Interview with Slax's author

written by Tomas M. 2 years ago

I was just recently interviewed for Czech Republic's most famous linux website Here is a shortened (and slightly modified) version translated into English. The text is free to use at your website, if you feel the need.

The live distribution called Slax is developed by Tomas Matejicek since the year 2002. The developmend has stopped few years ago, however an article at initiated a new discussions and lead to successful restart thanks to two sponsoring companies. Now, one year later, it looks like the development is stuck again. We've asked Tomas for the current status, and plans for the future.

Just one year ago, the development of Slax has been restarted, but now it looks like it's stuck again. What happened?

I have to admit that the development is now slowed down. The reason for that is simple - the software used in Slax (mostly the KDE desktop) doesn't show any significant progress towards better usage. I'd say the opposite is rather true - with every new bugfix release of KDE, I'm finding it more and more difficult to integrate it into Slax properly. As an example, the device notifier appears on strange places during KDE startup, the task bar is not properly resized to full screen width sometimes, and so on. Furthermore I am concerned about the startup time of KDE, which is significantly faster in Slax than anywhere else, but still too slow in my opinion.

In general, KDE desktop or KDE SC (software compilation) is no longer looking like a good candidate for fast, simple and elegant desktop. It's the best time to choose something else, smaller, faster and nicer. Unfortunately I'm not a desktop programmer, I'm just putting existing things together to make Slax, things which were made by other programmers, so I'm reliant to waiting and trying, until something suitable is found. Fortunately Slax investors are not forcing me to make any hasty decisions.

How are you fulfilling the financial plan? Does Slax make any income?

The investors got already more than a half of their investment in return, so I think it's safe to assume that their investment will be fully repaid in a long term, which was the primary goal. I'd like to introduce the paid-wallpaper business model I was talking about few times, but before this is done, I prefer to rebuild Slax once more again and replace KDE by something else. Slax uses Slackware as a base, which is a great advantage on one hand (the system is clean), but may be a night mare on the other hand, since there's nothing like package pool in debian, so if you need to make any software for Slackware/Slax, you usually have to compile it from scratch by hand, while you also have to find all the dependencies, which usually depend on other dependencies, which is sometimes even recursive. Yet I'm sticking with Slackware and I have no plans to switch to any other distro. I think it makes my life a bit harder, but I'm gaining a feeling of uniqueness, since there are not much Slackware-based distributions out there. At least not as much as of those *buntu clones.

What could replace KDE in Slax?

That's a good question, but I don't have any answer for that yet. There are lots of Desktop environments, but many of those "innovative" or "progressive" ones are somehow tied to the distribution they're running on. I thought for a short time that a good replacement for KDE could be Cinnamon (Gnome's fork from Linux Mint). It was available only for Mint, but just got separated recently, however I think I don't like it any longer.

Another possible candidate for KDE replacement is Pantheon desktop, which is officially released only for Elementary OS (Ubuntu's fork). If I could make Pantheon work on Slackware with minimum of dependencies, it could be it. First attempt of integration to Slax has failed though. Today it's probably the best option to wait for Ubuntu's LTS version release, which is scheduled to April 2014, since new Elementary OS version should be released after it. The new Pantheon could have most of the components enhanced for easier integration in other Linux distributions.

What's your ideal desktop environment?

Ideal desktop environment starts within few seconds (I mean TWO) and gives the user a simple way to run programs and switch between them. That's it, it's nothing special at all. The old well known start menu can be replaced by a bubble with icons (as like slingshot in Elementary OS), taskbar doesn't necessarily have to show all the long window names (plank, used in Elementary OS, is mac-ish but otherwise very elegant), system tray at the top black line as we know it from Gnome or Ubuntu looks like a good idea as well.

In general, the technologies used in Elementary OS look inspiring. I'm convinced that the end user doesn't need anything else at all. I'm not any big fan of Activities in KDE, similarly I don't understand why whould anybody need gadgets or similar things in the base Slax.

It is essential that all the desktop components are well designed. And here, by Design, I mean the design how things work, what appears where and how, and such (for example the feature that two running terminal windows can be recognized by two dots under the terminal icon), yet it has of course have a nice design (in the meaning of "nice look" - those two dots in our example have to be "nice" somehow). Desktop effects like cube desktop or wobbly windows are awesome, but as we could see, they are not widely used anywhere, because the added value is not so significant. Sometimes less means more.

Why don't you use Xfce, Enlightenment or OpenBox?

OpenBox is mostly just a window manager, not a desktop. XFce was nice few years ago, when the last version has been released, but it's too outdated for today. (Well the whole KDE4 look a bit outdated already). Gnome 3 brought a new way of managing multiple desktops and applications, I was really excited by that, but there were some other problems, such us ugly icon of current application in top black bar, really big window decorations, or the entirely reworked app switching through the Activities menu.

Anyway, regardless of which desktop could be choosen for Slax, it will mean putting it there instead of KDE, which will also mean getting rid of most of the other KDE SC applicastions which are used in Slax today. At least of those parts from KDE SC - software compilation. Those would have to be replaced too, by some simpler and smaller equivalents using GTK.

I think it will need some time, but I believe that sooner or later something usable for Slax could be found. When that happens, it will be the best to release that as Slax version 8. Any similarity with Windows versions is purely coincidental :)

Tomas M.

(c) 2017, Tomas M; rss