Slackware 14.1 review – Into Slackness

I did a review of Slackware Linux 14.0 a year ago and I was unsure as to whether I should make another one or not. There is rarely much change from a user point of view between different Slackware releases, and I expected to end up ripping off most of my previous review. Speaking of which, for a more well rounded assessment of Slackware Linux, please check out the Slackware 14.0 review.

Anyhow, since I don’t expect to see an abundance of Slackware 14.1 reviews around the interwebs, I have chosen to give it another go. In an effort to add something new to this review I’ll revisit an old nemesis, namely the K Desktop Environment (KDE). This review is based on Slackware Linux 14.1 RC.2 towards the final 14.1 release.

Slackware Linux 14.1 x86_64 has been installed and reviewed on the following system:

ASUS G73SWAsus G73SW
Intel Core i7 2630QM
8 GB RAM
Geforce GTX 460M 1.5GB GDDR5 VRAM
HD 500GB 7200rpm
Display 17.3″ Full HD (1920×1080)

What’s new with Slackware Linux 14.1

Slackware 14.1 brings a collection of fresh desktop environments including KDE 4.10.5, Xfce 4.10.1 and Fluxbox 1.3.5. The Linux kernel version is 3.10.17 from the 3.10.x branch, which will be getting long-term support. As stated in the release notes, the biggest change with the 14.1 release is probably the added support for systems running UEFI firmware (x86_64 release only). Please refer to the official release notes for details.

Me, a slacker?

You might have heard that Slackware is predominantly a distribution for developers and IT-professionals due to its alleged complexity and lack of graphical configuration tools. An opinion often attributed to people who have never used Slackware, as you would be hard pressed to find a less complex and effortless operating system to maintain. There is really only one requirement to be a Slacker, and that is the willingness to spend the needed hours to learn the basics.

Installation

Slackware 14.1 installation
Slackware 14.1 installation

Installation is done with a user friendly ncurses based installer. The visuals might look a bit intimidating to new users but it’s actually very simple to understand and follow. In comparison, I’ve used graphical installers where I had to google for instructions as the absence of logic was complete.

Package management

pkgtool - software package maintenance tool
Slackware package tool

Pkgtool is a menu-driven package maintenance tool provided with the Slackware Linux distribution. It allows the user to install, remove, or view software packages through an interactive system. Pkgtool can also be used to re-run the menu-driven scripts normally executed at the end of a Slackware installation.
Source: man pkgtool

Slackpkg is a tool for those who want to easily install or upgrade packages via the network. With slackpkg, you can have a minimal installation of Slackware Linux and install/upgrade only those packages you need the most.
Source: man slackpkg

Desktop usage

KDE 4.10.5 – An unexpected journey

In the past, my experience with KDE 4.x has been one of disappointment. Frequent crashes, an indexing service that terrorized all available system resources, and an overall sluggish performance made me favor the always-reliable Xfce desktop.

KDE PIM suite
The KDE 4.10.5 PIM suite

My initial run of KDE 4.10.5 made me realize that this project is getting back on track as far as I’m concerned. There was an unfamiliar eerie sound of silence upon loading the desktop environment. No fans hitting the roof, nor cpu’s heating up to critical levels burning my lap. Everything was running so smoothly that I had to check if Akonadi was actually running. Furthermore, the Nepomuk indexing service seems to be able to do its file indexing while the user is idle, thus no longer competing for the same resources at the same time. I was also quite impressed with how well Nepomuk integrates and works with the Dolphin file manager. My only issue with Nepomuk is the lack of support for everyone’s favourite proprietary formats as this creates a need to install another full text indexing engine.

KDE 4.10.5 Software compilation
KDE 4.10.5 Software bonanza

Still, I’m almost tempted to get onboard with the whole idea of a semantic desktop which seems to a key factor in the long term vision of the KDE developers. A stable Akonadi framework is essential for the KDE desktop experience as multiple applications depend on it. For instance, you cannot run KMail, KAddressBook or KOrganizer without having Akonadi enabled.

In the past I’ve been advised to just disable all the semantic desktop services, but I don’t really see the point of running KDE without them. In my opinion you should either use the desktop as the developers intended, or you should find yourself a better alternative.
My biggest concern with embracing this framework though is the overall complexity. When something does break, you might have a hard time identifying the cause of the problem.

KDE 4.10.5 Zombie agents
KDE 4.10.5 – The walking dead… agents

By a cruel trick of faith, Akonadi did crash on me after three weeks of smooth sailing. In my case it was due to a mysqlcheck zombie process (owned by the Akonadiserver) which prevented Akonadi from starting up. I thought initially that it might be caused due to a corrupt table that mysqlcheck could not restore but alas, that was not the case. The error log pointed at the Aria database engine as the root of the problem, but I was unable to find the cause after further investigating.

I could easily enough kill the akonadi_control and akonadiserver processes respectively to get Akonadi going again, but the same issue returned on every boot. After getting none the wiser from reading through similar issues on the KDE forums, I decided to surrender and delete my Akonadi folder to start with a blank sheet. Since then, everything has worked flawlessly but it makes me a bit hesitant to commit to KDE at this point.

Still, if you’ve been using Slackware and avoided KDE since the 3.x series, this might be the right time to give KDE 4.x another go. Even though I experienced some unfortunate errors, I will definitely spend more time with KDE, and that is something I would never have considered a couple of years ago.

