19 Sep 2011

Is Salix XFCE 13.37 better than 13.1.2?

Nobody can argue there are 2 major Desktop Environments now in Linux world: GNOME and KDE take lion part in installed Linux desktop systems. Most Linux distributions are released with at least one of them available.
But since system requirements for resources of KDE and GNOME are rather high and growing, there is more and more space for lighter desktop environments like LXDE and XFCE.
I have written a review of Salix XFCE 13.1.2 not long ago. It was a chance for me to get closer to this wonderful Slackware-based distribution. That time I promised to try installed version of this distribution once I have new laptop to fiddle with. The time has come!
Salix XFCE has 2 versions available for download now: 13.1.2 is the only with Live mode, that's why I tried it in my previous article. But newer version 13.37 is also available for installation. This version was released in mid-May 2011. It weights less than 700Mb, so I downloaded it and burnt onto CD-RW.
Let's see how Salix XFCE 13.37 behaves itself on my new laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505.
Reboot. Choose to boot from optical drive. Let's go!


Salix meets you with page of black-and-white text which describes option to boot with cheat codes or skip installer for the "rescue mode" of Linux running in CLI. I would say in this case that Salix XFCE 13.37 still has "live mode", but only for fans of CLI which I know are not so many. If you need neither cheat code nor Live CLI, you can simply press Enter at this stage to proceed.
The first surprise waited for me just around the corner, to be precise right after first screen: Salix XFCE 13.37 does not have installer in graphical mode. Installer runs in text mode instead. There is nothing wrong with it, just you should be prepared. Because of text mode, you may miss some fancy tools like graphical partition manager.
First question which I saw after installer of Salix XFCE started was about the keyboard layout. US English is default option and unfortunately GB English is not listed there. Let's stick to US option then.
Next few steps in installer guided me through selection of hard disk for system installation, partitioning of it and assigning of partitions to future mounting points. In other words, fstab file is formed in parallel to partitioning.
At last I was asked for installation mode of Salix XFCE. My choice was for full installation. Other options are Core and Basic, which only install core system or minimal graphic environment respectively.
Even though Salix XFCE installer was launched from CD, at this point of time I was offered the choice of installer media. It means that if you have ISO image somewhere on the harddisk or network, you can use it instead of CD. This can increase speed of installation (copying from HDD takes less time) and save you from errors due to CD quality. The later was an issue for me, since my CD-RW is very wore. The only advice here: if you want to use ISO image during the installation, do not put it in fancy Windows folders like "My documents". Installer does not like spaces in the path. Root of any of your existing partitions is the best place.
When main part of Salix XFCE system installation was over, in other words when all the files were copied, it was a time for minor tweaks and configuration: set up of local language and timezone.
Salix XFCE 13.37 also offered me to install LILO boot loader, but I refused that option: my Debian runs GRUB2 for me.
Finally, there were several questions about root password and creation of new user.
After that, Salix system was ready for first boot.

As you may already guess, my first boot was in Debian in order to update GRUB records. No surprises here: GRUB2 found Salix under the name "Slackware Linux".
Just another reboot, and in few seconds I am in SalixXFCE!

Salix 13.37 uses XFCE of version 4.6.2. It's not the latest, but still pretty fresh version of this desktop environment.
As usual in any system, first steps were about network connection. My wireless network card (Intel 3945ABG) was automatically recognised and activated by Salix XFCE 13.37. Home wireless network was listed in the Wicd Network manager straight away. Few keystrokes and clicks, password is entered, and in few moments I am in the Internet.
Wicd icon sits in its usual place of the panel in Salix XFCE. Panel itself is at usual place at the bottom of the desktop. It has standard buttons and layout: menu, shortcuts for terminal, notes, file manager (Thunar) and browser, then task switcher in the middle, and at the right icons for network status (wicd) and power, switch between 4 default virtual desktops and finally clocks. Nothing unusual, as you may note.
Default wallpaper of Salix XFCE 13.37 is in blue tones with squares on it. This wallpaper for whatever reason reminded me logo of Microsoft Office. Of course, like in previous version of Salix, there are many other wallpapers available. Some of them are Tux-centric, others are about XFCE.

