I was recently asked, "why Slackware?" I started to respond in an email and my answer kept getting longer and longer. So I figured I might as well go all the way and turn this into a page. :-)
Why I chose Slackware in the first place
I know exactly why I chose Slackware when I decided to go full-time Linux desktop in 2017.
Slackware was the first Linux distro I ever installed back in the 1990s (a process involving floppy disks!). I installed other distros off and on over the years to experiment with. But I always ended up with a Slackware install on some old machine or another.
So it was already familiar to me. Especially the installation process, which continued to improve in tiny ways over the years.
Over the years, more and more of the software development I was doing was Unix-based. 99% of what I was creating was destined for a Linux instance somewhere out on the Web. But I was still developing from a Windows desktop!
I already knew pleasant development could be from a Unix command line with a rich set of composable tools. I’d experienced it every time I SSH’d into the remote machines that would be running my applications.
Why couldn’t I just live there and really learn it from the inside out.
I’d love to know the origin of this quote, but it’s very old and it goes something like this:
"Learn Red Hat and you’ll know Red Hat; learn SUSE and you’ll know SUSE; but learn Slackware and you’ll know Linux."
I think the reason for that quote has a lot to do with the age (read: maturity) of Slackware, the hands-on nature of configuring it, and the fact that it generally uses unmodified upstream packages (meaning that Slackware comes with a collection of software that has left almost completely unaltered).
For example, I’ve found that if I’m reading about an application and it mentions a default location for its configuration file, chances are if I look in that location, sure enough, there it is!
Why I stay with Slackware
I’ve enjoyed a lot of other distributions. I’ve tried an embarassingly large number of them. They all have their strengths. I also like the BSDs a lot and find OpenBSD particularly attractive because of its cohesion.
And it must be said that the tail end of 14.2’s lifetime before 15.0 finally came out made it really, really hard to stick it out (it was becoming increasingly hard to use a 14.2 machine as a development computer with all of the ancient versions of things.)
But there are some specific things that keep me in Slackware. From most to least tangible:
One thing I don’t see mentioned a lot when the topic of Slackware comes up is that it is intended as a general purpose operating system. It is completely appropriate to use a Slackware install as:
A desktop for word processing, browsing, email, etc.
A professional development machine
All of the above at once!
The second really important thing to understand about Slackware is that it comes with a ton of software as part of the standard installation. You are expected to perform a full installation.
The idea is that you can accomplish pretty much all common (and not-so-common) computing tasks with just the software that comes with Slackware and never having to install another thing.
Also, the software that comes with Slackware has been tested to work together, so a full installation should "just work" out of the box. You already have all of the libraries and tools you need.
There are typically multiple options for every type of application.
Under my control
There is very little automation built into Slackware. If you don’t tell it to do something, it won’t.
My main Slackware machine is a headless install down in the basement called Phobos (here’s my big write-up about that setup). I’m writing this from a laptop SSH’d into that machine right now. Let’s see where it’s at in terms of uptime:
r!uptime 08:20:53 up 201 days, 14:48, 3 users, load average: 0.14, 0.16, 0.07
Those three users are all me. :-)
Every time I sit down at the computer, it’s exactly as I left it. I love that.
Slackware is great for people who want to actually use the computer.
Slackware has been around "forever" and much of the software it ships with has also been around forever (or longer).
Packages are built using conventions that have hardly changed a bit in decades. The end result is that there aren’t a lot of surprises. Again, you end up with an operating system that is extremely stable and stays that way.
Also, you can learn something about Slackware and that knowledge will likely remain valid for years and years.
Having said that, Slackware is not outdated or neglected in any way. (That was true when I wrote that sentence in 2019, less true in 2021, and more true as I update this in 2022.)
You can even run a system based on the development branch, Current to run really up-to-date versions of stuff. (But I don’t because I have actual things to do with my computer.)
The community around Slackware is large enough to get things done, but small enough that you can contribute and make a difference.
(Update: I’m a little ambivalent about the community. Things turned kind of ugly at the tail end of 14.2. And the closed development process is increasingly unusual in today’s Open Source environment. Still, in Pat I trust!)
The "semi-official" package repository, slackbuilds.org has tons of packages maintained by active, dedicated volunteers. Tools such as sbopkg (sbopkg.org) make it easy to install slackbuilds.org packages.
And I have gotten some excellent, quick answers to questions over at the "official" Slackware forum at linuxquestions.org.
Hey, it’s just fun to say you run Slackware, one of the oldest Linux distributions.
Amaze your friends! Preserve your precious bodily fluids! Praise "Bob"! Increase the "Slack" in your life! Hack the planet.