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.

History

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.

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

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.

Software

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.

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Setting Up

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

ubuntu1   Is Slackware, The Oldest Remaining Linux Distribution, Right For You?

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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28 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Scott M

I’ve tried linux off and on for years and never found a distro that did all the things my Windows machine did. I never look for a clone, just similar abilities, but there is always an inevitable issue with a printer, or trouble organizing my media. It is about time for me to try again, but O don’t know if Slackware is my speed.

Coy

Honestly, if you’ve never used Linux comfortably before do not use Slackware or Arch. They will just turn you off from Linux. Do Linux Mint or Ubuntu. If you’re looking for a more “linux-feeling” experience then those, I would recommend Crunchbang.

In general though, I love Ubuntu. It’s as easy as windows for me, and lets me have an useful command line. Mint is similar. Crunchbang is a little more command-line based and different feeling to me, but perhaps I just don’t know how to use it right!

BigBangPenny

Distros are just fun to poke around once in a while when you are bored. But Linux for anything else is useless.

TechnoAngina

@BigBangPenny Hmmm interesting, I’ve had a Linux box running in my house for almost 10 years. I can game on it, do office work, or anything I do on my Win7 box. I use them both the same. I use my Linux box primarily as a media center PC/backup solution, but I’ve also got a Linux laptop I use when I need it.

@Scott M I’d highly recommend Linux Mint if your looking for a drop in replacement. Ubuntu kinda went all squirrelly and made things harder to use(for me, some people like Unity). Mint takes the best from Debian and Ubuntu and makes it really user friendly and workable OOTB. I’ve really never had a printer issue or issue organizing my media(it’s what I use my Linux box for in fact) so I am not sure where you’re running into an issue, but let me/us know and maybe we can give you the shortcut to what you want. Linux isn’t as user friendly as a Windows or Mac. It’s significantly safer and more powerful overall than either of them though.

Jim

So what can you do in Windows that you can’t do in Linux? It’s something that I see crop up a lot, but as somebody who uses Linux on a daily basis I haven’t found anything that I can’t do yet… Oh yeah, get a virus in 10 minutes without a virus scanner, I’m not saying that there aren’t viruses out there that affect Linux but they are far and few apart and are unable to cause any major damage without the user allowing it to do so.

Ok, I’m not much of a Slackware user, generally I will use variants of Debian on a desktop like xUbuntu as it allows full control as well as allowing me to be lazy and just do what I need to do. Or on the servers I will always go for Debian or CentOS both of which have excellent support for quick and simple upgrading of packages.

Back to Slackware though, I did an install yesterday and had a GUI out of the box with all hardware working as it should. Slackware isn’t aimed at simplicity, it’s aimed at control and being able to run on older hardware, for example the latest version runs well on the Thinkpad T23 1.13GHz PIII with 256MB RAM from yesterday using the fluxbox desktop (installed from the DVD, not manually), now try installing the latest variant of Windows or even most other Linux distributions on hardware of these specs.

Remember all of these services and applications that make life really simple also use resources which make them more of a hindrance on old hardware as it bottle necks.

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Scott M

I actually do live Crunchbang for a flash drive os that I can take with me. I’m sure I’d be able to manage with Ubuntu, but I only go looking for linixi when I’m unhappy with my current OS, and I actually like Win8 a fair bit, so it will have to wait,

Reply

Claire Farron

Dear Author,

You mention Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora being born in the mid-2000’s, but what about their predecessors (Debian and Red Hat)? Yes they may not be as well known, but when you look at it, Ubuntu is a derivative of Debian and Fedora is a community effort to keep Red Hat Linux (not RHEL) going.

I suppose it’s just user picking holes in the article.

Yours,

Claire

Danny S

Yes, I could have mentioned them, but they’re not the oldest distro nor the most commonly used ones. That’s why I didn’t give much effort to mention them.

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Scott H

i love Linux

Reply

gurdonark

I use porteus, the usb friendly runs-in-ram operating system. All the slackware roots, but a user friendly experience.

