Slackel Linux Works Well Inside Its Openbox

The latest release of Slackel Linux renews and improves the mashup of Slackware and Salix built around an Openbox pseudo desktop environment.

Slackel 7.2 hit the download servers on July 20, eight months after the release of Slackel 7.1 Openbox edition. Slackel also is available in two much older versions running the KDE and Fluxbox environments. All releases are available in 64-bit and 32-bit builds.

Slackel, based in Greece, is a Linux distro a step away from the typical mainstream Debian-based Linux OS line. Based on Slackware and Salix, the distro is fully compatible with both Slackware and Salix software repositories.

That combination gives Slackel Linux a better range of software. Slackware-based distros typically have far smaller software repositories than do Debian-based distros and others. Think in terms of a few thousand packages compared to 35,000.

Slackel 7.2 Openbox desktop

The Slackel 7.2 release has an energized Openbox desktop display that provides a simple yet functional user interface.

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Finding Linux packages that will run in Slackel is less of a challenge, but you will still experience slimmer pickings.

Bigger, Better Build

The two-base combo comes with useful advantages for Slackel users. One is the inclusion of Slackware system tools.

Another is the built-in access to all the Salix Linux system tools known for their efficiency in making system administration easy and straightforward. For instance, the Salix codecs installer application quickly and easily installs patent-encumbered codecs.

A third user benefit comes directly from a key improvement to this latest Slackel Linux release. Linux kernel 4.19.59 powers the distro. It also has the latest updates from Slackware’s current software tree.

Previous releases came with two downloadable ISO files. One was the live session version. The other was the installation disc. This latest release combines the two. The new ISO image is an isohybrid that can be used as installation media.

Installation tools are another big improvement. Slackware and Salix installations — as well as previous Slackel Linux text-based installers — have made the process less than user-friendly. Four tools improve installation routines.

  1. Instonusb is a GUI tool to install Slackel 32-bit and 64-bit live ISO images to a USB stick. It also can create an encrypted persistent file for live session use.
  2. Multibootusb is a GUI tool to create a live USB image including 32-bit and 64-bit live editions of Slackel and Salix, and to choose the one to boot into a live environment at boot time.
  3. SLI is a complete GUI installer.
  4. Live ISO image creates persistent file encryption after installation on USB devices.

Taking Up the Slack

Slackel Linux has a lot to offer. It has a long line of prominence with growth from two influencers. Slackware and Salix are two well-oiled Linux families from which Slackel Linux evolved.

Slackware Linux is a throwback to the early days of the Linux OS. It is among the oldest actively maintained Linux distros. It dates back to 1992. By comparison, well-known and well-used distros such as Ubuntu, Fedora and Linux Mint were introduced in the mid-2000s.

Despite Slackware’s longevity, is has not joined more modern Linux offspring in terms of user-friendliness. The Slackware project started as a way to install a Linux system that already included some core packages like the kernel and an X window system.

Slackware Take 2

Slackware may have lost its relevance to anyone but diehard Slackware fans. Over the years, Slackware has updated but not improved much.

Unlike Slackel Linux, Slackware still is not easy to set up and use. Slackel Linux attempts to fix that weakness by being more user-friendly as a better Slackware model.

Similarly, Salix Linux is a GNU/Linux distribution based on Slackware. It is simple, fast and easy to use, with stability being a primary goal.

Slackel Linux gets much of its design philosophy from Salix Linux. Salix also is fully backward-compatible with Slackware. That adds reach to Slackel Linux’s access to software.

Openbox Odyssey

Openbox is the only available graphical user interface, or GUI, in the current release. Its simplicity and flexibility make it a good choice.

What is Openbox? It is a stacking window manager for the X Window System. It is very configurable, allowing it to function as a nearly full desktop environment.

Window managers control the appearance and functionality of windows within an operating system. For instance, they provide basic desktop functions for displaying windows and screen displays. They control actions such as opening, closing, moving, decorating, and other such window management operations.

Slackel's Openbox cascading systems menu

A key feature with the Openbox design is the ability to see a cascading systems menu anywhere on the desktop with a right-click. The standard main menu is always available by clicking on the “O” button on the far left of the bottom panel.

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When a full-fledged desktop such as Cinnamon, KDE Plasma, MATE or GNOME is integrated into the operating system, a window manager takes care of the core functions to provide a graphical interface for navigating the screen display. The desktop shell adds more advanced features to enhance the GUI’s functionality, such as providing animations.

Window managers such as Fluxbox, JWN, Enlightenment and Openbox often are used in conjunction with a full desktop environment, but window managers can serve as a pseudo standalone desktop as well. For instance, Openbox often is paired with GNOME and KDE to enhance those desktop environments.

Serves Slackel

Openbox is a halfway measure between Slackel Linux having a minimal or a full-blown desktop environment. Openbox has a powerful set of options and is easy to use.

Its characteristic visual box style is built around a minimalist appearance. Still, its setting controls and other design options allow a variety of display appearances to suit any taste.

Do not let Slackel’s reliance on Openbox over other so-called more modern desktops diminish your view of GUI appeal. It is the window manager used by the LXDE desktop environment.

Especially when a distro developer wants a lightweight distro that works with lower-powered hardware such as legacy computers, Openbox can be a simple and ideal operating system component. It gives you control to change almost every part of how you interact with your desktop without making you do everything.

Slackel's Openbox Configuration Manager panel

Slackel’s Openbox Configuration Manager panel offers a full range of settings to let you design your own look and feel.

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Openbox Look and Feel

The Openbox desktop design requires almost no learning curve. It is point-and-click simple. Both its appearance and its operation are old school. That is a good thing.

The standard panel bar sits at the bottom of the screen. The left side of the panel has a very easy-to-use, uncluttered menu. A few icons sit on the left.

The expected notifications are on the right end of the panel. Toward right center is a preconfigured workspace switcher with four virtual workspaces ready to use.

The panel bar is devoid of any extra features such as applets. Openbox is very simple and has some user tweaks built in, but power users will be less enchanted with its almost one-size-fits-all design.

Superior Software

I was less impressed with earlier Slackel Linux releases that used the KDE and Fluxbox options. Fluxbox is somewhat similar to Openbox in terms of its menu, but the range of functionality with Fluxbox is more minimal than I prefer. The KDE version was spoiled by having too many K-family software packages for my liking.

The Openbox edition takes a big step up by including the LibreOffice suite version 6.2x. LibreOffice is far superior to Amiword, which came in earlier releases.

A nice touch is the Gslapt Package Manager for access to Slackware, Salix and Slackel package repositories. Another of Slackel’s strong points is the systems tool collection from Salix Linux.

Bottom Line

The current Slackel Linux release can be a good choice for new users. It is easy to stumble through the installation steps, but this distro has some benefits.

Slackel is a reliable operating system that is easy to use. If you like to learn how Linux works, Slackel gets you closer to understanding the pure Linux environment without resorting to the terminal window and the command line.

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Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open source technologies. He has written numerous reviews of Linux distros and other open source software. Email Jack.