Sunday, October 5, 2008

Slackware v Ubuntu: Not What You Might Think - Part 3

When it comes to system configuration, Ubuntu and Slackware could hardly be more different. Ubuntu uses GUIs for everything and Slackware doesn't use any. Interestingly, both distributions are aiming for an easy and straightforward configuration. Again, it's only different methods to, ultimitly, the same end. I'll tackle the pros and cons of Ubuntu first.

Configuring in Ubuntu is very guided process. Open this window, check this box, click this button and you're done. This has some pretty clear advantages. My wife, for instance, has no idea how to use the command line in Linux but still wants to be able to connect to the internet. In Ubuntu this isn't a problem for her. In Slackware she would, most likely, never figure it out, give up and end up calling me at work to help walk her through fixing it.

There are some real disadvantages to this method though. The biggest one is something that *nix users have known for years. You will never (well I shouldn't say never, but almost never) find a GUI that provides all the functionality of the command line. It just doesn't happen. What if I don't want certain web related services to have access to that NIC? What if I need to do ip forwarding or configure detailed firewall rules? Ubuntu does not have readily availible GUI answers to these problems.

On a related note, while many times it is easy as knowing which config files to edit in Ubuntu to achieve these goals, many users who have come to rely on an interface will either have no idea what to do with these files or even know that they exist.

This is where Slackware pulls ahead. In Slackware you won't find pretty interfaces waiting to walk you through the process of setting up different aspects of your machine. Some are included with KDE and some of those are useful. Not all of them work with Slackware, however. The KDE wifi manager is a great example. It is, at least at this time and to my knowledge, incompatible with Slackware. Someone wanting to configure their internet with this tool on Slackware is going to be disappointed.

But all is not lost. Editing configuration files in Slackware is incredibly easy. Well commented files and a little bit of Linux knowledge make changes rather straight forward. One of the huge benefits here is that you will know how to do things this way. Different distributions use different programs and different GUI based methods for system configuration. Knowing how to handle edits at the command line will make moving between these differences a non issue.

This was, in the end, one of the reasons that moved me to Slackware. I don't want to mess around with a dialog box setting configuration options only to discover later that several features are not represented by that window. It takes less time in the long run, for me anyways, to edit a group of files then to find and use programs to edit each one for me.

Again here which is better is simply a matter of which you prefer. They are both simple and easy solutions. I will revisit this topic at some point in the near future but for now I leave you with this;

I would recommend either of these distributions to anyone looking to start using Linux. It all depends on what they really want out of it. If they want to use Linux as a safe and effective operating system with little in the way of new learning then Ubuntu is surely a good way to go. If they want to _know_ Linux, well for that it's tough to beat Slackware.

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