Slackware 14.0: An Interview

Wow, Slackware 14.0 is finally here! To say this has been a huge upgrade cycle is putting it mildly. Nearly a year and a half I think? And 5 release candidates. That’s not of course to say there’s anything wrong with that – 13.37 has been serving us just fine since April last year. A testament to the quality of Slackware releases. And anyone who likes to live on the bleeding edge can always follow -current, the development stream.

And so to 14.0. What’s new? Well almost everything. From core system libraries to applications, there have been a lot of changes. But in saying that, 14 retains an uncanny resemblance to its earlier siblings. And continuity in my mind ( and I think Patrick’s ), is the key to Slackware’s success.

I recently worked on a Slackware 9 machine ( not one of mine … ) that had been humming along quite nicely for many years. Unfortunately it had never been upgraded, however, the similarity to a current Slackware installation was striking and pretty much everything was where I expected it to be. There’s something to be said for continuity.

Core

Slackware is now running with Linux Kernel 3.2.29. Pat mentioned in August that he had tried 3.4.9 ( 3.4 series is now regarded as a Long Term Support release ), but had an issue with some oops so he decided to stick with 3.2.x. There has been a  lot of to and fro with regard to udev in this development cycle. Not just how udev is used within Slackware but its interaction with other subsystems. Pat said “Well, udev in this devel cycle has certainly been interesting!” – a change in how udevd starts gave both Pat and Robby a bit of a run around, but you can’t get those 2 down and it was soon sorted out. Udev also works correctly with initrd’s now.

Udisks and Udisks2 are present and updated allowing mostly seamless use of peripherals by normal ( non-root ) users.

As per usual, Slackware includes 2 kernels: huge and generic. Huge includes most drivers built-in whereas Generic includes most drivers as modules – in that case you’ll need to build an initrd to use generic. There is documentation in /README.initrd on the disk on how to do this. And there is also support for compressed modules.

In addition to the standard kernels, there are sample config files for Kernels 3.4, 3.5 and 3.6 in testing if you want to be testing. There is a ‘new’ package for partitioning, gptfdisk  ( used to be known as gdisk ) – the partitioning utility is cgdisk which can be used to partition GPT format disks. This is included in the base initrd for boot-time installation support of large disks ( 2TB and up ).

In its basic form, Slackware comes in 32- or 64-bit formats. The 64-bit version does not natively support 32-bit apps however AlienBob maintains Multilib packages and instructions on using these, allowing one to run native 32-bit apps ( eg. Adobe Reader ) under the 64-bit version of Slackware.

If you are upgrading to 14.0, then the newer CUPS release may require you to update your printer drivers.

Networking and Security

In a surprise move ( at least to me ), 14.0 includes NetworkManager, a GUI configuration tool used to configure any number of networking interfaces including wired and wireless. The basic network scripts are still available and have been enhanced with bridge support ( useful for non-NAT’d networking in KVM ).

There are a massive number of networking tools included with iftop and iftraf being amongst my favorites. Everything is at its latest release ( or close to it ) including the bridge utilities, ISC DHCP ( client and server ) and BIND, dnsmasq for DNS forwarding and DHCP ( in case you don’t want to run full-blown BIND ), ethtool for checking ( and setting ) network interface configurations, wireless utilities and supporting firmware, samba for file-sharing and NTP for time services. Roaring Penguin’s pppoe client is also available for quick and easy pppoe configuration and operation.

There are also the usual collection of CLI news, mail and browser utilities for those who like it old school or who don’t run a GUI. Security is fully covered with OpenSSH, OpenSSL ( now in the 1.x release stream ), OpenVPN and GnuPG 3.

Applications

As java is no longer distributed with Slackware ( due to upstream licensing requirements), there are scripts in /extra to repackage the official Oracle jre/jdk releases as Slackware packages. In addition, AlienBob, packages the OpenJDK ( IcedTea ) release along with the icetea-web browser plugin and rhino javascript engine for OpenJDK.

A number of Gnome-related libraries have been included to make life easier for those running ( or compiling ) Gnome apps. Apache is at 2.4.3 ( with SSL support ), PHP is at the 5.4 level and is now built with php-fpm ( a FastCGI implementation ) providing good memory and CPU utilisation for heavy traffic environments.

