maandag 27 december 2010

Dependency-confessions from a Slacker

A brief introduction
Recently there has been a thread at the Slackware-forum (at about the occupation of Slackware-users. It was expected there would be a great deal of IT-workers amongst them. But instead, the answers showed that there were all kinds of professions. It's not a uniform community.
I started using Linux on my computer a couple of years ago, although I am not really a beta-guy. I have a degree in theology and at the moment I am working as a pastoral assistent in a R.K. parish in The Netherlands.

Linux appealed to me because it's free in many ways, and has a lot of options for tinkering. I like to solve puzzles, look for patterns and structures in human thought and philosophy, hence my study of theology. Linux offered me a different but comparable challenge. My computer is fairly old (AMD-Athlon 1500+) and is being used by the entire family. I partitioned the hard drive as to install two Linux-distro's: AntiX and Slackware.

AntiX is a distro based on Debian, and it is specially designed for older computers. It needs a bit of tweaking before you can get it going. Installing your locale for instance. and setting up the firewall. But there are a lot of friendly people at the forum, eager to help when there are problems with the installation. Me and my family, we have used it with a great deal of pleasure during the first year. I noticed that I had an unexpected interest in trying out all kinds of software from the open source community. Especially the words 'small', 'lightweight' and 'highly configurable' were able to trigger my attention and curiosity. AntiX uses Synaptics as package-manager. With this instrument, an enormous amount of packages comes available. And everything gets installed so easily - one mouseclick away. Kazahakase, Midori, Netsurf, Ted, Sylpheed, Claws-Mail; I tried it all for some time before I moved on to something else. My wife and children, using the same desktop, sighed repeatedly: "Oh no. Daddy has done it again!..."
In the meantime my AntiX install grew out of proportions, due to the dependencies every package brought along. I removed the main packages but I forgot about the secundary dependencies. My AntiX was at some point no longer a lightweight or small OS.

At the other partition was my Slackware 12.2 install. Not as smallsized as the original AntiX. The install went smoothly but afterwards it involved a lot more tinkering and tweaking than AntiX. I had to edit /etc/fstab, /etc/inittab, the sudoers-file and xorg.conf manually to make it usable on the family-computer. And after that there was still a lot to do to get the peripherals (printer, scanner, etc) going. But after a while I had the operatingsystem adapted completely to my likings; it was a very personilized desktop. I gather that every slacker recreates his or hers unique desktop-experience.

Because of the large proportion of my AntiX-install and the inconsistency of packages that grew over time I decided that it was necessary to start a fresh install. This time I chose PClinuxOS (the LXDE-version). In reviews it was considered absolutely userfriendly. Within twenty minutes the install was completed. What a dissappointment. Everything worked out of the box. My printer, my scanner, it all functioned allmost immediately. Nothing to do for me. No puzzles to solve, nothing to tinker. What a turnoff. But a comfort to my wife and children though, because here they had an OS that their daddy would leave well enough alone.

... back to Slackware
In Slackware it is possible to use a great variety of software. And if you do it right you will use a so called slackbuild-script. With that, you can install it with slacks packagetool. It involves some manual labour, but the package can easily be removed, and I never forget about the dependencies, because they also are manually installed and much fewer in number then I recall with synaptics install. I still use Slackware 12.2, allthough it is an old version, the latest is 13.1. Slackware maintains its versions with updates and security-patches for a long period of time.
There you have it: I started as a slacker and I am still being a slacker, because Slackware protects me from myself. The package-management of Slackware forces me to think before I act and consider my options before and after the installation of software. That's why its still stable and usable on my computer after so many years.