Linux

10 reasons why you should give Slackware Linux a chance

A lot of Linux users steer clear of Slackware because it's a challenge to administer and use. But Jack Wallen says the benefits of this distribution more than outweigh the difficulties.

Slackware. You've either used it, thought about using it, or you're scared of using it. Slackware Linux is one of the most powerful distributions available. But that power comes with a price -- it's not nearly as user-friendly as many other distributions. In fact, Slackware is typically bested only by Gentoo for level of difficulty.

But if you avoid Slackware, you miss out on quite a lot. I can think of at least 10 reasons why you should give Slackware a try (or another chance). Before you hold up your hands in the middle of the installation and cry out, "I give up!" give these reasons a read.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Stability

If you're looking for the best of the best, you will be hard-pressed to find a Linux distribution that enjoys more stability than Slackware -- and that's saying quite a lot! Slackware has been around for 20 years now, and for the longest time it has enjoyed the reputation of being the most rock solid of the Linux distributions. In my time with Slackware (and I have installed the most recent version as well as using versions throughout my time with Linux), I can with complete honesty say those claims are the truth. Slackware is about as solid as an operating system can get. Be it for a server or a desktop, if you are using Slackware, you are going to enjoy some serious reliability.

2: Security

Slackware does not fall into the many traps that some other distributions fall into with security. There are many reasons for this higher level of security. For example, Slackware does not release a new version until it is ready. Because of this, Slackware is released with far fewer bugs and holes than rolling release distributions or distributions that release frequently. In addition, Slackware doesn't use package managers like Synaptic or yum, so any application is generally installed from source.

3: Neutrality

Slackware doesn't depend on a package manager, so it enjoys much more neutrality than any other distribution does. This is mostly because most applications are installed by source, but also because Slackware has no affiliations with any companies. Slackware is very much a community-driven distribution. The only piper it pays is the user who installs and enjoys the distribution. Although some might argue this point, I would add that because Slackware allows the end user to carefully pick and choose what to install (during installation), Slackware has a much more neutral feeling. This even applies to the desktop. Slackware allows for the installation of numerous desktops (and not just KDE or GNOME).

4: Better adherence to the GPL

Of all the distributions I have used, Slackware is probably the most GPL compliant. The last time I did a Slackware installation, I found no signs of software in violation of the GPL (of course, I did not install Java). For many serious open source advocates, Slackware is going to be the most obvious choice.

5: Speed

Because Slackware installs only what you want, and because of its release policy, you are going to find this distribution runs faster than most. I installed the latest Slackware (13.37) with KDE 4.5 and compared it to an installation (on the same machine) of the latest Kubuntu (11.04) with KDE 4.6. The Kubuntu installation should have been faster (thanks to KDE 4.6), but it wasn't. In fact, the Slackware installation offered a much improved experience over the Kubuntu installation.

6: Better, cleaner configuration

One of the complaints against Slackware is the lack of graphical configuration utilities. This goes for just about every subsystem on the installation. If you want to add users, you're using the command line. If you want to configure Samba or start up services, you're using the command line. But this helps create much cleaner configuration files. Now, anyone can also argue that this is dependent upon the user's ability to create clean configuration files. But as I have experienced, most end users who are willing to use a distribution like Slackware are going to create clean code... much better than most GUI tools.

7: Better understanding of Linux

If you know Slackware, you know Linux. By its very nature, Slackware demands a better understanding of the operating system as a whole than does any other distribution (with the possible exception of Gentoo). After an installation (and administration) of a Slackware machine, you will know the directory hierarchy, how to administer users and configure networking, the init system, and much more.

8: Great server OS

If I'm setting up a Linux server, and I want to set up one for reliability, security, and longevity, I am using Slackware without question. There are many reasons for this -- just read the above list. But over the years, Slackware has been fine-tuned to stand as a sever OS (that doesn't mean it can serve as a desktop, of course). Because Slackware does a great job of following standards, you'll find that standard server documentation (such as for Samba and Apache) works exactly as expected. And because Slackware always scores high with reliability and efficiency, your server won't suffer from hiccups or downtime associated with OS software.

9: Slackbuilds

If installing from source isn't your thing, you can always take advantage of Slackbuilds, a repository of build scripts that automate the installation of various applications. On that site are thousands of scripts you can download and use to install everything from system tools to desktop tools. The Slackbuilds site also contains some great how-to documentation and allows the uploading of new scripts from the community.

