A couple of years ago, when I was just getting started with Linux, I tried Slackware and managed to get a chunky old laptop online with a wireless network card. In that case, Slack pulled off something I hadn’t had any luck making happen in other distros.
I wanted Slack to work this time too, but it didn’t happen that way. After three installations and a couple of hours spent, I decided I’d do better trying something else.
I know Slack has a strong following, and I respect that. It’s possible that this was just the wrong machine to be trying new things on. And like a lot of people, I had expectations that I didn’t take the time or didn’t want to unravel. That’s normal human behavior, I guess.
But I can’t mask my disappointment any more than that. I thought this would be a winner, and ultimately I couldn’t wrap my brain around it.
I picked Slack 11 because it defaults to the 2.4 kernel, which some people have suggested would be more appropriate for this hardware. I’m starting to think the opposite: Both Slack with the 2.4 and DSL with the 2.4 kernels cause strange lockups when accessing the Internet through this Xircom Realport card. Perhaps there’s a reason or a workaround for that, but I’m not going to chase a 2.4 kernel/module-level issue when 2.6 in three or four other distros works just fine.
I installed Slack using the bare.i boot option, and partitioned the drive with 96Mb as a /boot partition, 256Mb as a swap space and two 4Gb partitions apiece for root and /home. Installation started immediately and was just fine until I had to select packages. I managed to get a sparse system installed using the “menu” package option, but accidentally installed LILO to the superblock instead of the MBR, and the system wouldn’t boot. That was my fault.
The second time, not wanting to go through all the package selection again, I selected the groups I wanted and put it into “full” mode. In the end I got a lot of stuff I didn’t want, but it did trim down the installation time. Moving one-by-one through packages to be installed was mind-numbing.
However, my system was almost unworkable. I had to use twm to get a graphical environment, but even then it was little more than a few terminal emulators. I tried to get some packages in place — I downloaded several tgz files from Linuxpackages.com, and installing them was easy — when I could download them at all. The system lockups were driving me nuts. And no matter what I downloaded, I always ended up with missing library files, which made the whole experience very distasteful.
So I gave Slack one more chance. I started once more from scratch, gave it as much space as I could and let it install the entire first CD. About an hour later it finished, asked me if I wanted XFCE, Fluxbox or Blackbox, and finally, I got a proper desktop working. It was quite satisfying.
Unfortunately, there was so much extra gunk installed — raid support, OpenSSH, you name it — that boot times were over 2:20, and the XFCE desktop behaved like Ubuntu’s Gnome. I could get online for a few minutes at a time, then those mysterious lockups would force me to hard-reboot. So using the machine for a few minutes, then spending another few minutes restarting … well, it wasn’t working out.
In the end, I didn’t even bother taking a screenshot.
The funny thing is, I would try it again, perhaps on a newer, faster machine (and not bother with the 2.4 kernels, thank you). I get the impression that if I were to take the time to really dig into it, I could get a lot of cool things done with Slackware. For now, it’s just not in my interest to relearn package management and so forth, just to get a slim, trim system installed.
Perhaps sometime in the future.