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The History of Slackware
The Oldest Surviving Linux Distribution
In the earliest days of Linux, getting going wasn’t exactly easy. The very first releases were source only. Anyone wishing to use Linux would need to compile the kernel himself/herself and then compile all of the tools and other software that he/she wished to use. It wasn’t long before floppy disk images were made available on the Helsinki University FTP (
ftp.funet.fi) server. Specifically, Linux came on two floppy disks. One disk was the boot disk, and the other was the root disk. The root disk would have some basic GNU tools as well as tools for setting up the root filesystem. The first floppy disk sets of this type were made by Linux Torvalds, the creator of Linux. Jim Winstead Jr made floppies for the 0.96 kernel. These floppies reached greater popularity with H. J. Lu’s “boot-root.” HJL Boot Root was announced on the 5th of October in 1992 with kernel 0.98. Joe Klemmer wrote the following in A Short History of Linux Distributions on LWN:
Back in late 1991, when Linux first hit the 'Net, there were no distributions per se. The closest thing was HJ Lu's Boot/Root floppies. They were 5.25" diskettes that could be used to get a Linux system running. You booted from the boot disk and then, when prompted, inserted the root disk. After a while you got a command prompt. Back in those days if you wanted to boot from your hard drive you had to use a hex editor on the master boot record of your disk. Something that was definitely not for the faint of heart. I remember when Erik Ratcliffe wrote the first instructions (this was long before HOWTO files) on how to do just that. It wasn't until later that anything you could call a real distribution appeared.
The first Linux distribution in the sense meant today was MCC Interim Linux released in February of 1992 from Manchester Computer Center. In May of 1992, TAMU was launched from Texas A&M.
The Softlanding Linux System was released on the 12th of August in 1992 with the slogan “a gentle touch down from a DOS bailout.” SLS was created by Peter MacDonald who founded Softlanding Software in Victoria, BC, Canada. The first version was three megabytes for a base install and twenty seven megabytes for a full install. SLS featured an installation program, individual packages per application, and menu driven system administration tools. McDonald’s goals were to provide an initial installation program, to have all utilities compiled to use minimal disk space, to provide a reasonably complete/integrated UNIX-like system, to provide a means to install and uninstall packages, to permit partial installations for small disk configs, to add a menu driven and extensible system administration utility, to take the hassle out of collecting and setting up a system, and to give non internet users access to Linux. The goal of removing hassle from collection is huge. In some sense, this can be seen as the raison d'être of Linux distributions. Before this, one would need to scour usenet and FTP servers to find the tools he/she needed unless he/she wanted to implement the tool himself/herself. Yet, getting to the installer still meant using first a boot disk, and then a root disk. At this stage, the installer could be run.
Patrick Volkerding was born on the 20th of October in 1966. In 1973, he went on a field trip to the computer department at North Dakota State University. He was mesmerized by the blinken lights and the massive disk platters. Then, a sysop showed Volkerding how to play Star Trek on a DecWriter terminal. For Volkerding, this was an “instant addiction.” This experience got him interested in electronics. While lacking a home micro, he built logic gates out of relays, and he generally played with electronics and logic. With the arrival of early TRS-80s, Apples, Ataris, and Commodores, Volkerding could be found at the shops that sold them. He couldn’t afford a machine, but a few shop owners let him use the demo machines. He taught himself BASIC and wrote demo programs for the shop owners to earn his presence in their establishments. In 1980, Volkerding got an Apple ][ Plus and a 300 baud AppleCat modem. Over time, he managed to procure a C compiler and a UNIX-like operating system for that machine (possibly XINU or Kix).
Volkerding entered the computer engineering program at Boston University in 1985. After two years, he took one year off, and he then enrolled in the CS program at MSU. In 1992, he was at a party in Fargo, North Dakota. He heard about Linux from his friend Wes. Later that same year, Volkerding needed a LISP for some school work and remembered that CLISP ran on Linux. This led him to download SLS. Shortly thereafter, his AI professor wanted Volkerding to show him how to install Linux. He wanted it on his machine at home and also wanted to share it with some grad students using LISP. Volkerding put together a series of notes describing various things that had to be fixed after competing the initial installation. This took nearly as much time as the installation itself. His professor then asked: “Is there some way we can fix the install disks so that new machines will have these fixes right away?” Volkerding then set about editing the SLS installation scripts, fixing some bugs, adding some features, making the descriptions of packages more informative, and updating many of the packages. Thus, within the first year of SLS’s existence, a derivative distribution had been created. These modified versions of SLS ran kernel 0.98-pl4 through 0.99-pl9, and by 0.99-pl9 the differences between Volkerding’s system and SLS were more than skin deep. In mid June, the distribution had reached kernel version 0.99-pl11A. Both stability and networking were improved, and his friends at the university were all enjoying the system. They urged him to put it on FTP for public release. Betas of the public release were circulated as early as May of 1993. As things were nearing a releasable state, Volkerding made a post to comp.os.linux on the 11th of July in 1993 with the following:
Want an SLS like .99pl11A system?