What is included in Salix XFCE 13.37 by default?
Libreoffice 3.3.2 is the office package. It's not the latest version now, but probably was the latest at the time of Salix release. Libreoffice in Salix 13.37 includes applications like Draw, Math and Printer Administration. I have never seen the latter before, but I think its name clearly states why you may need it. Unfortunately, I do not use printer with my laptop, so I can't tell you more.
Accessories section of Salix menu includes standard tools like screenshot, calculator, terminal, file manager (Thunar), but also some unusual items like application finder, which you can use for search for installed application. In terms of screenshot tool, by default it is not associated with Print Screen button. You need to customize it. Method is the same as described in my Live review.
Development menu section of Salix 13.37 contains Geany and Meld. They are the same applications as in previous version of Salix.
Salix features GIMP graphical editor in Graphics section of menu. It comes along with Document viewer, scanning tool and Viewnior. Anything else you may need in here? Oh, yes, remember to look at the Office menu for LibreOffice Draw. From my point of view, I would include Draw in both sections of the default menu. Strange enough, different distributions, which have Libreoffice Draw included, list this application differently.
Multimedia section repeats one of previous version of Salix: Brasero, PiTiVi, Exaile, Parole and so on are for your service. Again, as in Salix 13.1.2, music MP3 files did not play out of the box. Instead they required plugin/codec installation. All multimedia plugins are available via special item in same Multimedia section of menu. Once codecs are installed, I had no issues with multimedia.
YouTube played out of the box for me. Even before multimedia codecs were installed, I could watch videos there without any issue.
System tools of Salix 13.37 XFCE include Sourcery Slackbuild manager (kind of package manager), Gslapt (another package manager), Gigolo and some more. I'd like to mention here that Salix has its own repositiories. Only they are listed by default in Gslapt. Of course, Salix is compatible with any other Slackware package (but not other way round!), but you need to add those repositories yourself.
I tried to search for additional packages in repositories of Salix 13.37 XFCE and was disappointed. The list is not very impressive. For example, my favourite VLC player is not available neither in gslapt nor in sourcery.
Network tools of Salix 13.37 include Firefox, Transmission, Claws mail, gFTP and Pidgin. Of course, Firefox 4.0 is default browser. This version is obsolete now. There is no Chrome for Slackware unfortunately, but I was lucky to find Chromium as available in Slackbuilds with default repositories. This Chromium also has not the freshest version 11. Moreover, when I tried to install it, Chromium failed to compile. As a result, I currently left with Firefox browser only. I'll try to look into this matter later, but from my perspective this is a serious issue on developers' side. Applications included into default repositories should always work.
Another network tool which I'd like to talk more about is Gigolo. This tool is for mounting of network partitions. It worked ideally for me last time in Salix 13.1.2. But this time round it failed. For whatever reason Gigolo decided that my network drive is password-protected, which is not the case. Such a pity! Of course, I easily solved the issue by adding my network drive as into fstab. But wouldn't it be easier to use graphical tool instead? Especially if it worked before...
Another disappointment in Salix XFCE 13.37 waited for me when I tried to configure keyboard layouts. As you may know, XFCE has unusual way to configure layout switch. First of all, you need to add Keyboard item on the panel and then configure it. Unfortunately, this step failed for me with error:
xfce4-xkb-plugi[2724]: segfault at 18 ip b748b005 sp bfbe0f50 error 4 in libgtk-x11-2.0.so.0.2400.4[b7260000+3cb000]
Although, this time round I was luckier than in Chromium case. All I had to do was to reinstall package  xfce4-xkb-plugin in Sourcery. The issue was fixed and plugin worked fine. The only issue left with this plugin was about indicator itself. I asked it to show me flags, but instead I got gb/ru texts.
Another small bug or lack of feature if you want is linked to my laptop's touchpad. Scrolling is not working there. To be honest with Salix XFCE 13.37, I remember no XFCE-based distribution where this feature worked for me.
And final checks were about issues which struck me right after "move" of my hard disk inhabitants from old laptop to new one. If you remember, keyboard shortcuts for volume controls (Fn-F5 and Fn-F6) made all the systems stuck. What is about Salix? It does not fail when I press these combinations. But also it does not change the volume. In other words, these combinations are not working at all. Unfortunately, same is valid for brightness controls with Fn-key. Unfortunately, this is major issue for me since sometimes I use laptop to watch movies, and hardware buttons are more convenient here compared to any software or mouse-engaging regulators.

