Slackware, a simple and easy to use Linux distribution
Sunday, March 13, 2011 5:09:00 PM
Let's start with 'simple' and clarify what I mean here. When some people talk about simple distros they are usually referring to something like Ubuntu. However, Ubuntu is certainly not a simple distro. The confusion here lies in the way people are trying to use this word. I believe what they actually mean is that they have found some distros to be difficult to use and Ubuntu (for them) is not. However the opposite of difficult is 'easy', whereas 'complex' is the real opposite of simple.
Let's use bicycles as an analogy to better explain this point. Consider the following two bikes, which is simple and which is complex?
A modern mountain bike
A fixed wheel single speed bike
I think most people will agree that the mountain bike is much more complex than the fixed wheel bike. It has after all, a freewheel, twin hydraulic disk brakes, full font and back suspension, multiple gears based on a dérailleur system with semi-automatic shifting. The second bike however has pretty much the minimum required to define it as a usable bike.
Now some might be thinking, "Ok, but in that case is simplicity such a good thing? What sane person would pick the second bike over the first? You will be much quicker on the first!". Well one group of bicycle users where I have heard that such bikes are reasonably common, is amongst bicycle messengers (couriers) in major cities. Apparently, this simplicity is favoured because such a bike is much easier to maintain and is less likely to break down, which are key attributes if your livelihood depends on reliability. Also whilst you might expect a top of the line mountain bike to be quicker, there is a key component missing from both of the pictures above ... the cyclist. I consider myself reasonably fit but if you gave me the mountain bike and asked me to race a professional courier on the second bike across the streets of Manhattan I think it is pretty likely I would fail. Their extra strength and stamina in combination with their far better knowledge of the terrain would likely result in me looking pretty pathetic.
This analogy might not be perfect but it translates reasonably well back to computer operating systems. If you looked 'under the hood' and compared how Ubuntu and Slackware are put together and work you would find something similar. Slackware contains the minimum required to define it as a usable OS. Its stripped down nature means that it is highly reliable and relatively bug free. And if your plan is to become a Linux 'mechanic' then it is very nice to use because it is simple enough to get your head around how everything works and fits together. Sure you might also need to work on more complex distros in the future but this is a great place start and an old stable you can always come back to.
This leads on to my second point, Slackware is very easy to use. Once again some might misunderstand what I am saying here, so I'll clarify what I mean by explaining what I am not saying. I am not saying that for the average modern desktop user with no *nix background, Slackware is easy to understand out of the box in a totally intuitive way. (That is actually one of Ubuntu's strengths and the reason why some people mistakenly label it as 'simple' despite the underlying complexity). However, with a little bit of background in Linux use and how to configure systems via text files, Slackware is certainly easy to use and configure comparative to many (perhaps most) other distros. It is very logical in that almost all system wide configuration is done by editing obviously named (and usually well documented) files within /etc and its subdirectories. This has been the case since the beginning, unlike many other distros which use different tools with different options and where the options shift around in the interface or even between tools every other release. So whilst the learning curve for using a distro like Slackware can be steeper, you only have to do this once and then it is very 'easy to use'. Or to put it another way, you don't have to relearn everything just because the current 'design guru' has a different concept of what is intuitive to his or her predecessor.
So there you have it, I like Slackware because it is a simple and easy to use Linux distribution.