Development tools run the full gamut ( gcc, Perl, Python, Ruby, etc. ) and this is one reason why Slackware has always made for a good Development/Workstation environment.

X and Apps

XFCE 4.10 and KDE 4.8.5 are the 2 main GUI environments and Xorg is at 1.12.x. I’ve been using KDE 4.8.x since it was made available by AlienBob and it’s as solid a release as you’ll find anywhere. There are browsers to spare and my main work pair, Firefox and Thunderbird are at their latest releases. Graphical development tools, music and video players ( Amarok, Juk, Audacious, Dragon ), office apps ( Calligra ) – you name it, they are all here. And if you’re missing anything, you can turn to SlackBuilds which maintains simple-to-compile script packages for major apps like Google Earth, Chrome and many others. In addition, AlienBob keeps a fairly well stocked repository of great apps like VLC and LibreOffice on his taper mirror.

Installation

Installation has changed very little but does include support in the installer for additional/newer hardware as a result of the recent Linux Kernel and updated installer features. It looks the same as previous releases though – simple and straightforward with nothing there to really trip you up ( just remember to prepare your disk(s) with at least one Linux-type partition and one swap-type partition ). Installation runs fairly quickly ( a recent machine will finish in under 10 minutes for a full installation ) and completes with a few questions on network configuration, boot loader installation, timezone, mouse and font choices.

Besides DVDROM/ISOs, installation is supported with PXE ( I’ve been using this disk-less method over a number of years for quick and painless installations ) and USB methods as well as NFS, HTTP and FTP. There are detailed instructions on the installation disk about using the PXE and USB methods – the alternate network-based methods should be self explanatory.

Using Slackware

In use, Slackware 14 is stable and solid – as a rock. All the applications gel together and just work ( my core group being the LAMP stack – Apache with SSL, PHP, Perl and a few others ). Yes there are areas that require configuration and the lack of GUI tools may hinder newbies, but if you put the effort in, Slackware is rewarding. Very much so. Security is also on the developers’ minds as updated packages are delivered as required during the life ( and sometimes longer ) of a particular version. As long as you keep your installation up-to-date ( using the included packaging tool slackpkg, and there are others like slapt-get ), you can be assured of a stable and secure system.

There has always been a large amount of documentation and information on Slackware around the ‘net but most of it was quite scattered – more recently a determined effort has been made by those in the community to bring all this information together in a central repository, now known as the Slackware Documentation Project ( courtesy of AlienBob ). You should also not forget the trove of information that’s available on the stock installation disk – there are a lot of useful details there including upgrade documentation. For community discussions, the LinuxQuestions Slackware forum continues to be a busy and vibrant place for anyone interested in Slackware.

Slackware 14 has brought the distribution up to date and continues it’s definite relevance in the Linux distribution landscape. The large number of alternate distributions that have and still are based on Slackware is a nod to Pat’s efforts. I still regard Slackware as being one of the best server OS’s available and it doesn’t make a half-bad desktop either. Thanks to Pat, Eric, Robby and a host of other community members who as always, put in huge personal effort into Slackware. Support them with DVD, T-Shirt or other purchases at the Slackware Store. Happy Slacking!

12 thoughts on “Slackware 14.0: An Interview”

  1. Ya, you are probably right, but it’s the first time I’m so disappointed about a Slackware release. I use it since Slackware 6, and my hardware was never a problem.

  2. I think this is the buggiest distro I ever tried, and I’m a linux user since 1998: usb.img caused kernel panic on two different maschines, eternal boot time, problems with i915 gpu turbo killed during boot, buggy kde pannel (things appear and disapperar randomly), totally noisy even in powersave mode, etc. After so much time I was really expecting something better. :-(

    1. Hi Capniom, sorry you’ve had a bad experience however some of your issues could be hardware related ( or general kernel ) while your KDE is outside of the remit of the distro. Saying ‘buggiest distro I ever tired’ is being a bit disingenuous. Maybe you should head over to the LinuxQuestions forum and ask for some assistance.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for a well written review. Much appreciated!

    Slackware is very reliable and user configurable to provide a stable environment.

    Great Gnu/Linux that has seeded some major distributions. :)

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