Becoming a Slacker

For the past fortnight I’ve been using Slackware 15 on a secondary notebook.

Slackware is the oldest Linux distribution still in active development–having been released in July 1993 by Patrick Volkerding. Patrick is still in charge of the project and has the title of ‘Benevolent Dictator for Life’1

I’d obviously heard of Slackware over the years as I’ve tried alternative distros such as Fedora, Arch, Debian (and its children, Ubuntu and Mint), Void and openSUSE, but I had never tried Slackware until a fortnight ago so thought it was well overdue.

The official term for a Slackware user is slacker, so I am now officially a slacker.

The primary advantages of Slackware are its stability–having infrequent releases that are thoroughly tested before release; its relative simplicity–I found the installation process to be very straightforward after a few test runs on Virtual Machines; and it’s almost nostalgic look and feel–a deal of system admin is done through ncurses text-based menus and apps.

One oft-discussed downside of Slackware is the lack of dependency checking so if you want to install a new program you need to determine its dependencies and install those first. Same goes for dependencies of dependencies etc.

The primary installation of Slackware includes a lot of software so further programs may already have their dependencies in place.

Slackware has what you may call a community repository (similar to Arch Linux’ AUR) called Slackbuilds. These are generally mainstream programs that are not included with the full installation of Slackware. I’ve used a couple of helper programs to install Slackbuilds–sbopkg and sbotools–both of which work quite well. sbopkg (short for packages) is an ncurses-based app that doesn’t install dependencies whereas sbotools ( tools) is a suite of perl scripts run from the command line that does check for and install dependencies. Both work fine for me. I would probably opt for sbotools in the longer term.

There are a number of programs that I use on a regular basis that are not specifically available in Slackware. MEGAsync is one that I had to install from a Slackbuild but it only worked when I made a couple of edits to the Slackbuilds file to add ‘-qt5’ to a couple of lines. hledger is another such program which I had to compile from source. Again, I had to make some edits to a file along the way to obtain a successful build.

Am I likely to keep using Slackware? Probably. I like the thought of it and the machine is gradually taking shape with the things I need. Is it as simple as Arch to get up and running and to maintain? No, but that’s half the fun!

Before Slackware 15 was released in February this year, the most recent release had been Slackware 14.2 released in 2016–so it was a long time between drinks. Slackware does run a ‘current’ release similar to Debian testing so you can move to a more leading edge system if desired. I’m currently using Linux kernel 5.15.19 which is standard in Slackware 15 and was released in October 2021 so we’re not quite a year old (the hardware is around six years old anyway). By comparison, my Arch distro is using kernel 5.19.11 from September 2022. Is there a discernible difference? Not to me.

On a final note, because system stability is significant to the Slackware team, the only updates to packages are for security patches and bug fixes. I’ve subscribed to the Slackware security mailing list so am aware of any upcoming patches. This means I only need to update my system (# slackpkg update then # slackpkg upgrade-all) once a week–if that.

Slackware is offering stability, security and a touch of nostalgia so I’m running with it for the time being. It could become my daily driver if/when Arch breaks, but we’ll see.

  1. a title awarded to a small number of open source developers. ↩︎