May 16, 2022 | Slackware 15.0 Reminded Me Why I Use Linux
No matter how much experience you think you have using Linux, never become so confident that you believe you know everything there is to know and that nothing is a challenge.
I was recently reminded of this when I booted Slackware 15.0.
I started using Linux in 2002 with SUSE Linux 8.0.
I must admit, over the past twenty years I have used so many Linux distributions on so many platforms I had become too confident.
I have witnessed many changes - the switch from installation CDs to USB - the migration from i386 to AMD64 - the list of changes is endless.
I must confess, I have never used Slackware.
This may seem shocking considering Slackware is certifiably the oldest Linux distribution available that is still actively developed and maintained.
Slackware was released way back in July 1993, so you might be asking how it escaped my attention for so long?
That's a fair question.
The truth is it didn't escape my attention.
I have always been aware of Slackware, since not too long after I started using Linux.
When I first dived into the Linux ecosystem I was quite young.
I was quickly and literally consumed by the incredible new world of openness that it offered.
Every operating system I had used on the desktop up to this point had been some version of Microsoft Windows, or MS-DOS before that.
For many years I was continuously impressed by the amount of options Linux offered users - in both the number of distributions and desktop environments - and I loved everything about it.
Still, I was hungry - always looking for more - something on the bleeding edge.
I love the terminal console and the power it offers the user.
It isn't the only factor which has kept me locked to the Linux ecosystem for so many years, but it is a big contributing factor - more than anything else.
During my endless search for something better - something faster - 'stable' distributions like Slackware and Debian escaped my attention because I long considered them boring and a step backwards.
Admittedly, it was a misconception but one that I had always been led to believe because I was constantly being swept up by marketing hype around new distributions and release updates.
You reach a point where you get so caught up in the marketing that you actually lose sight of why you use Linux and what you like about it.
Linux has become popular and is now more widely adopted than any time in history, however the more mainstream it becomes unfortunately it risks Linux becoming boring.
Anyone who has experienced the Linux-on-the-desktop surge that has occurred over the past twenty years will understand what I mean.
Am I the only one who is guilty of taking Slackware for granted for so long and not truly appreciated its heritage?
So what changed?
Slackware 15.0 - that's what!
When I read the release announcement for Slackware 15.0 I began asking myself how a Linux distribution could be around for so long yet receive so little public attention.
Instead of waiting for the answer to knock me over the head, I decided to download it and install it.
I really wasn't prepared for the lesson I was about to get.
Slackware returns the user to the very fundamentals of Linux.
Its text-based installer would be just the first sign of many to come that Slackware was traditional Linux.
Most mainstream Linux distributions now ship with graphical installers which do almost everything for the user, with little interaction required.
You can argue that semi-automated graphical installers have played a major role in bringing more users to desktop Linux, however as graphical installers become the standard for most distributions text-based installers have long been forgotten about by many.
At risk of starting to sound like a grumpy old veteran, I'm sure there is an entire new generation of Linux users that have probably never installed Linux using a text-based installer.
I have always preferred text-based installers so I was immediately comfortable, but I completely understand how it may intimidate new users.
My first attempt to install Slackware didn't go quite as smoothly as I had anticipated.
I messed up the LILO boot loader and networking, though these were quickly resolved.
I also had to (re)configure my hard disk partitions using cfdisk, a package that if you're familiar with you'll know isn't too difficult.
Once the hard disk was configured the rest of the installation was a breeze.
If you're new to Slackware I recommend you take the time to read all configuration options properly to get things right.
System configurations can be changed post-install but if you get it right from the point of installation you'll save yourself a lot of pain.
The traditional Linux reminders kept coming!
Before the system boots it requires you press ENTER at the boot loader prompt.
There's no graphical boot screen to hide all that verbose output, you'll see everything happening right in front of your eyes as the system boots and it's wonderful.
Then you reach the login prompt inside the console.
Once you log in you need to manually type "startx".
This might all sound slow and cumbersome - it isn't.
When you first login you are using the root account.
A new user account needs to be created.
It's not a good idea to be using the root account for regular use so don't even think about being adventurous.
Once a regular user account is created you can log out and then log in using the new account just created.
I was surprised to see Slackware ship with so many desktop environments.
I stuck with KDE but there are many others available.
Slackware is super responsive, even with KDE, which can at times feel a bit sluggish compared to lightweight alternatives like XFCE.
In my experience, Slackware+KDE is by far the fastest Linux desktop combination I have ever used.
Slackware will force you to drop any habits you might have picked up, such as upgrading the system with apt, dnf or zypper in your terminal console.
Slackware is admittedly a bit more tricky and functions very different to what you may be used to with mainstream distributions.
Updating the system with slackpkg is not complicated but just like the installation process, take your time to get it right.
I have consistently complained about mainstream distributions not shipping GIMP, Emacs and GVim, so I was really pleased to see all of these packages shipped with Slackware.
There is a ton of software options included leaving most users satisfied and with no real reason to go hunting for additional packages.
If you do go hunting for additional packages then be prepared to have to do a little digging and to get your hands dirty in the process.
On that point, it's all of this hands-on action that is required which is what I love about Slackware.
To many, Slackware will be a course in unlearning everything you have learned about the way you do things in Linux and to learn how to do it properly, by hand.
This may seem frustrating at first, but the more time I spend with Slackware the more I realize how much the mainstream Linux distributions are spoon feeding users.
If you want to be spoon fed, that's fine.
Linux is about freedom and choice, above all.
Slackware is Linux naked and raw, hiding nothing.
It has without a doubt become my new favorite Linux distribution.
It doesn't do everything for you - not everything is automated - but it is a reminder that the user is in control of the operating system and a reminder to me of something that I had forgotten - that this is why I love Linux! 🐧
Written by Chris McGimpsey-Jones.