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

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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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.

Setting Up

slackware_login
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

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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