Reply

dragonmouth

Danny,
While I agree with you that Slackware is not for everyone, your article comes across as an attempt to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt in the minds of those that might want to try it.

” If you want a GUI you’ll need to install drivers, the X window system, and a desktop environment of your choice”
Even back in the late 1990s the Slackware installer offered X Windows and KDE packages as an install options so that when you rebooted, the system came up with a GUI. In fact, by choosing the correct packages, you could install a fully functional system.

“There are no Slackware-specific tools that can make anything easier”
Sure there is – gslapt

“If you’re not already a Linux pro, you probably don’t want to use it as it’s not user friendly at all.”
While not as easy to install as *buntus or Mint, Slackware installer does guide the user quite effectively. Once installed, Slackware may not be as pretty and easy to use as *buntus and Mint but it allows the user much more control over the system. Over all, the current version of Slackware (14.0) is more like Ubuntu and Mint than it is like Arch. *buntus and Mint do not teach the user Linux, they only let the user run programs under Linux while Slackware teaches user how to use Linux.

anonie

@dragonmouth Yes I started reading this and said wait a mintute, did he ever try Slackware before he even reviewed it. Most likely not.
I’m a long time Slackware user and he got a bunch wrong.
1. intstallpkg installs packages not upgradepkg
2. Yes Slackware does come with several GUI’s. KDE, Xfce, Fluxbox, Blackbox, Window Maker, FVWM and TWM
3. The approach is nothing like Arch Linux, it’s much much easier.
4. Slackware does offer older software, but it’s not older than a few to several months old.
5. Yes it is stable. I would concider it the most stable Linux operating system curently available.

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Gregg

For the ultimate Linux learning experience, try the Linux From Scratch project!

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Ashwin D

Slackware requires a prior knowledge of linux ..

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lonestar

You obviously have no idea what you are talking about!
Slackware is _meant_ to be a full install – you install _everything_ (unless you know exactly what you are doing – and there are those that may want a ‘subset’) and you have a system that works ‘right out of the box’ as well as any ubuntu/mint/whatever.
‘Everything’ does not mean that the system is bloated – it may take more disk-space than some, but what is actually ‘running’ is just the most important ones – and easily edited. Diskspace these they days doesn’t mean a thing – it maybe did when your disks were 20-40 gigs – but with the terabyte disks we have today – who cares if takes a gig or two extra?

Your whole article just tells me that you have tried to do a ‘subset’ (ie what _you_ thought was important) – and failed miserably.

Let me stress it again – with Slackware you do a ‘install everything’ – and it will be as easy as any other linux. It’s a lot better than archlinux for any newcomer – though you may need to know which gui-environment you want (kde, xfce, …). And (almost ‘of course’) – the install is not a gui point and click, like archlinux it uses termcap – doesn’t make it any more difficult.

What you do not have ‘out of the box’ are the gtk/gnome-binaries – however, Slackware gives you at least one choice for most apps. Your whole article is (more than obvious) gtk/gnome-centric in which case I would ask you to just stay away from Slackware. You can still have it all (SBo’s), but it requires more work. But hey – it is quite possible to have a meaningfull linux-experience without gnome (personally I haven’t used it for years – I’ll take xfce (even though it is built on gtk) any day). And kde on Slackware just flies!

There may well be a generation-gap involved here – let’s talk again in some 5 years time when you have a little more experience and knowledge about what you are talking about!

TechnoAngina

Interesting. I’ve looked at Slack and found the exact same experience as the author. I think the problem may be that Slack really has crappy documentation for anyone not a graybeard(seriously the PDF link is even broken and it’s a slog of very dry text, despite being incredibly informative it assumes a lot of the end user). No matter how you look at it, Slack/Arch are not good intros to Linux for the casual user or someone who just wants something to work OOTB. I work tech support and while I could probably get Slack working just fine, the average user doesn’t realize that there are no capital numbers and are visual people. A GUI install makes it significantly easier for them.

