The oldest, active Linux distro, Slackware, turns 25

Slackware boasts a unique history and a loyal user base.
372 readers like this
372 readers like this
a big flag flying in a sea of other flags, teamwork

Opensource.com

Patrick Volkerding didn't set out to create a Linux distribution. He just wanted to simplify the process of installing and configuring Softlanding Linux System. But when SLS didn't pick up his improvements, Volkerding decided to release his work as Slackware. On July 17, 1993, he announced version 1.0. A quarter century and 30-plus versions later, Slackware is the oldest actively maintained Linux distribution.

For many early Linux users, Slackware was their introduction. One user told me her first Linux install was Slackware—and she had to use a hex editor to fix the partition tables so that Slackware would install. Support for her hardware was added in a later release. Another got his start building the data center that would power one of the first internet-enabled real estate sites. In the mid-1990s, Slackware was one of the easiest distributions to get and didn't require a lot of effort to get IP masquerading to work correctly. A third person mentioned going to sleep while a kernel compile job ran, only to find out it had failed when he woke up.

All of these anecdotes would suggest a hard-to-use operating system. But Slackware fans don't see it that way. The project's website says the two top priorities are "ease of use and stability." For Slackware, "ease of use" means simplicity. Slackware does not include a graphical installer. Its package manager does not perform any dependency resolution. This can be jarring for new users, particularly within the last few years, but it also enables a deeper understanding of the system.

The different take on ease of use isn't the only thing unique about Slackware. It also does not have a public bug tracker, code repository, or well-defined method of community contribution. Volkerding and a small team of contributors maintain the tree in a rolling release called "-current" and publish a release when it meets the feature and stability goals they've set.

As the oldest distro around, Slackware has been very influential. The earliest releases of SUSE Linux were based on Slackware, and distributions such as Arch Linux can be seen as philosophical heirs to Slackware. And while its popularity may have fallen over the years—the slightly younger Debian has 10x the number of subscribers on its sub-Reddit, for example—it remains an active project with a loyal fan base. So happy 25th birthday, Slackware, and here's to 25 more!

Share your memories of the early (or recent) days of Slackware in the comments.

Ben Cotton is a meteorologist by training, but weather makes a great hobby. Ben works as the Fedora Program Manager at Red Hat. He co-founded a local open source meetup group, and is a member of the Open Source Initiative and a supporter of Software Freedom Conservancy. Find him on Twitter (@FunnelFiasco) or at FunnelFiasco.com.

25 Comments

My first distro too - an oldie but a goodie.

A Slackware user here, since close to the beginning.

A very nice article. Well done.

One thing I would like to point out, while Slackware-current may appear to be a "rolling release" it is not. It is a development branch of Slackware.

Slackware user since version 12. My first Linux distro, and still my daily driver. It's an amazing distribution, and has an amazing community that runs extensive "extras" repositories and an active documentation wiki.

If Slackware ever goes away, I'm pretty sure my only recourse would be to reinvent it. But I think I have at least another 25 years before having to worry about that.

Alienbob (Slackware maintainer) helped me out on a project once. I crammed a base Slackware install with x11 and simple wifi + touchscreen utilites in to a 500 mb ssd. Hardware resembled olpc with ancient amd geode system on a chip. Webdt was the tablet. This was around Slackware 12 - 12.2. I started using Slackware around versions 10 - 11. Started with suse 7.4 but later became attracted to the Slackware simplicity.

I had my first Linux install with a Slackware distro with the UMSDOS hack (someone still uses it), and it was when I discovered the worst way about Unix philosophy of "everything is a file" trying to creating and using a swap partition.

I definitely have fond memories of installing Slackware from floppies. I probably used SLS first, but Slackware ran my computers through college.

That was very early days in the Linux kernel.

While I don't use Slackware anymore, I'm glad it's still active.

I definitely have fond memories of installing Slackware from floppies. I probably used SLS first, but Slackware ran my computers through college.

That was very early days in the Linux kernel.

While I don't use Slackware anymore, I'm glad it's still active.

My first Slackware install was around 1998 (v4, I think... I remember a big jump in version numbers somewhere in there), although that wasn't my first exposure. A guy my mother had hired to teach me "computer stuff" had Slackware running on a brand new Thinkpad 701c (1995!). I came to learn later that Patrick Volkerding occasionally jammed with my brother's band in the Fargo/Moorhead area.

Good memories, I think I've got to know it by 1998 when last of 1.x kernel versions were out. My father got me some OS/2 Hobbes CD from Walnut Creek and there were a small Slackware demo like if I remember when. By that time it was common multi booting system to try out OSes, and so screwing up whole HDs ;) - I never got to play much with until Slackware 4 and 7 when I had another computer. I've came to learn how to compile kernel and apps, X and some troubleshooting to install applications that didn't fit well (VMTools 2!) Still believe Slackware is awesome to study and learn Linux outside most common flavours.

I recall while installing slackware and reaching the point where you had to calculate the timings for the motion of the electron beam across the monitor, matching it to your video card. The manuals warned that it was the only decision where a mistake could literally destroy your hardware.

A friend of mine introduced me a Slackware 4.0 and since I'm "infected".
Congratulate to Patrick and Eric (alien) on extraordinary work!
In a mid 90's I've set up a Slackware web server for a company I worked in. 5 years after I left it, someone called me the web page is not accessible. The server was not serviced those years and the cause was a disk failure. That is about Slackware stability.
Tried other distros over years and returned back to Slackware. There is no distro other than Slackware, where you get source (kernel, or application), compile, install and it works without patching. And those awful package repositories and dependency resolutions of others. You can quickly get unsolvable situation.
Wish Slackware another quarter century.

