The Linux Setup – Eric Hameleers, Slackware Linux

When you’re interviewing a Slackware developer, you have certain expectations about what they’ll say in terms of controlling your own system and Eric delivers. In fact, he makes the case that Slackware, known as a more challenging system to setup and maintain, is valuable because it requires so much thought. Which is true—I’ve always seen Slackware as one part distro and one part teaching tool. The rest of Eric’s interview is great as he’s a very smart guy who’s spent a lot of time thinking about what makes a distro work, not just in terms of specific software, but also in terms of what’s ultimately best for the user in the long-term.

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  1. Who are you, and what do you do?

    I am Eric Hameleers, and I am mostly known for what I do in my spare time, which is work on Slackware Linux as one of the core developers. During the day I have a regular job at IBM where I currently manage a global Help Desk. My work on Slackware Linux gives me the opportunity to carve a niche in the Open Source ecosystem. With the current focus in Linux-land on the unification of computing platforms (using the same interface on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones) a lot of development effort concentrates on “giving people the best experience,” which often means taking shortcuts and breaking the golden rule of the UNIX philosophy: to create programs that “do one thing, and do it well.”

    I hate it when compatibility is sacrificed for ease-of-use. It seems like the bigger companies target the lowest common denominator as their ideal audience. This is not what we target with Slackware—it tries to stay close to the values of old. People call Slackware a thing of the past, a dinosaur, old-fashioned, and more things like that, but in truth Slackware is a stable, modern Linux distribution that uses proven technology and does not cave in to the fad of the day. We assume that you are a smart person! We take you seriously! A Slackware system gives you the keys to your computer instead of locking everything away from you. What is “the best user experience”? I get the best experience when I feel in total control. I need to understand why something is failing (and to be able to fix it) instead of having to wait for distro developers to fix the “black box” inside.

  2. Why do you use Linux?

    In my early days of earning money, I started with UNIX. We had the Aegis OS on Motorola 68000-powered Apollo graphical workstations and Xenix on Intel desktops. In those days, only the secretaries and sales guys used DOS and the difference between DOS and my UNIX systems was day and night. I decided then and there that UNIX was going to be my future. Unfortunately, all regular UNIX-es were terribly expensive and Xenix was just not mature enough (or perhaps it was the limitation of the Intel 386 based hardware). I bought an Atari TT (also Motorola-powered but with a 68030 CPU) because Atari promised to release an affordable, full UNIX System V for it. Alas, it took them more than two years (the first release would be in November 1991). In the meantime, I had turned to developing software for Atari GEM, the much-underrated GUI for the platform and much, much easier to program for than the emerging MS Windows operating system.

    Fast forward to 1994 when the developers I worked with as a sysadmin decided they wanted a Linux OS as their development platform because the target platform they were developing for (Sun Solaris) was just too expensive for a small company to afford. They picked Slackware Linux, which was hot at the time, and when my team of system admins decided that we should create an Intranet for our offices, it was only logical to use Slackware Linux for the servers. Since then, Linux, and especially Slackware, have determined my career path. It is also an extremely rewarding OS for use at home (tinkering with software, getting to know how stuff works under the hood, playing games, surfing the web) because it is so much faster, more stable and not virus-ridden compared to the “other OS” many people use at home.

  3. What distribution do you run on your main desktop/laptop?

    By now, the answer should not come as a surprise. I use Slackware on all my computers: my work laptop, my living room desktop, the server at home, and all the servers that I manage for my public Slackware repositories, blog and the Slackware Documentation Project. It is an OS that makes for a very fast and feature-rich desktop but also a very capable server.

  4. What desktop environment do you use and why do you use it?

    It depends. On my desktop and laptop, I always use KDE because it is a very powerful desktop environment that happens to look gorgeous, too. On my server at home, where I run some 24/7 stuff, I use a Xfce session inside a VNC server so that I can easily connect to it from all over the world and still not put too large of a burden on the hardware. From time to time I test other desktop environments like LXDE, LXQT and lately, the new Plasma 2, which is being worked on by the KDE community.

  5. What one piece of software do you depend upon with this distribution? Why is it so important?

    Typically, I use the software that I would like my community to use. When you consider Slackware to be a versatile “Swiss army knife” OS, what I typically add to it is the software that enhances your experience with Slackware. I provide packages for the good stuff that does not come with the core OS. We call that “third party repositories” because apart from what’s on a Slackware DVD, there is no other official Slackware repository with add-on software. Some of the programs which I package and which are very popular are: LibreOffice, VLC, ffmpeg, Chromium, OpenJDK, Wine and of course the latest KDE desktop in my ’ktown’ repository.

    Answering your question, I think that I spend most of my time using vi (yes!), vncviewer, Chromium and always have VLC tuned in to my audio server.

  6. What kind of hardware do you run this setup on?

    The hardware I use is not state-of-the-art at all. My laptop is a scratched Lenovo T400 (with 8GB RAM) and my desktop machine is powered by an AMD Phenom X4 945 CPU with 2GB RAM and an Nvidia GeForce GT240 graphics card (fanless). My son’s hardware is four times better!

  7. Will you share a screenshot of your desktop?

    Sure, why not? You will find that I have an almost boring, uncustomized desktop. A typical Slackware look and feel you might say 🙂 Everything I need is provided through the power that KDE provides to me under the hood, with its fast integrated search.

Eric Hameleers' desktop

Interview conducted August 10, 2014

The Linux Setup is a feature where I interview people about their Linux setups. The concept is borrowed, if not outright stolen, from this site. If you’d like to participate, drop me a line.

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