Updated: April 4, 2022
Sometimes, you may disagree with a person or an entity, but also sometimes, you gotta respect them when they stick to their values, no matter what. Slackware is a good example of this behavior. While the Linux desktop world has been gripped in much drama over the past two decades, one distro stayed true to its original mission, for better or worse. No drama, no fanfare, no great missions statements, just pure tech for nerds.
With the recent release of its 15th major version, I decided to test Slackware 15, to see how an old, classical Linux distro copes with the modern challenges. Now, I was a little apprehensive of what the test would include, so I forayed with a virtual machine experiment. This doesn't necessarily reflect a complete real-life usage scenario, but it should still be good enough for our purpose. Let us commence and ponder.
If you recall my tutorial on the subject, from way back in 2006, would you believe it, the actual procedure has not changed much. Slackware is deployed using an ncurses interface, with a set of menus where you must make intelligent choices, including partitioning and package selection. And then, there's LILO the bootloader. Not GRUB, mind! Feels a bit daunting, but then, if you're careful and methodical, there should be no issues. That said, the approach automatically precludes Slackware from being a typical desktop choice, as most people would have no idea what to do with the installer.
Reboot and ... ?
No bad surprises actually. Things went quite smoothly. Of course, you are not logged into the desktop graphical interface right away. Nope, you need to startx to get there, and then configure your system to launch directly into the desired session, if you want. Moreover, you only have the root user to start with, and you need to configure others. Very rudimentary and old school, but also very predictable.
The desktop experience
You get a lot of goodies, including the latest Plasma version, which is very neat. This is where the fun really begins, but then you do need a little bit of expertise to get going. For example, there's no Discover. Package management is done entirely using the command-line (by default). And this is where Slackware takes a step back from the so-called modern world, because if you're used to the quick 'n' casual way of managing software in Ubuntu or Fedora or alike, you will need to invest a bit more time here. Somewhat like Arch, perhaps.
There were some oddities, though. The system area showed two audio/volume icons, one of which was muted. The system also launched with the HP printer manager tool, but I have no HP printers, and I wonders why it should be there to begin with. It's not listed in the KDE autostart panel, so there is a different method to make the program run on the desktop session startup. Feels a bit weird.
At some point, the second volume icon unmuted itself. Golly. You do get a decent selection of programs, mostly the pure KDE crop (but there are Firefox and GIMP, too). Calligra is the office suite of choice. The selection is eclectic and definitely up to date. 'Tis this weird dichotomy of Slackware, whereby it blends archaic with bleeding edge. But hey, by and large, it works.
Next, I tried some everyday fun. First, copying stuff over onto the Slackware box. Luckily, SSH is enabled by default, so you can easily scp files over, like say music and videos. I tried playing an MP3 song. Slackware opened it in KWave, which is an audio editing program. Why?
You do have a lot of media players available, some ancient, some new. Both Audacious and Elise did the job well, although they didn't really show the cover art. The MOV video file played fine, too - in yet another program. Similarly, Youtube playback was smooth, however there is no browser integration as you'd expect. I guess the plugin simply isn't available or compatible with Slackware, which is a bit odd, but hey.
Like I said earlier, this is a short review, more of a cautious sampling of what Slackware can do. I am thinking of perhaps trying it on a "real" laptop, complete with Nvidia graphics and whatnot, to see how it's going to cope with an existing, somewhat complex partition layout and proprietary drivers. After all, if you can't use your hardware, and installing software is a pain, then the rest doesn't matter.
I do like the spartan approach, but it's also not feasible for most people out there. Even if you can get through the installation, the day-to-day usage needs to be simple and elegant. I don't know how accessible Slackware is when it comes to more complex things. I am mulling that endeavor still, and it could be an interesting little exercise. Anyway, so far so good. Not bad, but definitely nerdy and true to its original mission.