Is Slackware, The Oldest Remaining Linux Distribution, Right For You?

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Linux has been around since 1991, but the most famous distros – from Ubuntu to Fedora to Mint – were born in the mid-2000’s. Slackware, by contrast, dates back to 1992.

You read that correctly: 1992. Slackware remains the oldest actively maintained distro, and to this day remains true to its (non-user friendly) roots.

Think it’s something you might be interested in trying out? Keep reading.


Debian might be the oldest popular distribution that a large number of Linux users directly and indirectly use, but Slackware is ultimately the oldest one still in existence. The project started in 1992, a year after Linux was initially released, as a way to install a Linux system that already included some core packages: the kernel, an X window system, and more.


Since then, the distribution honestly hasn’t changed much – it has updated more than it has “improved”. In other words, it hasn’t added any functionality on its own, but rather just replace system components with successors.

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Slackware’s repositories only include core system-related packages. In fact, there’s no more than just a few thousand packages, compared to the 35,000+ packages that Debian/Ubuntu include in their repositories.

Therefore, besides the basics, you’ll need to find the software you want to install on your own. This includes creating Slackware packages on your own, using tools to convert .rpm and .deb files, or by compiling the code yourself. You can install Slackware packages with the upgradepkg command, but this tool does nothing more than install a package and keep track of those installed – it doesn’t do any dependency resolution or any other “advanced” features.

Setting Up

Slackware also comes in a very minimal state. From the bootable ISO, you must partition your hard drive with command line tools, and then use a setup script to complete the installation onto your hard drive. From there, you can do whatever you wish with your system.

You’re likely not done, however, because all this installs for your is a command-driven system. If you want a GUI you’ll need to install drivers, the X window system, and a desktop environment of your choice. There are no Slackware-specific tools that can make anything easier – the distribution might be called Slackware, but it introduces as little “influence” on the vanilla Linux experience as possible.

Similarities and Differences

This approach is extremely similar to Arch Linux. Both systems are very minimal at first and they require you to set up your system “manually” piece by piece until it’s exactly what you want. This is also the same reason why it’s hard to get a “screenshot of Arch Linux” or a “screenshot of Slackware”. It’s technically possible, but there is no one single setup that can be recognizably Arch Linux or recognizably Slackware. Each and every system will be different.

Although similar, Arch Linux and Slackware do differentiate themselves a bit as:

  • They use different package managers
  • Arch offers a lot more software in its repositories
  • Arch has a policy of including the very latest versions of software while Slackware offers older, stable, tested software

Should You Use It?

There are a few reasons why you want to use Slackware. Here’s my list of reasons why you would want to:

  1. You want to learn more about Linux. A saying I’ve heard: “If you know Red Hat, you know Red Hat. If you know Slackware, you know Linux.”
  2. You want to be able to control every aspect of your Linux system. (Arch Linux is a good choice for this as well).
  3. For people who have used Slackware back in it’s heyday (around 1995), it might be nostalgic to try again.

If you’re still interested, you can go here to download an ISO of the distribution.


Slackware definitely isn’t as easy to set up and use as a distribution like Ubuntu, pictured here.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might want to stay away from Slackware. If you’re not already a Linux pro, you probably don’t want to use it as it’s not user friendly at all. You really need to know what you’re doing (or have good documentation in hand) in order to actually set up and use a Slackware system the way you want to.

Arch Linux users should have a much easier time trying out Slackware. But if you’re a Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, etc user who enjoys the relative simplicity and “works out-of-the-box” experience of those distributions, then Slackware may not be for you.

Have you used Slackware? What’s your favorite feature of the distribution? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credit: automatthias

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Comments (35)
  • one

    yeah …
    Slackware rocks….!

  • Carlos Lopez

    I started Linux in 1996 as I needed something with a shell to practice UNIX and C/C++. I got the Sept. 96 Linux Developer’s Resource from a nearby Borders, it had 6 CDs, and the first thing I tried was Slackware 3.1 as I had also bought a copy of Matt Welsh’s book.

    After many mistakes I setup Linux on my P75. I remembered thinking fips was the coolest tool ever to partition an HD (based on the money we had to pay).

    Configuring XFree86 was a little tough but not a nightmare.

    The modern version of Slackware (14.1 as I type this) is fairly simple to configure compared to my first sample, and KDE is kool, when I got Slackware 4 I ended up downloading KDE I don’t remember how long I spend downloading all that stuff and then compiling it, nowadays you get it on the DVD, horray for Patrick!!!

  • Noel Butler

    What the author fails to mention is that Slackware doesnt break packages up into idy bidy lil bits.

    When comparing to debians 35K packages . sounds wow.. but it isnt really so, not when you consider they break up packages into little bits, like bind, a simple enough proggy, that debian and its variants break up into 9, yes thats nine, part packages, where slackware releases it in 1, yes thats one, repeat this with most proggies and libraries and you soon see where debian and co fumble over their own feet to claim 35K packages… in one word, its misleading, ok thats two words, but then it could be sumed up in one word maybe as marketing… also another one word being bullsh..t

    I could go on, but times precious.

  • David Harris

    As someone who has been using Slackware Linux exclusively since 1997 (I started with Slackware 3.1), the author’s views are the same views that have been spouted off for years. These views are usually by Windows users, trying to switch to Linux for the first time and are wondering, “Where did my start button go? Where is my control panel? You mean to tell me, I can’t play Angry Birds?” While I will agree, the pre-2000 versions of Slackware were NOT for the faint of heart, they weren’t that bad.

    Pre-2000, You had to know something about hardware configuration to get Slackware to run for you. Now, Slackware installs about 7 gigs of software for you, and even configures your sound cards, as well as Ethernet devices for you.

    Don’t get me wrong there is still some configuration left, like configuring Xorg for the proper video card, but it is not as bad as the author has tried to make it out to be.

    Also, unless you configure it to do so, Slackware does NOT automatically start Xorg for you, you have to do that for yourself.

    I am currently using Slackware64 14.1 (with multi-lib) and to me Slackware works beautifully. It is not the nightmare, the author claims it is. It is just not, Windows, or Ubuntu, where everything is configured for you out of the box. You actually have to do some work for yourself.

  • Anonymous

    Modern Slack is not as hard as described in the article. The only hard part might be partitioning during installation but dedoimedo explains very well how to do it. Once you do full installation there is a complete working kde and xfce. From here all you need is to read the available documentation and slack is one of the best documented distros. Once you have known the few things you can make anything that works in Debian work in Slackware, easier than for example centos 7. As an example I have gnucash working in my Slackware, got it from On centos 7 I have no idea of how to install the same package and no where in the internet does anyone bother to explain that.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
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