A tale of two distros: Slackware 13.37 and Ubuntu 11.04 released

Where tradition meets tomorrow: Ubuntu and Slackware show two sides of Linux

Slackware Logo
After months of development, one of the most important Linux distributions was released today. Of course I'm talking about Slackware 13.37. Oh, and the Ubuntu Project released 11.04 today too — though by reading the press release you'd never know Ubuntu was actually a Linux distribution.

I kid a bit about Slackware being more important than Ubuntu — but it deserves a shout-out today just as much (if not more) than the Ubuntu release. Slackware is the longest-running Linux distribution (beating Debian by a few months) and was instrumental in putting Linux on the map. Other distributions may have eclipsed it in popularity — but without Slackware a lot of people might have missed out on Linux. It paved the way, and continues to offer Linux for the fun of it. The consumer-facing release from Canonical doesn't even mention Ubuntu's heritage — positioning 11.04 as a release of "the Ubuntu operating system," rather than a Linux distro or giving props to the Debian base it's built on. It's OK, what's a little secret between friends? Android changed its name when it left the nest too, and it's doing OK.

If you skim through the release notes for Slackware 13.37 or the press release for Ubuntu 11.04, it might be hard to believe we're essentially talking about the same operating system. Despite differences in user interface, management tools, and default applications Slackware and Ubuntu still share most of the software they depend on — the Linux kernel, the GNU utilities, X.org, and so on. But from there, they diverge quite a bit.

Whereas Ubuntu 11.04 is going out into the world with a revamped desktop interface and a lot of features designed to simplify using Linux, Slackware offers a very similar installer and management tools that it did in 1993 — which is to say, very minimal tools.

This is Linux's weakness and strength. If you could channel all of the work that goes into various Linux distributions into one project, it would be unstoppable. It would also be unbelievable, because the nature of open source means that everybody can (and will) do their own thing. Some days, it seems like a shame — but the ability to do your own thing means that Linux can satisfy the needs of the many, and the few. Slackware Linux may not be for everybody, but neither is Ubuntu — and it'd be a damn shame if we only had one or the other.

It's OK if Canonical wants to distance Ubuntu from Linux when it does the marketing thing, and try to jazz up the user interface in yet another attempt to conquer the desktop (and presumably other consumer devices). Maybe they'll succeed where others (many others) have failed. Meanwhile, we still have Slackware keeping the faith and providing its audience with the no-frills Linux experience that the "leet" still love.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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