Well, that's good, because I put one together. It does not yet have XFree-86 1.3, but give me about 2 days and it will. This is not like the MCC release, rather, it is a big system, even more bloated than SLS :^)
Currently it has all of the same features as SLS 1.02, with these additions:
1. The newest FAQ
2. Simplified installation procedure.
3. Kernel level .99 pl 11 Alpha.
4. libs and includes at 4.4.1, (without the limits.h problem)
5. GCC at 2.4.3 (may be 2.4.5 soon)
6. Net-2 TCP/IP preconfigured for loopback.
7. Public domain ksh and tcsh 6.04.
8. command line JPEG utilities.
On the X side, XV 3.00 has been added.
Now here's the deal: there are 13 disks in the 'A' series (same as SLS A, B, and C) and 10 in the X series. I don't have any way to offer this system publicly. If I tried to put it up on our 3b2 it would kill it.
This system has been used among my associates here since we put the first one together back at pl8. Our original goal was just to debug the SLS releases, but those have been slowing down and we happened to get a jump on things.
I'd like to hear from you if this package sounds appealing. If demand is not too strong, I may test releasing it on the 3b2 here. If you have an archive site for it, LET ME KNOW! I'll set you up with a copy of it to put up for FTP.
The response to his post was quite good with many people offering FTP space. He chose the name Slackware (inspired by the Church of the Subgenius) and announced it on the 12th. He also stated betas reached a version number of 1.3 which was then rebadged as 1.0 for public release. He got permission to put Slackware on public FTP hosted on a Western Electric 3b2 minicomputer at the university. Volkerding posted the following on comp.os.linux on the 16th of July in 1993:
The Slackware Linux distribution (v. 1.00) is now available for anonymous FTP. This is a complete installation system designed for systems with a 3.5" boot floppy. It has been tested extensively with a 386/IDE system. The standard kernel included does not support SCSI, but if there's a great demand, I might be persuaded to compile a few custom kernels to put up for FTP.
This release is based largely on the SLS system, but has been enhanced and modified substantially. There are two main disk series, A (13 disks) and X (11 disks). Some of the features:
About what you'd expect from SLS series A, B, and C. Plus:
Source for the Linux DOS emulator version 0.49.
The FAQ for kernel level 99pl10.
Kernel source and image at .99pl11 Alpha.
[compiled with these options: math emulation support, normal hard drive support, TCP/IP, System V IPC, -m486, minix fs, ext2 fs, msdos fs, nfs, proc support, and PS/2 style mouse support. You may need to recompile if you have some other type of busmouse. The kernel was compiled with libc 4.4.1, g++ 2.4.5]
The new keytable utilities.
The NET-2 networking package, preconfigured to use loopback.
A public domain version of ksh, and tcsh 6.04 (with the bugs worked out)
GNU gcc, g++, and Objective-C at versions 2.4.5
Includes and libraries at version 4.4.1
mailx, quota utilities, experimental winapi source, sound drivers.
The TCL toolkit and samples.
In addition, the installation program has been improved to offer more information about the packages (and the installation procedure itself) as you install. The install program can also automatically install LILO, configuring it to boot either from your master boot record or from OS/2's Boot Manager.
Also, all the packages you would get in the SLS X series, plus:
XFree-86 version 1.3.
Open Look Virtual Window Manager made the default window manager.
XS3 server offers support for S3 based video cards.
XV 3.00 Image viewer is included.
PEX files from the XFree-86 distribution are included.
Although TEX support is not included in the Slackware release, the you may install the SLS T series from the install program.
At this point, the install disk itself is running .99pl8. I'm working on it :^)
Also, installation from other than a 3.5" floppy has not been tested, but might work. 5.25" floppy will not work because of file sizes. At this point, I have no plans to support a 5.25" version.
