Slackware: the classic distro that's as timely as ever.

Posted by garymax on Sep 28, 2007 8:58 AM EDT
LXer Linux News; By Gary Maxwell
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In a way, Slackware needs no defense. Those that use the distro know of its merits and enjoy its stability, security, simplicity and speed. However, with the growing popularity of newer distros like Ubuntu, more and more articles seem to relegate Slackware to the dust bin of history, or they say it's a hobbyist's distro, or they make snide comments like “1995 called and they want their distro back.” As of late, these comments seem to proliferate at about the same rate as the Ubuntu articles. Using Ubuntu as an example, let's conduct a little examination to see where Slackware's strengths lie and how it compares and differs with the newer upstart distros of today.

Slackware enjoys the official position of “the eldest” of all of the currently developed distributions. Started in 1993 by Patrick Volkerding it began its life as a series of improvements to SLS' version of Linux. By and by, it grew into a separate distro of its own. In fact, several other distros (who shall remain nameless) used Slackware as their basis before they ventured off into their respective directions.

Through the years, many aspects of Slackware have remained the same such as the ncurses-based installer, the use of LILO over GRUB, and the general lack of auto-configuration tools. Back in the day this simplicity was no big deal; this was par for the course. But as the years passed, and as other newbie-oriented distros emerged with their graphical configuration wizards and step-by-step hand holding assistants, Slackware remained true to its commitment to be the most Unix-like Linux in the market.

And this meant staying true to the no-frills mentality that has made the distro famous.

But the simplicity/conservatism that Slackware is known for has been the butt of criticism as of late because newer distros have a tendency to dumb down the interface, make Linux easy for everyone, and, in the process, their advocates put down other supposedly “harder” distros as being 'archaic' or a waste of time.

Now I have no problem with making Linux easy for the newcomer. I have always said that anything that makes Linux readily available to the masses is a win for Linux in general. But to equate “ease of use” with the quality of a system is not in the best interest of the community as there is not a 1:1 ratio between ease of use and quality as we shall see.

Packages, packages, who wants more packages?

The most popular distribution at the moment has to be Ubuntu. It has taken the computing world by storm and is making a great deal of headway. In addition to being easy to use, it boasts more packages than most distros. And many cite this as the reason to use Ubuntu: “Look at all of the packages!”

Nobody in their right mind needs or wants 20,000+ packages on their system; they couldn't use them all. My experience with the Ubuntu family of Linux has shown me that after 4 or 5 apt-get installs, the system gets a little bloated and tends to be less responsive.

What's more, Ubuntu releases tend to be issued as a set. By that I mean that the software has been vetted to work together. This is fine for most people but it also means that building a newer edition of that finance manager may take some effort. And, barring that, you will have to wait until the next release of Ubuntu to get a newer edition of that app you like so well (Unless someone built a more recent version and uploaded it to the backports archive. At any rate, you are still at the mercy of others for your package upgrades).

By contrast Slackware is built from the ground up with the expectation that the end user will be building their own packages at some point. And Slackware provides a robust build environment that makes compiling and generating packages as easy as ./configure && make && make install. Most every library needed to compile a program or application is already present. In fact, many Slackware users boast that they've never had an app fail to build.

Since most users of Ubuntu use probably 15 or less packages on a daily basis, let me ask you a question: Would you rather have complete control over those 15 apps, complete with the ability to upgrade them to the latest versions as they become available, or would you rather leave it up to the system/distribution developers? I don't know about you but give me control every time.

The Tyranny of Dependency Checking

Okay...this is a big one. Many users of Ubuntu will proudly proclaim that their beloved distro resolves dependencies and makes life a 'walk in the park' for them. And I agree that this can be a time saver. But, as anecdotal evidence shows, the automatic dependency resolution on Debian-based distros will, many times, download unnecessary packages to satisfy the required package set. This contributes to the bloat and system degradation that is frequently associated with Debian-based distros.

Slackware puts you in charge of dependencies. It also means that any dependencies will be met only to the extent necessary. No uneccessary packages. This assures a cleaner system with less bloat and faster performance. What's that you say? Having to meet dependencies is time consuming? Well, remember: if the average user uses 15 or less apps on a daily basis, this is really a manageable exercise and the results (a cleaner, more responsive system) make it well worth your time. Besides, making a Slackware package is not rocket science and they can be readily installed, removed, and upgraded.

But Ubuntu is backed by a commercial company!

True. But Slackware is a commercial distribution as well. Many do not realize this. The Slackware user base is large enough that Patrick Volkerding can afford to make it available for free even though it is a commercial product. This speaks both to the size and the quality of its user base. Slackware users know the value of the distro and many support the distro for its continued development. I know that some complain that it is but the product of one man's opinion of how an operating system should be. Maybe so, but Pat's choices have made Slackware not only standards compliant, but it has maintained a consistency that has been the hallmark of this distro since its inception. And unlike Ubuntu, which has yet to be profitable, Slackware has a business model that is proven and working.

Ubuntu has regular releases every 6 months!

And such a fast release cycle means that bugs are present in every release. It also means that many features are not fully mature when the release hits the servers.

By contrast, Slackware releases once or twice a year...when its ready. There is no corporate mandate to release in a certain time frame. And what about older releases of Slackware? Slackware is still supported back to version 8.1--released in 2002!

Since a Slackware user can upgrade a package at any time by compiling and installing, Slackware users do not have to wait for a system upgrade just to have the latest bits. And because the kernel that ships with Slackware is "vanilla", chances are you will never have a problem with system breakage after a kernel upgrade or recompile.

Ubuntu is up-to-date!

So is Slackware. The latest Slackware (as of this writing) is Slackware 12. It boasts KDE 3.5.7, HAL and Dbus for auto-mounting of peripheral devices (a feature not seen before on Slackware--remember, it is conservative), Linux kernel, the list goes on. In fact, with this release, Slackware is now just as capable for the desktop as Ubuntu is but much more stable and responsive.


Nobody knows just how far or effective Ubuntu's deal with Dell will get Canonical or Linux on the desktop for that matter, but one thing is certain: whether Ubuntu fails or succeeds, Slackware will continue to remain true to its roots and Slackware users will continue to deploy this powerful, stable Linux OS for years to come.

» Read more about: Story Type: Reviews; Groups: Linux, Slackware, Ubuntu

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Slackware isn't all that hard Steven_Rosenber 15 7,575 Oct 3, 2007 12:35 PM
Re: "How far or effective Ubuntu's deal with Dell" schestowitz 2 2,401 Sep 28, 2007 8:27 PM

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