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[This article was contributed by Ladislav Bodnar]

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From: [email protected] (Patrick J. Volkerding)
Subject: ANNOUNCE: Slackware Linux 1.00
Date: 17 Jul 1993 00:16:36 GMT
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.

Yes, you have been taken exactly 10 years back in history when Slackware Linux 1.0 was rather unceremoniously unveiled to those who had the determination and skill to get it installed on their computers. Since the actual development had started at some point in 1992, it is safe to say that Slackware Linux is the oldest surviving Linux distribution on the market today. It was created by Patrick Volkerding and originally based on one of the first ever Linux distributions called SLS Linux by Soft Landing Systems.

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The Linux veterans among the readers will remember that Slackware 1.0 came on 24 floppy disks, 13 of which were the essential A series, while the remaining 11 floppies contained XFree86 and graphical applications. What exciting features could one find in Slackware 1.0? The Linux kernel was at version 0.99pl11 alpha. It came with math emulation and normal hard drive support, TCP/IP, support for ext2fs, msdos and several other file systems, and it even supported a PS/2 style mouse. It was compiled with libc 4.4.1 and g++ 2.4.5. The graphical part of the distribution was based on XFree86 1.3 and the OpenLook Virtual Window Manager was the default desktop environment.

New releases followed in rapid succession and six new Slackware versions were announced during the remaining 5 months of that year. A much improved Slackware Linux 2.0 was released in July 1994. It came with a choice between a stable Linux kernel 1.0.9 and a development kernel 1.1.18, and included XFree86 2.1.1. It was about this time that Patrick Volkerding turned the Slackware distribution commercial in cooperation with Morse Telecommunication, who were about to release the product on a bootable CD, together with printed documentation.

The Linux Journal magazine interviewed Patrick Volkerding in the second issue of the newly launched publication in April 1994. 'Why did you call it Slackware?', was one of the questions. 'My friend J.R. 'Bob' Dobbs suggested it.', replied Patrick. 'Although I've seen people say that it carries negative connotations, I've grown to like the name. It's what I started calling it back when it was really just a hacked version of SLS and I had no intention of putting it up for public retrieval. When I finally did put it up for FTP, I kept the name. I think I named it 'Slackware' because I didn't want people to take it all that seriously at first.' Interestingly, a potential merge of Slackware with Debian was under consideration in those days, claimed the 27-year old creator of Slackware Linux.

Slackware Linux 3.0 (kernel 1.2.13) came out in August 1995 and this was followed by a considerable slowdown in the frequency of new releases. It took the distribution almost four years to reach version 4.0 (kernel 2.2.6) in May 1999 (see this review). This trend was broken 5 months later when another new release was announced, and to the surprise of many, it was called Slackware Linux 7.0 (kernel 2.2.13)! Why the sudden escalation of the version number? The Slackware web site explains: 'I think it's clear that some other distributions inflated their version numbers for marketing purposes, and I've had to field (way too many times) the question 'why isn't yours 6.x' or worse 'when will you upgrade to Linux 6.0' which really drives home the effectiveness of this simple trick. Sorry if I haven't been enough of a purist about this. I promise I won't inflate the version number again (unless everyone else does again ;)

In the following years, the Slackware release cycle settled to about one per year, while the more adventurous users followed the distribution's continuously evolving current branch. But the infamous dotcom bust brought a period of uncertainty to the future of Slackware development. This happened when Slackware's primary distributor Walnut Creek merged with BSDi, which was later acquired by another company called WindRiver. Things started to look bleak when WindRiver announced in April 2001 that it would no longer support the development of Slackware. Patrick Volkerding: 'I'm working on setting up a company so we can handle the publishing ourselves. Unfortunately, I'm broke. I can get funding to publish and ship the release to all the subscribers (and anyone else who wants it), but have no money to pay my fellow friends until we make some.'

Luckily for all Slackware fans, things turned out rather nicely as Patrick Volkerding teamed up with Bob Bruce, the founder of Walnut Creek, to form a company handling product sales. And, according to this interview, Slackware is actually a profitable business: Patrick Volkerding: 'There were certainly times I looked around at the trade shows at new distributions with larger booths and more employees and wondered if I'd made the right move, but in retrospect I'm glad I kept things small. Most of those companies aren't around anymore. When the investments dried up they couldn't afford to continue operating at a loss. Most of the funding for the Slackware project comes from people who have subscribed to the CD releases, or bought CDs from our Web site. This is what pays the bills and enables us to give away free software to everybody else.'

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Things have always been kept simple and quiet at Slackware and this is perhaps the main reason why the distribution's 90% market share, which it enjoyed before 1996, has dwindled substantially, as new distributions with a lot more ambition have come to dominate the server rooms. Despite that, Slackware remains one of the top five Linux distributions in terms of popularity and server deployments. Its mailing lists, which have now been transferred into an online user forum at userlocal.com, have become a large collection of some 170,000 posts over the years, while the sheer number of active Slackware community sites in dozens of languages, perhaps only rivaled by the number of sites devoted to Debian, is a clear indication that Slackware remains a powerful force in the world of Linux distributions.

Happy birthday, Slackware! Thank you for all the great work during the past decade and we look forward to more 'slacking' for many more years to come!

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