Saturday, May 17, 2008

Not good.

Ignoring people is something the Americans are not alone in doing. But, my recent experience with some of our American friends shows that some, but obviously not all, of them are very well capable of doing it.

I use Bluewhite64 Linux. A 64bit port of my all time favourite Linux distribution, Slackware.

Bluewhite64 is a like for like port in that what it offers is identical to that which Slackware offers. Like for like except that Bluewhite64 offers a 32 bit compatibility layer (several packages that allow a lot of 32 bit only programs to run, but not be compiled, on 64 bit systems). Unlike its main counterpart Slamd64 that has a few added in packages, Bluewhite64 is as close as one can get to that unique Slackware experience. As you should have guessed by now I am a staunch advocate of Slackware Linux over all the other distributions, old and new, out there. Now that all my systems are 64 bit (and knowing I could run Slackware 32 bit proper on my 64 bit systems, but chose not to) I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time searching out 64 bit distributions, downloading them and trying them all one by one but every one of them at that time left me feeling that something was not quite right. In the end I found first Slamd64 and while the experience was much much better it too did not feel quite right. In the end I stumbled upon Bluewhite64 and a new love affair with a distribution was born. I never looked back nor have I installed anything else since, though I have tried a few of the newer distributions.

I have mentioned these new kids on the block before on this blog and have, rather reluctantly, mentioned how I think Slackware's relevance today is not a patch on what it once was. Even so I reckon that Slackware and its derivatives and ports will be around for a lot longer yet. Hopefully Slackware's creator will see that these new kids on the block are slowly killing, by their actions, the spirit which the author himself created and nurtured all those years ago and that has survived until now with a sharp drop starting 18months to 2 years ago. Roughly, the time these new kids on the block got their grubby fingers into the distribution.

In recent times a new web site offering Slackware compatible, but not identical, package build scripts has popped up and stolen the limelight from another web site offering the same which just happened to have been around for years. Probably before the new guys with their new web site were even born so long ago was that original web site started. They made no reference to that long established defacto web site. In point of fact it was, when the new site first started, plain for us old hands to see that the less the old web site was mentioned the sooner people would stop using it and a new defacto web site would be born. I reckon that, as unfortunate as many reckon it is, the new web site succeeded. Many of the long established web sites built around knowledge of Slackware were, in the eyes and minds of new Internet denizens, killed off in similar fashion. Instead of engaging in dialog with these older, much older, web sites and learning what those web site creators could teach them, the arrogance with which these newer ones aimed their destructive attitudes towards the older web sites lost Slackware a few long time users.

Those, like myself, who have sat on the sidelines watching all this happening noticed a sharp decline in long time Slackware users and, of course, with these long time users gone there are few left to spread the gospel according to Slackware with the ferocity the older long time users gave it. Which meant that the Slackware, and its ports, lost its relevance in todays market place. As these new kids on the block continue in their so obviously arrogant ways and keep on changing things as they grapple time and time again at lose straws in their efforts to stem that ever increasing movement away from Slackware, and its ports. Some have said that the long time Slackware users that left are defectors. I do not believe that for one second. Most of those long time users, if not all of them, left because they saw what was happening and what was happening they did not like. Many no longer use any Linux distribution preferring instead a BSD distribution which adheres to the values Slackware once did and of those long lost values the main value was based on the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle.

Recently I downloaded a set of Slackware build scripts and was slightly dismayed, but not surprised, to find that there was no 64 bit (x86_64) settings within any scripts. I have emailed them before asking them if they wanted me to add 64 bit to their scripts and where needed either patch myself or use someone else patch who got there before me but as was expected the email was ignored. Of course, like many do nowadays they may claim they never received the email but whatever the reason is/was for the email being ignored I simply chalked it up as another nail in the sinking ship.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New age Slackware.

It used to be said that Slackware was the best all round fit for both server installations an desktop systems. It was also said to be the best fit for both old, older and new systems. In the days of yore many, if not most, of its users were command line junkies. Nowadays though, almost none of that holds true.