How to get the Slackware(tm) release:
The Slackware release may be obtained be anonymous FTP from mhd3.moorhead.msus.edu in directory /pub/linux/slackware. At least initially, this release will be in the form of 3.5" disk images which should be copied to floppies using the RAWRITE.EXE program, or dd under Linux.
Please note that our FTP software does not support limiting the number of concurrent anonymous logins. PLEASE try to go easy on this machine. If things get out of hand, access may be restricted. Other sites are, of course, welcome to help out with the load by mirroring the distribution. If you find any problems with the distribution, or if you have any suggestions for improvements, please let me know. If you know of more up-to-date versions of software in the distribution, I'd like to hear about that, too.
After the announcement was made, the server began crashing again and again due to the flood of FTP connections from folks trying to download the twenty four floppies comprising the initial release. This problem was solved by Walnut Creek CDROM who offered space on
ftp.cdrom.com. While this first release was a success, it made MacDonald rather unhappy. Volkerding had assumed that MacDonald would see the fit and finish of Slackware and merge the changes, but MacDonald instead claimed distribution rights on the Slackware install scripts as they were derived from those in SLS. In the deal that the two men made to settle this, Slackware’s first release was allowed to remain online, but the install scripts would need to be rewritten before any new release could be made. Volkerding rewrote the install scripts as promised which resulted in 1.0.1 on the 4th of August in 1993. Bug fix releases followed quickly with 1.0.2 on the 5th of September, 1.0.3 on the 15th of September, 1.0.4 on the 1st of October, 1.1.0 on the 5th of November, and 1.1.1 on the 12th of December.
Over the Autumn of 1993, Ian Murdock was working on his own distribution, Debian. He and Volkerding had discussed merging their efforts as well as Volkerding just joining the Debian project:
Ian and I spoke on the phone at length around the time of the manifesto. He had wanted me to give up Slackware and join Debian Project, and was going to give me a vote in the development (like anyone else who wanted to join). I am not going to claim that Debian is a Slackware fork, but in August of 1993 that's pretty much what Ian had on his computer. I'm not sure that I actually saw a copy of Debian proper until around 1995.
Between brewing beer, going to Grateful Dead concerts, playing guitar, and working on Slackware, Volkerding received his bachelor’s in computer science from Moorhead State University in 1993. Shortly after that he got a job making medical archiving systems controlled by Linux systems.
Slackware 1.1.2 was released on the 13th of February in 1994. This version was much larger and included far more software as well as the ability to use the UMSDOS filesystem. This meant that for those with more than eight megabytes of RAM, they could install Linux on their DOS partition alongside DOS and Windows. This was useful since installation otherwise required a ridiculous number of floppy disks that after downloading had to be written to disks with rawrite one at a time. The base install of 1.1.2 required twelve megabytes of disk space while the full install required over one hundred forty megabytes. The installation menus now had basic color support via the dialog program written by Savio Lam with help from Volkerding. This work was integrated into Slackware by Ian Kluft. For Elm and Taylor UUCP, Volkerding used Vince Shakan’s newspak collection of configuration scripts. Louis LaBash contributed tools for compiling Perl with IPC. Allen Gwinn contributed the lpd package. H. J. Lu contributed the GCC package. Other than those specified and a few SLS packages still remaining, Volkerding had put every package together himself. By the 4th of April, four companies Volkerding knew of were pressing Slackware CDs.
Slackware 1.2 was released on the 1st of March in 1994 with Linux kernel 1.0. Slackware 2.0 was released on the 2nd of July in 1994. This release offered two different kernel versions: 1.0.9 (stable), 1.1.18 (development). Version 2.0 also offered XFree86 2.1.1.
In Summer of 1994, Volkerding was contacted by Michael Jonston of Morse Telecommunications. Johnston proposed commercial publication of Slackware. It was clear to Volkerding that he needed someway to fund the development of Slackware, and he therefore agreed. Shortly after this agreement, Slackware became Volkerding’s full-time job with commercial publishing agreements being sufficient to meet his needs. Morse was providing $1 per copy sold. This offering was called “Slackware Professional” and it was sold in several retail outlets. Walnut Creek was offering more per copy, so when the six month agreement with Morse expired, Volkerding switched to Walnut Creek.
