2010-12-27

Apologies about the Slackware Review

A couple days ago, I reviewed Slackware 13.1. I wanted to see if I could use it post-installation, though from what I had read from commenters and writers on various blogs, it would be tough. At the end, it did prove to be as tough (and for me, fruitless) as I thought it would be. Though I did get to resolve a network connection issue, there wasn't really a whole lot interesting for me to see (other than a multitude of WMs in essentially vanilla form). Anyway, I wrote and published the review on this blog and it ended up in Linux Today and TuxMachines; owing to that, it got a lot of traffic and comments, most of which panned the lack of substance in the review.
It seems like most people who happened upon the review expected something substantive from a Slackware guru. Quite the opposite: I'm essentially a newbie who simply enjoys trying out different distributions from time to time. For letting down these readers (which is also a function of a lack of context, because though I make it clear on this blog that I am a newbie, that doesn't make it to Linux Today or TuxMachines), I am sorry.
Another mistake I made was expecting too much from Slackware. Usually, when I test distributions, I either expect a lot of things or nothing. For example, I would expect a lot of things out-of-the-box from a standard GNOME Ubuntu installation. I would not expect anything from Arch or Debian Standard. My mistake was associating Slackware included many WMs (especially KDE) out-of-the-box with many other niceties, like automatically configuring my network connection. I really should have included it in the group of distributions from which I expect nothing nice out-of-the-box. In addition, to make up for that, I probably should have read a good bit more about setting up Slackware post-installation. For these things, I am sorry.
However, there were quite a few comments that rhetorically asked why I chose to test Slackware if I knew that it wouldn't turn out so well. Well, the answer to that is that sometimes my expectations are defied (either way). In any case, I enjoy testing such expectations. In this case, my expectations (of a tough experience) were upheld. So please do tell me, is there anything wrong with that? It's either that, or I have seen the ugly side of the Linux community in the comments — the side that does not believe in helping out new users and only cares about those who already use Linux at the level of a trained professional. Maybe I've just been sheltered by the cordiality present in the Ubuntu and Linux Mint communities. Maybe it's just a matter of letting go of my innocence. But seriously, what's so horrible about having some expectations about Slackware, trying it out, and then writing about the experience?
In conclusion, I will say that this was probably a low point for this blog. Do not despair, as I have (better) reviews coming up in the coming days and weeks. I have learned my lesson with regard to Slackware, and you can be sure that I'll try not to make these mistakes again (especially if I get around to trying Arch).

21 comments:

  1. Just a suggestion if you try Arch. I did a couple of years ago and found it really an interesting period of time. I tried first on my own and had no success at all. Then I stumbled across a website called Raiden, if I remember right. Raiden had a huge instruction manual on how to install Arch from beginning to end. It was great as it answered all my questions and pointed me in the right direction. Slight problem with getting X to work but other than that it was not bad at all. The distro itself is great. Worked like a charm for a bit until someone put an update in the wrong place and it hosed my installation. Went on to a couple of Slackware based distros, Wolvix and BlueWhite64, which installed easily and worked just fine. Don't know if they are both active now or not but they were both good ones and easy to use. Now I am using Linux Mint most of the time and like it a lot although it is not as fast as the Slackware based or the Arch instlallation. There is also a smaller version of an Arch system out there by a guy named godane which I installed and found easy to work with but there were some pieces missing that I have gotten used to and I got a little twisted up in the approved modules vs the "install on your own" modules and hosed that one by accident. I need to sit down and take the time and do that one right and then maybe it will become my go to install. Also been reading about the Linux from Scratch but not sure if that is still as active and supported as it used to be. They have a live CD version of it that works well when testing but I have not gone to the trouble of installing it yet. Tried Mepis and Pardus and both of them are winners IMNSHO and easy to install. Will probably go back to them also some time. I do enjoy trying the various distros but I think I need to spend more time on one before shoving off to the next so that I do get the full flavor and methodology of it all.

