Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Taste of Slackware (14.1)

Lately, I've been exploring minimalist distributions where they let you maintain your craft your own environment from the scratch. I don't blame distributions for trying their own thing; not at all, I actually promote and cheer on them to bring a more polished experience. If I'd ever work on a distribution myself I'll do my best to bring the best KDE experience on it--as a KDE user myself.

I like Slackware. I like its philosophy, I like how down to earth it is when it comes to maintaining your Slackware system.

I've been spending a few hours each day getting more and more into Slackware environment. It's no different than your typical Debian or Arch Linux setup when it comes to GNU/Linux. Some things regarding the init scripts changes and that's to be expected since they also tell you about it.

I installed Slackware 64-bit, the installation itself was delightful. I only ran into a few struggles and it all came down to LILO. For some reason it kept throwing errors and I wasn't remotely sure on the why. I wasn't ready to take on LILO either, mostly because over the years the default boot loader has been GRUB.

Anyhow, it all worked out. I just followed the main instructions to boot the root partition from the DVD messages and I was in my Slackware system in mere of seconds. Truly amazing! I did a rerun of LILO configuration and it managed to properly reinstall itself. What went wrong? I don't know.

Immediately after my system booted. I ran xwmconfig and as you expected, I chose KDE. I had the opportunity to try XFCE and some other window managers like Fluxbox. For some reason if you are out of the QT/GTK environment the application appearance becomes quite ugly and you have to go the extra mile to figure out what's wrong. I kinda knew what was wrong, at least on the GTK part, but on the QT side I wasn't that sure.

Slackware is truly an stable distribution, at least from what I've managed to work with. What brought me to "fear" it was that I was in charge of managing my own multilib.

I'll try to elaborate:

In the Debian environment, we are used to do apt-get install package:i386 which is at best the most simple thing ever. It's straightforward and it gets the job done. In Slackware, for a 64-bit to be multilib-enabled you have to do certain extra steps.

You need to download "third party" from a long term contributor that goes with the nickname "Alien Bob". Note that I don't mind doing this. I've found that this person has been a strong supporter of Slackware for years and I don't want to make it sound like it's a bad thing itself. After all, Slackware is nothing without a community--in my humble opinion.

Slackware package manager has no sense of "dependency management". It means, you need to brace yourself and do all the library/applications dependency resolves. I have mixed feelings about this honestly; I have read many of their reasons on the why, yet to me I don't really feel convinced on why it shouldn't resolve dependencies, at least at best the base ones and leave the optional ones as optional.

What "troubled' me was installing 32-bit libraries in my 64bit system. There wasn't exactly an easy way to do it. And by easy I mean "take the least time possible". I had to do some googling and found out that there are unofficial tools out there that helps you get 32bit libraries easily.

I did the initial steps of enabling multilib like I said before. However the tutorial went down to "mirror the Slackware 32bit tree packages" and I certainly wasn't fond of that idea. Neither was using massconvert32 to get the packages I want.

I feel like I've been introduced to something that takes even more time. It's not that I don't feel like administrating my own system. It's that the initial setup would take longer than I expected. To me, these are itself "deal breakers". It's not the fact that I have to track dependencies myself, but the one that I've to jump a few hoops to get the 32bit libraries and convert them to be compatible.

I'm gonna move on, I think I've said plenty on the 32/64bit subject. In terms of installation and configuration I'll be frank, it's just the same thing over and over. If you have set up MPD and other applications then you will know where to find the configuration files. System wide configuration files usually reside in /etc. Like always, things like this never changes. What I mean is that if you are familiar with GNU/Linux then you won't have problems.

Stability! It's such an important word for me. Not stability as in the system crashing, but stability as in packages receiving their proper updates for minor point versions.

I might be wrong, but one of the things with Debian stable is that if a package releases bug fixes and it's not a major version. It all depends on the release team to see if it will make it to Debian stable.

I don't know how Slackware manages the influx of packages myself, this is the first time I've used it in a prolonged manner. What I want is an stable system, a conservative one, like Slackware. At the same time I also expect that normal bug fixes releases also remains updated in the stable branch.

An example: I'm using Debian unstable sid. I haven't had many problems with it but I did come acoss some problems, most of the time it's the dependency hell that occurs. If there are dependency problems sometimes apt-get dist-upgrade tries to remove a whole bunch of libraries that shouldn't be removed.

Obviously, as a person that likes to keep the system stability in-check I'd just cancel the upgrade and wait for the fixes to come.

What does this have anything to do with stability? Well, there are certain features in Dolphin file manager that stopped working out of nowhere. It just happened abruptly and up to this date I haven't found the cause.

In Slackware, all Dolphin features works. The system is rock solid.

I know I know. Why are you using Debian unstable? You should know better! Well, that itself is a fair question! Why use Debian unstable when you want an stable system. Debian "unstable", despite its name is not unstable as in the software will break any time. I've yet to see my desktop environment breaking apart. It hasn't.

I'm going to wrap this up because I feel like I've written a lot already. I'm willing to give Slackware a decent try as my main distribution if only I get the answers I need regarding 32/64bit issues and well that's it. I usually compile my WINE versions (32bit) and I don't exactly feel like it'll be a challenge to do that in Slackware, minus the dependency tracking which is itself like an sport.

It was a nice experience. I'm still not a fan of compiling my own stuff (mostly because it always takes too much time), but if it means to keep my system in stable conditions and receiving good upgrades of the software I use, then yea I'm all for Slackware.

 If you have any thoughts, input about Slackware or know all the answers to my doubts. Please feel free to comment!