My experience with Slackware

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My experience with Slackware

Postby Wheelerof4te » 2018-06-30 15:46

My limited experience with Slackware

I heard about Slackware a few years back, at a time when there were frequent discussions about systemd on this forum. After a brief research, I decided that it‘s not distribution made for me. I haven‘t even tried it, honestly. Until a month ago.

So I will try to summarise my experience with this oldtimer distro, in order to familiarise a broader Debian community.

What this post isn‘t:
1. Review of Slackware. I don‘t know enough about it to be able to do a viable review, sorry.
2. Slackware wiki/Distrowatch/Web page. It has it‘s own already.
3. Slackware „Yes or No“ kind of thread. As any other distro, Slackware has it‘s set of pros and cons. If pros outweight the cons for you, then it‘s Yes. If not, then No.

Now that I have made these things clear, let‘s start with the „experience“.

Installation: It was easy enough for me, but obviously for a newbie, it will prove difficult. That said, I have screwed the partitioning part once, but that was only because I went with the „easy“ way and used cfidisk instead of gdisk. Problem was with the offered Linux root and Linux home type of partitions in cfdisk that I chose instead of generic Linux type. Slackware setup does the formating for you and specifies root and home partitions.
Setup program is launched after you do the partitioning part, and yes you need to type „setup“, it will not automatically come up for you. Just like with almost every other aspect of Slackware, you are expected to think and read before doing stuff. I know, right, mind-blowing…

Text ncurses-based installer will then walk you by the hand with carefully documented steps. You have to format the disk, choose filesystem, choose the keyboard, locale, language, timezone, all the usual things. This part is really not that different than Debian‘s ncurses installer, it‘s maybe a bit more involving. And by that, I mean you get to choose more. Now you get to the fun part with the selection of software „sets“. I recommend you choose all of these, but you can maybe omit server stuff. It‘s best to pick „full“ installation, and I will get to the point why later.

First impressions and package management: All good so far? Good, cause the installation was the easy part. You reboot the system, and if everything went OK, you will find yourself at the login /screen/ prompt. Just type in your user...wait, user? Hell no, you get to create one yourself, buddy. On how to do that, consult the great google browser on your phone or just type in „adduser“ and follow the prompts. A fair warning, since this is just about my experience with Slackware, I won‘t be providing detailed advice during writeup, if that wasn‘t clear already. If you can‘t read or research, you will not be able to use this distro, period.
So you created your user, now you have to login. Typing startx, I found myself in the glorious KDE4 desktop. Yup, no Plasma here. Your other options are XFCE and host of other Window managers like blackbox, fluxbox etc. That is, if you picked „full install“.

Since Slackware 14.2 is very outdated, your first priority is to get it up to date with the latest security and misc updates. Slackware is much alike Debian with it‘s release model, it provides you with the stable OS upon you have to build. Now for the fun part: Slackware has no dependency resolution by default. Of course, you knew that when you decided to try it out, didn‘t you? No? Then good luck to you.
I haven‘t. Yes, I didn‘t know about it, since I had a false expectation that every distro that has survived the test of time has to have a package dependency resolution by default. It was a missguided expectation. Did you know that Windows has no auto dependency resolution either? Truth be told, I did say „by default“. Various tools such as slapt-get have been made, but they are considered third-party tools. Slackware follows KISS Unix philosophy. You are expected to install everything by hand, configure everything by hand, don‘t screw up by hand. And this is where Slackware has a problem. Many Linux users have adapted to package managers. Slackware has one called pkgtools, but it‘s very primitive by todays standards.
Experienced Slackware users consider this lack of dependency management a blessing rather than curse. In theory, this view can be true. In practice, it just leads to much more time needed to configure the system. You get the slackpkg in the default install, which is a handy tool to download packages from the Web mirror. You must uncomment one mirror in some file to use it, though. And this tool just downloads packages that are part of Slackware. For third party packages, go to slackbuilds.org.

So I uncommented a mirror and used slackpkg to update my system. I found out how by googling around, and Slackware has a simple guide on how to use slackpkg. First I tried mirror for Serbia, which was down. It took several tries to give up and choose UK‘s mirror just because I didn‘t know why it was down. There is a very active Serbian Slackware community, and I half-expected the mirror to just work. Doesn't matter since UK's mirror worked and slackpkg did it's thing. It took 15 minutes to upgrade everything.

Epilogue: I rebooted. It was a mistake, since my mouse din‘t work. My keyboard was frozen, too. I didn‘t know why, and didn‘t care. Was it because I didn‘t run lilo after kernel upgrade? Was it because of some firmware bug? I decided to cut my advanture short at that point, and go back to Debian. I don‘t need problems after updates. To give Slackware more credit, slackpkg is an optional tool, and users are expected to pick and choose their updates manually. This gives them more control, review and gradual experience. I opted for a quick way out, which doesn‘t work with Slackware. You must learn, know your way around the Linux core filesystem, know the shell (not THAT shell) and Unix commands like a true pro. If you have time to do that, you will get the stable system which is tailored to your needs.

