Slackware 14.1 review

Slackware 14.1 was released on november 7th, 2013. I’d been waiting for this release. In this post, I’ll explain why, and what I thought of it after installing it and using it for a few days.

Slackware? But why?

Slackware is not the first distribution most people will look at, when looking for a Linux distribution. I’ve been a Slackware user for a long time now. The first version I installed was probably 67 or 7.1 (as ShadowX kindly pointed out in the comments, there is no such thing as Slackware 6.), but I can’t be sure, because that’s a long time ago.

I did run Ubuntu for several years in between. This started with the first or second Ubuntu release (4.10 or 5.02). It looked great. It worked good. It was a beautiful distribution and I was very excited about every new release, which came every 6 months. Then, Canonical’s course with Ubuntu started to cause problems for me. New releases would not run great out-of-the-box. There was the move to PulseAudio that resulted in sound not working, until I could fix that (but nowadays this shouldn’t be an issue — it wasn’t for me in later releases). One day, after running updates, X could no longer start. It turned out that the graphics card in the workstation I used at the time, a Quadro4, was no longer on the list of supported cards of the driver (the proprietary driver from Nvidia). That wasn’t a good update. I’ve also had X break after an upgrade because Ubuntu switched to (or from) xrandr and it wouldn’t play nice with my video driver and/or hardware. My relationship with Ubuntu started to show some cracks, and eventually the switch from Gnome to Unity made me decide that Ubuntu might be moving in a direction I didn’t particularly care for, even though I would still advise other people to try Ubuntu if they were looking at trying out “Linux”. After weighing a few of the many, many (good!) options, I decided to go back to Slackware on the desktop.

If this sounds completely ridiculous to you, I can understand: switching from a distribution like Ubuntu — which, after installing it, will try to leave you with a fully functional desktop that Canonical has designed/put together — because I had to fiddle with it to get everything to work right, to Slackware, which has the reputation of being a distribution that leaves you with little to nothing after installing it. But wait, I can explain! This is how it works in my silly, silly brain: if I install an operating system such as Ubuntu, which is made to be easy and simple, and I have to configure basic functions, such as playing audio, it fails for me. It won’t meet my expectations, and that’s disappointing. I don’t feel the same way when I look at Slackware, because it is made to be a configure-it-to-your-own-needs type of distribution, so I’m expecting to have to configure things. It would only fail if it wouldn’t let me tinker with it. Slackware has not failed me in this regard, where Ubuntu has a few times. But that doesn’t mean Slackware requires you to get anything to work. Seeing Slackware as a distribution that requires you to put a lot of time and effort into it is, in my opinion, the wrong way of looking at it.

The philosophies of Slackware are simple: the software it ships with is, as much as possible, vanilla. No patched Slackware-specific versions or patches here, unless absolutely necessary. This does NOT mean, however, that these software versions have not been well tested. Quite the contrary, actually. Additionally, Slackware’s creator and benevolent dictator for life, Patrick Volkerding, believes in the classic UNIX-philosophies, such as “write programs that do one thing, and do it well.”, where programs work together to accomplish more complex tasks. This results in an operating system that:

  1. ships with software and defaults that the developer(s) of said software intended for (which is not the same thing as software that is unusable after installing it);
  2. is easy to configure, because that’s how it was made in the first place.

These design choices have always defined Slackware, and I hope they always will. It means Slackware is generally simple, not complex. It’s extremely easy to find out how the system works under the hood; it is very accessible. It is a base system you can build on if you want to, but it’s by no means necessary for anybody to do so, provided their hardware all works without having to fix anything — your mileage may vary. Also, if you’re the type of user that doesn’t want to spend time setting up their own personal “space” after a fresh install, Slackware might not be your first choice.

The wait

A week before the release of Slackware 14.1, my laptop broke down. It wouldn’t boot. It wouldn’t even really come on. I replaced it with a ThinkPad T61, and installed the SSD from the broken down laptop in it. After booting it, there was no networking, because it probably lacked the necessary modules and/or firmware. At that point, Slackware 14.1 was very close to being released, according to the changelogs (release candidate 3, the last stop before the actual release). The installation on the SSD was Slackware 14, 32bit. I decided to wait for 14.1 and install the 64bit version instead of reinstalling Slackware 14, which is over a year old. I didn’t care to spend a lot of time trying to fix the networking situation if I was going to reinstall the whole thing anyway, either. I used Slax (a great live environment you run from USB or CD, which, incidentally, is based on Slackware) in the meantime, on a USB stick. When the distribution was released, I downloaded the 64bit DVD-image and proceeded to install it.


