A Windows User visits Slackware Linux, Part 1

 Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed seeing how things work behind the scenes.  When it comes to technology, you can quickly get in over your head.  Upon my first run-in with Slackware, I felt that I may have done just that.

However, as days go on, I'm getting more and more comfortable with it.

I remember PCs and their weird DOS syntax being strange and foreign back when I'd travel to work with my mom on those days she couldn't find a sitter.  At the time, I had a Commodore 64, with which you could usually load your designated program using 'LOAD "*",8,1'.

Linux syntax isn't quite as foreign to me these days as DOS was then; I've dipped my toe in the Linux world by playing with Ubuntu.  Ubuntu is Canonical's attempt to bring Linux to the masses, with a user-friendly install process and nice GUI ways to do almost everything.  Of course, by no means were they the first, but they are by far the most popular distribution these days.  For a time, I had even slapped Ubuntu on my wife's  netbook.  While she wasn't nearly as comfortable with it as she was with Windows, she was able to do everything she needed to do.

One of the downsides of using a targeted distribution like Ubuntu is that you quickly learn how to do something, but not necessarily why ... or what is going on behind the scenes.  So, if you find yourself using a different flavor of Linux, it's like you're in another country where nobody speaks the same language.  I found this out when I tried Fedora and openSUSE; I was so familiar with Ubuntu's apt-get repository structure that I had no idea how to install anything.  After a bit of Googling I figured it out; not terribly difficult, just different.

Enter Slackware.  It's supposedly one of the oldest and most flexible distributions out there, with a following that is fiercely loyal.  There are even customized distributions built on top of it.  One saying I came across while researching boiled down to the following:

"If you give a man Fedora, he'll learn Fedora.  If you give him SUSE, he learns SUSE.  When you learn Slackware, you learn Linux."

"Great," I think to myself.  That's exactly what I want.  I want to LEARN Linux and quit monkeying around on it.  So, I downloaded it.  Downloaded an x64 torrent of Slackware 13.37, burned it on a disc, and proceeded to install it on my laptop.

Any preconceived notions I had went out the window when the installer started.  No fancy GUI install program here.  The first thing it asks you to do is to partition your hard drive using cfdisk or fdisk.  I've used fdisk before, but it has this weird unintuitive syntax, and it was on Windows.

My first instinct was to say "screw that" and shut down, but I didn't.  I chose cfdisk and created two primary partitions.  The next menu allowed me to choose my swap partition, which I tried - only to discover that I hadn't set up the proper "type" on my swap partition.  Had to look that one up, and after a bit of trial and error i had a primary partition and a smaller swap partition.  After that, the install was fairly straightforward; it walks you through everything.  I skipped the network setup and the framebuffer setup and did the "install everything" option.

Time passes.  "Done!" it says; time to reboot.  I pop out the disk and reboot.  The new OS loads up and dumps me at a black screen with a text login prompt.  I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore.  Next up is to get a desktop working.  I type "startx" and it pops up Fluxbox, which I selected during the install process.  Fluxbox is fast and efficient, but I happen to think it's hideous, so the next step is switching to KDE.

I do some digging, and it turns out there's a shell script for that.  Running xwmconfig re-runs the window manager selector, and I pick KDE this time.  Reboot, login, startx, and voila!  Much prettier.

Next up is getting internet going.  The wireless lan isn't even showing up.  Back to Google I go, and the Slackware docs.  After tinkering with /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1.conf for a while it's still not working.  Then I find out about a handy little program called wicd.  Wicd is a network manager that works in KDE, and it's available on the Slackware DVD.  Takes forever to figure out the DVD was mounted on /media/SlackDVD, but once I do, I easily find wicd on the disk and install it with "slackpkg install wicd".

Fire it up, and boom!  Connected to my wireless network easily.  Finally, I have a desktop, and I have internet - the two core building blocks of any usable modern computer.

After this, it's time to actually start using it...

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