22 Jan 2013

SLAX 7.0: The Comeback

It was the operating system I was waiting for a long time, simply because I felt nostalgic about it.

SLAX
SLAX 6 was (practically) the first Linux operating system I tried. It was the subject of the first review I wrote. Unfortunately, Tomas M, the author of SLAX, abandoned the project after version 6 was released. That is why branches of SLAX, like Porteus, sprang up.

After all this time, Tomas M. has returned to the business. The new version of his famous operating system, SLAX 7.0, was released in the middle of December 2012. I downloaded that release soon after, but, unfortunately, it took a significant amount of time before I had a chance to try the OS and to write the review. While I was doing it, SLAX went through several releases, and SLAX 7.0.4 was released not so long ago. It fixed some issues I noticed, but more about that later.

The image size of SLAX 7.0 is notably small. Depending on the language, it weighs between 210 and 220 Mb. Yes, you read it right. The full operating system weighs less than quarter of gigabyte! You can download each language version as an ISO for CD, or as a ZIP file for USB stick. The USB version also includes some other files needed to "burn" the image to the live USB itself.

I downloaded the ZIP file, unpacked it in my Xubuntu installation and clicked on the .sh file.

Creating the USB stick

...Nothing happened. It did not work. I tried different methods to run the .sh file, I tried it in different operating systems: Xubuntu, Mageia and Debian. Nothing worked. Finally, I dropped the idea. Even though there was a .sh script for this, it simply did not work. Finally, I was able to create the Live USB with the .bat installation file in Windows XP.

SLAX 7.0 installer error


By the way, version SLAX 7.0.4 seems to fix this issue.

It was a time for me to start playing with SLAX. Actually, it took me several weeks between the USB stick creation and the test itself. Anyway...

The stick is in the port of my laptop Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505. Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!

Firing up SLAX

The initial boot screen of SLAX 7.0 has 3 seconds delay, during which you can change the boot parameters, for example boot SLAX without graphical environment, or without persistence, or copy the OS fully into RAM for even speedier results.

I went on with the default options, persistence and graphical environment.

The boot process itself did not take much time. You can expect this from the tiny size of the distribution and from the fact that is run from the USB stick.

After few seconds, I got to the default screen.

User interface

The screen itself in SLAX 7.0 is in the familiar KDE4 style, with a rather wide panel at the bottom. Yes, you will be surprised again: 215 Mb of distribution includes KDE4! That's a trick of the tricks! But not the last you will hear from me here, I assure you.

SLAX 7.0 default desktop

The panel in SLAX 7.0 contains three buttons in the bottom-left corner: Kick-off menu, terminal and Firefox browser.

The right corner of the panel contains clocks, network indicator, screen parameters, volume control, language indicator and some of the other usual suspects, like USB device monitor, battery monitor and Klipper.

The default wallpaper is in a light-green palette with a SLAX's Tuxin the centre. There are no alternative wallpapers in the default distribution.

Links to Software Centre and User Guide are in the top-left corner of the screen. Unfortunately, neither of them works from the very start, because they are not real applications, but rather links to the Internet pages. Obviously, you first need to connect to the Internet to make them workable. That's quite strange, since you might suppose that the User Guide would actually contain instructions for the Internet connection.

There is no virtual desktop switch on the panel by default, but it is not a big deal to add this element to the panel. Of course, standard KDE widgets like CPU and memory monitors are also here.


Network... or the absence of it

A network indicator is in the bottom-right corner of the panel in SLAX 7.0. Unfortunately, I was not able to connect to my home wireless network. The reason was very ordinary: SLAX comes without a driver for my wireless network card Intel 3945ABG. Even though there are quite a few drivers available in the /lib/firmware, the particular driver for this card is not included.


There are a couple of README files in that firmware directory, and one of them says that author decided to include only the smallest drivers in the distribution. How ever explanatory the reason was, it did not help me to connect.

Keyboard layouts

The keyboard layout indicator is also in the bottom-right corner of the panel in SLAX 7.0. This time round, I was luckier than with network. I was able to add Russian to the list of default layouts: English UK and English US. Keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Shift also worked fine and allowed me to switch layouts. In other words, in a few clicks I was able to configure the keyboard behaviour to my taste. The only small downside was that SLAX lists languages in their 3-character abbreviations (rus, est, fra), not in full names (Russian, Estonian, French).

SLAX 7.0 correctly recognized and configured the touchpad on my laptop. I was able to do double-click on it as usual. However, edge scrolling was not activated by default, and I did not find the configuration utility for touchpad.

Applications

SLAX 7.0 comes with a quite limited set of software. Understandable? Yes. But let's looks what is actually inside.

Firefox 17.0.1 is the default internet browser. It comes with some add-ons, which is quite unusual. If you remember, most distributions only include the basic browser, and leave it up to the user to install plugins. SLAX 7.0 is different.

