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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 jackwallen.com.