Multimedia support

Slackware14.1 - Google Crome
Adobe: Get Chrome or forget Flash. Channel: malufenix

Slackware supports most media formats out of the box with few exceptions. However, if you want to enjoy your dvd collection you will have to install some additional codecs. You may pick up what you need in that regard at the slackbuilds.org site.
When it comes to Adobe Flash, your best option is to install Google Chrome from the official extra repository, which has the Adobe Flash Player integrated.

 

Look and feel

There is no theming or other distro specific customization with Slackware Linux. Everything is as close to the vanilla sources as possible. Below are screenshots of the different desktop environments included.

Parting notes

I’ll keep this short as my word count warning is flashing red. Slackware Linux 14.1 is what the constant Slacker expects: stable, reliable and true to its KISS policy.
Slackware might not be the most forgiving distribution for the Linux novice, but unless your goal is to remain a novice I can’t find any reason as to why you shouldn’t give it a spin.

Once upon a time Slackware Linux was the distribution everybody was using. Those days are long gone but the fact that Slackware is still plodding on speaks volumes of the project’s durability and quality.

A big thanks goes to Patrick Volkerding and the Slackware development team for keeping this project alive.

Slackware Links

Slackware Linux
Support Slackware
The Slackware Documentation Project
The Revised Slackware Book Project
The Slackware community
A history of Slackware development with Eric Hameleers


12 thoughts on “Slackware 14.1 review – Into Slackness”

  1. Nice review, will try it tonight.
    The only thing that I absolutely have to do is configure the fonts to look like they do in ubuntu (will try to adapt infinality maybe)

  2. Hello!
    It seems that slackbuilds.org does not currently support Slackware 14.1
    Can I just use the scripts for 14.0 ?
    Greetz from Sweden :-)

    1. The 14.1 repository is work in progress.
      I assume the majority of the 14.0 scripts will work, but some might not.
      Have a nice weekend!

  3. I also have a problem with mysqlcheck zombie process that stops Akonadi from starting up. Did you find a solution for this problem by any chance? Deleting my Akonadi content doesnt permanently correct the issue for me.

    1. Hey Elijas
      I did eventually manage to track down what caused the mysqlcheck zombie process.
      On my system the culprit was the Nvidia kernel module. After switching from the “Nvidia Long Lived Branch” to the “Short Lived Branch” driver, the problem was permanently resolved.
      If you have a Nvidia card and happen to be using the Nvidia driver, you might wanna give it a shot.

  4. I’ve been playing around with the idea of installing Slackware and I’m sold from a philosophical point of view. However I confess to be somewhat eerie bout the lack of applied security fixes and the lack of a continuance plan as Slackware is predominantly a one man show.

  5. As a former slacker who had never felt right in gnome or xfce and who loved the slackware/kde bundle up until the kde4 disaster, your reports of kde4 improvement don’t sound like much improvement. I think maybe you’ve just softened your resistance and developed more tolerance with time. I can understand that as I occasionally jump into just-works distros like kubuntu, but eventually kde4 wears out my patience again. My understanding is that TDE works in slackware 14 with the right amount of effort and is a pain in the something to get working in 14.1…I don’t have time for that when I can download a ready-to-go ubuntu LTS right off of the TDE website or just install lubuntu in minutes on any system, even if I do tend to over-optimize such distros to the point they fall apart with the next apt-get update (Note: said crashes not nearly as common with last few ubuntus). The lack of “just works” slackware integration with a comfortable desktop environment is the main thing keeping me out of slackware for the last several releases. If TDE or a recent version of LXDE were integrated options, I’d probably be right back in the slacker saddle. I suppose my problem is more with the trends in desktop UIs than with slackware, but it has left me unslacky for this era.

    1. Hi Computer Scatter,

      just been thinking about your KDE patience thing, it was the same with me.

      If you are not afraid of the command line, have you thought about Enlightenment 16 as your desktop solution (I do not mean the latest E17 or E18)? E16 is available on Slackbuilds 14.1 and has only one dependency: imlib2. Themes are available on: themes.effx.us.

      E16 is what I consider an in-between solution, meaning it is in between twm and a full desktop. Or: command line with lightweight eye candy; use xrandr for a multihead setup.

      eigernorth

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one who has found KDE 4x to be unstable. But, yes, KDE on Slackware 14.1 is refreshingly fast and stable.

  7. How come you don’t submit your Slackware reviews to distrowatch.com if you don’t mind me asking?
    The review section on Distrowatch gets a lot of traffic and a little promotion in the ways of slack wouldnt hurt. Of course that would probably boost your own visitor count as well.

    And yeah speaking of kde4 you can forget bout Nepomuk altogether https://community.kde.org/Baloo

  8. I definitely like Slackware for the reasons aforementioned. But what makes me hesitant to use it is that I require a dozen or more software that is not in the official distribution and having to install them with manual dependencies from Slackbuilds or look for a third party repository, though easy, is too simply too time consuming. With Mint or Debian I simply apt-get everything I need and I’m ready for work. With Slackware, the additional compilation time is quite substantial.

  9. I have been using Slackware since late 1998. As an IT professional, I have installed and worked with many different distros.

    Slackware is NOT for the newbie. You have to know something about compiling, as well as how to set up your hardware in some cases.

    Package management is fine for those who intend on keeping their system default install. However, for me, I tend to update libraries, and update my kernel, so the default repositories don’t work for me.

    I like Slackware for its stability. I like it because I can customize almost EVERYTHING.

    I use Slackware64 14.1 (recently upgraded from 13.37) as my primary operating system at home and in my office computer. There is software that I use that I had to compile from scratch and upgrade libs to use it.

    Personally, I have yet to find a distro that suits my needs better than Slackware.

    Linux is like ice cream, every one has their favorite flavor.

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