My thoughts on Slackware, life and everything

Happy New Year 2012

I assume all of you had a safe year-ending? With all the fireworks, a finger or an eye is easily lost… I also assume that you are full of good intentions for the new year. I wish you all a prosperous and happy 2012, and I hope we will see a new shining release of Slackware Linux in the course of this new year!

Let me tell you some about what I have been doing in the past days. Thinking about the future of course – not much of that will interest you. More to the point, I have been thinking what needs to be done for Slackware to gain a little more ground.

There has not been a lot of movement in slackware-current for the past months and while that is pretty frustrating, we will have to respect Patrick Volkerding for giving his personal life a bit more priority now. In the meantime, I will keep myself busy with some of the “subsystems” in Slackware – KDE 4.8 is around the corner and I will certainly build packages for that.

There is also the urgent issue of dealing with JDK and JRE. As you may remember, Oracle decided that new binary releases of its own Java SE (the runtime or JRE as well as the SDK) may no longer be included with Linux distros. They retired the “Operating System Distributor License for Java” (DLJ) and decided that distros should compile their own packages using the Open Source codebase of OpenJDK,.which Oracle itself uses as well for their binary builds. Slackware has not seen an update to its Java packages since that announcement. I have been busy in the past weeks preparing a set of Slackware OpenJDK packages. That was not trivial, since OpenJDK requires several additional packages in order to be compiled from source. It also required changes to Slackware’s gcc-java and seamonkey packages since I wanted OpenJDK to be “bootstrapped” against GCC’s java compiler. I could have chosen the easy way and compile it using a binary Java package downloaded from Oracle (which is acceptable as long as I do not re-distribute the downloaded binaries) but I had my reasons for not doing that – see below. I have now a working OpenJDK installed on my Slackware-current laptop, including a web-browser plugin for Java. That looks promising and I have uploaded all my work to the Slackware server so that Pat V. can have a look at it and ultimately add it to Slackware.

I had a goal in mind when I decided to take the hard way and compile OpenJDK using the (not fully compliant) GCC Java compiler It is the only way that we may finally be able to create a Java package for ARMedslack! The ARM port of Slackware currently has no Java support at all and I intend to change that.

You may ask, where this interest in Slackware ARM comes from. You have not read my recent posts perhaps?

It’s quite simple really. Because I think this platform is ready for prime time. The first powerful ARM based laptops have finally shown up. They are currently mostly running Android – think of the ASUS Transformer (powered by a Tegra 2 – essentially the chip which also powers a lot of the new Android tablets). You can barely fail to notice that all the big distros (Arch Linux, Gentoo, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu) are working hard on a port to these new ARM platforms. I believe that Slackware should be part of that effort.

So, first of all, I am eagerly waiting for the Raspberry Pi devices to become available for sale. A computer for 35 dollars, that is something nobody should be able to resist. I want one of those and install ARMedslack on it. Stuart Winter is willing to port ARMedslack to this new device (hopefully the kernel is the only package which needs to be crafted specifically for the new ARM CPU). And second, I already bought another ARM based computer: the TrimSlice Pro. The TrimSlice is of an entirely different league than the low-spec Raspberry Pi. It runs on the same Nvidia Tegra-2 chip I already mentioned earlier. The Tegra 2 has a dual-core ARM CPU running at 1 GHz and a GeForce GPU which should be capable of 1080p full-screen HD video payback.The TrimSlice also has 1 GB of RAM and comes pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux on a 32 GB SSD harddisk… now that screams to be replaced with Slackware. This device should be fast enough to be used for compilation of ARM packages. Stuart is working on a kernel for this device, but there are some complications. The TrimSlice uses a USB to SATA bridge to connect the SSD. That causes USB disconnects with the ARMedslack kernel when large amounts of data are written. Stuart will undoubtedly find a fix for that in the end.