I get why Slackware still exists and why it chooses to stick to the Unix ways. I get that it has it‘s loyal fanbase, and I get why. But everything Slackware has, for me personally, Debian has too. And it has more. More users, more community and third-party support, more DE choice, more everything. What Debian has not are BSD init scripts, and that is fine by me.

For those of you who like to tinker with your OS, Slackware is better choice than even Arch. It is the only surviving Unix distro based on the Linux kernel, the oldest active distro and the hardest distro after Gentoo, IMHO. My experience was cut short at the first (technically second, first was after installation) reboot. Yours may be more lasting.
Thank you for reading.
Last edited by Wheelerof4te on 2018-07-05 08:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby HuangLao » 2018-06-30 23:40

:lol:

YMMV obviously. The problem you described was not because of lilo, also, if you used slackpkg then lilo will be updated by default unless you change it to "N" when prompted. Also, if lilo was not updated, then you would not have been able to boot.

Slackware 14.2 is not outdated, some of the packages included in the .iso are.

ncurses installer, now you see where Debian received some of their inspiration.

The installation procedures are well documented during the install process, it clearly states to type "setup" for example.

Slackware package management has worked flawlessly for almost 25 years, it does what it is supposed to do and nothing more, it also does not get in your way. Once the system is installed and configured it is the easiest system to maintain. I have Slackware-current installed over there ~~~~> and it is the same installation for about 10 years.
Code: Select all
slackpkg update gpg
slackpkg update
slackpkg upgrade-all

simple as that.

For packages not included in Slackware, you use the officially endorsed Slackbuilds.org and either use the original manual method or a tool like sbopkg which automates most of the process.

Most people will read documentation, watch videos etc... before installing the distro for the first time. Isn't that true for most distros not labeled *buntu.

Did you reach out to anybody at LinuxQuestions.org with your questions/problems etc...? If not, then lack of RTFM and not asking for help is probably a sign that you're not ready for Slack just yet, perhaps another time. ;) It will still be here in 25 years, and will work in the same manner. :mrgreen:
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Wheelerof4te » 2018-07-01 08:51

It is possible the freeze happened because I haven't run xorgsetup or xorgconfig before typing startx. Another possibility is missing initrd after the kernel upgrade.
Whatever it was, it was my mistake of assuming *anything* will be auto-configured for me. At least lilo did run, so I was able to boot.

As I have said, configuring Slackware takes a lot of time, and it needs manual intervention after any critical update, such as kernel and xorg updates. It definitely is not the easiest distro to maintain, Debian being exactly that by a mile. Even Arch does nearly everything automatically and only seldom requires manual configuration. After the semi-hard installation, you were off. That's why I consider Slackware harder than Arch.

Something I didn't mention in my first post, but you did in your thread on Wheezy alternatives. Slackware takes the upstream, vanilla packages without patching or modifying them. This makes for a clean code, one that is easier to review for bugs. This might be of good use to the developers and people who like to know what software they get. It means little to the other end users, as functionality of the package is generally the same, whether it is Debian's or Slackware's package.
Yes, I know about the infamous OpenSSL Debian bug. It is quoted every time Slackware's vanilla packages are mentioned. But the mistake of one maintainer shouldn't make for a general rule of thumb. Heavy patching of upstream is needed if the package was ever to integrate into the entire hogmoshpit that is Debian's main repo. And if Debian's patching gives you the creeps, you should see the patch-stiched monstrosity that is Ubuntu. Especially the older LTS versions.

On the flip-side, Slackware is right. If we have upstream code that is easily distributed through Git or other means, why do we need separate repos of heavy-patched software? Why not create one distribution that easily integrates all that open-source code while keeping the base stable? Arch Linux does something similar when combined with the LTS kernel. You get upstream code with almost no patches on one stable kernel base. You could say Arch's repos are just syncs to the (part of) packaged upstream software.

As you've said, YMMV. Maybe next time I will have time, knowledge, will and spare hardware to manage Slackware. Untill then, Debian it is.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby HuangLao » 2018-07-01 16:52

Wheelerof4te wrote:It is possible the freeze happened because I haven't run xorgsetup or xorgconfig before typing startx. Another possibility is missing initrd after the kernel upgrade.
Whatever it was, it was my mistake of assuming *anything* will be auto-configured for me. At least lilo did run, so I was able to boot.

xorgsetup/xorgconfig isn't really needed anymore, 99% of the xorg just works. initrd is only needed if you switched from huge kernel to generic kernel, which I doubt you did on first install, since default is the huge kernel.