    ReplyDelete
  2. @dick: Yeah, I visit Raiden daily, though that's more for news, not so much for instruction manuals (because I didn't know they had such materials until I read your comment). Plus, I've found the Arch wiki inordinately useful when working with other distributions as well. As far as I know, Wolvix is still active, along with Zenwalk and Vector Linux, both of which are also easier Slackware-based distributions. As you can probably see, I use Linux Mint as my main distribution. I have also reviewed MEPIS and Pardus before and liked them quite a bit, so please do check those out here as well. Finally, I don't think I'll ever get up to the level of LFS. Thanks for the comment!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Slackware is not a distro for newbies, that's for sure. I tried it several years ago when I first switched to Linux and was totally lost. After a couple of years of using Linux I decided to try it again but used Zenwalk to do it. It made life simpler for me. Then I did switch to Slackware 13.0 its self and found that I could use it. It gives you all of the basics and that is about it. I found the support on the forum and the instructions found through the site to be friendly and helpful. You should have visited slackbuilds.org. You can build almost anything from there. And that is what you should expect to do with Slackware. I did move from there to Salix which is pure Slackware. You should give it a try, it is Slackware made easy. You will find some very friendly and helpful people there with a growing repository of software to use.

    john

    ReplyDelete
  4. The sad thing about this...how correct you are on how the Linux community approaches users. I find usually merciless and condescending.
    They say there two types of people that fly. Those who get air sick and those who have yet to get airsick. I kinda approach Linux users the same way. Those that have an problem and those that yet have a problem.
    "Newbie" and "Pro" are arbitrary status'. This is always from the point of the observer. Either way, I think you are on the way to gaining the reputation as an honest person concerning Linux it's "quirks".
    Just a thought.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @John: Hmmm, I'll try to give those a shot then. I've also heard that Vector is pretty good in that regard as well (and it's also Slackware-based).
    @Anonymous: Yeah, having used Linux Mint essentially exclusively (and not moving past anything Debian-, Fedora-, or Mandriva-based (Chakra, Pardus, and PC-BSD aside)), I've been pretty sheltered from those cruel comments (until now, I guess). Also, I respect and admire those who are good with distributions like Slackware, Arch, and Gentoo. I'm just putting it out there that I can confirm for sure that I'm not one of them. Finally, thanks for telling me that I actually have hope of building a solid reputation with this blog. Again, having used Linux Mint almost exclusively, the "quirks" that I've had to deal with have been relatively minor, and I'm certainly willing to deal with those on the occasions that they do show up (more so than I'd be willing to deal with Microsoft Windows's quirks (really, faults)). My thing is just that Slackware has too many (or, at that point, the "quirks" are really just large differences) for me to be able to deal with on a daily basis.
    Thanks for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Slackware was my third distro, back in the late 1990's (Red Hat -> Mandrake -> Slackware), and it was a bit easier for me to deal with, having cut my teeth, so to speak, on the other two. Back then you still had to do a lot of compiling to get extra software installed, but these days it is somewhat easier.

    I don't understand your issue with networking though, the Slackware installer should have set you up with no issues. Perhaps you are using WiFi?

    If you wish to experiment further with Slackware, I'd suggest looking at the Slackbook:

    http://www.slackbook.org/

    Gnome was dropped from the official Slackware release several years ago, but there is an excellent 3rd party build, Dropline Gnome, that works well:

    http://www.droplinegnome.org/

    For any software that you need that doesn't come with the standard CD set (IE: OpenOffice.org), I would recommend you look at the Slackbuilds site:

    http://www.slackbuilds.org/repository/13.1/

    Here's another site where you can download some pre-built Slackware packages:

    http://www.linuxpackages.net/

    Good luck, Slackware is a really good distro for someone who wants to learn a little more about Linux.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's been said that if you want to learn Ubuntu (or other), use that release. But if you want to learn linux, use Slackware. It really wasn't meant to be used on the desktop, except as an afterthought. It was meant to be used on servers. AFAIK it is the only release that allows you to skip GUIs entirely, and offers to install Apache and MySQL at install time. So your experience is probably due to your not being the target audience.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hmmm, this retort seems to be a bit of a cop-out on your part - the comments on your first post weren't really bad at all (perhaps you're a bit on the sensitive side? ), just pointing out that you missed large portions of Slackware in a review and in fact a lot of the comments were on the helpful side. Plus why apologise? Surely the best thing to do is to properly review the distro or state your intentions for the review upfront - something you neglected to do. Your apology seems like it is forced and not really an apology at all ...

    ReplyDelete
  9. No, Slackware is not just for servers. I was the first reasonably successful linux distribution, and was intended for whatever your heart desired. Most users ran it as their desktop. But that was a different day with a different class of users. I have tried a bunch of other distributions but always go back to Slackware. But then I can configure the network with vi. Or firewall. Not because I am smart, but because I have been doing it since the beginning of linux and had unix experience before that. Ubuntu drives me crazy because it is so restrictive, but if I was going to recommend a distribution for a Windows convert or my mother, it would be Ubuntu, not Slackware.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Slackware is a really, really great distro...if you're somewhat technically inclined. I absolutely love Slackware. However, for your typical "Windows/Mac" user, I'd put them on Ubuntu or something similar.

