Back in February I looked at the Slackware Linux web site. After years of working with Ubuntu, and occasionally its parent Debian, I decided to see if I could install Slackware and get it to work. I used it a lot in the first years of the current century. Could I still manage it now, or had the comforts of the Ubuntu installation process dulled my edge? From Slackware 15 – The old brigade:
Slackware is deployed using an ncurses interface, with a set of menus where you must make intelligent choices, including partitioning and package selection. And then, there’s LILO the bootloader. Not GRUB, mind! Feels a bit daunting, but then, if you’re careful and methodical, there should be no issues. That said, the approach automatically precludes Slackware from being a typical desktop choice, as most people would have no idea what to do with the installer.
I can be “careful and methodical” and have no problem with ncurses, with which I go back to the 1980s. The installation worked well enough, after dealing with various distractions. I added an SSD to the system, which apparently did not play nicely with the existing SSD. A first install of Slackware with ELILO for booting (Slackware defaults to LILO/ELILO) worked well enough, but managed to trash my Windows partitions. After cloning the original hard drive to the SSD I disconnected it so it would not confused the system. I ended up having to delete that Slackware installation and reinstalling Windows twice. Once Windows was working I came up with another plan.
- Install Slackware, but without ELILO. Slackware can be made to work with GRUB 2, which is the preferred boot loader for most of the Linux world, including Debian and its family (e.g. Ubuntu), Fedora, Manjaro, and other. I expect to install one of these on this system as well, and did not want to try to make it work with ELILO.
- As the Slackware installation procedure allows and encourages, create a USB boot drive for Slackware. I could plug that in and boot Slackware until I was ready to install GRUB.
- Install another Linux distribution, one that uses GRUB. The idea here was that the GRUB installation from this would recognize Slackware and Windows as well its own native distribution. I have built a couple triple-boot systems (Windows, Ubuntu, and Debian)with GRUB so this seemed plausibe.
(1) and (2) seemed fine it first. Unfortunately, the boot USB did not work. It hung with a “kernel panic,” the Linux equivalent of a BSOD. Both are much rarer than they used to be, but I had one here. My Slackware system was inaccessible. So I had to go to step(3). I chose to install Ubuntu 22.02 Beta because I am most familiar with the Ubuntu installation process. This worked perfectly. Ubuntu’s GRUB did exactly what I wanted: I can boot Ubuntu, Slackware, and Windows from it.
I do not usually install Beta software, and I quickly found some reasons why it is still Beta. But in a few weeks I will be able to upgrade it to the official 22.04 release. Until then I still have Ubuntu 20.04 on other systems. I did not want to install an older version of Ubuntu here this late, and I correctly guessed that the GRUB part would work OK.
So now I have a working Slackware. It feels quite different from Ubuntu. Since the machine has plenty of RAM and reasonable CPU power, I installed KDE as the desktop manager. It feels quite different from Ubuntu’s GNOME, and has its own substantial ecosystem of tools and utilities. That will take some getting used to. I don’t know if I will switch from Ubuntu to Slackware for my main application work, but I will give it a try. I do feel like I have reconnected with an old friend.