Zdenko Dolar

Nice article! I started using Slackware about 20 years ago in the university and it's still my favorite today although I'm using also other distributions.

P.S. I count more than 40 stable versions from official announcements and change logs :-)

Still using Slackware today as my own daily driver: it still installs on things nothing else will. My laptop and other PC's normally run it. Doing multimedia other other stuff requiring massive dependencies is more difficult than its worth and I'd use a different distro for that (and there are dedicated ones for that purpose) but for everything else Slackware is reliable and, AFAIK, reasonably secure.

Linux runs almost everything I own, but unfortunately only my PC's Got Slack.

Finally, like everyone else I want to publicly thank Pat, Eric (AlienBob), and everyone else who has worked on it all these years and will hopefully continue to do so. I'm on the DVD list and buy shirts and stuff to put my $ where my mouth is. I'm not rich, so I can't do that with every project, but I absolutely do with Slackware.

THANK YOU!!!

Mike

Happy Slackware user since early version 3 around 1998 or so, my very first Linux contact that help me to learn the essentials and then learn and use other distros like Mandrake, Suse, Debian, Redhat, etc (most of them because at work my customers use it) but at home I still using Slackware on my system.

I have been using the best UNIX-like Gnu/Linux since PV's first release. Never looked back. Slackware '-current' is the development tree and not a rolling release. Once '-current' is considered stable then 'rc' are released to the faithful too test and burn so a stable can be released to the public. Slackware has been the best Gnu/Linux and many distro have forked from it.
Please remember that '-current' is development and not recommended for production work. Once you Slack you will never go back but remain safely within the best Gnu/Linux!

Thanks PV & Team for the best longest living Gnu/Linux!

I have tried many different Linux distributions, and I always end up going back to Slackware.

Happy 25th, Slackware, and thanks to Patrick and the crew for all the years of dedication and hard work. My introduction to Linux was around 1994 after having used DOS and Win 3.11 on early 486's and then I tried various UMSDOS variants that would run on my DOS partition. Slackware based Dragonlinux (lite -no X) ran on my Pentium 90 and I was immediately captivated by how you could have multiple users doing multiple things on different tty's, then I got the printed Slackware Linux book and the CD set for Slackware 7.1, which got installed on a pentium 120 mHz machine (still have it!!!) and I've tried just about every distro under the sun, but always come back to Slackware. I just can't imagine life without it. Here's to another 25 years of SLACKWARE !!!! :)

Loyal since v2

Slackware was my second Linux distro, after SLS. And when I got my first job, I convinced my boss to buy a CD of "Slackware Pro" and try it out on a spare PC.

That eventually became my workstation (I was otherwise a junior Unix sysadmin, but we didn't have a spare Sun or Apollo workstation for me). Later, I installed Slackware on another spare PC and set up our first YP server to manage systems.

Good times.

I first installed Slackware from a set of floppies in early 1994. The kernel version was 1.0.9, and getting the X11 modelines right was indeed tricky back then. (I blew up one monitor even though it claimed to be able to support that dot clock rate...) I dual-booted it with OS/2 for a number of years before I noticed I had stopped ever booting OS/2. Thereafter I gave the whole hard drive to Slackware Linux.

I stopped running Slackware some years ago due to a need for simpler package-dependency management, but no version of Linux has ever been as "comfortable" and doesn't-get-in-my-way as Slackware was.

Congrats Patrick!

I've started with Slackware many years ago with version 7.1 because a magazine said it was the distro that hackers used to choose and came with an installation cd.

It was my first contact with GNU/Linux. I was experimenting with a friend in a very old computer, and once we finally managed to install and boot it successfully, we didn't knew how to open a linux manual we had in a floppy! We didn't know the concept of mounting, we didn't know almost anything.

But here I am many years later writing from a slackware-current. I have had slackware along with Windows at first on my family's desktop pc, I've learn a lot struggling with it, but then all of my laptops ended up running only slackware.

I develop software now, so I run some other distros in VMs for testing, but none compares to slackware. It's incredibly "simply", and that's does not means necessarily "easy", but it doesn't get in your way, it has no tedious layers of stuff hiding the guts, and it's incredibly powerful and fluid to work with.

Long live Slackware and Patrick!

I used Slackware without issue from 2003through most of 2009 until a friend who was using Ubuntu asked me what it was with me and a "DIY" distro. In short, I told him that I liked the stability and that I learned a great deal. I'm using Xubuntu now, which is wonderful, because of its use of the Debian package management system, but I had to sacrifice that wonderful Slack stability for it. Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. Still miss that stability.

Remeber also installig Slackware from floppys, and a Slackware 96 CD in the cover of a Linux Magazzine. Used for a long time before switching to RH4.x

Congrats on the article and congrats on Slackware. I still remember days of downloading slackware via FTP to 40 or 50 floppy disks, having to download again, after failing floppy disks, and then screwing up my flat mates computer partition table trying to install Slackware. Those were the good old days. Boy computing was fun back then.

Slackware has slackpkg with dependency checking. It is pkgtools which has none. it is time for Slackware 15 with support for Ryzen (kernel 4.10 minimum).

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