SOS: Save Our Slackware?

slack_sink

The last few days have seen a depressing flurry of forum topics and blog posts about the supposed death of Slackware, evidenced (primarily) by the fact that Slackware.com has been down quite a bit recently (indeed, it is down at the time of this writing). For any other modern distribution, downtime on the site might not mean anything other than some routine maintenance or a glitch, but then, Slackware isn’t most modern Linux distributions.

Benevolent Dictator for Life

Patrick Volkerding

Linux is big business these days. With distributions like Ubuntu branching out to everything from smartphones to TV’s, it’s hard to imagine how a modern distribution could be managed without a fleet of paid developers.

Yet, Slackware has always been the project of a single man, Patrick Volkerding. Not to say he hasn’t had help, of course. Slackware is supported by a core team of highly devoted volunteers that manage things like documentation, adding new packages to the distribution, and porting to other architectures. But a large part of the work, and indeed the final say in every aspect of Slackware, rests in the hands of Patrick.

The status of Patrick as Slackware’s Benevolent Dictator for Life has always been taken as somewhat of a joke in the community, but on occasion, has raised some serious questions about the long term viability of the distribution. In 2004, Patrick was struck by a mystery illness which had his doctors stumped. With Patrick unable to continue development of Slackware for some time, rumbles in the community about the death of Slackware were hard to ignore. Slackware team members such as Eric Hameleers and Robby Workman were quick to explain that a contingency plan was in place if the worst were to happen, but little was said about what it entailed.

While Patrick recovered from his illness and Slackware went on to put out some absolutely stellar releases, people’s faith in Slackware was undeniably shaken. For a distribution that was already bordering on a cult following, the idea that the whole thing could conceivably come crashing down at any moment didn’t help matters. For the devoted Slackers, it was just one of the quirks of the distribution, but for companies and developers looking for a distribution to bank on, it was a crucial blow.

Hard Times and Jumped Conclusions

With the Slackware site experiencing frequent downtime, and the development branch of Slackware only seeing occasional activity, it wasn’t long before the rumors began. It started innocently enough, with a thread on LinuxQuestions.org asking what had happened to the Slackware website:

It wasn’t long before active LQ member and regular spokesman for all things Slackware, Eric Hameleers, replied with the unfortunately cryptic:

Old hardware, lack of funds…

Eric

This single line had a strong effect on the forum, and the topic was soon crowded with members asking how they could donate money to aid Patrick, and keep Slackware going. The creator of the thread, Eric Layton then decided to take to his blog and write up something of a plea for help on Slackware’s behalf.

But what was meant as a good gesture soon backfired, as people started to reference it as proof Slackware was in a dire situation. This culminated yesterday when it came up in the discussion of “DistroWatch Weekly“:

It seems Slackware and Mandriva have something in common…
Both Mandriva and Slackware are in financial difficulty: http://noctslackv1.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/slackware-needs-your-help/

You remember that comment about my involvement in the development of a Slackware derivative? Forget it. We’re already discussing about delaying the release and rebasing off of something with a more secure future.

Caitlyn Martin

The situation rapidly devolved with a heated debate over the viability of Slackware, until Eric Hameleers did his best to squash it:

The slackware.com server is down. This is a technical malfunction. It costs money to do something about that. Something will be done about that server, but if it takes a while, it is most likely caused by prioritizing and finances. Slackware was without its own web server for a long time in the past. And still active are ftp.slackware.com and connie.slackware.com, so what’s the big deal?

There is no reason to doubt the availability, stability and long term viability of Slackware, the distribution. It has not been a one-man show for some time, the development effort is substantial and plainly visible in the ChangeLog, and there are no plans to switch to another development model or even ditch the distribution.

Returning to the thread on LinuxQuestions.org, Eric further clarified the situation:

It’s not that difficult: if everybody suddenly stops buying stuff from the Slackware store, then Slackware will not last another year in its present form – the Store sales are Pat’s income (and it feeds several other people too), but remember, the core team surrounding Pat do not get a penny of these revenues at all. Therefore, the rest of the team is not impacted in any way by Slackware sales figures and we will keep working with Pat on the distribution just like we have been doing for the past years. Look at the ChangeLog – sometimes there is a period of relative silence but that does not mean that no work is being done. Like last week, the updates can come in big gulps. Slackware will not die, its philosophy will not change, the team is dedicated and full of ideas.

Slackware will not die because of financial issues, it will die if all of its users leave.

Supporting Slackware

As Eric explained, none of the Slackware team members make any money off of their work on Slackware; not a cent. The only person who makes any money from Slackware is Patrick, and it’s his primary source of income. No money coming into the Slackware project (be it from sales of Slackware merchandise or direct donations) will make things difficult for Patrick personally, but won’t change the resolve of its team or legions of dedicated users.

