Thursday, October 2, 2008

Slackware v Ubuntu: Not What You Might Think - Part 1

Slackware and Ubuntu share a common line of thinking. They both aim to be simple. However, they have different approaches to simplicity and different target audiences.

Ubuntu wants to be simple for end users switching from Windows. Everything has a dialog box. Installation of additional packages is straightforward and simple. You can throw the disk in the drive, boot and go.

Slackware wants to be simple for Linux users. BSD style init scripts that are easy to edit. A package management system that won't install anything you don't expressly tell it to. A setup environment that allows someone in the know to install exactly what they want and nothing else.

Two days ago I installed Slackware 12.1 for production use on one of my computers. This marked the first time since I started using Linux (roughly four years ago) that I would be using something other then Debian or a Debian based system on a production machine. The reasons for the change were immense. What I'm going to go into here is some of the highlights and drawbacks of two distributions that strive to be simple and why I would ultimately recommend them both to a new Linux user.

Ubuntu has a lot going for it with a new convert to the Gnu way of computing. For someone who isn't much of a computer person it is, perhaps, the best option as far as Linux goes. It remains installed on one of my computers to this day so that my wife can use it without needing to call her tech support (myself) while I'm at work. I'll look briefly at each feature that is easy to use and why it can be a problem.

Installing extra packages in Ubuntu is pretty damn easy. Using software like Synaptic extra programs can be added with as little as three or four mouse clicks. There is no need to worry about dependencies and conflicts as these are automaticly resolved for you. Repositories give you access to over 25,000 packages meaning you can probably find what you're looking for somewhere in the heap.

Auto dependencies and conflict resolution can be devastating. The system is not always right, for one. Part of what I do is break machines. It's how I constantly develop my ability to fix them. My record for breaking a fresh install of Ubuntu is only 30 minutes. It was the package manager that broke it. The system required a rescue boot to recover. The problem? The auto conflict resolution decided that the gnu c library should be removed. The system was near useless after. Now someone who knows Linux well enough to know that it's not a good idea to remove that could have prevented this. However, someone who is not well versed in what packages are necessary would have surely allowed their removal and therefore lost the system.

As a side note, the fastest I ever killed an installation was actually during an installation and not on purpose. Apparently earlier version of OpenSuse did not mix well with tablet laptops.

There is also a serious drawback to having access to 25,000+ packages. It can make finding the right thing a real pain. The searches do not always turn up what you're looking for and browsing through package by package can take hours.

Continue on to Part 2 to keep reading.


Grobsch said...

Keep this article... as the GoblinX main developer I'm interested in opnions about Slackware, and as I do also help another distribution here in Brazil but Ubuntu based, I have a lot of experience in both as system to work on.

Chris Lees said...

While I appreciate the focus of the article, it's very unusual that the C library would get removed. It should be marked in the package manager as "essential" and refuse to be removed, not to mention that no package should have it listed as "conflicts" or "replaces".

Vet Tech said...

@chris lees

It is unusual. That is still the _only_ time that I have seen it happen. However, the fact that it happened at all is cause for concern. There are, of course, other examples of the damages that can be done by Ubuntu's package system. This was just the most extreme that I have seen.

Puppet Master said...

nice article!!!!