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I'm just starting out with Linux, but as a advanced OS X user I'm no newcomer to UNIX. Also, I'm majoring in computer science, so I can't afford to shy ...
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  1. #1
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    Should I choose Slackware or Arch as my first distro?


    I'm just starting out with Linux, but as a advanced OS X user I'm no newcomer to UNIX. Also, I'm majoring in computer science, so I can't afford to shy away from technicalities, nor would I want to. As such, I want to learn from ground up; I don't want a 'user-friendly' distribution to hold my hand - rather a system that'll teach me linux internals as I work with it. Minimalism, and structural simplicity & elegance are important. At the same time, I don't want a source based distro like Gentoo (and definitely not LFS). Maybe later, but not now.

    That said, two distro's I'm considering are Arch Linux and Slackware. The Arch developers have made their philosophy very clear on their website, and everything fits in with my ideas very well. It's also a modern, bleeding edge rolling release system, with a good package manager and repositories - all of which are BIG plus points in my eyes. I also love the fact that I start with a minimal system and then build on it as required - I HATE bloat, and systems filled with stuff I didn't ask for, don't understand and can't use; I like keeping everything under control.

    However, I hear of Arch's 'non-standard' configuration methods. I don't want to learn Linux in a manner that's specific to Arch, or any other distro. That means I'll have to unlearn things later. Then I heard the saying 'Study distroxyz and you'll learn distroxyz, but study Slackware and you'll learn Linux'. That's EXACTLY what I want to do - learn Linux. I've briefly tried both distros and both 'feel' good, though Arch seems easier to use - due to the centralized configuration and pacman. But 'easy to use' is of course, not my priority.

    So what do you folks make of this? I've been trying to make up my mind for about two weeks, and really must make a choice now. Please advise. And PLEASE don't tell me to continue with both, that would almost count as bloat in my book.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. #2
    Linux Engineer Thrillhouse's Avatar
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    I think every distro has its own tendencies which may deviate somewhat from generic Linux'es (Linuces?). Slackware, for example, uses LILO as its default bootloader while most other distros use GRUB. Slackware is also usually slightly behind on kernel versions.

    It's true that Arch's configuration is slightly different in that most everything is controlled by rc.conf but learning a lot about one distro doesn't necessarily preclude you from learning about Linux. To really get the depth of understanding that it sounds like you're seeking, I think you would have to try all kinds of Linux distros including the "user-friendly" ones to see how each one does things a little differently. The rpm and deb-based distributions each have their own unique way of making things work but that doesn't mean they're any less "Linuxy" than any of the more advanced distros.

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    Linux Engineer Freston's Avatar
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    Welcome to the forums!

    As always, only you can decide what's best for you. Also, I had some brief encounters with Arch, but nothing that counts as experience.

    So I'll keep my post about Slackware. It is true that Slackware isn't bleeding edge. But it's not so old fashioned as is sometimes claimed. It has a strong focus on stability and speed, and ease of use. Now this latter point needs some explaining.

    Ease of use here is measured from the 'experienced user' standpoint. It's not by no means a newbie friendly system. It, as Arch, Gentoo and the BSD's gives you a very basic install. You have to build everything yourself.
    This has the benefit that you really get to know your system. There is a beautiful logic behind the system. It takes some time before you recognize it as such, but it's rewarding. And because Slack lacks graphical configuration tools, you are sooner working in the command line than with any other distro.

    This in my experience makes that, once computing trouble ensue, you reflexively jump to the command line. And the command line is more consistent between distro's and versions than GUI tools. If you ever found yourself in the situation where you knew what you had to tell the machine, but couldn't find the little place in the menus to put it, then you know what I mean.

    Slackware also comes with an extensive collection of howto's and FAQ's on board, ranging in topics from 'Encouraging women in Linux' to 'setting up a diskless workstation'.
    Can't tell an OS by it's GUI

  4. #4
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    Should I choose Slackware or Arch as my first distro?
    Welcome to the forums!

