Not Really a Slax Linux Review

Category: Linux

I remember mentioning Linux several times in a technical training class five years ago and telling everyone to give it a try. In retrospect, I think I could have done a better job being a Linux evangelist back then, but I do recall one incident involving Slax Linux. A trainee approached me and proudly said he ran Linux. He handed me a flash drive and I asked him what distribution he was trying out.

"Slax," he said.

"He probably means Slackware," I thought as I booted up to Slax and was soon greeted with a KDE desktop. Out of curiosity, I inspected the contents of the USB stick and was expecting the usual isolinux files but found only one "slax" folder. I nodded my approval and my trainee took the LiveUSB back eagerly.

In my search for a viable Linux distribution for an aged EEEPC701 I resurrected last week, I once again revisited the Slax desktop and found the distro as much a curiosity now as it was years ago.

Setup and adding applications

Setting up Slax on a USB or SD card is fast and easy from Windows - just run the batch file after copying the extracted "slax" folder to the storage device. No need for the dd command from the Terminal, Unetbootin or a specific LiveUSB creator. The process is so simple and brilliant that I wish I had more opportunity to show it off to non-Linux users. In this age of tablets and smartphones, a modular system may seem mundane but I've known a few people discouraged by the steps involved in creating a Linux LiveCD or LiveUSB from Windows. 

To install applications, all users need to do is download an .sb file from and copy the file into the modules folder. These applications are activated on reboot or could be activated and triggered through a Terminal. I downloaded the sb file for Geany from the website and it launched quickly without issues. Geany, however, didn't appear in the KDE menu though adding a launcher really isn't an issue. Linux users accustomed to distributions with a huge library of applications may come off disappointed with the limited number of packages the Slax website offers. Moreover, the Software Center icon on the Slax desktop is nothing more than a frontend to the site. However, I have a notion that Slax is aimed mostly to new users requiring a portable operating system rather than a full-fledged distribution. In that sense, Slax runs along the same lines as Puppy Linux and its variants as well as Knoppix (my preferred Linux LiveUSB).

Performance and user experience

After trying Slax on a 512MB SD card on a legacy EEEPC701, I thought that there would be an improvement in bootup speed once I setup Slax on a battered Kingston USB stick. Surprisingly, boot up was the same even though I was using a newer Toshiba NB520 this time around. Still, it's probably due to Slax running on KDE - a desktop environment that is still more friendly to Windows users even after all these years but is somewhat "heavier" than LXDE or Xfce.

What I really, really like about Slax's desktop is that it uses what I like to think of as "stock" KDE 4.10.4 (the current release is around 4.11 with a 4.12 in beta). The Slax team keeps around only the best KDE applications you would actually use - Dolphin, Ksnapshot, Gwenview, Okular, Konsole, KRDC, KNetAttach, KInfoCenter, Ark and Kate Text editor. Rounding off the default Slax desktop are Pidgin and my personal favorite MPlayer frontend, SMPlayer. Even PCLinuxOS KDE MiniMe isn't as frugal. As a longtime user of openSUSE KDE, I wish the openSUSE team would be as restrained as the Slax team in selecting their application set. For users who want a ton of applications with their KDE desktop, there's the excellent KWheezy with all the toppings of stable applications a Linux user might need.

Slax by default uses persistent storage if there's available space on the LiveUSB/Live SD card. As I ran Slax on the 701, Slax retained most of the desktop settings in between reboots as well as the articles I wrote and the screenshots I took.

Sheer Portability

My emergency LiveUSB PC kit is currently composed of four LiveUSBs - Clonezilla for backup and imaging, FreeDOS for DOS-based firmware, Lubuntu for Linux proselytizing, and Knoppix 7.2 for everything else. Slax has proven it can run on my old unused 512MB Canon SD card and I'm adding it as a backup. You never know when only an SD card is available and a USB port isn't.


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