There is no question that Slackware has fallen on difficult times financially. With fewer and fewer people paying for Slackware subscriptions or buying merchandise, and the increasingly expensive economy we live in, corners will have to be cut somewhere. Right now, one of those corners is the server for Slackware.com. But to take this as a sign that Slackware is dying or that its team is jumping ship is simply rumor mongering.

If you really want to help Slackware, arguing about it online certainly won’t get anywhere. If you’ve ever used Slackware, or ever wanted to, head over to the Slackware Store and spend some money. Whether it’s a few dollars via the “Donate” button, a Slackware t-shirt, or a auto-renewed DVD subscription, the money will go towards supporting the oldest actively maintained GNU/Linux distribution in the world.

The impact Slackware has had on GNU/Linux and its users since it was released in 1993 is absolutely immeasurable, Patrick deserves all the help he can get.

http://store.slackware.com/cgi-bin/store


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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  • guest

    most users know slackware as a geek operating system……
    you need to edit config files to get it the way you want
    some would argue gentoo is much better. I successfully installed it after reading the handbook
    i personally was looking at slackware as a power distro but had serious issues…vlc for one had codec problems……i tried and tried and gave up.
    I love slackware because it gives a genuine feeling to the user. Other oses feel different.
    The dependency hell still exists is some of the best distros.
    Look what happened to mandrake linux(mandriva). Mandrake was in 2005 where ubuntu will be in 2015.

    The biggest problem is desktop usability. Most users dont care for technical mumbo jumbo. Derivatives help out a lot like adding new packages to the repos.

    On the server front it is equivalent to freebsd and gentoo. But thats not where consumerism and profit lies…………

  • Dragnux

    All items listed on ‘http://store.slackware.com/cgi-bin/store’ return ‘Item not found’, except the subscription link which goes to the FreeBSD subscription.

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      Maybe a temporary problem? Everything seems to be working correctly now.

      I’d like to think that all the outpouring of support for Slackware lead to some technical difficulties with the Store. We should be so lucky.

      • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

        Maybe this is not the place for anecdotal BS, but in light of our own issues here at The Powerbase, I think we’re doing good on uptime, relatively speaking. :)

    • Dudu Meyer

      Subscribing to FreeBSD? Such a suggestion, seems like a good idea to me :-)

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  • Dugan Chen

    I see that one of the commenters mentioned codec problems with VLC.

    Everyone else just installs Alien Bob’s VLC package, which of course does not have codec problems.

  • https://noctslackv1.wordpress.com/ Nocturnal Slacker

    I’m curious as to why my original comments here were deleted?

    ~V. T. Eric Layton – Nocturnal Slacker

    • http://www.digifail.com/ Tom Nardi

      I an assure you nothing has been deleted intentionally.

      I’ve occasionally noticed problems with the comment plugin syncing up, sometimes there is a delay between when a comment is submitted and when it’s displayed.

      • https://noctslackv1.wordpress.com/ Nocturnal Slacker

        Yes, Disqus does seem to behave a bit oddly on this site.

        Anyway, the original comment was just a quote of Tom’s last paragraph, “If you really want to help Slackware…” and a pat on the back from me for summarizing my own thoughts on the subject so well in that last few words of this article.

        Thanks for the replies/explanations, guys.

        Regards,

        ~V. T. Eric Layton

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      Nocturnal Slacker, sorry about that. I’m not really sure what happened. I’m not sure if your comment is still relevant, but if it is, please feel free to repost! Again, sorry about that. :)

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  • Dugan Chen

    Slackware.com and store.slackware.com are both back.

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  • tapp

    Thanks for the insight. Looking forward to many more years of using Slackware!

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  • Noelb

    “t’s hard to imagine how a modern distribution could be managed without a fleet of paid developers.” Ummmm you’re wrong, canonical doest have anyone on paid staff developing software, they have internal cosmetics, hell most of the ubuntu packages are packaged by debian package maintainers, ubuntu contributed NOTHING to the kernel or dev of linux, in fact with its blind sided attempt to force unity upon its users, they are in fact doing what microsoft has not been all that good at, destroying linux’s name

    • Marytee

      Ubuntu has gotten Linux out to the masses better than anyone else–with their free CDs, etc. etc. They should at least get credit for that.

    • Mark Watson

      Yes, I was using ubuntu up through much of its development but with unity I first switched to Mint, and then realized they would be playing catch-up on ubuntu- so I am running now what I should have for a long while- debian.

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  • Mark Watson

    My very first Linux Distro was Red Hat 5.1, but I very quickly discovered Slackware after that and ran it as desktop. It has been a while but I have fond memories of learning linux from Slackware. I think I will open up a 20gb partition with gparted and install it there… then update-grub. Meanwhile I hope some people work on a mobile phone linux that is NOT android… the thought of using a linux distro that the NSA oversees is frightening.

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  • DnsWebPro

    “Slackware” is King, It has been my OS since 1994 when I gave up IBM !

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