The final release of 1994 was Slackware 2.1 which shipped on the 31st of October with kernel 1.1.59 and FVWM, and required seventy three floppy disks. Version 2.2 was released on the 30th of March in 1995 and shipped with kernel 1.2.1. On the 24th of May in 1995, Slackware 2.3 was released with kernel 1.2.8. The floppy madness came to and with Slackware 3.0 released on the 30th of November in 1995. This was the first release offered on CD-ROM, and it was also the release that saw Slackware transition from a.out to ELF. This was a big win as with a.out, shared libraries had specific places in memory where that had to be loaded. ELF shared libraries were position independent. At the time, using ELF meant you had to change your compiler flags which would have been quite tedious to do safely, but was certainly worth it in the end. This did have a major tradeoff of reserving the
%ebx register to point to the start of the global offset table. This resulted in about a one to three percent drop in performance for ELF when measured against the same application compiled to a.out. Slackware 3.0 shipped with kernel 1.2.13.
Slackware 96 (or version 3.1) shipped with Linux kernel 2.0 and FVWM95 on the 3rd of June in 1996. Around this time is when Slackware’s sales hit their peak. It’s also when competition began really heating up. Red Hat was gaining momentum, Debian was gaining momentum, SUSE (initially a German-localized Slackware distribution) was making headway, Caldera were making their first moves, and the commercial UNIX variants were still in the game. Several venture capitalists reached out to see whether or not Slackware would make a good investment, but Volkerding turned them down. He was concerned about there being pressure to make Slackware appeal to a broader market rather than his loyal user base.
Slackware 3.2 was released on the 17th of February in 1997 with kernel version 2.0.29. As with most releases, beyond the kernel, more packages were added and many got bug fixes and version bumps, but the overall distribution didn’t change too much. This was followed by 3.3 on the 11th of June in 1997. It was around this time that Slackware gained its mascot of a pipe-smoking Tux:
Slackware 3.4 shipped on the 14th of October in 1997, and this version was the first available as ZipSlack. ZipSlack was interesting as it had an extremely specific use case in mind. This was an alternative method of installation for Slackware where all of the actual install and configuration steps are pre-done. It’s preconfigured to use UMSDOS, the entire root filesystem is packaged in a single zip file, and the system is meant to fit on a single Zip100 disk (or LS120). Of course, this system could also just run from a directory on a DOS partition. Any prospective user could simply download the zip file, unpack it to a directory in DOS with PKUNZIP (a later 32 bit release), and the run LINUX.BAT which would call LOADLIN. Given the diminutive size, the end user still received a very capable system by 1997 standards with compilers (egcs 1.0.2), networking, and a standard suite of UNIX-like utilities. This system could be expanded or reconfigured using Slackware’s standard tooling of
Slackware 3.5 was released on the 9th of June in 1998 with kernel 2.0.34, Slackware 3.6 was released on the 28th of October in 1998 with kernel 2.0.35, and Slackware 3.9 was released on the 10th of May in 1999 with kernel 2.0.37pre10. Slackware 4 was released on the 17th of May in 1999 with kernel 2.2.6 and KDE1. At this point, Slackware was over 1GB in installed size.
Slackware was slow to bump major version numbers as seen with releases up to this point, but the distribution skipped versions 5 and 6 in attempt to catch up with its competitive brethren. As an example, Linux Mandrake had launched with version 5.1. Slackware 7.0 was released on the 25th of October in 1999 with kernel 2.2.13.
On the 4th of March in 2000, at a FreeBSD usergroup meeting in the Netherlands, Jordan Hubbard announced that a merger had been completed between Walnut Creek and Berkeley Systems Design Inc. Walnut Creek also published FreeBSD and along with BSDi the two were the primary corporate sponsors of FreeBSD. Undaunted by these changes with Slackware’s publisher, Slackware 7.1 was released on the 22nd of June in 2000. Version 7.1 was the first version to include GNOME, and it shipped with kernel 2.2.16.
Slackware was ported to SPARC on the 21st of December in 2000, and a Slackware port for DEC Alpha was made available on the 22nd of January in 2001. These were, however, only available for the development branch of Slackware (known as current) at this time.
