1) a little inaccurate there. Slackware is the oldest surviving Linux distribution. It was based on the Soft Landing Distribution and pre-dates RedHat by about 2-3 years. At one time it had over 50% of existing Linux desktops around the world. This was around 95-96. Also, the people behind Slack is more like the Person, one guy and a lot of world+dog volunteers, but its more or less the opposite of the Debian project, the community assembled and organized distribution.
Patrick takes help, a lot of help, but everything that you installed with the disk was compiled on one machine, Patrick Volkerding's, on a machine named Midas (used to be bigkitty).
The newer features:
2.4.18 kernel, 4 journaling filesystems: xfs, jfs, rieser, ext3, KDE 3, Gnome 1.4, a new glibc (don't remember the #), still good old gcc 2.95-4 (although 3.1 is installed and is an option). Slack's angle has always been to be cutting edge but not bleeding edge.
a) Every slack I've used has been better than the one before it yeah. Every other distro seems to be putting out a version every six months. Slack's jump from 8.0 to 8.1 took about a year. Its a matter largely of, well I could guess that its the other distros attempts at staying bleeding edge, or just making mre money, but Patrick doesn't release until he feels its necessary. He isn't really on a schedule. The long gaps don't really matter though. 8.0 installs 2.2.19 by default, but you can instead put on 2.4.5 and really any 2.4.x series kernel you want. Slack 8.1 released with 2.4.18, which was exactly what I was running with 8.0 before I upgraded; the releases are far apart, but not far apart enough to make the old one limitting.