An adventure in Slackware

Ubuntu kept freezing on me for some reason. It seemed that Firefox was able to lock up the system. So I decided to install Slackware again.

Slackware is a fast system. And you know what, I really like its init system. It is so easy to understand. systemd is an opaque box of mysteries. There’s nothing obvious about it at all.

I think the problem with Linux is is aptly summed up in this post on reddit:

I’ve been a Linux user for a while now (around 2 years) and I can’t help but notice the difference between command line tools / kernel and the GUI options that are available. Running a Linux server without GUI is a flawless experience, running a desktop distro on the other hand is always a rough ride with bugs, glitches, driver problems etc…

Why is it that the lower level stuff is so well written and the front-end is so inconsistent?

Here’s some of the problems I ran into with Slackware:

  • VNC from sbopkg didn’t seem to work properly. I had to download and compile the latest version from its site
  • KDE seemed pretty nippy to me, which was a surprise, but doing something simple like pinning an app to the taskbar seemed frought with risk. It was too easy to delete stuff, and not easy enough to add stuff.
  • I have a pink noise generator which I use a lot. For some reason, it always locks the system when I run it from a virtual console. I have to run it within X Windows. Last night, alsa stopped working for some completely mysterious reason that I have yet to determine. It has forced me to reboot into Ubuntu
  • Lilo did not detect my Ubuntu partition correctly. I finally managed to fix it by copying the Ubuntu kernel over to the Slackware partition, and tweaking lilo.conf. There was a bit of effort on my part figuring out that I needed to copy over the kernel. Having said that, lilo was easy to configure thereafter. It is much easier to understand than grub. Grub is symptomatic of a lot of modern-day Linux tools: everything is hidden behind yet another layer of abstractions. As the saying goes: We can solve any problem by introducing an extra level of indirection, except for the problem of too many levels of indirection.
  • My root directory of 40GB is 60% full, according to ‘free -m’, which is odd, because I don’t even have a 40GB partition on my hard drive. I’ve yet to figure out what’s going on there.
  • Firefox is quite old, making it difficult to find adblockers. I guess I should try to download the latest version
  • Compiling Java from sbopkg was a mistake. It took a long time to compile, and my Java program looked like garbage anyway. I generally try to avoid Java like the plague, but there’s an app, “fidocadj”, that I really like. It is written in java. I also wanted to run the Arduino IDE, and thought Java might be necessary. I think that it bundles a version of Java, though, so I might be OK on that score. In the end, I found that Alien Bob had a binary version of Java, and that worked well for the app I was interested in.
  • I have yet to figure out automounting, and integrating it in with the desktop. I don’t mind typing out some mount commands, but it seems a little labour-intensive setting things up

So although Slackware is “stable”, I think you have to use a slightly odd definition of the word. It is certainly not without its wonks. It would be better if they had a more frequent release schedule. I’m sure it could be done if they put their mind to it. The problem is, some of the stuff in there is just a little too old and crufty, and could definitely do with a refresh.

I guess Slackware can be described as somewhat incomplete out of the box. You’re almost certainly going to have to sort something out. It’s a learning-curve. Distros like Ubuntu for the most part Just Work. The problem there is that you’re stuck with what you’ve got. “Automagical” is good until something goes wrong.

I think the Redditors post was spot-on. Linux stability is a little bit of a myth.

Random thought: Fluxbox is actually quite a nice window manager. It’s very simple. It looks butt-ugly out of the box, but with a few simple tweaks, it can look quite presentable. It’s very lightweight, and supports grouping. I think I’ll have to explore that feature more.

Happy new year, folks.

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About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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