Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Slackware free.

In times past every single one of the 12 machines in our house had Slackware, or a port of it, in use. Only one of those machines was set up to dual boot MS Windows XP and Slackware, the rest where pure Slackware machines. The dual booting machine is our middle sons machine. He is learning about a Linux based operating system but loves to play the odd MS only game, as he learns and I show him Wine/Cedega and KVM's abilities to play his favoured games on he is finding that he is using the MS side of his dual booting machine less and less. One area that is not yet fully doable on the Linux platform that he likes to play is Silverlight embedded on-line games and it is those, and those only now that Wine/Cedega play his favoured games as they play under an MS operating system, that makes him keep MS around just a bit longer until Mono's Moon shines in a fashion that makes the Silverlight experience not just an MS Windows one. My eldest lad, now 10 years old, started on slackwae 3 years ago and last year he made his own choice to move to Ubuntu "because on Ma's machine it looks easier to administer". So, he too smelled the coffee and after I watched him install Ubuntu so he made no mistakes as he went along he now administers his own machine. My wife has used Ubuntu since 6.x or something and she too now administers her own machine. The rest of the machines are servers that serve up such as email, local intranet, files etc. Each one has a specific task as I still believe in the age old doctrine of one machine, one task. And so it is.

But, I digress...

Slackware, or a port of, was on every one of those machines. That is no longer the case. Over the course of several posts to this and other blogs I have complained and moaned about the direction Slackware is taking. That direction appears to be steered not by the main author, who seems to have less and less influence on his own distribution, but the ragbag of people he has taken on-board to help him maintain the distribution. As their influence, which can be so clearly seen, is foisted on the distribution, more and more problems are cropping up at post install time. The fact that Slackware has become so KDE centric,to the detriment of other Desktop Environments ("DTE") and Window Managers ("WM"), does not warm my appetite either. My personal dislike of KDE/QT is partly the reason I have moved away from it. Sure it includes XFCE4 which is excellent in its own right but as shipped with Slackware it is so bare bones it is almost useless. To get anything close to a nice, useful XFCE4 DTE one must dwnload the XFCE4 goodies, compile them and install them one by one. There are scripts out there to do exactly that but still the process is not something most users, and almost all new users, to the Linux platform do not want to do. It looks like a halfhearted attempt to get another DTE in the distribution. The rest of the Window Managers are old hat now so are not worthy of commentry. No offense meant to those who still use such as Window Maker or FVWM2 etc but they are old hat in todays world of flashy windows and glitzy shiny bits and a bobs users expect to see on ther Desktops.

My distribution of choice is customer driven. More and more of my customers are leaping head first into the X/K/Ubuntu world and because I must support them to maintain my business I had no choice but to use one of the ubuntu family myself. One cannot offer support is oneself knows nothing, or not a lot, about the very thing one is offering support for. So, my hands, and machines, where somewhat tied on this.

It has to be said though that the fact that Slackware, and the ports of, are going in a direction well away from where I think it should be heading, and even further away from its root philosophy, to which I bought into all those years ago and now find myself stranded in a KDE world I have so much disain for, is something I have had to deal with. And deal with it i have by moving away from my most cherished distribution.

I have sat by over the years and watched as new distribution after new distribution have slowly but surely eaten away at the Slackware insall-base. This is especially so on the Desktop but also happened in the server rooms around the world. When Ubuntu came out and with the strides in consumer usage and experience rising with each new release it had and has killing just about all other distributions in the Desktop area. CentOS has the server rooms just about all to itself. As these two have come to dominate those areas distributions like Slackware have become ever more marginal. It used to be said that real Linux users use Slackware but outside the Slackware specific places on the Internet I have no read that for some 5 or so years.

Does Slackware still matter in the current distribution world? Yes, I say it does, but not to any great lengths it held a few years ago. Slackware will always have a userbase, at least for the forseeable future, just like Gentoo, Mandriva etc will. But, it will, like all the others, play a side role as the Ubuntu family slowly, release by release, take over the Desktop install-base. It is also making strong inroads in the server space once upon a time dominated by Slackware.

It is a shame to see such a great distribution fade into a shadow of its former self but that is exactly what it is becoming and that is exactly where its future lays.

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