10: IT cred

Although this might well be seen as superfluous, I always like to think that just like bragging rights that center around any accomplishment in any field, the bragging rights associated with using and administering Slackware can go a long way to winning you respect as an administrator. When you use and administer Slackware, it says a lot more about you than does using and administering most other operating systems. Using Slackware means you're serious about knowing your operating system, about Linux, about reliability, and about adhering to the GPL. Having this bit of bragging rights can be a big help in an industry that demands you prove yourself immediately and constantly.

Worth a try

Is Slackware a perfect OS? No. It's a challenge. But if you are up to the challenge of Slackware, you will profit from numerous benefits associated with a distribution known for stability and security. I highly recommend that you give the latest Slackware release a try. Once it's installed, you will have a Linux distribution that works like a champ, the likes you may never have seen.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

29 comments
gord3507
gord3507

I don't see the difficulty with slack install unlike ubuntu it just does what it's told. The lack of a fancy gui just makes it easier and simple. Slack tends to stick with what works while others run to the latest thing. And if you can read the slack book you can edit a few files just as easy as running some gui wizard.

kalliste
kalliste

Right now I'm on a Slackware computer, with dual monitors, a webcam etc. My XBMC box has Slackware underneath it. I use Slackware because it's the easiest to configure, providing you can read a man page and use VI.

itadmin
itadmin

I've been on many Linux distros. The only one I really found unstable was Mandrake. That was many years ago, before Mandriva. I've been on Gentoo for years and found it very stable. Installation wasn't difficult. I just followed the instructions. The updates eventually got me. Packages blocking each other, dependencies, etc. I could always get it right, in the end, but it took just too much time. Now I'm on Debian. Synaptic is a dream. Updates are a breeze and the system is rock solid. I do Java programming, use Netbeans, etc. I installed the SUN (now Oracle) JDK from Synaptic and set it as the default JDK. There is really no problem with that on Debian. I've thought about Slackware, but this article made me think less about it. Why make things difficult when there is no reason to?

ThoughtFollower-23855554368340454166801624405803
ThoughtFollower-23855554368340454166801624405803

Interesting perspective. I started Linux life with Red Hat 6.2. I followed Red Hat all the way through Red Hat 9, then ran Debian for six months. It's interesting you mention Java, because there are a number of packages I run that are written in Java, and I got pissed off with Debian's and the FSF's pompous-assedness about Java. So I switched to Gentoo. Java is a fact of life, like C, FORTRAN and COBOL. I don't like what Oracle is doing with "their intellectual property" but there is so much good open source software written in Java and nearly all of it runs or can be made to run with OpenJDK.

Justin James
Justin James

1. I have ZERO clue how a package manager affects security. This statement was just thrown out there with no explanation, and one is greatly needed. 2. I don't understand this "GPL compliant" concept. How is installing Java not "GPL compliant"? Does Java violate the GPL in some way? Ditto for various graphics drivers? I highly doubt that something as prominent as Java could get away with violating the GPL without the FSF being all over them. I think what Jack MEANT to say was not "GPL compliant" but something else to mean that the entire system was licensed under GPL... J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

What Jack just described here is BSD. J.Ja

minimallinux
minimallinux

I don't see the point in having something be difficult for the sake of it. Slackware I would describe as idiosyncratic, as is Micro/Tinycore and others. Virtually all the ten points above also apply to a Debian minimal install http://terminator3000debian.blogspot.com/ with the added advantages of HUGE support from both Debian and Ubuntu in the form of sources, forums etc. Check out my blog on a Debian Minimal install and why I think it makes much more sense than tinkering around for days with a Slackware install. I can install anything inc Slackware but for the best work/reward ratio I choose a Debian minimal.

roy.evison
roy.evison

I probably should have checked on this before trying to install slackware as all went well until it came to seeing any pictures which can be a drawback. Roy.

jred
jred

Slack was my first intro to Linux, back when I spent a weekend downloading a hundred floppies. Now, whenever I need to do something on any other distro that I can't point & click, I expect the distro to use logical & rational "underpinnings". Nope. They just can't. I want to know how long it took them to totally screw up rc.d?!?!?

jacobus57
jacobus57

I run Trisquel on my Asus netbook (dual-boot with XP), which is 100% compliant as packaged by the Free Software Foundation. It is super-light, fast, and very stable (like Slackware and UNLIKE Ubuntu they opt for release stability), as well as being user-friendly. Although it lacks the complexity of Slackware, for those of us who love FOSS it is a great option.

shaunehunter
shaunehunter

It's very Important to note that without Slackpkg or slapt-get, you must keep track of and install all security updates yourself manually.

