The Slackware 13.1 Interview

Slackware releases are like a big shiny new birthday present for me ( in fact mine’s just around the corner, hint hint ) even though I follow -current mostly. It means that the distro is at a point where new packages have been added, others upgraded and bugs worked out. And Patrick, and the rest of the dev gang, are happy …

What’s new?

One of the views of Slackware in the past has been that it’s reliable and stable, but older versions of packages are used in a bid to combat instability in newer package releases. While that has been true in the past, I’ve found that since 13.0 especially, Slackware has been released with more up-to-date packages while retaining its stability.

The big upgrade in this new release is the move from the KDE 4.2 series to 4.4 with PolicyKit ( thanks to Eric Hameleers for all his KDE dev releases ). While some may not notice, there are performance, feature and stability improvements in this upgrade that make this ‘new’ desktop environment even better than before. Read H Online’s 4.4 review for more information.

The kernel is now at a 2.6.33.4 level, gcc at 4.4.4 and glibc at 2.11.1. X is updated to 1.7.x along with all the accompanying drivers, thanks to Robby Workman.

All the security apps have been updated with OpenVPN now being included by default and the LAMP stack is at Apache 2.2.15, PHP 5.2.13 and Mysql 5.1.46. The Cups package has had usblp support added back in, something that a number of people were looking for. Related, the hplip package has ijs support again. Firefox, Thunderbird and Seamonkey are at their latest releases – I was hoping Thunderbird 3.1 would be released before Slackware 13.1 but no matter as I’m sure it will be in -current soon.

In other news, the libv4l package has been replaced by v4l-utils, bittornado and emacsspeak are in /extra, /dev/sr0 is now searched for install media before the old IDE devices, JDK and JRE are at Update 20, Amarok 2.3.0.90 is in /testing and firmware for a number of wireless devices are added/upgraded.

In general

I won’t rehash information from my previous Interviews except to say that the stability, robustness and performance carries on from previous releases. Slackware continues to perform well in both server and desktop roles with support for most current desktop technologies ( bluetooth, wireless, etc. ) and server-side services and development. Don’t expect to find the customisations you’ll find in other mainstream distributions – Slackware is raw and to the point.

The ncurses-based installer hasn’t changed ( much ) while the newer txz package format gets support from 3rd-party solutions like Gilbert Ashley’s excellent src2pkg tool. The GSB project is tracking ( according to their website ) 13.1 closely and hopefully we can expect a release of this Gnome add-on to Slackware soon. In the meantime, a dev version of 2.28 is available from them. The Dropline Gnome and Gware projects appear to have stagnated as there is no recent news from them.

Many of the audio-video libraries I would have previously compiled manually are now included by default which makes Slackware very capable from a desktop audio point of view. These include libraw1394, libmsn, libdiscid, mpg123, libmtp, loudmouth, fftw, liblastfm and others.

64-bit support, introduced in Slackware 13.0, continues to mature in 13.1 and Eric Hameleers is tracking the mainline development effort with his MultiLib libraries very closely ( even when on holiday! ), allowing one to run a combined 32- and 64-bit system without too much extra effort.

Those who mirror the -current tree can go to sligdo for a method of generating ISOs.

Conclusion

Having built a number of 64-bit 13.0 servers in recent months, I can confirm that no issues have cropped up with the addition of the 64-bit version and these machines are running beautifully. My own 64-bit MultiLib desktop remains a pleasure to use even on slightly older hardware ( yes time to upgrade ). Slackware on the whole, retains a vibrant end-user community with many blogs, websites and forums dedicated to this venerable distribution. One of the busiest places on the ‘net is the LinuxQuestions forum where many Slackers hang out.

13.1 continues the Slackware tradition of a simple, no-frills, reliable distribution for those wanting a rock-solid Linux implementation, and also those wanting to learn the ins and outs of Linux. Thanks to Pat and everyone else involved in this wonderful project – support them through the Slackware store if possible so we can continue getting our Slackware fix.

VP8 vs H264

Apparently the MPEG-LA forum, which manages a pool of patents relating to H.264, thinks that any implementation of video will be encompassed by one or more patents from its patent pool. Not only does this reek of megalomania, but it also shows just how far gone the US patent system had gone down hill. It also shows how monopolistic the MPEG-LA forum is.

Nero has come out fighting detailing a host of issues with MPEG-LA and it’s practices. Google has released the VP8 codec as an open source, royalty-free competitor to H.264 ( as part of the new WebM initiative ) and if it gains traction in it’s Youtube system, then many may flock to Google’s banner. Firefox and Opera have support for WebM in their latest test browsers and Microsoft has indicated they will support playback in IE 9 if suitable software is installed on the machine.

The question to ask is just how real is MEPG-LA’s threats against VP8. I think we’ll see a battle royal in the next few months, with the money-printing MPEG-LA trying to hold on to their little corner of gold.