I cannot say that the presence of plugins made me unhappy. On the contrary, one of those add-ons made me quite happy. This is FXChrome, which makes Firefox to look similar to Chrome, my favourite browser. This is the add-on I recommended in my Chromofox article.

You may think that Firefox is the only browser in SLAX 7.0, because nothing else is listed in the Internet section of the menu. However, type in "kon" in the menu search tool, and you will find Konqueror, the KDE-native browser. It is available in SLAX 7.0 too! I presume Konqueror is propagated too deep into the KDE core to leave it aside.

Other than Firefox and Konqueror, SLAX 7.0 includes KRDC remote desktop viewer, Pidgin internet messenger, KNetAttach network partition management tool and Krfb desktop sharing tool.

SLAX 7.0 includes half a dozen simple games, all of them are KDE-native ones.

There are some simple graphical tools in SLAX 7.0: Gwenview image viewer, Okular PDF viewer, KolourPain, and Ksnapshot.

Multimedia tools in SLAX 7.0 include SMPlayer, JuK and KMix. Not the richest selection, but still enough for a start.

There are not very many System tools in SLAX: system monitor, system settings, Dolphin file manager and InfoCentre. This is the full list of that menu section.

Utilities also include only basic tools: Kate text editor, Ark archiving utility, Calculator, System sweeper and a few more.

In general, SLAX comes with a decent minimum of applications to start your work. However, you will likely need more tools for more comfortable work: Libre or OpenOffice, GIMP, VLC and whatnot.

There is a separate section on SLAX's web site that allows you to download additional modules. Unfortunately, that section was empty when I downloaded my SLAX image in mid-December 2012. Now, in the middle of January 2013, it has started to fill in. For example, you can find Abiword and Gnumeric office applications (a strange choice for a KDE-based distribution!), Lynx and Links browsers, and some more.

Unfortunately, that Modules section does not have proper classification rules. For example, you can find KFloppy floppy disk manager in Multimedia and Network sections. Wicd network manager is in Multimedia section, and so forth.

Multimedia

Do you remember that SLAX 7.0 comes in about 215 Mb of size, which already includes KDE4. That might seem impossible. However, you will be absolutely shocked in a few seconds.

SLAX 7.0 also includes all the necessary codecs for multimedia playback out of the box! SMPlayer was able to play back both MP3 and video files, which I found on my hard disk.

SLAX 7.0 comes with all the necessary codecs
Wow!

General feelings

SLAX 7.0 was very light on resources. Even with some applications started, like Kate, Konsole and Firefox, the memory usage was just above 300 Mb. Many distributions take more just to boot themselves!

Because of that light resource requirements and usage, the system felt very snappy and fast. I have nothing to complain about here.

Although, what is my general feeling about SLAX?

I'd say that SLAX 7.0 is not recommended for beginners. SLAX 6 was not designed for beginners either. The reason is probably the same for both releases: drivers. You cannot receive a guaranteed result for the pocket-sized distribution without drivers for most popular hardware, and an Intel 3945ABG card is one them. It means there is a risk you will be left without a network connection, if you take somebody else's laptop and try to boot it from your own USB stick or CD. That's not the best situation one could imagine.

The second reason for not recommending SLAX for beginners is the lack of software available for this version of the distribution. This issue can be overcome with time, but it does not guarantee that all the necessary applications will be available.

Anyway, I wish Tomas all the best in his re-ignited project! And I will look forward to see new releases!

6 comments:

  1. Talking of comebacks. Welcome back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Gary!
      That's only temporary, unless you want to feature a new guest article here! ;)

      Delete
  2. oh great, another expert singing the praises of a difficult
    to install and use Linux. No wonder Ubuntu and it's offspring do so well..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Stephen, I have not said that SLAX is difficult to install and use. But it is not for beginners. Once you settled with more easy-to-use distributions and understood the concept, SLAX may be a nice option for a pocket USB.

      Delete
    2. Get Slax 7.0.8.

      I also was unhappy that Slax wouldn’t give the green light to installing to a hard disk.

      With 7.0.8, I now can, and fairly easily for me. (I’m 61).

      I downloaded the zip file to a USB drive. Booting the test laptop to a Puppy Linux CD, I formatted the laptop’s hard drive to ext2, copied then expanded the zip file to the hard disk.

      Found the ‘bootinst.bat’ file, (thanks to the User Guide on the desktop), double clicked and wound up with a bootable laptop now containing Slax!

      I had to get K3b burning app.

      When SMPlayer didn’t play my DVDs, I thought to rip them to the laptop so I could overcome what I thought was SMPlayer’s shortcoming.

      There’s when K3b griped that it needed a missing lib. I got it from Slax.

      And now I can watch DVDs! Thanks, K3b! Boo, Slax for not adding the lib beforehand.

      But, to have a Slax booting from a P4 1.3Ghz. laptop? Freaking awesome!

      Delete