Slackware: Remember your roots

Jack Wallen revisits a Linux distribution he hadn't touched in years, only to find himself pleasantly surprised. Do you have what it takes to install and administer a Slackware Linux distribution and get back in touch with your roots?

In the land of Linux, I have been guilty, on a number of occasions, of following the trends and only working with and writing about distributions suited for the new user. After all, aren't the new users the audience the Linux community really needs to focus on? How else can the user base grow? And there are some incredibly wonderful distributions focused on the new user.

But what about the skilled user? What about the user who has already put their time in the trenches and earned the right to be challenged by the more technical, less user-friendly distributions? Or what about the new user that doesn't want the depth and breadth of their Linux education to be determined by a company or community known to veer away from standards or force users into an environment unique to only one distribution?

For any user wanting more from their distribution -- more power, more security, more LINUX -- I would ask you to look back to your roots, to that moment when you first discovered that thing called Linux, and give Slackware 13.37 a try. Why? It's all about Linux... real, true, honest Linux that doesn't pander, doesn't do the work for you, and doesn't compromise.

Let me digress a bit.

When I first started using Linux -- some twelve years ago -- it was not easy. Everything had to be configured through flat-text files (or, if you were lucky, using Linuxconf) and the support for hardware was slim (at best). Getting modems to work was a nightmare (unless you had a US Robotics 36.6 external modem) and X was iffy. But when you got it to work, and you browsed that first web site (or set up your first Apache server), there was magic happening. You worked hard and that work was paid back by an operating system that never suffered from the issues that sent you away from the competition.

At some point, during your adventures in Linux-land, you may have come across a distribution that made things easier. That's all fine and good, because you had already put your time in and knew the systems and sub-systems like the back of your hand. If X Windows went south, you could drop into a command prompt and fix it... no sweat. But that ease of use was sure a breath of fresh air. And all that sweet integration of layers and clouds? Wow! You could purchase music and have it in sync with every machine you have associated with an account.

Linux life was all of a sudden as user-friendly as any other operating system. But then, you begin longing for the old days when it was actually impressive that you could command a Linux system to do your bidding. You wanted something pure, something standard, something really and truly Linux. The answer is Slackware.

Why Slackware? What's so special about this distribution? Aren't they all pretty much the same, save a desktop variant or two? Oh, no. Slackware is a Linux distribution that will remind you what it was like when you first started using Linux. It will take you back to your Linux roots, both welcoming and challenging you. Gone are all the GUIs that handle every single tasks. If you want a new user added, you better know the useradd command. You want Samba shares? Bone up on your smb.conf configuration options. But along with that challenge comes a great deal of good.

  • Good is the standard Linux you will be dealing with.
  • Good is the fact that Slackware upholds the GPL better than most distributions.
  • Good is the deep, rich understanding of the Linux operating system you will have.
  • Good are the administrative skills you will learn.
  • Good is the respect you will gain -- even from your fellow Linux users.

It had been 10 years since my last attempt with Slackware. So, imagine my surprise when I installed 13.37 and was greeted by KDE 4.5. What was this? A modern desktop on Slackware. From my perspective, it's a combination that makes perfect sense -- especially when you see a Windows 7-like interface on Windows Server 2008. Why not give Slackware a face lift? Beside, KDE 4.5 (and now, of course 4.6) is an incredibly stable, reliable desktop that deserves such a solid foundation as Slackware.

Don't think, for a second, that Slackware is some antiquated, irrelevant Linux distribution that should be left to the uber-nerds in Comp-Sci departments across the globe. Although Slackware is serious Linux, it's also serious about turning out seriously intelligent users.

I highly recommend, to everyone reading my blog, giving Slackware 13.37 a go. You might find, as did I, that it feels good to be working in a true-to-form Linux distribution that makes you go back to your roots and really think about what you're doing.