Review your favorite Linux distribution.
Go Back > Blogs > Lysander666
User Name


Rate this Entry

Slackware and Debian - an objective-as-possible comparison for new (and older) users

Posted 12-27-2019 at 06:35 AM by Lysander666
Updated 12-27-2019 at 06:58 AM by Lysander666


Seeing as I recently moved my main desktop machine from Slackware 14.2 to Debian 10, I think now would be a good time to make a post with some comparisons between these two leviathanic operating systems while I have some free time. Both of them are giants in the Linux world and they are both nearly as old as each other. I also have a reasonable amount of experience with both OSs, so I am coming from something of an informed position.

I tried to slim this comparison down to five categories but no, that didn't work, so it'll be six. I will compare them with regard to user control; stability; community; init systems; efficiency and developer base.

Who is this blog post for? Most likely users who are interested in trying out either operating system [or ideally both systems], and also for those people who are already users and want to judge the benefits and the demerits of either OS in comparison to their own experiences. Distro comparison articles are rife in online publications but they're generally short and not always accurately-written, so hopefully this post will be of use or interest to someone somewhere.

This is not a list of pros and cons as such, because such a list would be extremely subjective. What may be a con to one user may be a pro to another. This categorisation mostly shows the differences between the two OSs and their philosophies: Slackware is about Unix-compliance and simplicity, Debian is about free software. This philosophical contrast accounts for operational differences. Both OSs are high quality projects and it's worth acknowledging such - this list is really about the fine-tuning.



Slackware prides itself on many things, one of which being the huge amount of control it gives to the user. It's often said that Slackware will not 'assume' anything for the user: what this means if that it gives the user the components but won't automate their utility. It will not inform you about software updates, it will not automate dependencies, it won't 'correct' your drive names for you if you add additional ones. As a result, if something goes wrong with a Slackware system, it's generally because of something the user failed to do or failed to understand, and the onus is then on them to decide how important the issue is to sort out.

Debian does automate things more than Slackware does and in doing so, the user has a little less control - but still a large amount of control over the OS overall. It will tell you when software updates are available [though this can be turned off], APT will resolve dependencies and the complex issues of persistent naming vanish since Debian will sort them out for the user in a trice. Debian does come with GNOME whereas Slackware does not - GNOME was removed from Slackware for becoming 'too complicated' to maintain - but in truth GNOME does take away a little control from the user in the name of straightforwardness, with the dev team making some bizarre choices [e.g. hiding the suspend button from plain site]. Still, the user has a vast amount of control with Debian, but not as much as with Slackware. The bonus of having so much control being that one is forced to learn more about their system as well as gaining transferable Linux knowledge.


Slackware's simplicity makes it exceptionally stable, it is by far the most stable OS I have ever used. In all my time using it I have never had a failed boot that wasn't my fault - not once. It is an excellent choice for a server. There is little else to say on this front other than Slackware excels at reliability.

Debian uses systemd, which makes it a little less stable since systemd does tend to be a law unto itself. In my time using Debian 9 I occasionally had failed boots due to systemd failing to load the ATI drivers and the only way out was a hard reset. This is an issue not only experienced by me, and when reported by a peer the CVE was closed as NOTABUG. Additionally, GNOME is not as stable as other DEs like Xfce: GNOME applications are gratuitously coupled to systemd, and when a GNOME app crashes, the entire DE can crash along with it: e.g. a few days ago I had GNOME crash purely because Gedit had. This is all rather bizarre for a distro which describes itself as 'stable'. Nevertheless, such occurrences are rare and one would hope the dev team behind systemd and Debian are working to lessen such issues all the time...


Community is, for me, a very important part of software usage, especially when it comes to support. The Slackware community on LQ is one of the best software communities - and communities in general - on the internet, with a raft of stalwart, knowledgeable, modest users. Additionally, the devs post there regularly - daily, in fact.

The Debian community is really a strudel of different issues and in-fighting. Renowned for being impolite to new users [just type "Debian forums" into Google and see what one of the suggestions comes up as] the community went into meltdown when the OS adopted systemd a few years ago, with splinter forums and offshoot communities cropping up, and eventually an entirely new OS fork. Resultantly, the advice one gets at the Debian Forums [FDN] is not always accurate, with new users who pass the initiation tests often coming across as arrogant know-it-alls to the just-registered. Fortunately there are one or two of the old guard still there on FDN - I should mention by name Steve Pusser, who has been tirelessly helping the community for years.

