Slax: Clean, cute and quick to customize

I am a tinkerer. It is my nature. I like to see how things work, and how changing one small point can have repercussions on the larger experience. When I was younger I would take things apart if they had broken, not so much to fix them, but to see what the insides were like, and why things worked the way they did.

This is no doubt what accounts for my interest in Linux and computers. But I also have a neat streak, and computers are usually cleaner than engines or machines. And no one goes crazy if one of the computers is in pieces. Unlike the toaster. πŸ™„

For tinkerers, one of the coolest and slickest distros out there is probably Slax. I don’t mention Slax much, because it’s one of those things I have to actively veer away from — it’s too entertaining to modify and adjust and tweak and realign and … and that takes up a godawful amount of my time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun — but I become focused and lose track of events while adding this or subtracting that. One must know one’s limitations.

But if you’re perhaps an intermediate-level Linux user, or you enjoy tinkering with software packages to see what you can arrive at, Slax will probably be equally obsessive for you. The standard Slax desktop is KDE-driven, and looks very, very good — much like everything you will see when it comes to this distro.

But the real fun part is that you can customize your ISO from the web site. You can start with the four or five standard “modules” that come with a bland (but attractive) regular Slax arrangement, then take out or add the stuff you like or dislike. So for example, this is likewise Slax, but with my own blend of XFCE in there.

The web page arranged the ISO according to my likes, which means the KDE suite is gone, and mtpaint and Firefox are really the only applications on board. I could have added or subtracted almost anything I wanted, and gotten it prepackaged in the ISO I downloaded.

But that doesn’t mean you have to rearrange everything again, if you decide you want to change the menu. All the important guts of Slax are in one folder, and adding or subtracting from that folder is the only real change that is needed. So instead of an ISO, download the tar version, unpack it to a USB key, download modules from the website and drop them in that folder, and on the next boot (or sometimes even while the system is running) you can try that new software.

It’s almost too easy, and that makes it all the more dangerous for me. Don’t like this desktop? Dump that out. Disappointed in that driver package? Delete, delete, delete. Prefer to try a different desktop? Drop it in the /slax/base folder on your USB drive, and installation is finished. And if dragging and dropping requires too much effort, double-click on the file and the hard work is done for you.

And as if all that wasn’t good enough, the system comes with prezipped persistent save files that Slax is preprogrammed to hunt down and put into use. So there’s no freaky partitioning needed, no unusual kernel boot lines or special setup routines. If it’s there, it uses it. If not, it doesn’t.

And if you’re a “cloud” fan, there are free online Slax Drives, for storage. If you’re just a fan of clean, sharp desktops and artistic working spaces, just about everything in Slax will appeal to you.

And if you like to run strictly from RAM, Slax will dump itself into memory at boot, and then you can use all of its razor-sharp cuteness at ludicrous speed. And since the default ISO takes up only around 200Mb, you can probably do this on all but the smallest of hardware.

There’s a lot to look at here, and just about all of it is extremely well thought out. The people designing this obviously arrange it in ways that make it easy to adjust and use, without relying on constantly rebooting or rewriting CDs. I would definitely recommend this for people who know their way around easier, more complete distros and want to customize their environment, but don’t care to install from the command line or build software from scratch.

At the same time it’s great if you need a self-contained boot environment independent of anything on a particular computer, or a system you can carry around in your pocket that has the software you like. Or if you just like to experiment with different programs without the hassle of installing and uninstalling, syncing repos and downloading dependencies (although there is some of that involved). Or if you prefer a particular desktop environment in it’s vanilla form. Or if you happen to like working with Slackware-leaning distros. Or if you need a particular series of events triggered from the kernel boot line, like going straight to power down after an X session. Or if you want a console-based system that only takes a few seconds to arrange and rearrange. Or if. …

I’d better stop. A distro that is push-button configurable even before you download it, and needs no more effort to customize than dropping a package in a folder is a dangerous thing for me. It just makes tinkering too easy. πŸ˜‰

14 thoughts on “Slax: Clean, cute and quick to customize

  1. Duncan_Idaho

    Thanks for this great review, I’ve been following your blog since a long time but this is the first time that I actually write to you.
    I really enjoy your articles as I kind of share your point of view about preferring lightweight and simplicity over visually bloated and resource heavy software.
    So you got me so curious about Slax that I’m gonna go thinker with it for a while. You see, I was under the wrong impression that Slax was a KDE-only livecd πŸ˜›

  2. arch_lover

    Great article! I too am tinkerer at heart, and so I sympathize with you regarding how Slax could potentially soak up all of my spare time.

    I am a frequent reader of your blog, and I share many of your perspectives. With that in mind, I wonder how you would rate Slax versus Slitaz or Arch?

    1. K.Mandla Post author

      Well, they’re all in slightly different areas, from my perspective. Arch is intended as a full and complete system, configurable once it’s installed and running, in whatever direction you send it. Slitaz is similar, but intentionally shrunken to a magical size which makes it great for underpowered hardware or confined systems. Slax is not quite as lightweight as Slitaz, not quite as replete as Arch, but holds a very strong middle ground between the other two. It’s worth trying just to find out where it fits in your own scheme. πŸ™‚

  3. poss

    Thanks for the review i will definately have a look at this one. I installed vector-linux-light on an MMX a few weeks ago and was quite impressed and i think that (VL) is also “slackware based”. Has anyone on here used the actual Slackware distro? I haven’t but i’d be interested to here some comments about it.

    1. WaveFunction

      @poss: Slackware was my second linux OS (right after RedHat 7/8). It was a good distro for when I had time to tinker, manually install some things, and felt like recompiling my kernel. Of course, that was also five or six major revisions prior to what it is now.

      In my personal opinion, Slax, Arch, and Slitaz are all much more… “developed” seems like the wrong word. I guess it all depends on what you feel like. When in doubt, fire up a virtual machine (or spare hardware) and give it a crack.

      @K.Mandla: I love your blog. I also have you to thank for showing me the tools that make me a super-hero at work. Please don’t let this blog die, or if you must, at least give us some notice so it can be saved like the best of the internet should.

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  6. Luca

    Hmm… interesting. I’ve always wanted a distro that I can use to recover broken Windows systems (I guess that is the problem with being technical…) however haven’t yet come across one. It sounds like making one with Slax would be easy enough. Thanks!

  7. colonelcrayon

    You can get a SLAX system installed and update it with the appropriate Slackware packages, which is a nice shortcut around the normal Slack install process.

  8. James

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned SuSE Studio.

    Pre-download customization to the *max*. You can edit pretty much any part of the filesystem,add custom repositories, etc. You can even preview it remotely before downloading the ISO.

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