Louis.Ross
Louis.Ross

If you really want to see glazed looks, run Gentoo

stn564
stn564

Jack...I want to install and learn about Linux...sounds like this would be a good "sink or swim" version...but would it run on an old PC (300-800 MHz Pentium) as I have a couple around? A lot of the other Linuxes require a better machine, which I don't have....

Bubnoff
Bubnoff

slackpkg does make slackware a bit easier to manage though it's a little less inline with slackware tradition than installpkg ...etc.

apotheon
apotheon

He didn't quite describe a BSD Unix system, because Slackware is more of a colossal pain in the fourth point of contact than any BSD Unix system I've encountered.

pgit
pgit

Looking at Trisquel right now, lately full GPL, MIT and other FOSS compliance has become an issue with some of my clients. A lot of distros blur the lines when they make certain things "easy," such as providing point and click installation of proprietary video drivers.

jkameleon
jkameleon

As far as I know, GPL drivers for Nvidia are still in the highly experimenta stage.

apotheon
apotheon

Slackware's geek cred is pretty pure. Gentoo's is tainted by its ricer reputation. Anway . . . even better geek cred comes from NetBSD and OpenBSD. I'm not so obsessed with accumulating geek cred, though; I usually stick to FreeBSD (which somehow has as strong a reputation for alpha geek status as Slackware and Gentoo, provides at least as much sysadmin power trip as them, but is actually easier to manage than either of them).

pgit
pgit

Gentoo really is a class all it's own, nothing else remotely like it in the OS world. It's almost fungus-like. Is it a plant? An animal? What is it?? The unworthy aren't allowed in the door, the installation sees to that. Actually, 'installation' isn't the best word, what would one properly call a gentoo setup? Baking? Gestation?

hutson inc
hutson inc

Try fedora red had 7.0 its a good learning point . uses a decent enough GUI to run off an intel p2 166mhz

stn564
stn564

Thanks wizard57m@ / shaunehunter for the replies. I have a P3 / 800 MHz with 768MB ram which until recently was my main PC with Win 2000, from what you say sounds like it would run Slackware ok....might give it a go then. I was (still am really) a bit of a DOS junkie and I've done some Unix so I'm happy with command line stuff. It's like everything else...finding time for it. This working gets in the way of the cool stuff..... thanks again

shaunehunter
shaunehunter

I installed Slackware on a Pentium 133 and a P2 233 a couple years ago and they felt fast with icewm. The P2 could even handle flash.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

he has a habit of throwing out some blog post then leaving...but, to answer your question, Slackware can be configured to run on older PCs, you just need to choose a slim window manager and desktop environment, avoid Gnome and KDE, choose IceWM or similar small footprint manager. You might even be able to just use XWindows, not sure on latest versions though. I would recommend at least 256 meg RAM, but there have been successful installations on less...Slackware is definitely more flexible than the "GUI" based stuff like Ubuntu.

Justin James
Justin James

... since the last time I touched Slackware was circa 1995 or 1996. J.Ja

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Interesting. Why is that? Is this issue internally or externally driven? What's pushing it?

pgit
pgit

Have you tried nouveau as implemented by fedora lately? The latest betas have been handling compositing out of the box on some of the slightly older nvidia hardware. Not sure about any latest-greatest stuff, as I can never justify shelling out the $$$ for a hot video card.

apotheon
apotheon

> Gentoo really is a class all it's own, nothing else remotely like it in the OS world. It's almost fungus-like. Is it a plant? An animal? What is it?? How so? I'm not sure what Gentoo offers that cannot be had elsewhere, aside from its ricer community. Everything installed from source? You can get that from FreeBSD, and more easily than with Gentoo, and with more stability. If anything, what makes Gentoo unique seems to be that it's such a poor emulation of the way FreeBSD works. Your mileage, I suppose, may vary. If there's some other characteristic of Gentoo that makes it so unique, I'd like to hear about it.

Too Old For IT
Too Old For IT

A few years back we tried a Gentoo installation to find a use for several older PCs we thought might still have some use. After listening to the resident penguin go on about how "Gentoo is cool" we gave it up for Red Hat. And I'd bet those PC's are in the dumpster now.

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