Updated: February 13, 2009
SLAX is a small, live Linux distro, based on Slackware. It aims to be light, friendly and useful. It's meant to fit onto antique USB thumb drives and run well on old hardware. And it features the sexy KDE desktop. Plus there's a revolutionary modules management. This fine list of features made it a worthy candidate for testing. The version chosen for this review was 6.0.9.
Creating small yet practical distros is a difficult task. Because small (or pocket-size) distros are not meant to be replacements for large, full-install operating systems like Ubuntu, SUSE, Fedora, PCLinuxOS, and others. Rather, they complement the big lot. But to be appealing, they have to be more than just small. Making them small is quite easy. Making them small and keeping all the functionality is quite hard. People will want their distros to be small, but they will not want to give up anything in return: Wireless, multimedia codecs, NTFS support, these are all a must.
Puppy Linux does this extremely well. Damn Small Linux is another fine, feisty little fighter. But they are both lightweight distros, under 100MB. Then, there's the middleweight, versatile and unique NimbleX, with 200MB footprint, definitely a keeper.
Can SLAX be your favorite pocket distro? Let's see ...
SLAX boots quickly into a beautiful, well-laid desktop. The choice of colors and fonts is smart and inobtrusive. The bottom panel has shortcuts for several most important applications. Overall, SLAX has a clean, fresh feel.
MP3 playback support
The first thing I checked was whether SLAX could play my "Windows" music. Using Konqueror to search the Network was easy. SLAX found the Windows machines without any issues. The NTFS share was mounted without problems. I could both read from and write to it. The three test files were soon located in the home directory.
KPlayer had no quarrel with Peter Gabriel and merrily played this legendary song.
However, Juk, the other media player included, would sometimes stutter and freeze, refusing to respond to my insistent clicking.
The next test was the home-made moron movie, which you have probably seen in other reviews. The video played all right, but the audio was all messed up. It would begin fine, but then turn into an incoherent squeal that blanketed all other sounds. I could watch myself being a moron, but I could not hear it. SLAX seemed to lack the right codecs to play this nebulous format correctly - however encoded by my Canon digital camera.
Flash worked well. Youtube showed me the movies I wanted. But even more importantly, KPlayer played locally saved Flash (.flv) files without any issues.
So, it was 2.5 out of 3 for multimedia support. Not bad.
I had trouble connecting to either of my two WPA-enabled routers. Even trying to connect to the neighbor-happy default access point proved to be too tricky. SLAX simply refused to network wirelessly, even on my four-year old T42.
The assortment of programs included with the distro is not large. But it is well balanced and quite sufficient for most people. You get the usual lot, including many standard K applications - and some unique ones. Office tools are there, as well as the mighty K3B burning software.
For example, KDE Desktop Sharing is a nice touch.
But this selection of applications is completely unimportant. This is because SLAX has modules.
One of the really strong sides of SLAX are its modules. These are files that you can download and configure to run on top of your SLAX, even while booted in the live CD session, no installation or configuration required! Sounds incredible.
And it's really that simple. Just head to the SLAX website, search for the modules that you want, activate them, and that's it! Bob's your foster grandfather!
And within minutes, you'll have your applications running!
This allows you to easily extend the basic SLAX functionality in just a few mouse clicks. Even if you wanted to make this complicated, you can't. SLAX is definitely one of the more easily customizable distros available. Creating your own flavors is simple and fast. Just select the modules you want and enjoy.
Working with files was a breeze. SLAX cooperated nicely with both Windows and Linux partitions found on the different platforms I tested. Not only that, it was a visually pleasant task. This small distro use the KDE wisely, taking the best, without tolling the system.
SLAX is a very beautiful, very useful distro. It's small and fast. It's rather stable, although some of its applications did throw a wobbler at me here and there and stopped functioning. Juk was the primary culprit. Multimedia support was flawed. Wireless support was nil. But the modules really upped the ante. The small distro suddenly turned into a limitless monster.
Ignoring the Wireless, which did not work for me, SLAX was a great performer. Tiny polishes remain, as always, to keep the developers sharp. Multimedia support will always be a tricky one, but I believe the tiny problems will be ironed out. Which you need not worry about, because you can download modules for numerous other media players, easily compensating.
Let's compare it to NimbleX for a moment, shall we? Both are equally fast. NimbleX has better multimedia and Wireless support and sports additional few desktops, most of which are rather badly made. SLAX has the modules, which are extremely difficult to beat.
Comparing the base install, though, NimbleX takes by a hairbreadth. But then, SLAX lets you use applications that are not included in the base install, and you can't do that with NimbleX. And SLAX has more than 1,000 modules available. Hmmm. Overall, tough choice. Why not use both, then?
Back to SLAX, it's definitely a keeper. Improvements need to be made - and hopefully, someone out there will heed this humble review. The way things are though, if you're lucky with your network support, SLAX is a truly great pocket Linux. We all know the Czech girls are the most beautiful girls in the world. And now you also have a sexy distro. Enjoy.