All that aside if it’s meant to be a “full” install what’s the benefit over the Debians or *buntus? I just went to the site and for anyone technical it seems straightforward, but then there’s the newbie options and a whole slew of things to make it harder for the average user but they give a ton of options to the power user. It shouldn’t take 5 years to be able to learn to successfully install an OS if you want to have it accessible to brand new users to the operating system.

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Anonymous

Just a superficial repetition of the usual misconceptions about Slackware. I’ve read it all before, and the statements of this article tell me more about the autor and less about Slackware.

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anon

It was that ‘Software’ section commentary that got to me. Just like what has been written by only one other there are SBo’s from slackbuilds.org. You use a cli utility called sbopkg that will download, compile and install the other packages you may need. Not only that but there are other repositories online where you can download a pre-compiled package. Then there is alienbob repository. The lastest 14.1 comes with 7.3GB of installed packages on the full install – thats a lot of software.

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PrinceCruise

This author has no idea of what he’s talking about. I bet this poser never even installed Slackware in his life so far. The whole article is plain FUD and half-baked.
“This is also the same reason why it’s hard to get a “screenshot of Arch Linux” or a “screenshot of Slackware”.” Seriously dude? You can’t just type startx after installing Slackware which will bring you to the GUI login prompt?

Again, plain FUD this whole article is.

Regards.

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all-things-linux.blogspot

Interesting. Repeating tired old stereotypes, are we?

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Adam01time

since I trouble shoot every distro I can from deb,rpm,to tar ball package systems.
Please take time and remember. It is all GNU/Linux ok.
Since you are in the ubuntu spin off of a debian distro. Please explain why the Debian distros have so many packages. Instead of a complete development system.
There is many reasons why and since your the OP of this thread I lay this on you to be respondent to the people that understand the gnu / tree ok.
keep it simple. to install slackware on a modern machine with a few gigs of ram.
is about 10 min then reboot and type startX and your in the most stable oldest maintained operating system around. Since KDE is the default desktop of the 6 desk tops that come with a full install.
years ago there was a simple need to handle install. It was three steps. Partition , format and install. reboot login type startx.
I have no clue why people think that is so hard. I spend 20 minutes reading the ever changing Ubuntu installers.
You can go to linuxquestions.org and actually have your questions answered by the founder and his core developers. And they will help you with your Ubuntu problems to.
The KISS method works.

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Jayson

I disagree with those that are saying Slackware requires prior Linux knowledge. I start out with Slackware, in 1996, and I didn’t know anything about Linux or Unix. It was a great system to learn on. I converted from a windows 3.1 notebook that was slow and crashed often, to a snappy reliable notebook that still did what I needed (java, C, C++, browser, email) thanks to Slackware 96. Also contrary to what is said here, it had a GUI from the start. I think it was FVWM and the browser was Netscape. To get online was crazy though, we had to use minicom and a modem to dial our ISP, then escape (there was some key combo I cannot remember now) and then run a script … something like ppp-up that would finish the network setup using PPP. Later there were apps, like easyppp … or something like that.

Aaaaannyyyywaay, Slackware was great for a very simple Linux machine, and probably still is. I would consider it were I building a server for a very specific purpose (and I would buy or donate to help Patric et al keep it alive). I last used Slackware for a desktop/development machine in 2000, and it suit my needs then. Now, I am too spoiled by all the drivers that come with Ubuntu to switch back, but reading this I now feel like having a Slackware machine around again, maybe that server needs a buildin.

eigernorth

Hi Jayson,

as you said: “I last tried Slackware … in 2000″. You must not compare Slackware back then with other distros of 2014.

In terms of your driver concern: the Vanilla kernel has most of what you’ll ever need. Myself for example only need one extra driver, for my TV card. In time I’m sure the vanilla kernel will have it too.

Do go ahead and try Slackware 14.1.

eigernorth

Reply

anonie

I should also from my previous response. Don’t let this article fool you. Slackware is much easier to install and use then this article says.
Here is a step by step install guide.
http://docs.slackware.com/slackware:install
If you want to go easier and not use Slackware’s partitioning tool than use systemrescuecd or gparted cd. But you’ll get more satisfaction from doing it Slackware’s way.
The preferred GUI after you install from the DVD is KDE. You can always select another one. Here is the a screenshot of the default KDE desktop you will boot into.
http://distrowatch.com/images/cgfjoewdlbc/slackware.png

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Wagner

I started with Slackware around 1996 as my recent friend Jayson above. Windows was not easy at that time as it crashed much too often. OS/2 was the most stable. Slackware was free, though. So, I tried it. I had a hard time getting VGA drivers for my Hitachi 5 kilos notebook.