Wind River Systems announced their acquisition of BSDi on the 4th of April in 2001. Wind River were interested in the BSD assets with their more permissive licensing, and they had little interest in Linux. This put Slackware in the position of being without a publisher just as Volkerding was readying a new release. Volkerding was ready to have a little more control over his financial future, and he teamed up with Robert Bruce and together they formed Slackware Linux Inc which ran an online store selling Slackware CDs and merchandise. This company had a rather simple division of labor with Volkerding doing the technical work, and Bruce handling business and operational work. The company continued to have extremely little marketing. Volkerding stated:
Most of our marketing is word of mouth. This is definitely an area where the more commercialised distributions have got an edge - we've never had a lot of extra money to sink into that. Plus, Slackware's niche is fairly unique. The kind of user we appeal to tends to know about us already, or will find out from their friends.
Despite almost zero marketing, Slackware had always been “in the black” with just Volkerding and the Slackware publisher needing any revenue and expenses being limited to the creation and distribution of media. Volkerding stated around this time that development was mostly just him and some informal contributors (the David mentioned is David Cantrell):
As far as the development of Slackware, I've always done most of the work on Slackware, and that's certainly still true today, but plenty of people pitch in to help. There's no official core team, but I'd say there are a couple of dozen developers who regularly send in fixes for various bugs, pointers to new software, or suggestions. Now that David and the other formerly full-time developers have gone back to school the ports to other architectures that they were working on have been suspended, but they still find time to contribute here and there. David just sent in some fixes last week.
Slackware 8.0 was released on the 1st of July in 2001 with Linux kernel 2.2.19 as standard and 2.4 as optional. This version also added Mozilla. The 2.4 series kernels were major improvements over the 2.2 series bringing USB, IrDA, frame buffer graphics, TV and radio cards, AGP, Direct Rendering Infrastructure (DRI), better sound support, expanded networking support, larger memory support, SMP support, APM support, packet filtering, QoS, and more. Despite all of this advancement, it wasn’t without tradeoffs. The kernel was much larger and memory was still somewhat expensive in 2001. Additionally, the 2.2 kernel series was battle tested and stable. With advantages and disadvantages to each, Volkerding chose to make both kernels available.
Slackware 8.1 was release on the 18th of June in 2002 with kernel 2.4.18. At this point, Slackware abandoned using the 8.3 naming convention for packages and instead began using
name-version-arch-build.tgz. At this point, most MS-DOS/UMSDOS users would have LFN support, and the prior naming convention made little sense. Additionally, hdsetup was moved into pkgtools. This release also included KDE 3.0.1, GNOME 1.4.1, Mozilla 1.0, and support for many filesystems including: ext3, ReiserFS, JFS, and XFS. At this point, Slackware consisted of 4 CD-ROMs.
Slackware 9.0 was released on the 19th of March in 2003 with kernel 2.4.20.
Announcing Slackware Linux 9.0!
The first major Slackware release based on the GCC 3.2.2 compiler, Slackware Linux 9.0 continues the ten-year Slackware tradition of simplicity, stability, and security.
Among the many program updates and distribution enhancements, you'll find two of the most advanced desktop environments available today: GNOME 2.2 (with a large collection of pre-compiled GNOME applications), and KDE 3.1, the latest version of the award-winning K Desktop Environment. Slackware now uses the 2.4.20 kernel bringing you advanced performance features such as the ReiserFS journaling filesystem, SCSI and ATA RAID volume support, and kernel support for XFree86's DRI (the Direct Rendering Interface) that brings high-speed hardware accelerated 3D graphics to Linux. Additional kernels allow installing Slackware using any of the journaling filesystems available for Linux, including ext3, ReiserFS, IBM's JFS, and SGI's XFS.
From the beginning, Slackware has offered a stable and secure Linux distribution for UNIX veterans as well as an easy-to-use system for beginners. Slackware includes everything you'll need to run a powerful server or workstation. Each Slackware package follows the setup and installation instructions from its author(s) as closely as possible, offering you the most stable and easily expandable setup.
ZipSlack was definitely still around and was included in the release announcement:
Another Slackware exclusive: Slackware's ZipSlack installation option is the fastest, _easiest_ Linux installation ever. ZipSlack provides a basic text-based Linux system as a 42 megabyte ZIP archive. Simply unzip on any FAT or FAT32 partition, edit your boot partition in the LINUX.BAT batch file, and you can be running Linux in less than five minutes. The ZipSlack installation includes everything you need to network with Linux (including Ethernet, token ring, and PPP), and extend the system with additional software packages such as X. A ZipSlack system will even fit on a Zip(TM) disk, so you can carry a personal Linux system with you to run on any PC with a Zip(TM) drive.
