Absolute Linux: first impressions

Being bored with Ubuntu, I decided to have a go at Absolute Linux , herein after referred to as Abs.

Abs is based on Slackware Current, with releases every couple of months. Abs is designed for older PCs, for which mine definitely qualify. I am a fan of fast systems in any event, and would consider using them over more bloated systems whatever the age of my machine.

Abs comes with the IceWm Window Manager. No other Window Managers are included, apart from the twm fallback. I am using a 1080p TV screen to test the WM, instead of a proper monitor, so I expect my screen to look worse than it would on a nice monitor. My past experience with IceWm is that it is fast, but with a ghastly mid-90’s look and feel. I was pleasantly surprised. Presumably Abs has done some customisation.

It’s not a pretty WM, but it’s not an eyesore. It is a fast one, though. Abs has added a default background which is grey, with text saying “Absolute Linux”. My verdict on this is: great! It’s simple, and unobtrusive, exactly how a desktop background should be. It there’s any Abs distro developer out there: do not change the background, perfection has been achieved!

The developers have eschewed gradients and fancy colour schemes. I hate gradients anyway, as they can look a bit naff if the rendering isn’t perfect. Colour schemes are also difficult to get right, and the team have actually got it right by not trying too hard to be fancy.

There are a few other desktop backgrounds to choose from, but I preferred the default. You can also choose a solid background colour if you like. What I do is have the default background for a regular user, and a red background for root.

Actually, there’s a neat trick here. I login in as a regular user using the login manager. In a separate virtual console I log in as root, and type “startx” to get a root X Windows session. I can flip backwards and forwards between the two sessesions using Ctl-Alt-F7 and F8.

Logging in as root is frowned upon, of course, but I think it’s OK for the first few times to get the box configured properly.

So far, I have concluded that Icewm is a good choice of WM. It even auto-mounts disks that are inserted. It’s nice, lightweight and doesn’t lack any important features. Except areosnap, which I think that all WMs should do.

I have two X Windows sessions going, including Chromium, and the system is using up 383M of memory. Good!

The thing I like about Abs over Slackware is that it has more up-to-date software. Yeah, I know Slackware users should be more concerned about stability over shiny shiny, but having said that, I have noticed that more recent software tends to have a better polish to it and is a little easier to use. I also like the latest version of GCC for development purposes, so there’s that.

I would argue that Slackware stable is too old, in general. Maybe it’s OK if you want to use it as a server where you never need to change anything, but for most people, something that is not as ancient is a much more sensible option.

Abs users can also make use of sbopkg, which is a boon.

Where Abs lets itself down compared to Slackware is it does not include Thunderbird mail, tmux or vim. I have compiled tmux and vim fairly easily. Still, I think they should be available out of the box.

Abs does have Chromium, which is OK, but I hate the fact that it doesn’t have a  more conventional menu and bookmarking system. Abs also includes a web browser called Falkon, which follows conventional desktop conventions, and I am more inclined to use. It also uses DuckDuckGo as a search engine, which I am increasingly favouring over Google for privacy reasons.

Youtube works out-of-the-box with both browsers, which is great to see.

I have tried Slackware Current a couple of times in the past. I failed to install it once. On another occasion I had a couple of things I wasn’t happy about. So I think Abs is a good distro to try if you like the principles of Slackware, think that the stable branch is way too old, and want a more polished version of Current.

Abs is obviously lighter in weight than Ubuntu with its bloated GNOME stuff, but has far less in the way of software. My main computer is Ubuntu 19.04 running LXDE as a WM. I have grown not to hate GNOME too much, although its resource utilisation is something I am unhappy with.

I like Slackware’s init system, too. It’s very easy to understand and configure. In other words, not systemd, which seems more hassle than it’s worth, in my opinion.

Anyway, make of that what you will. If I make sufficient progress on my test machine, then I might consider ousting Ubuntu from my main PC. We shall see. It has to be said, though, that Ubuntu is a pretty good distro despite its negatives.



About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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