If you’ve ever installed Slackware, and you remember the process, you’ll know what to expect. Slackware’s installer is the same as it’s always been. Actually, the whole installation process is the same as always. Patrick does not like changing anything for the sake of changing it. If it works, it doesn’t need change. It sounds a little unexciting, but it has that feeling of coming home. It’s familiar. Slackware still ships with and installs Lilo by default, although a package for Grub is also on the DVD if you prefer.

Installing Slackware is very simple, but it helps if you know what you’re doing. The installer has no partitioning tool, for example. Then again, why would it, if you can use cfdisk or fdisk? Both those tools are on the bootable environment you install from, and both allow you to partition your drive(s), where cfdisk is menu-driven and easier to use. I had no partitioning to do because I was overwriting an installation and I have /home on a separate partition that I wasn’t going to touch during installation. I also already had a swap-partition for the same reason. I ran setup and was greeted with the very familiar installer. The steps are easy and are menu-driven, so in my experience, Slackware is just as easy to install as, say, Debian, and it doesn’t take long at all. Because I know what steps will follow (because they don’t change).

Upgrading an existing installation is an undertaking that could be simpler. It’s not as easy as apt-get dist-upgrade. The process is described in and if I had to mention one thing I miss in Slackware, it’s there not being a safe and simple upgrade process. On the other hand, automating this kind of thing might not really fall in line with the ideas behind this operating system. I end up re-installing if I want to go from one version to the next. Since /home is on a separate partition, I only backup /root and /etc usually, just in case. It costs a little bit more time, but not too much: I know my way around Slackware enough that I can configure it relatively easily.

First boot

After installation (which is smooth as it always has been in my experience) and first boot, everything worked on the laptop. Wan, Lan, touch pad and sound worked right away, but also those special function keys to change sound volume or screen brightness. I also had a functioning build environment. The only thing I installed afterwards was wicd, which I find extremely useful for managing Wifi-networks, because it comes with several usable clients (among which an curses-based interface). It’s not part of Slackware’s installation, but it can be found in the form of a package, in /extra on the DVD.

You have no user at this point, other than root. The installation asked for a root password. I added a user for myself and copied some things from my old home-dir (which I renamed) into the new one. This allowed me to keep everything I wanted to keep, and have a fresh setup at the same time.

If you start Slackware for the first time, you’ll notice it still drops you into runlevel 3. This means you log in to a textual, not a graphical environment. Of course, running startx loads X and the window manager/desktop environment you selected in the last steps of the installation, but if you prefer to log in graphically instead, you change /etc/inittab accordingly (you’ll want runlevel 4). This will start a display manager at boot (specified in /etc/rc.d/rc.4) and allow you to login to your environment of choice. Your graphical environment is not going to be Slackware-themed. It’s going to be about how it would be if you had downloaded a fresh copy from the creator(s), and installed it from source.

So on one hand, after installation, I had a fully functional operating system that didn’t really need any extra work. On the other hand, I have an installation that I haven’t fully tailored to my own satisfaction, since everything is in its default state. And, since Slackware is made to be configurable, it never gets in your way when you want to customize it to your personal preferences.


I like installing software through packages. It allows for easy uninstalling and upgrading. The package manager in Slackware is very capable and flexible, but like the rest of the operating system, lacks complexity. This means it does no dependency resolution for you, for example, nor does it have a GUI (unless someone made one). I have experience with both Debian and Ubuntu, both for servers and desktop use, so I’m aware of the advantages of automatic dependency resolution. I’ve also been held back by it before. It can be both extremely powerful (actually, it simply is very powerful and both Debian and Ubuntu are great testaments to that) and also limiting (because somebody else decides what needs to be installed on your system, rather than you).

A package in Slackware can be installed, replaced or removed. There is a menu-driven tool provided, pkgtool. You can look in /var/log/packages to see which packages are installed. All software I want to install but is not in the distribution can usually be found at This is a large collection of slackbuilds, which, by means of running the provided script, are turned from source into packages on your computer. So far I’ve found just about everything I’ve wanted to install on both my desktop and my server (which has Slackware 14 running) in the official packages or on

If you choose to rely on dependency resolution, you can opt to use slapt-get (or maybe consider Debian instead), which does handle dependency resolution for you, but I have not really had any need for it. The packages I install usually come from, and dependencies are listed for each package and can easily be installed first. This is, admittedly, the scenic route to package installation, but it’s by no means very time consuming, generally.