    I use Slackware mostly on my laptops. The reason for this is that it's just easier, as a technical engineer, for me to do things with it than with Ubuntu, Red Hat/Fedora, or most other distros. For me, wireless connectivity is just easier with Slackware. When I do things "the Slackware way", I can do them on any other distro as well as the BSD's. Everything is pretty much the standard UNIX way, which I like.

    Now, would I have Aunt Tillie the teacher on it? No, not typically, unless it's in an LTSP-style thin-client environment where I, the sysadmin, can control what the users see.

    For my servers, I'll typically use either Debian or CentOS. For my desktops and laptops, make mine Slackware.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Prashanth,

    I don't believe you should be apologizing for your review of Slackware 13.1. You did a fine job of writing your review. Reviews are nothing more than a reviewer's opinion. I think you did a fine job of expressing yours.

    Slackware is not a distribution that I recommend to new Linux Adventurers. Most folks are GUI dependent, having come over from MS Windows. It's best for them to get acquainted with Linux using a kinder and gentler distro such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, etc.

    Slackware isn't designed to be the "all things to everyone" type distribution. It's the oldest still maintained distribution of GNU/Linux. It is based on the philosophy of stability and simplicity. What you saw as complications and annoyances are the reason those of us who use Slackware as a primary operating system love it.

    Feature richness inherently includes complexity. Complexity walks hand in hand with fault and failure. The more simple something is, the less likely it is to fail. This is why Debian is also a rock solid platform. The more bells and whistles, the more there is to break. It's just the way it is.

    Regards,

    ~Eric, the Nocturnal Slacker

    ReplyDelete
  12. I agree with Eric. Faced with a distro like Slackware, a noobie moves in one of 2 directions- he either sticks with something that works out of the box, or delves deep into the learning process to see what makes it tick. I am fortunate enough to have multiple computers, so while I stick with something like Linux Mint for my daily needs, I usually have another one running Slackware, pure Debian, Arch Linux, or even Gentoo just to learn more about them. I'm not experienced enough to make something really neat with them, but at least I'm not afraid to open a terminal and try out a few things, and I've learned a lot about Linux by tinkering around with them. The strength of Linux is in it's diversity, there's something out there for anyone no matter what they want in an OS.

    ReplyDelete
  13. No need to apologize. I am a Linux noob as well, but I've been running Slackware for over a year as my only distro. Contrary to what you said in the comments of your other post, I don't run Slack because I'm too lazy to try Arch. Slackware is not a larval state distro from which people will depart once they find a better one. In my opinion, it IS the best one.
    There's a saying about Linux that I think fits Slackware like a glove:
    "Slackware IS user-friendly. It is NOT, however, idiot-friendly or ignorant-friendly."

    ReplyDelete
  14. I admit Slackware might not be the best distro for someone coming from, say, Windows, but it's very easy to use once you have a little of Unix/Linux experience under your belt. Note that I personally run it on anything and everything, and it just works. From old laptops to new workstations and servers to virtual machines, it's the easiest distro I've personally ever used!

    Regarding your network problem, again it could not be easier, as Slackware does not play games with you like other distros. As root, open /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1.conf, and please read the instructions at top of the file. If you use DHCP, take the first interface group (eth0) at the top, set USE_DHCP[0]="yes" and (just in case) DHCP_HOSTNAME[0]="newbeeRules". Then identify a gateway a few lines below (i.e. GATEWAY="10.0.0.1"). Save file and run /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1. Done!

    Sure, if you have never changed a simple config file in your life, it might feel overwhelming at first. Don't despair! Slackware rulez!

