Slackware, Debian, and Red Hat Linux Origins

The Pioneers of Linux.

by Pete
Published: Updated: 12 minutes read

As mentioned in a prior article A Windows guy switches to Linux, my journey into the world of Linux dates back to the 1990s. During that period, I was introduced to Red Hat Linux through demo discs bundled with computer magazines, marking the inception of my Linux exploration.

In this post, we’ll delve into the initial versions of three influential Linux distributions: Slackware, Debian, and Red Hat Linux. Born in the early 1990s, these distributions have played pivotal roles in shaping the Linux landscape.

Let’s get into it

I embarked on the challenging task of running these early distributions on an x86Box instance, aiming to recreate an authentic experience on a “period” machine, albeit without the original hardware. Admittedly, this proved to be a formidable endeavor, especially on a 486-class machine.

1
Red Hat Linux – 1994

The 1994 version of Red Hat Linux epitomized simplicity and stability, meticulously designed for user-friendliness and reliability. It catered to businesses and organizations, offering a fundamental set of command-line tools, including the renowned Bourne Again Shell (bash), the classic vi text editor, and the dependable GNU Core Utilities. Networking took center stage, with the original Red Hat Linux featuring TCP/IP utilities and support for various file systems.

The standout feature was its package management system, introducing the RPM Package Manager (Red Hat Package Manager), revolutionizing software installation, removal, and updates—a game-changer at the time.

You might wonder, “Is Red Hat Linux the same as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL)?” The truth is that the 1994 Red Hat Linux differs from the commercially supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) introduced in 2000.

RHL Halloween ’94 Installer (This is about as far as I was able to get )

RHL Facts

Here’s a glimpse of the technical aspects and the evolution from 1994 to today:

  • Kernel version: The initial 1994 release was based on Linux kernel version 1.2.8 (with v0.9 preceding it in 1994 with Kernel version 1.0.9 stable). In 2023 (RHEL v9.1 at the time of writing), the latest stable Linux kernel version is 5.14.0-162.61, signifying substantial development, feature additions, performance enhancements, and security improvements over the years.
  • Package management: The original 1994 release used the Red Hat Package Manager (RPM). Today, RHEL continues to employ RPM for package management and features YUM (Yellowdog Updater, Modified) for enhanced functionality.
  • Hardware support: In 1994, Red Hat Linux primarily supported x86 architecture with limited compatibility for other architectures. Today, RHEL encompasses an extensive array of hardware architectures, including x86, x86-64, and ARM.
  • Networking: The 1994 release delivered essential networking capabilities, including TCP/IP utilities. Present-day RHEL boasts advanced networking features like firewalld, NetworkManager, and support for multiple network protocols.
  • Graphical User Interface: The original release was command-line-based, lacking a graphical interface. In contrast, contemporary RHEL offers a user-friendly graphical interface.
  • Support: In 1994, Red Hat Linux was community-supported, offering software and documentation for free, without official support. Presently, RHEL is commercially supported, granting customers the option to purchase support, access documentation, and enjoy various benefits.

2
Slackware – 1992

Slackware v1.01 Installer – a much nicer install experience than Debian 1!

Prepare for a nostalgic journey back to the era of floppy disks as we delve into the inaugural version of Slackware, released in 1992. This pioneering release was the brainchild of Patrick Volkerding, marking a significant milestone in the world of Linux.

The original Slackware version was celebrated for its simplicity and robustness, focusing on providing a stable and dependable system. It included a basic set of command-line tools and utilities like the Bourne Shell (sh) and the vi text editor. Moreover, it featured a rudimentary package management system.

Slackware’s first iteration was tailored for x86 architecture, ensuring compatibility with the prevailing computer hardware. It also extended support to various file systems, including ext2 and msdos, accommodating a wide range of storage devices.

Remarkably, the initial Slackware version’s commitment to simplicity and stability has endured, fostering a dedicated user base. This is attributed to Slackware’s ethos of preserving simplicity, stability, and adherence to Unix principles.