Sure, the venerable Slackware distribution can be, and is, used on a few servers here and there with the desktop components not being installed but my own findings are that Slackware is nowadays mostly found on desktop installations. That assumes one can find anyone outside of the clique that makes up its current user base who is actively using it. This change of direction came around the time Gnome2 was dropped from the distribution and the horrible KDE became the main desktop GUI. This was a major choice by the creator of Slackware and not one that was popular. My dislike of KDE is because of its QT dependency. I dislike QT with a passion which means I dislike KDE too and anything else that depends on it.

Slackware, rightly, has a reputation for being staid in its choice of software. Some of the software that makes up the distribution is not bleeding edge. This gave Slackware a reputation for being solid in use. Slackware has always shipped with a choice of desktop Gui's but the dropping of Gnome was a minor disaster for Slackware which ultimately lost it a few users to other distributions that did include Gnome. There are also a few people that built Gnome for Slackware almost making a mockery of the Slackware authors claim that Gnome2 was hard to build and maintain.

In the latest release, due real soon now, the use of a default 2.6.x kernel, and the tools that go with it, also shows a leaning by its creator towards desktop installations. Many users, or potential users, of Slackware are now told to use an older version if the system it is being installed on is an old one. How old is old? Well, my reckoning is any CPU from the pre 2004 days. That move to a 2.6.x kernel combined with the dropping of Gnome2 excludes a lot of users.

So, with the combined dropping of Gnome2 and now the move to a 2.6.x kernel, Slackware stands to lose a few more users. I have no idea just how many installations, server and desktop, comprise of Slackware installations but my findings indicate the number has dropped dramatically in recent times, which is a shame because it is a fantastically stable distribution.

Added to this the Slackware creator has gathered together a bunch of people who he is hoping will take up the slack (no pun intended) should the creator decide for whatever reason, he has had enough and quits. Not all of these people are popular amongst its current user base and will I reckon lead to even less usage of Slackware in the next few years. Some of these people are arrogant, something the creator of Slackware has never been seen to be. They stomp all over other peoples work by stealing it. They never give attributes where due. Work that they gave away for free on various web sites dotted here and there. Web sites that in some cases have been around longer than some of these people. They jump on anyone who might have something bad to say about Slackware itself or the creator of, even if that something has merit.

I have used Slackware since around 1993 when it was born from the soon to be ashes of the SLS (Soft Landing Systems) distribution and have followed it not only by usage of it, but also with a general interest when compared to other distributions. Nowadays I have a 64 bit CPU which Slackware itself does not support but other distributions based on Slackware do. Of these ports I find Bluewhite64 to be the best fit as it directly mirrors, save for the 32 bit compatibility layer, Slackware itself. So, the transition from 32 bit Slackware to 64 bit Bluewhite64 via Slamd64 seemed to me to be an obvious one. I took it and find that Bluewhite64 with Gnome2 is the best of breed. I just find it a shame that the Slackware creator dropped Gnome2 from the distribution. Through my own scripting of the Gnome2 build process, and all its various dependencies, and the usage of other peoples scripts to build it, that the claim it is hard to build and maintain is laughable. However, it is, and was, his choice as it is after all his distribution that one assumes mirrors his own usage on the desktop at least and that is something I respect.

It has hurt to write this post because I honestly think that Slackware and the none sanctioned 64 bit ports of it are the best distributions by far, but that said, what I have said here is based around my observations of how the distribution has developed in recent times. It does not make good reading if you are, like me, a stout and devoted Slackware user but it is my view of the current state of play.

I still don't get it.

Having recently used a Mac, with the latest Mac OSX installed, on and off over a working week (that be Mon through Fri) and finding that it and myself did not get on well at all, the same old thought came back to haunt me as it has for quite sometime now. That is, why do software people/companies bring stuff out for MS Windows and Mac but never for the Linux platform?

