By Martin Jansen
For this episode of Adventures in Computing I attempt to install Slackware 14.2. I say attempt because I never got that deep into installation and I bumped into many virtual walls along the way.
In my research, I found articles stating that if you learn Slackware, you truly learn all about Linux. This is because, after install, nothing is configured for you. You can spend hours learning how to configure Slackware for your use.
This was a shock to me, who regularly installs Linux Mint on all kinds of computers. The Linux Mint team has done a great job of making the desktop look the same across all flavors: Cinnamon, XFCE and MATE. Not only does Linux Mint look the same, but installs have the base software package including Administration and Preference utilities. Slackware, by contrast, installs with a base installation guided by the install steps.
To install Slackware or any distro, find the media on-line or order a installation DVD or USB drive. Most people opt to download the media in the form of an ISO file. These files are often very large and can take a long time to download depending on your internet connection. Because I was downloading the 32-bit version to install on a venerable Dell Latitude D600 computer, I found the Torrent page of Get Slack:
Torrents, by the way, are smaller files that contact a network of servers which begin a download of an ISO from multiple seeds. Transmission is one piece of software that accomplishes a torrent download.
I had some trouble finding the media that I needed to install Slackware. I first downloaded the source DVD ISO which was huge for Linux – around 4 GB in size. As with other Linux installation media, I first tried writing the ISO to a 8 GB USB stick. Several attempts to boot the USB stick told me that the source DVD would not boot.
Next I tried the “Slackware 14.2 x86 Install ISO disc 1 (A/AP/E/F/N/Y, bootable installer, kernels, extra/, testing/, USB and PXE installers, Slackbook)” which is almost a CD sized download. Almost because the ISO is slightly larger than my CD burning capacity. So I wrote the ISO to a smaller USB stick. That USB stick did boot and I was able to follow the installation steps, but it did not contain any desktop environments leaving me with an incomplete install. I downloaded the other CD sized ISOs, but was unsure how the install would work.
Finally I found the correct DVD: Slackware 14.2 x86 DVD ISO (Includes everything except for source code) which results after the torrent download in file name: slackware-14.2-install-dvd.iso. It is a good idea to verify the download with a md5sum command and compare the hashes to the md5 file which is part of the download.
I read that the ISO is not made to write to a USB stick, but should be written to a blank DVD. That is true, because a USB stick simply did not work. With the correct DVD in hand, I attempted the install, but found that I had to use a ‘huge.s forcepae’ installation to account for the lack of a declared PAE flag in the Pentium M processor.
I was finally installing a full version of Slackware on my D600. I followed the steps outlined on this webpage: https://www.unixmen.com/install-slackware-14-1-step-step/ The install went as described with minor variations as I was using the Slackware 14.2 DVD. This installation is radically different from GUI installs in most distros today. It is very much a command line and menu driven install with old style text based choices. Plenty of ways for a novice to get lost and make the wrong choices.
While I am not by any means a novice with Linux, I am a complete NOOB with Slackware. I knew that KDE would run like crap on the D600, so I chose Fluxbox. After the install I rebooted and logged in as root. From there I ran the startx command and was greeted with perhaps the ugliest desktop I had ever seen. I saw a Workspace 1 in the lower left hand corner and that was it. Right clicking on the desktop revealed a very rudimentary menu with practically no software installed.
In the end, I went on eBay and purchased the maximum amount of memory for the D600 which would bring me from 756 MB to 2 GB. My hope was to get a more familiar install of Linux Mint XFCE on the laptop. Unfortunately one of 1 GB sticks was bad. I went ahead with the install with 1.5 GB and the D600 is working, just not very fast.
My Advice: if you are a Linux expert with plenty of spare time to configure Slackware go ahead and install it. Otherwise just go ahead and install the tried and true: Linux Mint.