware easily. Slackware is centrally headed by one person, and that is the crux of Slackware.

The Installation

Generally, for newbies, it is recommended that you download the big DVD image and burn it or flash it to a USB drive. It comes with everything, and I mean everything. You definitely won’t lack for applications, assuming you choose to install everything in the first place.

The install process isn’t as simple at all compared to modern Linux distributions, and the process consists being familiar with the command line. First, you have to partition your disk. Most people who are new would be immediately be scared of such a process. I could go into what partitions are, but again, that’s not the focus of this review.

After partitioning your disk, it needs to be formatted, which Slackware will usually do for you unless you want to do something unusual for your disks, like RAID or encryption.

After all that, you finally get a chance to choose what you want to install, whether that is everything or virtually nothing(Like just the base system). Be warned though, you need to know how applications/packages relate to each other if you choose to cut down on what you want to install.

After it installs everything, you configure the post-install system, which is essentially to choose what desktop manager you want, whether that is XFCE, KDE Plasma or some other one. You also configure services/daemons and the bootloader(Which is either ELILO or just LILO, there is no choice for something like GRUB or SystemD-boot like most systems use nowadays). Finally, you pick a root password.

Using The System

After all that, you reboot into your system. Login with your root account and password as described above, and you’re presented with the command line only-In stark contrast to most systems nowadays. If you want to get into a GUI, you’ll need to first create a user. Of course, Slackware doesn’t tell you that. Therein lies the strong point and weak point of Slackware. Slackware assumes that you know what you’re doing.

After creating the user, logout and log back in as your new user. Now type “startx” to load up the GUI. Assuming everything goes correctly, you’re now in your GUI of choice! Or you could just continue to use the command line, because Slackware does come with a lot of command line programs as well.

Now, because Slackware comes with tons of programs, most people will be satisfied with the default ones. I personally wasn’t. Here’s where Slackware differs again, it doesn’t come with any program to automatically install package dependencies, so if you’re looking to install a huge program and it has a mile long list of dependencies, you’re in for a tough time. Or! You could cheat like I did and use either the Guix or Nix package manager, or use a tool called sbotools. Any of those tools will fetch and install/compile packages for you.

Now say you want to connect to a NFS share. A lot of people have a NAS setup nowadays, and that uses either NFS or Samba. You’ll have to start certain services in order to connect to a NFS share. I believe you start either the RPCBind service and/or NFS kernel services. Slackware uses the SysV init. That’s another big difference compared to most systems nowadays. To start a SysV service/daemon, you run it directly. Usually by, for example, going “/etc/service/samba/sambad start” or something of that nature on the command line or in a terminal as the root user.

Slackware doesn’t have high system requirements like most other systems, so it’s especially good for older computers. Of course, it’s all dependent on your needs.

Closing Thoughts

Slackware has always gone it’s own way in regards to it’s development, and it’s own way is usually sticking with everything traditional. If you want a system that functions just like it did 15-20 years ago, Slackware is your best bet. Nothing much has changed.

This “by the books” distribution of Linux is famous for that attitude, and I think that for learning Linux, it’s great, but on the other hand, it won’t teach you any modern tools, such as SystemD, ZFS or anything of that nature. I still think a system like Slackware existing nowadays is wonderful though, because it shows us the now long history of Linux itself, and it can be a good tool for intermediate users of Linux to cut their teeth on and get better skills to administrate systems, or just for fun. That’s what computing should be.