Here comes the Slackware newbie

On Saturday I decided to ditch Fedora Core 10 and it took me a while to choose what to try next: Slackware 12.2. I knew it would be tough and time-consuming but anyway, I would give it a try and see what happens. For convenience sake, I will list the steps below:

  1. I went to FreeNode, a very popular IRC server for the tech community worldwide, and talked to the people at ##slackware first.
  2. I headed to the Slackware website and grasp the first install CD. It would be much faster to download and my poor laptop doesn’t have a DVD burner :( . It meant my installation would minimum, no X server, no fancy graphical Desktop, everything was on a command-line basis and it would take a long while to build a functional system.
  3. Installation was not that tough. I was able to set up a dedicated partition for Slackware (the same partition I used for FC10) with “cfdisk” , and navigate through the menu-based installer. In order to make matters worse, I chose “expert” mode for package selection, which gave me total control over which package would go into installation and not. Practically speaking, many of them were so unfamilar to me and I made a mistake of leaving two important ones behind (cpio and gawk). Other than that, things went pretty well.
  4. Upon booting the system, I was presented with a “kernel panic”, which was rather odd, normally I don’t expect things to go wrong that soon. With the help of the ##slackware folks, who were extremely nice, knowledgeable and helpful, I figured out it was because I lacked of a Initrd image. I booted into the system using the installation CD (cool system), made the Initrd with “mkinitrd” and modified the Grub menu accordingly. I didn’t choose Lilo because I still prefer Ubuntu to be the primary system, obviously because without a GUI, I could barely function. I needed to get the two missing packages but it was all about mounting the installation CD and getting them :)
  5. Eventually I was able to login, modify the network settings with “netconfig” and got on the Internet. It felt awesome to talk to people via a text-based IRC. What a geeky feeling.
  6. The next thing I did was to get Xorg, which was rather simple. The tough part was choosing the right mirror. I was bouncing back and forth and settled on the Australian one  since the other mirrors in Asia didn’t work :( . It was very slow and I had to wake up early to get Xorg. Things went fine and I got it to work. With xorgconfig, I managed to get a working GUI. FYI, in systems like Slackware you have to manually build your Xorg configuration :)
  7. I still haven’t figured out how to install KDE 3.5, the default desktop environment for Slackware. I prefer GNOME but this is a trying-out-new-thing process so KDE is a preferred choice. Firstly I was advised to get OpenBox, a new modification of Blackbox. I fetched it with “wget”, then “configure–>make–>make install” and “startx” without a success. It wasn’t recognized. Obviously it needed further tweaks but I was pretty green so Blackbox via the package manager would be much easier. With a simple command I got firefox3 up and running.
  8. That’s it! Now I have a working Slackware box :)

Of course, it’s still very raw. There are a few things I need to do:

  • Get KDE. I may get it via Subversion and build it from source. It’s tough but again, it’s fun. May leave the computer running tonight because getting all the source packages will be slow as hell.
  • Get wifi to work. I could see the b43, which is the driver for my Broadcom card, running but since Broadcom has released a native driver for Linux (broadcome sta wireless driver), it’s wise to use that. I’ve been connected to the Internet with that native driver for a few months and very pleased with it.
  • Compile a custom kernel. Things have changed a lot since the last time I was able to compile a kernel (5-6 years ago). New drivers, new hardware, etc. I was lost during my first attemp last night. Will try to do it again. It’s complicated.
  • Make it the primary system. Let’s see if I can ditch Ubuntu someday :)

Slackware reminded me of the old days when I first jumped on the Linux bandwagon. The command line was so familiar and I loved it. It’s a special feeling. It’s not like using a fancy desktop with 3-D effects. It’s about doing things and learning stuffs on the go. One thing I noticed about how the slackware guys helped me: they gave me the hint, told me to read the manuals myself. It was great. And they were very friendly, not pretentious with a look-down-on attitude towards newbies like me. Cool.

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