Slackware Linux was created by Patrick Volkerding in late 1992. He was looking for a free LISP program in order to complete a school project, but the only one available was for this new thing called Linux. Patrick downloaded SLS and started using it. Eventually, he started to find various small problems with it and made patches to fix those problems.

Well, his patches eventually grew so large that it was pretty much its own distribution. Patrick was convinced to put it up for download under the name Slackware, paying homage to his involvement with the Church of the SubGenius. After a time, Slackware caught the attention of the SLS maintainer, who insisted that Patrick cease distribution until he could come up with init scripts and install scripts that weren't based on SLS. Patrick agreed.

Slackware had a huge chunk of market share for the first several years of its life, running on over 90% of the Linux computers in existance. Such a huge market share caught the attention of Walnut Creek CDROM, based in Concord, CA. Walnut Creek became Slackware's publisher. From Morehead, Patrick would develop the distribution (sometimes releasing multiple point releases per month). When it was ready for official release, he would load up the car and drive to Concord. Then, the master CDs would be produced and sent off to everyone.

Between 1993 and 2000, several other distributions were created, some as forks of Slackware and some as their own independant projects. These other distributions gained market share and Slackware slipped back a few places in popularity though it still ran on loads of machines. An interesting side note: at one point in 1993, there was talk between Patrick and Ian Murdoch of merging Slackware and Debian. Think of where we'd be today!

One reason Slackware slipped in popularity (in my opinion) is the lack of marketing put forth by Walnut Creek. While distributions like Red Hat had full-time marketing staff devoted to increasing public exposure, Slackware remained one person and a publisher. I believe this lack of marketing is what caused Slackware to fall in popularity.

In 1999, Slackware had its first website when David Cantrell and Logan Johnson became involved. This started out as involvement with just the website but eventually turned into support mail, testing packages, and book writing. I was brought in shortly after David and Logan were. Early 2000 saw a few major changes: Patrick was finally convinced to move out to California, the three of us left Georgia Tech to work on Slackware full-time, and Walnut Creek was bought out by BSDi.

The BSDi deal only lasted about a year, though. Slackware was relegated to even more of a backseat role than it had at Walnut Creek. BSDi was mainly interested in promoting FreeBSD and BSD/OS. So we got even fewer marketing dollars and resources than we had been getting. But by the beginning of 2001, it was clear to employees that BSDi didn't have much longer. Indeed, in May 2001, BSDi was bought up by Wind River and Slackware was cast off as its own company. Without the funds to pay four people full-time, the three of us were let go. Slackware was back to the way it was - just Patrick working on it.

Slackware stands out as its own unique distribution for several reasons:

  • Packages are tarred and gzipped archives with embedded control scripts. Before anyone screams, "That's not a package": Debian packages are two tar files ar'd together, and Red Hat packages are just cpio archives.
  • A more BSD-like style of init scripts. It's not true BSD style, but it's closer to that than to SysV. There's one script per run-level, plus a few others.
  • A philosophy of thoroughly testing things before including them in the distribution. For example, Slackware didn't get in on the glibc thing until Slackware 7, released in November 1999. As it wasn't deemed stable by its developers, we did not feel it was ready to base an entire OS upon. I believe the problems users of other distributions had proves us correct. But whatever.
  • Not including eveything but the kitchen sink. Okay, Slackware has started to include a lot more stuff these days but it's nowhere near the level of Debian or SuSE. Whether that's a bad thing or not is up to you to decide.
  • Not changing things for the sake of change. People who installed and used Slackware 1.x could probably very easily find their way around modern-day releases. The installer looks very similar to the way it always has, though with more features and bug fixes. And the underlying organization of the system is similar as well. Things don't get moved around just because.
  • A UNIX-like way of doing things. Lots of flat-files for configuration, without GUI tools to do things for you. A lack of obfuscation in the system. I've even heard that the init files were originally based on DEC UNIX because that's what Patrick had on hand for reference.

I'm not trying to start any distribution flame wars here. You can use whatever you want... doesn't matter to me. I'm just offering up some history and little pieces of information so that everyone knows what Slackware is.

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