Slackware has really low system requirements. At minimum, you’ll need a 486 with 64MB RAM, according to the web site. Chances are, your computer is a little faster than that. Mine sure is, and consequently I have an operating system that boots pretty fast (but not as fast as it could — don’t forget, though, that the boot process, too, is extremely configurable and tweakable) and is otherwise quite fast. I selected XFCE as my primary graphical environment. Within seconds of typing startx, it’s on my screen, ready to go. No complaints there, either. Beside XFCE, you can choose other environments like Window Maker, KDE or FVWM, during the last stage of installation, or later on. There is no Gnome, Unity, MATE, Trinity and whatnot, though. If you really want Gnome, you will want to look at a project like Dropline Gnome (although this installs PAM, which you might not want, unless I’m mistaken and it doesn’t install PAM anymore) or GNOME SlackBuild, but I don’t know how up-to-date these are.

I’ve used this installation for a few days and so far the only thing actually missing was the Flash player, which you can install from a SlackBuild, although at the time of writing, the packages are made for Slackware 14 as hasn’t yet started providing packages for 14.1. There’s always a very good chance that packages for older versions will work on the most recent release, as was the case with Flash player.


Slackware 14.1 is exactly what I expected it to be: Slackware as it has always been. It’s both extremely uneventful and unexciting, because it’s the same experience as it has been since, well, the beginning, probably. It also hasn’t let me down because it lived up to my expectations from it. This makes me feel very much at home on my own computer. I have full control if I want it, the operating system isn’t going to be in my way and I haven’t had to fiddle with anything to get it to work. The Slackware experience is a stable experience, and if you’re looking for a stable experience from an operating system that doesn’t hold your hand unnecessarily, puts you in control, without being some kind of Linux From Scratch type of setup after installation that maybe actually boots, then you would probably at least appreciate Slackware.

If you want a distribution that looks and feel more like a “whole”, you might not care about Slackware as much.

Me? I simply love Slackware. 14.1 is not changing that, but it does reaffirm it.


  • Very low hardware requirements
  • Very clean and configurable, yet initially functional environment that doesn’t get in your way
  • Adheres to classic UNIX philosophies


  • Not the streamlined experience you’d get from distributions such as Ubuntu
  • Can be conservative and intimidating for new users
  • Upgrading from an older version is an adventure

40 thoughts on “Slackware 14.1 review

    1. Daniel

      For mate you can use the base or extra .txz packages from repositories that are allready built. Search for mate 1.6.3. It’s tested and works well on my laptop.

  1. Rob Post author

    I tried MATE a little while ago, I used the packages from Salix, if I’m not mistaking. MATE is very interesting to me because Gnome 2.6 is in general my favorite desktop environment. I’ll be sure to install it again and take a better look, thanks for the link! 🙂

    I’m subscribed on the mailing list for SBo, I saw there’s a lot of moving around to get it ready for 14.1. 🙂

  2. John Jones

    Great review! I’ve upgraded my T61 and my desktop to 14.1, and everything is great and stable, of course. Incidentally, Distrowatch has this review listed as a Point Linux 2.2 review, hopefully they fix that soon. I’ve installed several 14.0 SlackBuilds so far, and they all work fine.

  3. Barnabyh

    Actually I found up- and downgrading on Slackware very straightforward. It’s an adventure with almost all distributions incl. Debian and there are no guarantees. With Slackware at least I can be sure it works if sticking to the instructions.