What is my general feeling about Salix 13.37 XFCE now?
I still like it for impressive system performance:

  • I have no issues or lags with flash videos playback on full screen.
  • GIMP takes only about 12 seconds to start.
  • System feeling is very snappy in general.

But on other side there are some issues which make me think now about next hop in my search for the best non-KDE/GNOME distro:

  • Failure of Chromium installation
  • Annoying bugs in keyboard layout configuration plugins
  • Lack of applications in default repositiories
  • Major issues with volume and brightness controls.
Is Salix XFCE 13.37 better than 13.1.2? I can't say for sure. Newer version is almost always better than previous one. But this time round I see much more bugs than improvement in new version. Is is correct way to grow? Probably not.

What is your opinion of Salix? Have you tried it? If not, why not try it in the next future? Just for start, you can order your own CD using Buy Linux CDs site. You can order Salix 13.1.2 with Live mode or Salix 13.37 install-only CD there, just write your requirement in payment notes.

Edit #1:
Google Chrome can be installed onto Salix XFCE 13.37. Here is short manual in a folder containing some of required files. What the manual is missing is necessity to install additional library, which is available in Sourcery in package named mozilla-nss.

Edit #2:
VLC can be installed from additional repository. It does not start immediately, but after update via Gslapt everything works fine.

Useful links:
Salix on Distrowatch
Review of Salix 13.37 with Fluxbox

10 comments:

  1. I used to use Salix Xfce. It's a wonderful little distro with a promising future. I would still probably use it if I hadn't found Arch Linux... One thing though:

    "Lack of applications in default repositiories"

    That's a rather odd complaint for a Slackware based distro...

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  2. @Anonymous:
    Even though I found a way to install most of applications I need, there are still major concerns on my side about their availability. Maybe I just need to get more used to it... ;-)

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  3. The issue with Gigolo complaining about the fact that your shared network drive is password protected (when it is actually not) is -- I think -- a bug which I encountered in other distros, too. The workaround is to change a setting in samba, to send passwords in clear text. It should be ok if you're inside a firewall in your home network.

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  4. @woohoo:
    I am not sure about passwords in clear text. The point is that no password is required at all. Network drive is configured to accept connection passwordless.
    Most interesting that this bug only happens in 13.37, but not in 13.1.2.

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  5. I know -- that's why I responded -- I too have network shares _without_ passwords, and that was the fix...

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  6. @woohoo:
    I suppose something's wrong with Samba on my installation. There is no smb.conf file at all! I wonder why I can still use my network partition from under fstab.
    I tried to start Samba, but failed... I guess I am still too unexperienced for manual configuration of such tools...

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  7. vlc is available through the repository. Did you had bad luck, and it was not there when you tested it? It is one of the first thing I install on a Salix box, so that is surprising.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that might be a temporary issue. Happy that it is there now. Although, I migrated from Salix anyway.

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  8. Hello there.

    I found SalixOS in 2010 by accident. I was running Slackware, and in a Google quest for TXZ packages I found the SalixOS repo, read about it, and decided to try it out. I have been with Salix ever since.

    As you would expect, being Slack-based, the OS spins like a top. Further, the Salix community is very prompt in resolving issues, all OS decisions are well-deliberated and well-executed, there is a notable absence of self-righteousness and cat-fighting among the dev team, and one gets the sense that the core philosophies which make Slackware legendary are revered and instituted by the SalixOS maintainers. This isn't just another distro, it's a commitment to a quality of life. Salix is one of the very best and has earned my full respect and support.

    Regarding the difference between the 13.1.2 XFCE (which I run) and 13.37 (which I tried LIVE) the only difference seductive enough to entice me into making the switch (***based on my personal needs***) was Sourcery. Once I realized, however, that it is just a graphical front-end for slapt-src, I decided to stay with with 13.1.2 -- as slapt-src is incredibly simple to use from the CLI.

    Further, with options like slackbuilds.org, Gilbert Ashley's src2pkg, and then of course the regular repositories, I never find myself forced to live without a desired package.

    If you don't have time to tinker with Slackware, and aren't ready to sit down and wrap your mind around an Arch install, SalixOS is the next best option, IMO.

    -Dennis in New Orleans (Dennola4)

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    Replies
    1. Dennis, I am happy it works for you.
      I tried it myself and found that even Salix is too much complicated for me. 8-(

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