When I first started using Linux, I used Red Hat and Mandrake, both of which booted into a graphical environment by default.
One of the first things I noticed about Slackware when I first installed it was the fact that it booted into a command line only interface by default. From there, I had to log in, and if I wanted a GUI, I had to type “startx” and then it’d start X-windows and go into whatever my default window manager was.
I remember being a little confused about this at first; it wasn’t a problem, but I knew there had to be a way to change that. I figured I’d write up a brief few paragraphs on that subject, since I ended up having to dig around the web some at first to figure that out.
In the wars between GNOME and KDE (which now has even split between the two factions warring over KDE4 and KDE3.5), some of the other environments get lost in the shuffle and are often forgotten about.
One which I think is underappreciated is Fluxbox. Based on the original Blackbox 0.61.1 code, Fluxbox is a blindingly fast, simplistic approach to providing a graphical user environment while staying out of one’s way. Easy to use, easy on resources, and easy on the eyes, Fluxbox is an elegant choice that is often overlooked when the options are weighed between other graphical environments on Linux machines.
I started using Fluxbox when I was on some extremely quarrelsome hardware and needed something with a lot less going on than GNOME or KDE so that I could more effectively troubleshoot it. What I found out was that Fluxbox had an extremely tweakable interface… and I like things I can tweak and customize. I also discovered that it ran extremely fast on the limited hardware I had at the time, something else that KDE and GNOME didn’t have.
Intrigued, I stuck with it for a while and over time I learned a few good hacks that I thought I would share with the three or four readers I’ve acquired here.
I make no secret of my Slackware evangelism. In a recent post I told the story of how I came to Slackware, and why I still use it.
I’ve been meaning to do an in-depth writeup on Slackware, and I probably still will, and most likely it will be in pieces, because I think there’s a lot to discuss. However, someone else has done a great writeup on my favorite distro and I felt the need to share it with the four or five readers I have (thanks for the link, Joe!).
From The beginner’s guide to Slackware Linux:
“It’s not trying to win enormous desktop market share, nor is it loaded with blinking lights, hold-your-hand graphical wizards and package managers that change with every release. Slackware is about as pure a GNU/Linux system as you can get – at least, without all the arduous leg work of Linux From Scratch.”
I’ve told this story to a lot of people who have asked me why I use an old-and-crusty distro like Slackware. I do have some pretty good reasons, and most of them lie in this tale.
A long, long time ago — back in 1999 or so — I had a computer that gave me nothing but trouble. It was one which I had bought from a vendor that did business with my employer then, so I got it for cheap. It was a Pentium 3 450 MHz (slot CPU, not socket!) machine with 256 Mb of RAM and a 10 GB hard drive, in a nice coffee-stain beige tower. When I bought it I also bought a Windows 98se license (and they actually shipped it with the full install media!!!!! Remember back in the days when computer vendors still did that?), and that’s what I set up on it when I got it.
One Linux topic on which everybody seems to have an opinion is partitioning. “What’s the best way to partition my system?” newbies ask, and if they do so in a public Linux forum frequented by experienced penguin techies, they are bound to get at least a dozen answers, many of them completely different from each other.
So what is the best way? Simple. Whichever way you find works best for you.
When I first started out with Linux, I didn’t know either, and I did a lot of reading on the subject, and as a result I created a partitioning scheme that works best for me, and that’s still more or less what I stick with.
With my recent Ubuntu installation I didn’t do any manual partitioning, mostly because for one, I wasn’t planning on dual-booting that laptop with anything else, and for another, I wanted to accept the defaults so that I could see what Ubuntu does on its own.
However, when I’m setting up a Slackware machine, I have a method that I follow.
One word of caution. If you’re setting up your partitions presumably to hold a Linux installation, write down what you’re designating what (i.e., “hda1 = Windows”, “hda5 = swap”, “hda7 = root”, et al) so that you have it to refer to when you’re installing later. Nothing quite like coming to the point in the install where it asks you “where do you want to mount your home directory?” and you don’t remember which partition you created with /home in mind.
Been there, done that.
So you made a choice of which distro to try, now what?
Sounds like a simple question, but it does come up, even for the more technical folks. “I want to give Linux a try, but I have no idea where to get it, or how.”
When I started out in the Linux world, I didn’t know either. So I’ll help you out with that.
Let’s just suppose for a minute that you took my advice in last week’s post and went with one of the two simple options I suggested, depending on your needs. Good! That narrows down where you have to look to get what you need.
Of course, if you decided to go with some other distro, a great centralized location to start with is Linux.com. From there you can get to most of the major distros’ websites, and from those you can easily find places from which to download whatever you need to your heart’s content.
But let’s go back to the two from last week’s “Which Distro?” post. Slackware and Ubuntu.
Every technology writer who talks about Linux eventually babbles about distros and “which one is right for you”. The problem with these kinds of articles is the simple fact that a technology writer, even a really good one, can’t possibly know what’s going to work best for you. He or she can only generalize and make an educated guess at it, like “If you like to do X, Y, and Z, and you’re about this technical, you should probably be using this distro”.
Which is pretty close to what I’m about to do here, so bear with me if you’ve heard it all before. I’m going to try to avoid some of the typical buzzwords and glitter, however, and just bring it down to brass tacks.