Slackware is one of many Linux distributions available from Linux vendors. (For more information about the Linux operating system).
All Linux distributions have many common programs which define the Linux operating system. For example, Linux distributions must include the Linux kernel. In addition, distributions also include the GNU programs, the X-Windows system, the Apache web sever, and many other programs that make up a functional operating system.
The main differences between Linux distributions lie in the installation and configuration of a system. Although the first steps to install the Linux operating system are the same for all Linux distributions, Linux vendors have produced installation programs that make installation for the end user easier and more cohesive. In addition, many Linux vendors have developed programs to aid in system administration and configuration.
One of the goals of the Slackware Advocacy Campaign is to increase the knowledge and available information about the Slackware Linux distribution. The following sections present important features of Slackware.
Slackware Installation Features
Many Slackware users report that the reason they prefer Slackware is the simple, yet powerful installation program, called simply ‘setup’. One author writing an article about Linux distributions in Linux Journal magazine joked that Slackware setup was so simple and he had done so many of them, he could probably perform a complete setup without a monitor attached to the computer. This is the kind of simplicity and ease of use that attracts most Slackware users.
The setup program allows a user to:
- Remap the keyboard. The default is US. Choose from 38 different keyboard layouts for International users.
- Set media source. From CD-ROM, Hard Disk Drive, NFS, floppy.
- Set installation destination. Trial users can run Slackware from the CD-ROM disk. Permanent installation can occur to Hard Disk Drive. In addition, you can run a Slackware installation from an Iomega Zip drive via ZipSlack.
- Configure and initialize swap space. Swap space is used by the Linux kernel as virtual memory. Swap space on all Linux systems is manually configured.
- Configure and initialize the file system. The file system is the configuration of the Hard Disk Drive so it can be used by Linux. Like swap space, a file system and partitions on all Linux systems is configured manually. The setup program makes this job simple.
- Set Prompting. The user can set the frequency of prompts during installation. This allows a new Linux user to fully understand and control which programs will be installed. More experienced users can set the prompting frequency to low so that the installation will proceed with maximum speed.
- Use Custom Tags. If you are a system administrator that frequently installs the same Linux configuration on many systems, use the custom tags feature of the Slackware setup program to achieve this goal.
Slackware Package Management Features
The pkgtool utility is used by the Slackware installation program so users will be familiar with it during day to day system maintenance. It is available in a full color ncurses interface or a standard text terminal interface. The pkgtool utility is the most flexible and generic package manager because a user can use any tar ball (tar.gz archive) as a source for the pkgtool program. The tar ball archive can be installed into any location on the system.
In addition to the installation and removal of packages, a user can make new packages using the ‘makepkg’ utility. This utility creates a new Slackware compatible package. The package is constructed using the contents of the current directory and all sub directories. Symbolic links are noted and coded automatically into a package script which will recreate the links upon installation.
Finally, a new package utility, ‘upgradepkg’ can be used to replace an installed package with a newer version. This new utility is available in Slackware 4.0.
Slackware Network Configuration Features
During the configuration of a Slackware installation, the program ‘netconfig’ is used to configure a TCP/IP network. netconfig allows a user to quickly and easily configure all aspects of a TCP/IP host, including IP address, netmask, gateway, DNS servers, etc. Later versions of netconfig (Slackware 4.0 and later) will autodetect the network card being used, as well as provide built-in support for DHCP. If a network configuration changes at a later time, netconfig can be used again to reconfigure the network settings.
There are many versions of Slackware, owing to the fact that Slackware is one of the oldest existing distributions and the Slackware team’s goal to provide the most stable and robust distributions. Listed here are some of the more recent versions of Slackware, from version 3.9 to the present.
Slackware 3.9 is a good example of the Slackware team’s commitment to providing the most stable software–during the transition from Linux kernel 2.0 to 2.2, the Slackware developers felt that there would be many people who would not want to risk upgrading just yet to the new kernel. Thus, at the same time that Slackware 4.0 was released, they released Slackware 3.9, an updated version of Slackware 3.6 utilizing the final kernel release in the Linux 2.0 tree as well as updated and bug-fixed utilities.