Today, I am an very well considered VoIP and old tech TDM engineer. All my H.323 and SIP knowledge plus the freeworld experience came with Slackware. The author suggests mingle documentation in Slackware. Yes ! It is mingle indeed as the main docs come from the software themselves ! Try to get Wine going. Failed ? Wine docs say what ? Solved. (BTW, I learned no one ever reads manuals or docs, while I read them all).

Please, Mr. Author. Forget Slackware as you do not have the founding stone to comment on it. Please, do comment on Ubuntu or Mint, though. We´d better talk about what we know.

Have a nice weekend, my friend !

Wagner

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Roman

As a Linux noob I’m not sure where the author is coming from with this. Slackware was my first Linux distro, and it’s really not that difficult. The most difficult part of it was not the installation but driver issues, that, with my computer, would probably have been present with other Linux distros anyway. I had a little bit of previous command line experience using powershell on Windows and sshing into an Ubuntu server, but even if I hadn’t I don’t think that Slack would have been much more difficult to install than it was. As anonie mentioned there is conveniently a step-by-step installation guide, and Google is there to help. During the installation, if you don’t have much experience, you can do a full installation and you have a working installation including a number of desktop environments/windows managers. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing (not having ever installed an operating system before), but followed the installation guide, did a full installation, and successfully installed a working, usable operating system on a 6-7 year old laptop that was previously slow and unusable running windows.

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ReaperX7

I think your experience with Slackware and it’s related projects is lacking for a worthwhile review. To me, it’s sad to see you feel Slackware is bad as you’ve probably had very little real usage within in the long term.

Slackware has adequate package management with pkgtools and while it does not offer dependency resolution, with Slackware, it’s actually not necessary, as Slackware comes with all that is required of it. If you need extra packages for other software there is SlackBuilds.org and they list the required dependencies and link to source packages you’ll need.

To say it’s easy or hard is fickle at best. Slackware installs in several easy steps:

1. Login as root
2. Partition the hard drive with cfdisk and create a primary and swap partition.
3. Run setup and start installing the stuff.

Three easy steps. That’s easy enough for a user or admin spoiled on Windows or OSX to do.

You even dare to compare Slackware to Arch? Arch is a rolling release distribution that relies on heavy reading and tracking the announcements for the system, or else you end up with a dead system by running pacman. It’s very unstable for a distribution and prides itself on being the first to dare to try anything even if it breaks the system.
Slackware prides itself on stability, reliability, and classical UNIX/BSD stylized administration done properly, not haphazardly. Yes you have to learn, but then again, if you’re handheld too much for too long, you learn nothing.

As far as the GUI… Slackware comes with everything needed for a fully working desktop distribution IF you do the full installation as recommended. You get X11, Xfce, KDE, and several other traditional desktops.

Here’s my suggestion… try it for a year and learn as much as you can and join the rest of us over at LinuxQuestions in discussions on Slackware.

You’ll find that with proper guidance, and not half hearted reviews based on distribution hopping to test fickle matters, Slackware is hands down the best distribution out there, and not just the longest maintained.

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eigernorth

It was the year 2001 and Windows 2000 just had its SP2 out. I walked into a friend’s room and there it was: Slackware 8 with Enlightenment 16 running. This was love at first sight. So I tried. And, like with all great love affairs, it is not always easy.

But it was home from day 1. So I don’t understand why Slackware would turn people off. It is computing as it is meant to be: get right down to the guts and tell the machine exactly what you want and how you want it — no fancy presents.

Besides: Slackware IS doing many things out of the box! Some things work even better than in Ubuntu, where I have to add a number of packages that Slackware has by default.

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