The differences between an MS based client machine and a Mac based client is machine are massive in not only the GUI on offer but also in how the underlaying OS works. A Linux based OS and an MS based OS also differs in the same areas. However, a Mac based OS and a Linux based OS, especially one based on SYSV, do not. Sure the GUI differs but the underlaying OS does not. Well, not in any significant way that stops software people/companies from creating whatever software they create anyway.

I reckon it all comes down to 2 things. One being the openness of the GPL, v2 and 3, and similar licenses or licenses based upon the GPL and the other things being profits or more accurately what a person or company can get a way with charging for their software.

Licenses on the Linux platform almost universally say that the source code should be made available to the softwares users even if no-one ever requests it. On the MS platform one rarely sees source code unless that source code comes from a person or company who adheres by the licensing of the GPL, v2 or 3. Source code is a rare sight on the Mac platform but it does exist, again from those people/companies that license their software offering by the GPL. MS Windows is closed source. Mac OSX is closed source. An OS based on the Linux kernel is not closed source, though some closed source programs exist.

Money. This is where I think the reason lays. While it is not impossible to make money off the back of a freely given away program, most people/companies on the Linux platform simple give their programs away with no strings attached other than those governed by the license used. People/companies that create programs for the MS platform rarely give their programs away for free, sure there is growing market of free MS programs but that market is very small in the world of MS program availability. Mac OSX people/companies that keep the source code away from their users are aplenty.

Having built software on all 3 platforms I can say that of those 3 only one was problematic and that was the MS platform. Money. The root of all evil.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It just is not right.

A long time ago a mate of mine and I worked out how to get gaim, now pidgin, working without the need for mozilla's nss. It took us about 15 minutes to get all the kinks worked out and we even provided all the slackbuilds and a binary builds created by our own slackbuilds.

Even though we stopped providing these scripts and binaries a while ago we still get emails about them. At the time we created them all and for a good 2 or 3 years afterwards the files where downloaded over 1 million times. The web page that hosted the files had over 4 million page views. All in all we was happy with the results of our work.

Fast forward to the present and we find there are several people claiming they created both the slackbuilds and the work around to get gaim, now pidgin, working with GnuTLS and friends. This is a situation we find all to often on the Internet where new people to slackware claim they created this and that but what they don't tell their readers is that they have everso slightly edited the slackbuilds that people like my mate and i, have had on the Internet years before this new unethical crew came to slackware.

It is unfair but then i suppose this is the state of the western world now where new people make a new for themselves off the back of those who went before.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Slackware 12.1 released

Slackware 12.1 has been released to the faithful. I count myself amongst that number. Even though I no longer use Slackware itself, I do use Bluewhite64, which also released 12.1 on the same day, which is the best 64bit port of Slackware.

This is the first release with only a 2.6.x kernel. Finally. This release also missed a few good updates such as perl 5.10 (Slackware has 5.8.8) and PHP, both of which have been around quite some time now. But in the time honoured fashion that is how Slackware is created the creator has stuck with older, possibly more reliable, versions of those two applications.

This URL shows how staid Slackware can be in its choice of applications over the years since its first release. The remit of Slackware is to release a distribution that is good for servers and desktops alike but as I said here I think apart from the faithful few like myself who simply love the stability Slackware and the ports of it, offer on both desktops and servers, Slackware's relevance in todays wealth of desktop orientated distributions is nothing like it was say 6 or 7 years ago.

I am sure Slackware's creator still makes a living from his creation but making a living from something and that somethings relevance in the market place are two entirely different things. It will survive for years to come but its relevance in the market place will slowly but surely diminish further than it is today which is lower than it was a few years ago.

I will use Bluewhite64 for as long as I use computers on both the desktop and on servers but this stark reality is something that is constantly at the back of my mind. Added to this is the fact his "Crew" are not popular at all with the vast majority of administrators and desktop users it all adds up to a bleak future, but a future where Slackware will just about survive for quite sometime. Possibly forever, though I have my doubts on that one.