    Thanks for a good review of Slackware. It needs reviews by people who actually know and appreciate the distribution and not just trumpet out tired old myths.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      Thanks for the comment! I have to admit that I never tried to upgrade Slackware myself so I more or less never dared to do this; I have the impression a simple reinstall is faster and easier. Giving /home its own partition certainly helps making a reinstall less than problematic, anyway. 🙂

  4. UserSinceSlackware9.1

    Slackware remains the Linux distribution of choice for me. When I started my Linux adventures in 2003 Redhat 9 (Shrike) was just released. Soon after, Slackware 9.1 was released. I downloaded a copy, read through the installation process and I was happily on my way to being a Slacker for life. I tried all of the new distributions as they were released including Ubuntu, Mandrake, Debian, Fedora, Arch Linux etc etc in an attempt to find the best, but always ended up going back to Slackware. It’s true when they say “It just works” Slackware is given a bad rap because most new Linux users claim that it is a challenge to install. I find it as easy to install as any GNU/Linux distribution I have encountered. If someone should have any trouble with a part of the install process, Slackware has a very helpful community, just go to Slackware forums. Slackware also has a very large package database which suits all my software needs perfectly. The stability and the ability to customize Slackware to my exacting specifications makes it the perfect system, and the only one I have ever installed on my custom built workstation.

  5. ShadowX

    I’ve been a long time slackware user (since the 7.0 ..7.1 days) both @home and @work (mainly servers but and for desktop too 🙂 ) and I just wannet to say that you really get “the Slackware-way” …. “It will do only what you tell it to..nothing more , nothing less” 🙂
    Thanks for the great review.
    p.s. small note, there was no slackware 6.x (3.x -> 4.0 —> 7.0 ) Pat skiped few version number to show that Slackware is quite up to date as the others distros at the time.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      You’re right, Slackware DID skip a few versions so 7 or 7.1 is probably the first version I used (fits with the timeline because I remember it being in early 2000). Thanks for pointing that out and thanks for the compliments! 🙂

  6. Johannes

    Thanks for the review.
    I already install Slackware 14.1 64Bit on a T430 with efi. Half a year ago y change my 14.0 64 Bit system to efi. Now the installation DVD was able to detect my efi system and upgrade my slackware to 14.1 without problem. The system work like a charm.

    I love slackware and I am using it for many years.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      I hadn’t heard of MLED yet, but it certainly looks nice from the description on their site. I might try it out! Thanks for pointing it out.

  7. Slackware 3.2

    My first Linux install was Yggdrasil. That was no longer being maintained and I didn’t know enough yet to keep all the libraries updated, so a friend turned me onto Slackware 3.2. I had to install it using PLIP from a NFS share because I couldn’t afford another CDROM for my 386SX20. This was about the same time I used to fire up doom on the school Linux computer cluster and pipe the video back to my computer over the modem(telnet->check xhost settings->set DISPLAY to my computer->fun, fun, fun) because it had higher frame rates then trying to run it locally with DOS, I don’t know why it just did. 1994 I think, about the same time the WWW and browsers were starting to really take off. Good old days.

    Anyway 14.1 rocks!

  8. Kepesh

    Good review! I love slackware, it’s my favourite distro. I would to recommend you and other users this community:
    There are many packages (also the flash plugin) and a good community.

  9. JohnD

    I like how slackware just works, but as you mentioned, there is Slax. Everytime I get a computer problem (mostly windows), I use Slax as a live-usb-distro. I like how you can just boot up the live Slax usb, and install it do the hdd. That is one thing I miss with slackware

  10. Gypsy Chief

    Great review and it matches my experience over decades. For awhile I used Vector Linux (on Thinkpad 760XL) then graduated to ‘Uncle’ Slackware. I remember the controversy over Caitlin’s review of a previous version, but Caitlin had an undisclosed (?) conflict of interest. Affects me because I am not an advanced user (I am an intermediate user) and Slackware is my distro of choice. I like Xfce and use Slackbuilds to compile Leafpad from source since I need a text editor on the desktop. Am a big fan of Slackupdate script from and Denny’s page about how to get beautiful fonts in Slackware. Your review will be linked to my blog. thanks.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      Thanks for the link and the compliment!
      I also use Leafpad as default editor in Xfce. Seemed like the best choice when I was looking for a simple editor for X.