Slackware 9.1 followed on the 26th of September in 2003 and switched Slackware from OSS to ALSA for sound. This release included kernel 2.4.22, GNOME 2.4.0 and KDE 3.1.4.
Slackware 10 was release on the 23rd of June in 2004 with Linux kernel 2.4.26. Kernel 2.6.7 was available in the
/testing directory on the install media. This release included GNOME 2.6.1 and KDE 3.2.3, and it shifted Slackware from XFree86 to X.org. A port to the IBM S/390 was announced on the 23rd of October in 2004.
In late October and early November, updates in both Slackware current and stable slowed dramatically. Volkerding announced in
slackware-current/PAT-NEEDS-YOUR-HELP.txt that he was too sick to work. He was staying with his parents in Fargo, and using AOL dialup, greatly hindering his ability to work at all. As his post continues, we find out that this illness started with a pain in his shoulder starting in May of 2001 that he ignored. He was taken to an ER in Concord California in June of 2001 sweating profusely, feverish, and with a weak pulse. After testing, the doctors couldn’t find anything obviously wrong and diagnosed him with bronchitis. He was given antibiotics and things seemed to improve with a mild shoulder pain remaining. This reoccurred a few times and each time was beaten back. He was eventually diagnosed with a bacterial infection, and a change in antibiotics seemed to clear things up some, but then on the 25th of November, he reported that he was diagnosed with infective endocarditis. He was once again in the ER with chest pains and a bad ECG result. Trying to keep his mind occupied, he pushed updates for koffice. He also gave people an update that Bruno H. Collovini and Piter Punk had been pushing security updates for Slackware. He gave the HTTP address for those along with his own endorsement for their work. On the 18th of December, he posted that he was back in California and getting back to work with improved health. He gave specific praise to Doctor Leonardo Faoro of the Mayo Clinic for helping him recover. From the information we have, it would seem that his sonic toothbrush had aerosolized the bacteria in his mouth which was then inhaled while brushing his teeth and spread the bacteria through his body.
On the 26th of March in 2005, Volkerding announced that GNOME was removed from Slackware current and turned over to the community to support and to distribute. This had been under consideration for a few years as community efforts had been “more complete” than Slackware’s included GNOME distribution. Volkerding stated that GNOME “is and always has been a moving target” and that its stable releases aren’t exactly stable. Slackware 10.1 was released on the 1st of August in 2005 with kernel 2.4.29, and followed by 10.2 on the 14th of September in 2005 with kernel 2.4.31, KDE 3.4.2, and XFCE 4.2.2.
Slackware 11 was released on the 2nd of October in 2006. This release featured Linux kernel 2.4.33 with 184.108.40.206 in
/extra and 2.6.18 in
/testing. Version 11 included KDE 3.5.4, XFCE 220.127.116.11, Firefox, Thunderbird, and Seamonkey. This release of Slackware was the first to offer a DVD in addition to CDs. Version 12 saw Slackware move away from the 2.4.x kernel series. The release shipped on the 2nd of July in 2007 and included KDE 3.5.7, XFCE 4.4.1, HAL for automounting, and many more version bumps and enhancements. Version 12.1 followed on the 2nd of May in 2008. This release came with the usual version bumps across packages, but it also added FTP and HTTP as options for network installs where previously only NFS had been supported. Slackware 12.2 was released on the 10th of December in 2008 and added wicd to
/extra. For those familiar with wireless networking in Linux at the time, this was a very welcome addition.
