Installing Slackware 10 on a Dell Inspiron 8000
By Mike Oliveri
This page is a work in progress and has last been updated on 06/03/05.
Check back for updates as I narrow down the To-Do List.

Why Slackware?

For the most part, why not?

I've mostly been a Red Hat and Fedora man up to this point, but some frustrations with the way Red Hat has been doing things has been fairly irritating lately (and I find Bluecurve almost as irritating as the default Windows XP "Fisher Price" theme). I thought the community-driven spirit of Fedora would resolve some of that (especially regarding out-of-the-box MP3 support), but it wasn't the case.

I installed Mandrake on a workstation once, somewhere around version 9.1, but after a video disaster I gave up and haven't gone back. I also suspect I'd be having the same frustrations with Mandrake as with Red Hat and Fedora. I've been tempted to try SuSE now that they offer ISOs, but so far have been content with Slackware.

I work for an ISP, and when I had a use for Linux on some older hardware, I went with Slackware. The install wasn't as pretty as Red Hat's, but it wasn't near the nightmare some people paint it to be. It also "just worked", and when it came time to patch/upgrade the kernel, I had zero problems (unlike with Red Hat). It's package system is easy to use if a bit rudimentary, but I like the way I can build software from source without having to sweat libraries and other necessary packages being squirreled away somewhere Red Hat decided was better than what the developers intended. So, when I finally got around to installing Linux on the laptop, I decided to go for it.

Specs

I purchased this system in April of 2001. This wasn't the top of the line available, but finances led me to purchase the following configuration. I also ordered Win2KPro preinstalled as I didn't have the nads at the time to order it with Red Hat, which they offered to install at the time.

I also have an Agere Orinoco Gold wireless PC card that I left in the slot during installation.

Initial Install

The 10GB drive didn't leave me much room to share a drive with my original Windows 2000 Pro install, so I decided to go whole-hog with Linux and formatted the drive as follows:
Mount Point Size Format Comment
/boot 50MB reiserfs Should be plenty for a couple kernels
Swap 512MB N/A Just shy of 1.5x RAM -- should work fine
/ @9.4GB reiserfs I thought about separating /home, /var, etc., for security reasons, but I also didn't want to find myself with a full /home or /usr partition and have a lot of empty space on such a small drive.

When it came time for packages, I just selected Everything, which installs just what it says -- everything. I selected a 2.4 kernel (2.4.26 comes with Slackware 10) as the 2.6 kernel on Fedora gave me some hassle. While I haven't narrowed it down to whether it's the kernel or Fedora, I played it safe with 2.4. I can always upgrade later, right? I gave it a host name, then told it to configure my network settings with DHCP.

Unlike some other distros, Slackware doesn't provide an opportunity to set up X other than prompt for a default window manager. I'm a KDE guy, so that's what I chose. GNOME is also included, as are several other window managers.

The install didn't take long. I didn't time it, but I'm going to bet less than half an hour. Total package installation came to around 2.5GB. Not too shabby.

First Boot

I had set the text display at 1024x768 and was greeted with a nifty picture of Tux while the boot messages did their thing. Boot time is a bit long, but I think part of that is due to probing the USB and Firewire ports and the PC card slots. I logged in as root, then ran adduser to create a regular user to log on as in the future. Logged off, logged back in, and ran startx.

Wonder of wonders, it worked like a champ. I had no sound in KDE (more on that in a moment), but the GUI was sharp and clear. Apparently Slackware goes for a "safe" X config with a 1024x768 display resolution. Mozilla was included, and even had the Flash plugin pre-installed. I also quickly found GAIM and KOffice (I am a writer after all), and I was happy to find they even had included GKrellM. I visited some movie sites and the Totem player worked with both mpg and wmv videos. No luck with QuickTime, but I hope to rectify that with either Real Player 10 or MPlayer.

I expected a number of problems based on other users' experiences on the Linux on Laptops pages, specifically issues with hard drive speeds, pcmcia module issues, and sound and video. None of it applied to my system, which I think is a good example of how quickly Linux is developing.

Getting Sound Working

This was a piece of cake. I went into /etc/rc.modules and uncommented the line for my sound card, as follows under section ###OSS Sound support ###:

# ESS Maestro3/Allegro:
/sbin/modeprobe maestro3

The next time I booted the machine (I probably could have restarted rc.modules), sound worked great in X, including from video. I didn't realize how irritating the default sound themes in X could be...

Networking Notes

I have a Linksys wireless router configured with MAC filtering to provide wireless access via my Orinoco Gold PC card. Slackware detected the card and installed the drivers with no problem (I spotted its MAC listed under eth0), but at first I had no connectivity.

After some thought, I remembered I had disabled SSID broadcasting in the router. I turned it back on and voila, I was online. I took the laptop to a friend's place and got onto his network with no troubles, either. Chalk that one up to my own wireless inexperience with Linux, not a fault of Slackware.

I selected Kismet for wireless sniffing and detection. I have yet to get the GUI working, but I followed this guide to install the patched monitor mode drivers for my Orinoco card.