And while Stuart works on the ARMedslack packages I have been considering what would be a second port to ARM. The crux is that ARMedslack supports a wide range of ARM computers (which is linked to the history of the port) and therefore does not profit from the new CPU’s which also have hardware floating point units (FPU). I want to try and start a port to “ARM hard float” architecture which should give it a big speed boost compared to ARMedslack. Of course, this means that the new port will not run on older devices like the SheevaPlug, or ARM based NAS/mediaplayer boxes which typically run cusom Debian distributions. I spent part of my holiday to write a script which cross-compiles a basic toolchain (kernel, binutils, glibc, gcc, bash and other necessary stuff) which can be used to compile the rest of Slackware. I now have a small root filesystem (containing a “armv7hl-slackware-linux-gnueabi” target) ready for testing on the TrimSlice. If only there is enough time left… my short X-Mas holiday is nearing its end, and with it the room to experiment.



  1. Willy Sudiarto Raharjo

    Thanks for the efforts Eric

    Happy New Year for you and your family as well 🙂

  2. Mike Langdon (mlangdn)

    Happy new Year! This stuff is a bit over my head since I do not use these devices (yet). Time to get on with learning something new.

  3. brunorusso

    Happy new year Eric.

    You had worked hard.

    Good lucky in your hard job.

  4. alienbob

    Thanks for the good wishes!

    I should also add a big Thank You ! to the people who donated some of their money through my PayPal link during the past year. Your donations enabled me to purchase that TrimSlice computer, just like they enabled me last year to buy new parts for my build box.

    Mike, don’t worry that my post sounds too geeky for you. The ARM platform is new to me as well. Getting an Operating System to install and boot on one certainly requires more effort than on an “IBM-compatible” computer… that’s what Stuart assures me.

    But my excitement comes from the fact that ARM computers consume a lot less energy than present-day Intel and AMD CPUs. And they are a lot cheaper too. Just consider the fact that Microsoft has – for the first time in its existence I believe – created a version of Windows 8 for the ARM platform when it has such close bonds with Intel… it shows that there is a lot of un-tapped potential in the platform.

    Also consider that the sales of smartphones and tablet computers greatly surpasses the number of traditional computers that is being sold. I would be a silly bugger _not_ to try and get Slackware for ARM in a better position.

    It feels like when I did the x86_64 port – there is finally some momentum to get all kinds of software working on ARM computers. And keep a keen eye on that Raspberry Pi project. Nokia’s support has created a lot of interest for it.

    Cheers, Eric

  5. Alex

    Hi Eric,

    all the best for you in 2012!

    I have been following the development of the ARM architecture for a while, and I am regularly biting myself *somewhere* for not having purchase ARM Ltd. shares years ago!

    In fact, I have been using an Acorn Archimedes desktop computer for nine years, with RISC OS as OS and desktop. I started with an ARM 2 with 8 MHz and about 4 MIPS, later I upgraded to an ARM 3 with 25 MHz, which compared favouribly to an i486SX at about 100 MHz, and was a lot cheaper, initially.

    It was by far the most responsive desktop I have seen, and I am always somewhat disappointed when I look at one of today’s “smartphones”: With 10 to 100 times the computing power and 1000s of times the RAM they still fail to respond nealy as quickly to user actions as RISC OS.

    Of course, the demise of Acorn (who invented the ARM and than spun it out as a joint venture with Apple!) had its reasons.

    (1) There was no FPU. Well, there was an option to add a Weitek FPU on a separate board in some Acorn models. But this was a *very* expensive solution, and never quite up to the speed of a PC with the same FPU (it was actually an unmodified PC FPU).

    (2) Multitasking was cooperative, not pre-emptive, meaning, that an aggressive programmer could claim the whole CPU for his or her program almost exclusively. In other words: Scheduling was not done by the OS, but by the programmers. If two programmers had the same ide, then their programmers received the same share or CPU power. Clearly, RISC OS was no server OS, but a pure desktop OS..