2006 was also the year that saw the start of SlackBuilds.org (SBo). By this point, the development of Slackware had long been done with SlackBuilds. This name is derived by the file extension
.SlackBuild. These were shell scripts that automated compiling, linking, and packaging. These scripts had become common among users over time as well, and this led to sites like linuxpackages.net where one could find unofficial packages built by members of the community. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really any quality control, and some packages would have unknown dependencies and other issues. Around May of 2006, Robby Workman and Erik Hanson began working on a site that would offer SlackBuilds instead of prebuilt packages. This site was ready by the 8th of June at the latest as Hameleers received an email from the project as they were testing their email server. Over the years, SBo submissions often became official Slackware packages. Part of the magic of SBo packages is their info file:
PRGNAM="name of application" VERSION="version of application" HOMEPAGE="homepage of application" DOWNLOAD="direct download link(s) of application source tarball(s) arch-independent or x86" MD5SUM="md5sum(s) of the source tarball(s) defined in DOWNLOAD" DOWNLOAD_x86_64="direct download link(s) of application source tarball(s), x86_64 only" MD5SUM_x86_64="md5sum(s) of the source tarball(s) defined in DOWNLOAD_x86_64" REQUIRES="%README%" MAINTAINER="name of SlackBuild script maintainer" EMAIL="email address of author"
That the info file is so simple has led to the creation of third party tooling like
slpkg, and others. Tools like these offer capabilities similar to those of
On the 19th of May in 2009, Slackware64’s current repo was made public. Prior AMD64-compatible Slackware ports had existed (Slamd64 by Fred Emmot, and BlueWhit64 by Attila Craciun), but this was the first time there was an official port. The distribution was slow in getting official 64 bit support on x86 due to not all software supporting it and therefore many custom patches being required… something which Slackware always avoids. An internal build of an AMD64-compatible 12.2 showed a twenty percent to forty percent speed improvement depending upon workload and thereafter the 64 bit port became an official Slackware project. Slackware ARM became an official port on the 9th of July in 2009 where before it had been an unofficial port called ARMedslack. The ARM port was started by Stuart Winter and targeted at Acorn StrongARM and RiscPC as well as embedded devices.
Slackware 13 was announced on the 27th of August in 2009. This release was the first to have simultaneous 32 bit and 64 bit x86 releases. This release also included X autoconfiguration that obviated the need for a static X config for most users. Much of the 64 bit work was done by Eric Hameleers. Version 13 also brought KDE4 into Slackware replacing KDE3. Version 13.1 followed on the 24th of May in 2010 with kernel 18.104.22.168 and the addition of PolicyKit and ConsoleKit.
Slackware 13.37 was released on the 27th of April in 2011. The kernel for this release was 2.6.37, and the release included the open source NVIDIA driver nouveau. Support for btrfs was added, the
terse display mode was added to the installer, and a PXE server was added to the install DVD for quick setup in a networked environment.
Slackware 14 was shipped on the 28th of September in 2012. This brought LLVM/clang to Slackware along with network manager, and kernel 3.2.29. This was interesting as this was the first time Slackware had explicitly chosen to ship only an LTS kernel. MariaDB replaced MySQL in Slackware-current on the 23rd of March in 2013. Slackware 14.1 was released on the 7th of November in 2013 and added UEFI support. The kernel was updated to 3.10.17.
Slackware 14.2 was released on the 1st of July in 2016 with kernel 4.4.14. This long development time was due largely to the release and widespread adoption of systemd which Slackware doesn’t use, and systemd’s take over a very large number of software packages. This meant changing many things within Slackware such as switching from
eudev. PulseAudio and VDPAU were added, and Slackware moved from ConsoleKit to ConsoleKit2. These changes when added to Slackware’s policy of “release when it’s ready” meant that everyone had a rather long wait.
On the 23rd of July in 2018, linuxquestions.org user upnort posted that he couldn’t find a donation link anywhere on the Slackware site and that the store wasn’t working either. Volkerding responded:
I told them to take it down or I'd suspend the DNS for the store.
I've been mulling over exactly how to tell you all this, and I guess this is as good a place as any. The store has been ripping me off horribly, and I'm very nearly broke. I have no evidence that they've ever done anything with donations besides line their own pockets. I've not been paid any money by them in two years. That was upon the 14.2 release (and followed another long period of time with no income). The 14.2 release generated nearly $100K in revenue. The store gave me $15K, and later said that I was "overpaid".
When I agreed to set up the store, it was structured as a company where they owned 60%, and my wife and I owned 40%. I had not yet escaped California and would have quickly gone broke there with a house underwater had I not taken the deal. And 60% seemed fair, since the idea was that the company would be providing health insurance, paying for the production of the goods, and handling shipping and related customer service. And when my daughter was born and needed surgery and continuing medical attention I could hardly jeopardize our insurance in the days before the ACA. I was between a rock and a hard place like many residents of the US. Since then, the store has ceased to provide any benefits, and shouldn't even be getting a 50/50 split in my opinion, much less looting the coffers for 81+% (anything they want to spend money on is an expense, apparently, while any expenses I have to support the actual project come out of the peanuts they toss me). I only found out about how bad it really was last year when I finally managed to get some numbers out of them. I thought the sales were just that bad, and was really rather depressed about it. Another side note - the ownership of the 60% portion of the store changed hands behind my back. Nobody thought they needed to tell me about this. At that point I'd say things got considerably worse for me.
