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.