Init system

What can be said about systemd that hasn't already been said? systemd is not technically an init system but a software suite, and its adoption by Debian was somewhat forced. The Linux community is very much split over whether its existence is good or bad: older users and seasoned professionals tend to detest it, newer users and the younger generation of hobbyists seem not to care. Like it or not, it's here to stay. I have to say, personally, that though I was anti-systemd for a while, I have somewhat mellowed in my dislike of it of late, probably because I appreciate the ease-of-use that systemd distros generally provide [I say 'generally' since not everyone thinks that Linux should be easy - but then again, 'easy' distros are not going anywhere either]. Really, this is one of the the most subjective categories, with yes-systemd or no-systemd being totally relative to the user.


Ease-of-use is not something that should be confused with simplicity. Slackware is very simple in its structure but not easy for new Linux users. On the contrary, for the new Linux user Slackware presents a considerable learning-curve that can only be scaled with sufficient dedication. Debian tends to fall into the 'intermediate' difficulty category, but it does automate dependencies. This makes installing new software considerably quicker than in Slackware, and, as well as this, packages do not have to be compiled from source.

Take, for instance, Audacity, which can be somewhat problematic to get functioning on Slackware: not only do the dependencies have to be compiled, but compiled in the right way. It can take time, trial and error. In Debian, installing Audacity takes mere seconds. Another example is Steam - in order to get Steam working on Slackware, the system needs to be converted to multilib generously provided by Eric Hameleers, which takes some time and configuration. In Debian it's as simple as entering the command

dpkg --add-architecture i386
When it comes to installing new internal drives, Debian is also far more efficient. Plugging in a new internal drive and rebooting yields instant recognition, whereas in Slackware, adding a new drive will likely cede a kernel panic and the user will have to get to grips with amending fstab, making changes to lilo.conf and making a new initrd. If the process isn't sufficiently understood, the system won't boot at all.

Dev base / support

Debian has an immense crew of developers all over the world. Even though it tends to run to a "released when ready" paradigm, releases are still regular as clockwork, with new stable releases coming out every two years, mostly in the summer, and each supported for five years. Such regularity makes planning upgrades rather easy.

Slackware is the long-term project of mostly one man, the esteemed eccentric genius Patrick Volkerding, as well as a few other highly-regarded devs. Slackware having fewer devs is a good thing inasmuch as they are freer to make their own choices, not having to answer to any larger organisation [I am not certain that Debian answers to other organisations either, but I wouldn't put my money on the fact that they don't have to answer to Red Hat]. However, releases of the Slackware stable branch have slowed in recent years, and though -current receives daily updates, it is, at the time of writing, three and a half years since the last Slackware release with no indication of when a beta of a new stable version may be on the horizon. However, Slackware does tend to support its releases for a good long time, with some releases historically having as much as ten years of support.


These categories are what I personally consider the most important aspects of each OS, though mileage does vary per user. Both OSs are very good at what they do and country miles ahead of anything put out by closed-source corporations. They offer a huge amount of choices and flexibility to their users.

I would not go so far as to say either of these distros 'wins' over the other as such - though in most cases my first choice would be Slackware with Debian being a close second. In fact, these are the only two Linux OSs I care about at all [Ubuntu fell out of that race when they started forcing updates]. The differences between the two OSs show that the benefits of the Linux ecosystem are as diverse as its userbase - what some people may find aggravating, other people may find a godsend - and therein lie some of the compelling privileges of being a GNU/Linux user.
Posted in Uncategorized
Views 2023 Comments 0
« Prev     Main     Next »
Total Comments 0




All times are GMT -5. The time now is 09:47 AM.

Main Menu
Write for LQ is looking for people interested in writing Editorials, Articles, Reviews, and more. If you'd like to contribute content, let us know.
Main Menu
RSS1  Latest Threads
RSS1  LQ News
Twitter: @linuxquestions
Open Source Consulting | Domain Registration