Wheelerof4te wrote:As I have said, configuring Slackware takes a lot of time, and it needs manual intervention after any critical update, such as kernel and xorg updates. It definitely is not the easiest distro to maintain, Debian being exactly that by a mile. Even Arch does nearly everything automatically and only seldom requires manual configuration. After the semi-hard installation, you were off. That's why I consider Slackware harder than Arch.

not true, slackpkg asks if you want to run lilo after a kernel upgrade and it is yes by default, as mentioned above xorg no longer requires manual config for 99% of use cases.

Wheelerof4te wrote:Something I didn't mention in my first post, but you did in your thread on Wheezy alternatives. Slackware takes the upstream, vanilla packages without patching or modifying them. This makes for a clean code, one that is easier to review for bugs. This might be of good use to the developers and people who like to know what software they get. It means little to the other end users, as functionality of the package is generally the same, whether it is Debian's or Slackware's package.

You keep bringing up untruths, vanilla packages are beneficial to everyone not just developers, many times the distro specific patches can create security holes that the original developers are unaware of, then it is up to the distro to patch those holes and submit upstream, upstream may not accept those patches because they only apply to one distro...for example.

Wheelerof4te wrote:On the flip-side, Slackware is right. If we have upstream code that is easily distributed through Git or other means, why do we need separate repos of heavy-patched software? Why not create one distribution that easily integrates all that open-source code while keeping the base stable? Arch Linux does something similar when combined with the LTS kernel. You get upstream code with almost no patches on one stable kernel base. You could say Arch's repos are just syncs to the (part of) packaged upstream software.

Arch does patch/modify the kernel, it is not straight from kernel.org. Also, Slackware never advocated what you stated.

Wheelerof4te wrote:As you've said, YMMV. Maybe next time I will have time, knowledge, will and spare hardware to manage Slackware. Untill then, Debian it is.
You may want to try with SalixOS next time you get the Slackware itch. It's somewhere between Slackware and Debian, some use it as is, others us it until they get familiar with it then transition to Slackware proper.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Funkygoby » 2018-07-01 19:56

Wheelerof4te wrote:And this is where Slackware has a problem. Many Linux users have adapted to package managers. Slackware has one called pkgtools, but it‘s very primitive by todays standards.

I know, I am quoting you out of context but that was the part that I wanted to respond to.
Is the limitation of pkgtools a problem? Or is it a design decision? For a system as old and user-praised as Slackware, I guess the later.
That is just a case of "Choose the best tool for the job" I guess. Like you, I failed to turn Slackware into something I could use. Let's just say it is not the thing I want it to be (a Debian alternative).
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Lysander » 2018-07-04 11:09

Wheeler, thanks for your post and for your in-depth commentary on your experiences.

The issues you came across are quite common. Slackware is not an easy distribution to learn, as you know it has a steep learning curve and is generally considered to be in the advanced Linux distro category. Slackware adheres to the KISS philosophy of "one process, one function" as much as possible. By default it has little automation and does not assume anything for the user.

You are correct when you say that reading and research have to be done before using Slackware. I would say these two pages are the most helpful in getting started:

https://docs.slackware.com/slackware:install

https://docs.slackware.com/slackware:beginners_guide

If you are learning Slackware, then I would caution against using it as a primary OS: it would be best to use it on a secondary computer or in a VM. I broke my Slackware install multiple times before getting it to work properly, and how I wanted. I would say this is normal and to be expected when learning a Linux distro, especially one like Slackware. As with any distro things can and will go wrong, which is why learning Slackware in a VM is so effective and better for damage minimisation.

Learning Slackware should not be a rushed process. As users of intermediate distros such as Debian we are used to picking things up rather quickly, but Slackware can take a lot longer to get acquainted with. Once you know what you're doing, you'll be cruising and enjoying a Unix-like, privacy-centric, user-controlled OS that continues to give back to you and develop your learning of Linux. Slackware is the gift that keeps on giving, but getting to the point where you're comfortable with it can be a bumpy road. Seeing as Debian uses systemd I would say that Slackware is one of the best distros for those who want a FOSS, true Unix-like experience. I personally consider it 'the future' for my own computer learning since more and more distros are becoming increasingly automated.

I would say the following are crucial and must be learned through a combination of reading and hands-on learning:

Learning to:

-Use fdisk [not cfdisk] to manually partition /, /home, /swap
-Install a *full* version of SW
-Add a user
-Use a local mirror for updates
-Use slackpkg to download and install official updates
-Use installpkg/upgradepkg/removepkg
-Use makepkg/explodepkg
-Blacklist packages
-Update the kernel
-Use a generic kernel
-Build SBo packages manually
-Install third party manual dependencies
-Use sbopkg/sboui
-Use and install binaries
-Track and update manual dependencies
-Fix broken packages and dependencies
-Use chown

Last but not least - use the LQ Slackware board to help solve issues - it's a very knowledgeable, respectful and helpful community.