Still not sure how to move forward, but I have some hope that the community might think that my work is and has been worth supporting. If at all possible I'd like to get away from replicating physical media which seems to be a lost cause. T-shirts? Well, maybe, but I don't see that providing a reasonable income either. I'm wondering how Patreon would do. It would at least be better than nothing, which is where I am now.
Through all of this I have continued to work hard towards getting Slackware 15.0 released because I believe it will be by far the best release we've ever had, and because I'm dedicated to my work and the community that uses it. I've never really been in this for the money. At any given juncture (including now) I've had numerous opportunities that would support me and my family far better and would provide us with the things that we need rather desperately. I mean, I'm sitting here in a house with a giant hole in the roof, a broken door sealed with duct tape, and a failed air conditioning condenser that I can't afford to fix, my wife has been driving on a spare tire for weeks, my teeth need serious attention again, and I only just got a machine here with UEFI for the first time (bought a used machine... really out of my budget but it had to be done).
I'm open to suggestions at this point. As far as Slackware 15.0 goes, I've been testing PAM and Kerberos here and have given quite some thought to trying to get them merged (or at least in /testing) so that we can have proper support for Active Directory and NFS. Plasma 5 has been a consideration as well, although frankly it's grown much larger than GNOME was back when I decided that should be spun off for third party maintenance. If that's going in, we really need to analyze which dependencies would not be used outside of Plasma and stick all of those in the KDE series. I'm as tired of the pollution of the L series as the rest of you are.
Many commenters began talking about and suggesting Patreon, LiberaPay, and PayPal as potential alternatives. Ultimately, this resulted in the shuttering of the Slackware store and the creation of a Patreon account, a PayPal account, and a CafePress shop.
Slackware 15 was released on the 2nd of February in 2022. Slackware adopted PAM, elogind, PipeWire, Wayland, Qt5, Rust, Python3, KDE5, XFCE 4.16, f2fs, lame, vulkansdk, SDL2, ffmpeg, and more. Sendmail was moved into
/extra with postfix taking its place, and both imapd and pop3d were deprecated in favor of dovecot. Pkgtools gained file locking. A new script was released,
make_world.sh, which allows a user to rebuild the entire system from source. Slackware 15 released with kernel 5.15. No official CDs or DVDs were made and only ISOs are available. Likewise no new stickers, hats, pins, or T-shirts were released for purchase. At the time of this writing, Slackware current is on kernel 6.1.59.
Slackware is the most UNIX-like Linux distribution and such has been a stated goal of the project. The project emphasizes simplicity in design over convenience, and things only ship when they’re ready lending stability to the system. Slackware aims to be installable entirely offline from DVD or USB. The distro doesn’t ship with GUI configuration tools specific to the project and relies instead upon Bash/Dialog scripts for admin tasks, or direct editing of text configuration files. All software is as close to upstream as possible with patches made only for security, stability, or compatibility when necessary. In Slackware, there are no added layers of abstraction. Packages are tarballs of the compiled binaries and there’s no automatic dependency resolution for anything in base (
slpkg do offer that for third party packages). As far as package management is concerned, Slackware includes
pkgtools which has
removepkg. It also includes
slackpkg for updates. Slackware absolutely follows a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. All major decisions continue to be made by Patrick Volkerding (also known in the Slackware community as “the Man”) who is the Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL) of the project. There is no bugzilla, no public code repository, and no official procedure for someone to become a Slackware developer. There is a Slackware “core” team of contributors who work on things like testing new or updated packages, contributing to Slackware’s scripts, proposing new changes or packages, and so on. Slackware has also never had any particular use case in mind. It is meant to be suitable for desktop, workstation, server, embedded use, or any other purpose, and it makes no assumptions.
Slackware has been extremely influential in the Linux community due both to its early start and to its longevity. It stands in contrast to other distributions run megacorporations, committees, or communities as one that has a single guiding vision. Due to this, it hasn’t changed for the sake of change, and it remains very close to its starting design. Patrick Volkerding has worked hard over the years at keeping the project going despite both personal and company hardship and should be commended for his excellent work. Thank you Mr. Volkerding and belated happy birthday!
I now have readers from many of the companies whose history I cover, many of you were present for time periods I cover, and a few of you are mentioned by name in my articles. All corrections to the record are welcome; feel free to leave a comment.