USB Thumb Drive

I have two USB thumb drives, one a Lexar JumpDrive and the other a Soyo Cig@r Pro. Both worked just fine with no additional configuration. I created an /etc/fstab entry as follows to accommodate them:

/dev/sda1     /mnt/flash     vfat     noauto,owner,user     0 0

They're both FAT formatted to allow them to be read on non-*Nix systems. I specified vfat rather than auto for the filesystem type because auto resulted in DOS-style truncated filenames.

iPod

Connecting an Apple iPod was much easier than I expected. I plugged it in via USB and found it hooked itself up to the sda device system. I created a /mnt/ipod mount point and an /etc/fstab entry as follows:

/dev/sda2     /mnt/ipod     vfat     noauto,owner,user     0 0

It's essentially identical to the USB thumb drive configuration above. Note I have a Windows-formatted iPod; you may have to change the filesystem reference in /etc/fstab if you have a Mac-formatted iPod. I use GTKPod to sync as there are no fancy configurations or build options to get it working.

X Configuration

If there's one thing in Linux that's a severe pain in the ass, it's configuring X. The generic config found at /etc/X11/xorg.conf only runs at 1024x768, which is a little lower resolution than I prefer to run at. I ran /usr/X11/bin/xorgconfig to create my own, and based on some configs found at Linux on Laptops, I chose the following settings (manually entering the refresh rates):

Video Driver: ATI r128
Video Memory: 16MB
Vertical Refresh Rate: 40-110
Horizontal Refresh Rate: 30-100

At first the X server kept crashing, complaining about lack of support for my chosen resolution (1280x1024) by the selected driver. In addition to the above configuration, in the end I opened /etc/X11/xorg.conf myself and found the Device section was incorrect. I changed the Driver from "VGA" to "r128" and uncommented the VideoRam entry which, for some reason, was correct but commented out. After that everything worked.

My full xorg.conf file can be found here. Update: After upgrading to the latest X.org in Slackware -current, X complained about the lack of a keyboard driver. The driver name "Keyboard" has been changed to "keyboard" (lowercased) and I've made the appropriate change in my xorg.conf file as of 4/3/05.

Note: If you are getting strange, discolored blobs when starting the X server (and are subsequently unable to get any kind of interface back without powering down), this is not a problem with your X configuration. I wracked my brain with it for a while, then finally turned off the Font feature on the laptop (accessed by the Fn->F7(Font) key combo. This essentially takes a lower-res screen, such as running just the CLI, and blows it up to fill the screen. Leave this off, as the X server will fire itself up in full-screen mode. By turning on the Font feature, there's something causing a conflict with the display that's creating the blobs. I turned it off and never had the problem again.

APM

Given this is a laptop, I'd like to have Advanced Power Management working properly. To get started, I edited /etc/rc.d/rc.modules and uncommented the line /sbin/modprobe apm in the APM Support section. This provided me with a simple KDE applet in the taskbar showing me the current battery capacity. While the percentage appears accurate, the calculations for remaining time are way off; they showed over five hours at 100%, but this older battery won't only lasts about 45 minutes on a good day.

I've set the BIOS to suspend the system when I close the cover, but Slackware, as is, will not do do properly. More specifically, the system locks up when I attempt to bring it out of suspension. The hard drive light is on solid, but I get no screen and no reaction to any keystrokes. I plan to do some research on this soon.

Internal Lucent WinModem

In running cat /proc/pci, I learn I have a winmodem: "Communication controller: Lucent Microelectronics WinModem 56k (rev 1)." I was nervous about dealing witha winmodem at first, but after an initial frustration, I figured it out. The easiest thing to do is download the latest drivers at http://www.heby.de/ltmodem. The documentation leads you through the full install, but in general you're just going to need to run the following command sequence (as root):

./build_module
./ltinst2
./autoload

You'll be pressing "enter" several times to get through the scripts. The problem I ran into when running ./autoload is it wasn't writing to /etc/modules.conf like it was supposed to. However, I didn't receive any error messages and everything seemed to have run fine. The modem just didn't work. I finally noticed the autoload script wrote to its own logfile, BLDrecord.txt, where I found a complaint about /dev/modem already existed. Slackware automatically creates a /dev/modem link during the install process, and mine was pointed to /dev/ttyS4. I removed the symlink and re-ran autoload, and everything now works perfectly. It created /dev/ttyLT0 (required for winmodems) and added the following entries to /etc/modules.conf:

alias /dev/modem lt_serial
alias char-major-62 lt_serial
alias /dev/tts/LT0 lt_serial

There are also some commented lines in modules.conf that include special options apparently required by some distros, but I didn't have to mess with those. The lines above were sufficient.

Configuring Hotplug for a USB Digital Camera

One minor problem I've had with Slackware is gtkam, the front end for libphoto2, doesn't work out of the box. It would appear hotplug just needs to be configured, and for some reason this hasn't already been done for us. Fortunately, it is easy. For starters, check out the directions at the gphoto docs. You can start at section 4.3.2, as the rest should already be fine. There are only a few minor modifications for paths:

/usr/lib/libgphoto2/print-usb-usermap is actually /usr/local/lib/libgphoto2/print-usb-usermap
The usbcam.* scripts can be found in /usr/local/share/doc/libgphoto2/linux-hotplug/

Personally, I just used the usbcam.group script and set the group to users. I'm the only one who uses the laptop, but can see adding the wife at some point in the future.

To-Do List

Note these are just items I need to test to complete the hardware configuration. I also plan on tinkering with NFS and some other server applications, but I feel they're beyond the purpose of this article.



Any questions, comments, or concerns? Please feel free to contact me.
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