Slackware Facts

Here’s a glimpse of the technical aspects and the journey from 1992 to the present:

  • Kernel version: The 1992 release was based on a Linux kernel version around 0.99.11 alpha. In contrast, Slackware 15, the most recent stable version as of 2023, leverages Linux kernel version 5.15.19 (at the time of writing), reflecting substantial development, feature enhancements, and security refinements over the years.
  • Package management: The original release in 1992 introduced its package management system. Modern Slackware utilizes the pkgtool, comprising shell scripts that facilitate package installation, removal, and upgrades, retaining a focus on simplicity.
  • Hardware support: In 1992, Slackware was tailored for x86 architecture, with limited support for other platforms. Today, Slackware caters to various architectures, encompassing x86, x86-64, and ARM.
  • Graphical User Interface: The 1992 debut lacked a built-in graphical user interface. Present-day Slackware provides optional graphical interfaces, including the X Window System, KDE, and others.
  • Community support: Slackware has consistently relied on community support, offering software and documentation free of charge, without official support. It encourages user participation and community-driven development.

3
Debian – 1993

Debian 1.3 Installer (Unfortunately, I couldn’t successfully get it running once installed)

Let’s rewind to 1993 and explore the inaugural release of Debian, created by Ian Murdock, the visionary behind the Debian Project. This pioneering version marked a significant milestone in the realm of Linux distributions.

Debian’s first release was firmly grounded in the principles of Unix, aiming to be a completely free distribution. It included a basic suite of command-line tools and utilities like the Bourne Shell (sh) and the vi text editor. Notably, it introduced a package management system called dpkg.

This original Debian version was tailored for x86 architecture, ensuring broad compatibility with the prevalent computer hardware. It also featured support for various file systems, such as ext2, fostering compatibility with a wide array of storage devices.

Debian’s debut was a leap forward in delivering a distribution accessible to all. It was the first distribution to provide complete sources, comprehensive documentation, and an efficient package management system. This made software installation, upgrades, and system maintenance more straightforward.

In comparing the 1993 version to the current iteration, significant changes have transpired over the past three decades. The contemporary Debian boasts a robust package management system, broader hardware support, and an array of features and utilities.

My freshly partitioned HDD

Debian’s debut was a leap forward in delivering a distribution accessible to all. It was the first distribution to provide complete sources, comprehensive documentation, and an efficient package management system. This made software installation, upgrades, and system maintenance more straightforward.

In comparing the 1993 version to the current iteration, significant changes have transpired over the past three decades. The contemporary Debian boasts a robust package management system, broader hardware support, and an array of features and utilities.

Debian Facts

Here’s an overview of the technical facets and the transformation from 1993 to the present:

  • Kernel version: The inaugural 1993 release was based on a Linux kernel version approximately 1.x.x. In contrast, the latest stable Linux kernel version as of 2021 is 5.x.x. The Linux kernel has undergone significant development, introducing new features, performance enhancements, and security refinements since 1993.
  • Package management: The original 1993 release used its package management system known as dpkg. Today, Debian continues to use dpkg as its low-level package manager, while also providing other package management tools such as apt-get, aptitude, and others that offer advanced functionality.
  • Hardware support: In 1993, Debian was designed to work with the x86 architecture, with limited support for other platforms. Today, Debian supports multiple architectures, including x86, x86-64, ARM, and others.
  • Graphical User Interface: The initial 1993 release did not include a graphical user interface. Today, Debian offers optional graphical interfaces such as GNOME, KDE, Xfce, and others.
  • Support: In 1993, Debian relied on community support, offering software and documentation free of charge, without official support. Today, Debian remains community-supported, with a large number of contributors and a strong community that maintains and develops the distribution.

Sidebar

During my exploration for this post, I encountered challenges with Debian’s installation. The installer proved less straightforward, with unclear options regarding the sequence of steps. Consequently, I resorted to guesswork to navigate the installation process. After successfully installing the system, I encountered a boot failure, potentially caused by the emulator I used (x86BOX) or the installation procedure itself.

On the other hand, Slackware offered a more straightforward installation process, initiated from a bootable floppy. Although it still required changing floppy discs, akin to an MS-DOS installer, the procedure was considerably simpler.

Regrettably, I faced insurmountable challenges with Red Hat Linux and was unable to commence the installation process. I grappled with commencing the installer from the installation media files and lacked clear instructions on how to proceed. Fortunately, I managed to obtain screenshots of both Debian and Slackware.

In Summary

Linux has traversed a remarkable journey since its inception in the early 1990s. The 1990s marked a golden era for Linux, witnessing the emergence of numerous distributions that would shape the operating system’s future. In this post, we’ve explored three prominent distributions from that era: Red Hat Linux, Slackware, and Debian.

These distributions represent just a fraction of the transformation that Linux distributions have undergone since their inaugural releases in the 1990s. The 1990s left an indelible mark on Linux, with these distributions laying the foundation for the diverse array of Linux distributions available today.