    (3) Limited memory. The maximum memory was 4 MB, in most models, and 8 MB in one model, as far as I remember.

    (4) Lack of budget — Acorn was a relatively small UK based company, well-known only in the UK education market. They were not able to push it all right beyond their domestic market.

    BTW, the hardware was sold with Unix, as well, at some point, and even with the Weitek FPU it was a relatively inexpensive offering, and the Unix was said to be a good one. One problem, why Unix was not availalble earlier, was the lack of a “real” MMU. I don’t recall, how they closed that gap in order to make the port possible.
    But inexpensive didn’t mean economical. The problem: Major software vendors were reluctant to port their products to the new, and not very popular flavour of Unix.

    Now, as I liked that machine so much, and as it has never let me down, I didn’t have dismantle it, but sought and found another solution. The machine is now exposed in the Munich Computer Museum:

    When I bought my Archie, I was pretty convinced, that this great system would become at least as popular as Atari ST and Amiga, but a few years later, seeing the demise of Acorn, I was afraid that the whole architecture, hardware and software, would vanish completely. And now, ARM is the by far most used CPU architecture in the world. And note: It’s not only in Netbooks and mobile phones, but also in controllers, set top boxes and all kinds of appliances.

    Well, Eric, sorry for the long post, it’s *your* blog, of course, but I always get excited when it comes to ARM, and when I read statements like “ARM is ready for prime time, now”. It was ready for prime time some 20 years ago, already, and it’s healthier than ever.
    I am eager to see the new devices with FPU. When my current computer needs to be replaced in a few years, I hope that I can get a machine with a whole different architecture built around an ARM CPU with FPU, able to run Slackware — that is, of course, a major priority! 🙂

    Again, all the best, regards


  6. gauchao

    Thank you, Eric. Happy new year!

  7. Altor

    whaou, that’s impressive and very good for the future. I’m very interesting by an arm laptop too.

    So good luck an happy new year !

  8. escaflown

    Happy New Year, Eric!

  9. brianL

    A slightly late Happy New Year from me, Eric, and a big thanks for all your contributions to Slackware.

  10. giovanni

    Hi Eric,

    you are doing a great job! Congratulations!

    I am also very interested in ARM computers and even MIPS.

    At present I have a pandaboard (armv7) running Slackware ARM:

    I had a SheevaPlug (armv5) running Slackware ARM.

    For some projects, I use a NS-K330 (armv4) running Debian.

    As my home server I use a Lemote Fulong (MIPS) with dual boot: Debian and Slackware.

    On the mobile side, I have the OpenMoko FreeRunner (armv4) with SHR and Debian.

    My next experience will definitely be with the RaspberryPi, which I believe will make a revolution in IT.

    Eric, I am very happy that you are going to support the RaspberryPi!
    My target is to use it in many projects by running Slackware ARM on it.

    I am sure that 2012 will be a great year for Slackware and ARM.

    Hacky New Year!


  11. fatlobes "aka canyouscore"

    Thanks for all your hard work!

  12. Janis

    I think there is more to address in Slack-cur – for example – glibc 2.14. issues -currently it is not possible to build postfix on Slack-current because from glibc ir removed NIS support (the way to get it done is dubious)

  13. alienbob

    Hi Janis

    Certainly, but I am not in charge of Slackware. Pat decides what goes into it. Some things I maintain outside of Slackware, like KDE, multilib and now OpenJDK. When I start with glibc and other packages, I might just as well fork off Slackware because the amount of Slackware packages I have custom versions of is growing ever so steadily. And that is something I am not prepared to do.


  14. Janis

    Don’t misunderstand me – it is not The Task for you, it is just the note to one more involved in shaping of the Slack. Actually, you are virtually the only person from the team willing to communicate with “puny users”.

  15. brianL

    Hi Eric,
    Don’t know if you’ve seen this, another little ARM computer:

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