Thursday, December 25, 2008

Slackware 12.2: Trials & Tribulations...

I have always insisted that an operating system isn't any good until it has been loaded 2 or 3 times. True to form this is the third loading of Slackware 12.2 on my trusty IBM R51 laptop. Load number 3 is important because the first two loads were very disquieting/uncomfortable/confusing.

As recently as Slackware 12.1 it was simply a matter of loading up the operating system and I was off and running. As I detailed in Slackware Linux & IBM Thinkpad R51 (Disclaimer: Slackware 11 - It was April of 2007 after all.) I had only to load Slack, download MadWifi and I was in business. Migrating to 12 and then 12.1 was just the same.

Then I loaded up 12.2 for the first time. Eagerly I went out and got the latest version of MadWifi. With resolute belief in Slack I did the make and... the compile did not complete. There were errors. My heart sank. This old laptop without wifi is a deal breaker. With disappointment and a sense of personal failure I took out the 12.2 harddisk and put the old reliable 12.1 back in.

Not to be denied a couple of days later I put my blank HD back in the old work horse. The second load and subsequent attempt to compile MadWifi met with the same end. At least the failures are consistent. Googling slackware 12.2 madwifi lead me to AlienBob's version of MadWifi. It was worth a try. Except for one small detail - something I read scanned - I would have to blacklist ath5k and manually modprobe ath_pci. Ok, anything to get and keep this antique working.

Then I noticed that the middle button on my touch pad wasn't behaving like it did in the past. I grep-ed dmesg and noted that there was no mention of "synaptic". Call me an old dawg but it is hard for me to learn new tricks - I really need that middle mouse button. This time I turned to IRC and Freenode: ##Slackware for assistance. I carefully crafted my middle-button problem as a question. I was quickly rewarded with an advice pointer to /etc/modprobe.d/psmouse. Remming out the default options statement and a reboot and I had my middle-button back, good as new.

Reload #3 affords me the luxury of a clean system. No installed/uninstalled packages leaving remnants about. Then I stumbled on the next and hopefully last sniggling little issue. Isn't it funny how the smallest things seem to be the most important. Favoring as I do Xfce I rely on a number of panel applets in my day to day work. One that is very important is the battery indicator. I had success with Netload, SystemLoad and NotePad but the Batter plug-in just would not compile. Of course I tried the previous version just to be sure. No luck. I would just have to make due without it.

Then in my travels I came across rworkman's Slackware Packages. The first thing that caught my eye was 3.0.0. Then, right below it, was listed xfce4-goodies for xfce 4.4.x. Starting the OO3 download I had some time to kill so I sifted through the Xfce plugins. There was my battery plugin. One download and an installpkg later and I have a working Battery level indicator. This is almost too good to be true.

Once OO3 was down I held my breath and did the installpkg. I should know better that to question rworkman but... the last three packages of OO3 that I had worked with didn't let me use the arrow keys or the backspace key in Writer. (I even went so far as to register an official 'bug' note to LinuxPackages - the package they offer still ha[s|d] the same issues.) I should know better than to doubt rworkman. His OpenOffice 3 is backspacing and arrowing perfectly.

Slackware 12.2 loaded for the third time is the charm. There remains however a couple of questions that leave me very unsettled. Specifically with the MadWifi and the Xfce Battery Plugin why do they not compile natively but Slackware rock stars like AlienBob and rworkman can get them to go? What setting did rworkman have to tweak to get OO3 Writer BS and arrow keys to work? I don't mind relying on smarter people than me but I do like the fact that for the most part Slackware just plain cooperates.

. . .