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  12. Computer Scatter

    Slackware was my first linux desktop love dating back to the early 1990s when the Internet wasn’t yet widely misunderstood as a synonym for a web; more than a decade later I renewed my vows when topologinlinux shocked and awed me. But, I fell away when topologilinux faded and kde3 got run over by that disaster known as kde4, while tde moved in too slowly to keep my heart out of lxde/lubuntu. After reading this I have a feeling in some spare time I might end up back in slackware, if only to see just how much faster my modern computer will run with the latest slackware plus tde. I daydream of a new version of topologilinux (perhaps loop mounting a .vdi this time around) coming out some day, with trinity as the default desktop environment…ahh, perfection.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      My experience with Slackware on this T61 (C2D at 2,2GHz and 2GB RAM) has been that it is really fast and responsive (the responsive part is very important to me) and memory consumption is extremely acceptable. This is with XFCE4 as the desktop environment.
      Since I wrote this review I’m still running the same configuration. The only things I was missing had to do with the fact that the default installation couldn’t run 32bit programs while there are a few that I wanted to run. I’ve recently added multilib support however and I have some great experiences with Wine (built from source) and Steam, for example (thanks to AlienBob who is by now very high on the list of my personal heroes ;))

    2. http://www./

      Hi guys, thanks for alerting me to this. There have been some changes in WordPress 2.8.1 that seem to be causing the issue. I will be updating the plugin early next week after returning to the office. Will post again here when it’s available.

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  14. slacker man from a slacker planet

    Installed Slackware 14.1 ARM on a raspberry pi and it works like a charm. Ran it as an XFCE desktop for a couple of days just for fun. A little slow on the start up, but it was a usable desktop. However, its ultimate function will be as an owncloud server.

    Great review. 14.1 rocks. Keep on slacking in the free world….

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      I have a Pi as well but I haven’t tried Slackware on it. It runs Raspbian currently but I’m quite interested in giving Slackware a spin, too. I have ran an instance of OwnCloud on my Slackware machine, though, and it worked reasonably well but at the same time it didn’t feel too “solid”.
      Thanks for the compliment!

      1. Another shadowy slacker from another shadowy slacker planet

        Slackware on the pi seems to be stable (solid?). Owncloud is another story, though. Given the project’s ambitions and the amount of code, it is not surprising that it has bugs. Recommendation: Use a php accelerator.

        Here is a starting link for installing Slackware on PI:

      2. Shadowy slacker from a shadowy slacker planet

        Forgot to mention that you forgot to mention the ‘slackpkg’ package upgrade tool (which uses ‘pkgtool’). I think using ‘slackpkg’ is probably the best way to keep your slackware up-to-date.

        And as far as no dependency resolution goes, I think that Slackware’s non-dependence on automatic dependency resolution is a desirable feature. As a sysadmin, I want to know what the dependencies are on my servers and manage them myself.

        1. Rob Elemans Post author

          Ah, slackpkg, I mentioned Slapt-get in its place I suppose. I don’t use either; I do only install from packages (even if I have to make one myself) and I do this manually.

          Dependency resolution is important but it doesn’t have to be automatic, so I agree that the lack of automatic dependency resolution is a good thing from the point of view of a dedicated sysadmin. That said, I don’t know if I’d enjoy as much as I do if packages’ dependencies weren’t listed the way they are, so as long as dependencies are listed in the README, that’s good enough for me. The way goes about it though is absolutely awesome. 🙂

          1. Shadowy slacker from a shadowy slacker planet

            “The way goes about it though is absolutely awesome. :)”


  15. Slackery man from a Slackery planet

    “The way goes about it [dependency resolution] though is absolutely awesome. 🙂


  16. Van

    This review came up in a StartPage search. I’m considering Slackware, or a derivative, due to all the systemd garbage taking over other Linux distros. My current favored distro is CrunchBang.

    Your review is very thorough and has provided me with good information in my consideration of using Slackware, or a derivative, in the future. Thank you.

    1. Rob Elemans Post author

      Thanks for the compliment! I’m not sure what to make of systemd so far but I can imagine people not being too happy about a sudden change in their operating system’s boot sequence. Thankfully, Slackware only changes when it needs to, and I hope systemd will be an option for those who prefer it (the same way Lilo is the default boot loader but Grub is also packaged for fans of Grub). 🙂


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  18. Phil

    I’ll never forget my first adventures with Linux. I picked up a copy of the first edition of “Running Linux” by Matt Welsh, along with another book on Linux, which included a couple of CD’s with Slackware 3.1 on them. I was working for a computer repair shop at the time, and had built my own screaming 486 machine with a whopping 16MB of RAM and a 15″ CRT monitor. After creating the two required floppies and getting Slackware installed on my machine, I then managed to get XFree86 up and running. It looked like an uglier version of Windows 95, but it worked. Ultimately, when it was all said and done, I stayed with Slackware for a couple years, until I learned about Red Hat and RPM.

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