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Slackware is the most venerable of Linux distributions, loved and trusted by hordes of users, sysadmins and programmers around the world for its solidity and closeness to the ground. Slackware comes from an earlier time when Linux users were almost exclusively hackers who walked the command line without fear or prejudice, scorned the world of point and click, and never went out overdressed.

Not that Slack is behind the times – a Slack user can sit behind the same GUI as any SUSE, Ubuntu or Fedora user. Just that Slack comes from a different tradition where the virtues are simplicity, straightforwardness, and lack of bloat. The asset most valued by the Slack user, and most often claimed for Slackware Linux, is system stability.

Slackware is often perceived to be behind the times, because it doesn’t necessarily come with the latest and greatest version of every piece of software, which is a deliberate policy of Patrick Volkerding, the one and only maintainer of Slackware Linux, who prefers to include only software that is proven to be mature and stable.

In contrast, most other distributions adhere to the release early, release often, ‘bleeding edge’ philosophy that has been a feature of many GNU/Linux and other free software projects since the earliest days.

The stripped-down cleanliness of Slackware Linux may explain why there is still a vast user base of loyal and trusting Slack users, despite its lack of apparent commercial appeal.

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It's hard to argue that Unix is anything other than a textual environment. Commands are text-based and manipulate information primarily as text. Human and machine readability overlap with a clarity unknown to users of other OSes. So how well do GUI "desktops" or desktop environments play with this fundamental Unix approach? One could well envisage some kind of GUI which could follow the Unix model of pipes and information flow, and there may well be such a project buried deep beneath the sludge of abandoned projects on SourceForge, but the end result would still rely heavily on textual selection.

Unix-based OSes, particularly with an overwrought and in some ways elegant GUI such as Mac OS X do have a tough time integrating the two approaches, and the command line is very much treated as a tolerated, yet rather distant older relative. The default terminal app seems clunky and washed out in comparison with the brighter, broader desktop.

Thankfully GNU/Linux users do have a choice and a good many geeks would rather exercise their command line chops at a healthy distance from the rodent infested world of the desktop GUI. Some have even gone so far as to pay homage to the green screened days of their forebears, picking up an elegantly designed DEC terminal (see DECed Out) and coding strictly from this revered beast over a serial line. Indeed, working in what some may see as a highly restricted manner, say straight from the console, can readily and quickly hone Unix skills and familiarise users with the richness of the shell.

Nevertheless, which ever way you pan it, and command line advocates can do a good job at selling even the most spartan app, life at the console can get pretty claustrophobic with little wallpaper to brighten matters and a rather tiresome ctrl, alt and function key finger three step to further induce melancholia.

The Text Pistols

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