As I said in that PM, Slackware took more than ten times longer for me to feel fully comfortable with than Debian, but when you get there you'll find it's worth it. I am still learning Slackware now, by increments, whereas I feel I've plateau'd with Debian. Still, both distros are great in their own rights and have their own specialties and ethics.

I would disagree that Slackware is not easy to maintain. Once you have the system set up how you want [this can take some time to get used to, I admit], you don't have to do *anything* if you don't want to, save install official security updates which is a breeze through slackpkg. Slackware will never tell you updates are available or assume you want to know, but if you subscribe to the mailing list you can find out when they are released. If you are one of those people who runs "sudo apt update" every day without thinking in Debian, updating Slackware regularly will become second nature to you [I personally update official packages every few days when I have the time through slackpkg, and SBo packages every few weeks, since they need to be recompiled]. I would recommend updating the kernel once in a while, but this is something that has to be carefully done, or you can find yourself with a broken system. I think some of the issues you experienced where related to rushing your learning and an improperly-configured kernel upgrade.

I will say again - post regularly in the LQ Slackware board for your issues - they were immensely helpful to me in my learning of Slackware, and you may also find a higher calibre of discussion and help than on *some other* Linux forums. My advice would be to get back to it in a VM when you have the time. You can always just run it in the background and learn it in stages, and go for a full install whenever you feel you have a good handle on it.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Wheelerof4te » 2018-07-04 12:37

Thank you, Lysander. A lot of good tips there.

I would also say that the kernel wasn't properly configured after the update, since I went with EFI install using elilo and gdisk.
I already went through beginners guide a couple of days ago, and realised my user was missing some groups such as plugdev. I have also skipped
Code: Select all
slackpkg install-new

during the system upgrade.

Lysander wrote:Learning to:

-Use fdisk [not cfdisk] to manually partition /, /home, /swap
-Install a *full* version of SW
-Add a user
-Use a local mirror for updates
-Use slackpkg to download and install official updates
-Use installpkg/upgradepkg/removepkg
-Use makepkg/explodepkg
-Blacklist packages
-Update the kernel
-Use a generic kernel
-Build SBo packages manually
-Install third party manual dependencies
-Use sbopkg/sboui
-Use and install binaries
-Track and update manual dependencies
-Fix broken packages and dependencies
-Use chown

Nice summary, it will help other people here exploring Slackware.
I'm lurking at
https://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/slackware-14/
and have found a few interesting threads, even for a more general Linux/Unix user.

I have downloaded and burned Eric AlienBob's live --current image with MATE on it. Played with it for an hour, looks packed with all kinds of goodies. It runs great on my laptop. Packages are very recent, kind of a nice surprise contrast with BSD-like init boot-up.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Lysander » 2018-07-04 14:20

Wheelerof4te wrote:
I have downloaded and burned Eric AlienBob's live --current image with MATE on it. Played with it for an hour, looks packed with all kinds of goodies. It runs great on my laptop. Packages are very recent, kind of a nice surprise contrast with BSD-like init boot-up.


Nice. A word of advice though, -current is more advanced than the Slackware point releases. Also, have a read of this first:

https://docs.slackware.com/slackware:current

Do not track the Current branch on production systems as it is a test-bed for upcoming releases. It is recommended that you use the latest stable release with the security updates instead.


Something to bear in mind. I use the stable release myself since I need to be productive on my systems.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby Wheelerof4te » 2018-07-04 20:46

While browsing https://www.reddit.com/r/slackware I found out why my desktop just froze. There was one newbie who had the same problem as me. I didn't move vmlinuz file of the new kernel to /boot/efi/EFI/Slackware:
elilo (with default elilo.conf) boots /boot/efi/EFI/Slackware/vmlinuz and/or uses /boot/efi/EFI/Slackware/initrd.gz. I don't think slackpkg is aware of that, so after every kernel update or initrd change you have to manually copy kernel image (vmlinuz) and initrd.gz files to /boot/efi/EFI/Slackware. With this configuration there is no need to change elilo.conf.
Last edited by Wheelerof4te on 2018-07-04 21:44, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My experience with Slackware

Postby HuangLao » 2018-07-04 21:01

Lysander, great tips/advice. ;)

Wheeler, don't give up, as Lysander said, play with it in a VM or a spare box if you have one. It's a tremendous learning experience even if you keep Debian as your primary distro.. Ian was inspired by Slackware and had many conversations with Pat (Slackware Founder/Maintainer), Ian even discussed merging Debian with Slackware at one point....History is wonderfully interesting. :D
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