    I'm an avid Arch user, but I think you should experiement with both and then stick with the one you prefer.

    Either way, have fun with it.
    oz

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    My 2 Cents

    I personally use Arch, but your needs sound more educational. Arch will teach you about linux internals fairly well, but in the "Arch way". This is actually true with darn near every distro. Aside from derivitive distros (ie. Ubuntu is a derived from Debian), you will find at least subtle differences among all the "core" distros.

    If your goal is educational for the purpose of a potential future career as an admin or developer, then your geographic location and target user base should guide you to the right distro. For example, if you live in the US and plan on being an admin, the most likely system you will be called upon to support is Red Hat or a free alternative like CentOS. So, you would therefore want something close to the Red Hat "core" (ie. Fedora or CentOS). Distros like Mandriva and PCLinuxOS are both "based" on Red Hat, but distant enough from the core, that you will run into configuration differences and differences in out of the box tools/apps.

    Don't let distrowatch fool you. Ubuntu is the #1 for "desktop" linux and even in that category still primarily on geeks' desktops. In the real world of supporting linux, Enterprise class distros like Red Hat and Suse will be used primarily depending on where you live. Now if your goal is to write software for the most popular desktop distro, then by all means, go with Ubuntu.

    As for my credability, I have been supporting Red Hat (and now CentOS) based POS (retail) systems for 5 years for a pretty large software company. As one of the key interviewers for new techs, if you say "I have experience with Ubuntu", you would lose to the guy who said "I have experience with Red Hat". That's just how it is, unfortunately, and largely due to the fact the Linux is so spread out. Going into an interview saying "I know Linux" is nowhere near as narrowed down as saying "I know Windows".

    Swill

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    I just recently (June) started using Slackware extensively, before that I played around with Fedora, SuSe and Arch and finally decided to settle down with Slack. I think slack requires you to do a lot more by hand than the other distros, especially when it comes down to compiling a new kernel etc. I think pacman in Arch takes care of a lot of stuff for you. My purpose in using slack was also to learn the basics of unix

    I would suggest start with slack and after you get a bit accustomed to it, then try out another distro. my 2 cents.

  7. #7
    Linux Guru bigtomrodney's Avatar
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    With some Unix/Linux experience both distros are great and offer something different to most other distros out there. With that said I think that one of the greatest strengths of Linux is the package management systems available. I think Slack probably has the closest resemblance to a straight vanilla Unix system out there in comparison with other Linux distros but I think if you went straight to Arch or Slack you'd be missing out on a big part of the experience. I'd personally toy around with a distro that uses some online package manager for a while at least before going to a distro that essentially uses static binaries and source.

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    Don't choose Slack for the simple fact that it's a "hacker" distro.
    This happens all too frequently.
    This idea has been propogated all over the web since 1997.

    The only reason people think this is because slack is the most Unix like, and in the old days when slack was released people were coming from systems like Solaris and VMS.

    That's not really so much of an advantage now though.
    Some would argue that it's a disadvantage.
    Because slack is a very unique distro, and you most likely won't find it used in a business or educational environment.
    It's great if you're on an aggressive quest to learn the ins and outs of *nix, or you come from a strict Unix background.
    But if you want a forgiving distro in order to get accustomed to *nix while retaining much of the same functionality you enjoyed with a commercial OS, slack doesn't really give you that "out of the box".
    Software installation is primarily a command line task.
    When it comes to package dependencies, for the most part it's done manually.
    Which doesn't lend itself well to the new user.

  9. #9
    Linux Guru techieMoe's Avatar
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    Considering the fact that the original poster has yet to respond to any of the suggestions on this thread and it was made nearly a year ago, I think we can safely assume he or she has already made their decision and no further discussion is necessary.
    Registered Linux user #270181
    TechieMoe's Tech Rants

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