May 13, 2005

My Desktop OS: VectorLinux

Author: Razvan T. Coloja

I chose VectorLinux as my workstation operating system because I love Slackware, on which Vector is based. Vector is what I would like Slackware to be.

I became acquainted with VectorLinux a year ago when I was testing several distros for an old Pentium II I had. It was running Slackware fine, but I was searching for something more complete. VectorLinux not only proved faster than the original Slackware but was also packed with a lot of goodies that Slackware lacks: Flash support, Java, Firefox extensions, and many more.

The latest version is VectorLinux 5.0, which is based on Slackware 10.1 and runs on a 2.4.29 kernel. The SOHO Edition has everything I need: MPlayer (which gave me headaches back when I was still using Slackware), amaroK 1.2 (if XMMS doesn't satisfy your needs), Firefox with extensions, GAIM 1.1.2, the GIMP, and Blender, as well as KMLDonkey, Kopete, Gwenview (my favorite image manager), Abiword (which I prefer to the bloated, and K3b 0.11.17 for CD and DVD burning.

When it comes to hardware, VectorLinux does very well. It detected every piece of old hardware I tested it with, including an old Pentium with 32MB EDO RAM. The minimum requirements however are a Pentium II 300 with 128MB RAM. It does wonders with your old computer.

In terms of speed, comparing Vector with distributions like Fedora Core or SUSE is like comparing a Ferrari with a Ford Fiesta. Starting with the installation, VectorLinux is the fastest Linux distribution I ever tried. You insert the CD, give the path to the partition, set the network, and sit back while it does the rest. One drawback about the install is that it doesn't allow you to choose as many packages as I would like. For example, the KDE that comes installed in VL is prepackaged and you can't select, for instance, KDE games. VectorLinux also boots at least 30% faster than Slackware.

The version of KDE used in VectorLinux 5.0 SOHO is 3.3.2, the same version included in Slackware 10.1. I'd be happier with KDE 3.4. I'd also like to have the Fluxbox window manager; I just can't find my way around in IceWM. However, installing packages that aren't installed by default is child's play: installpkg package_name. Worry about dependencies later. This is the beauty of Slackware-based systems; you can install packages even if not all dependencies are satisfied.

Although a fast distribution, Slackware often scares people when it comes to configuring. VectorLinux provides VASM, an excellent tool with a GUI that enables you to manage everything from networking to package installation. If I want to change the settings for my network card I can either use the VASM utility or the classical netconfig command.

A second great Vector-specific tool is VLAPT, an front end to Slackware's slapt-get utility. Although Slackware package repositories are scarce, you can find almost any piece of software you'd need. What you can't install with VLAPT you can configure by source.

The latest VectorLinux version has improved pen drive support. There is an icon on the KDE desktop that depicts a pen drive. Just plug your USB storage device and mount it via this icon. I tried it and it worked like a charm for me.

Another plus for VectorLinux is the way it automatically finds the best resolution for your desktop. In Slackware I would have to tinker with the /etc/xorg.conf file until I found the best setting, but Vector just did this for me.

In the latest versions of Slackware you have to unmute the volume every time you boot. VectorLinux doesn't have that problem. Mouse wheel scrolling works too without the user being forced to dig into xorg.conf.

In summary, VectorLinux 5.0 SOHO is basically Slackware 10.1 with a facelift, some new tools, better hardware support, and improved speed. Except for Fluxbox, VectorLinux SOHO Edition offers me everything I need: the power of Slackware, speed, a very nice package management system, KDE 3.3.2, cool applications, and a great and helpful community.

I can't wait for Slackware to include a 2.6 kernel so the VL team can release a version without 2.4. I doubt if they can make Vector boot and perform faster than it does today, but if they do, I'll be their new best friend.

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