    ReplyDelete
  15. @DoctorPepper: Thanks for the links (though I believe someone else posted a couple of those in the comments for the original post).
    @Roland: Yeah, that's definitely true. I'm not a member of their target audience. Oh well.
    @Anonymous 1: I think the issue here is that I often write my reviews in a way that assumes that readers are familiar with my preferences and level of experience with Linux (and with my previous reviews as well). So yes, it wouldn't be so great for a new audience, and this is why I may not have stated my intentions as clearly as needed. However, though you could also say that I'm slightly sensitive, a couple comments seemed almost offended that I even chose to review Slackware in the first place, and that's what the latter part of this post tries to get at.
    @Carl Kelder: Out of curiosity, how is Ubuntu so restrictive? As you can tell, I'm not especially in-the-know when it comes to the intricacies and nuances regarding differences among distributions, but as far as I know, Ubuntu can be just as configurable (at the command line) as Slackware. Of course, I'm probably wrong, so please feel free to correct me here.
    @Sum Yung Gai: It's great to hear that, though I'm confused as to how wireless can work better on Slackware than on other distributions. (I would only expect at most "as good as [on other distributions]".)
    @V. T. Eric Layton: I've gotten fairly familiar with Linux Mint, which is why I thought that maybe I would have a chance with Slackware. (Obviously, I was wrong.) That aside, thanks for the support. It seems like to some people, my thoughts (on Slackware) themselves are offensive because I am not a Slackware guru effusively praising it at every turn.
    @Anonymous 2: Speaking of which, I have done pure Debian before, and it wasn't so bad, which is why I thought I may just be ready to try more difficult distributions. I can still do Debian, but I'll definitely wait a while before again trying Slackware.
    @Anonymous 3: I never meant to say that Slackware is for people too lazy to run Arch, and if it came across as such, I'm sorry about that. Nor did I mean that Slackware is a "larval" distribution in that sense either. What I meant is that because Slackware does provide a bunch of packages at install-time (such as a bunch of WMs and related stuff), while Arch does not, the order in which I will be trying out these distributions will mean, logically (to me), I will try Slackware before Arch.
    @Anonymous 4: I have edited some configuration files before, but more minor ones (e.g. GNOME Panel, tint2) - never anything like a network configuration file. Yes, it's just another thing I can add to my experiences.
    Thanks to all for the comments!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Prashanth,

    Usually, when someone takes umbrage to something you've posted about a certain distribution, it is because they are a fanboy of that distribution. We all have our favorites. It's human nature. Unfortunately, some folks get downright defensive about theirs.

    The reality is that ALL Gnu/Linux distributions are good; some are just a bit gooder than others. ;)

    I invite you (and all your readers to visit a very friendly GNU/Linux forum that was founded by a great man, Bruno Knaapen of Amsterdam, a kind and helpful Linux teacher and advocate.

    Scot's Newsletter Forums | Bruno's All Things Linux --> http://forums.scotsnewsletter.com/index.php?s=4a33de5c57e1bf6a0c50dd1b04312458&showforum=14

    Also, Bruno's Tips for Linux Explorers --> http://www.brunolinux.com/

    Regards, and have a wonderful 2011!

    ~Eric

    ReplyDelete
  17. @V. T. Eric Layton: Yeah, I figured as much as well. Also, I have visited Bruno's site a few times, and it has been really helpful to me in the past (when I needed help with the really simple stuff). Thanks for the comment, and happy new year to you as well!

    ReplyDelete
  18. I saw the article in Linux Today, saw the bit about the absence of dependency tracking being an anachronism, and I think I knew you were in for it.

    I don't fully understand Slackware, but I like its straightforwardness and transparency. At any given time, I like to have two computers, one running Debian, or something based on Debian, and one running Slackware, or something based on Slackware. It's hard to explain, but for me there's something about the straightforward simplicity of Slackware that lends itself to getting work done.

    Anyway, it's the internet. On the web, Linux devotees are not the only ones who strike back with a little too much force at those they believe in error. That applies to just about anybody.

    In my opinion, your experience is valid, but calling it "a review" does imply that you're assuming a mantle of authority. Another title may have been helpful. You were somewhat ignorant, but your apology is honorable and I wish you a happy new year.

    ReplyDelete
  19. @blackbelt_jones: I suppose in the future what I should do is only label more in-depth reviews "Review" and call something like this "[First] Impression" or something like that. Also, anachronism is probably a stretch, and I do kind of understand why Slackware does it (and have no problem with it per se), but even Slackware users admit that it's not at the cutting edge of Linux, and the distributions that are usually do have dependency management. (I also understand that this is a case of correlation, not causation, and I'm not trying to imply causation here.) Anyway, thanks for the comment, and happy new year to you too!

    ReplyDelete
  20. And I gather every exploration is also a kind of selftest. A review more than a first impression. Happy new year to you Prashanth! Have good exporations in the year 2011, I will be happy to read them, I am sure!

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Hannes Worst: Certainly. Thanks for the support, and happy new year to you too!

    ReplyDelete