March 28, 2006

My desktop OS: VectorLinux SOHO

Author: Larry Gagnon

Three years ago I built my own computer and installed Mandrake v9.1 on it. It was a joy to learn and use Linux, to not worry about spyware and viruses any longer, and to graduate to a stable operating system. Not long afterward I became involved with a small charity that refurbishes older computers to donate to people who normally would not be able to afford their own computer. The donated computers we work on are generally 133MHz to 500MHz Pentium II vintage, often with less than 128MB of RAM. Mandrake proved impossibly slow to use on these machines, but VectorLinux impressed me with its speed, ease of install, well-chosen lightweight applications, and stability.

VectorLinux provides three editions (Standard, Deluxe, and SOHO) to cater to almost any Linux user. The SOHO Edition (Small Office, Home Office) includes KDE rather than the lightweight window managers provided with the Standard Edition. Despite the resource-hungry KDE desktop, VectorLinux SOHO still manages to be probably the fastest non-source distro on the planet, thanks to its use of a Slackware base, refinement of boot and shutdown scripts, well-chosen applications, and the loading of only necessary services.

VectorLinux SOHO 5.1.1 is the latest release of VectorLinux, and is based on Kernel 2.6.13, KDE 3.4.2, Xfce 4.2.2 (as an alternative lighter-weight window manager), 2.0, Firefox 1.5 with pre-installed plugins, Scribus, the GIMP, MPlayer, multimedia plugins, and printer, scanner, and wireless support.

VectorLinux features powerful tools to assist the workstation user. VASM, the Vector Administrative and Services Menu, is a GUI menu-based systems administration application that enables easy configuration of hardware, the X Window System, services, users, network, and the filesystem. gslapt is the GUI frontend to slapt-get, both easy-to-use tools for retrieving, installing, and managing VectorLinux software packages. The packaging system is based upon Slackware packages (.tgz files), but includes provisions for dependency checking and automation facilities, not unlike the Debian APT packages. For user-friendly udev control, the vl-hot script enables auto-mounting of external hard drives, digital cameras, and USB drives. X configuration under VectorLinux is usually a no-brainer and automatic thanks to vxconf, which is part of VASM and the installer. The latest version of VectorLinux also provides a cool bootsplash screen with a progress bar that keeps the user informed of what it's happening.

On a modern computer VectorLinux will install in about 15 minutes. Its installer is fast, fun, easy, and straightforward. It recognized all my hardware. Apparently there have been a few resolvable issues for some installations that have more than one optical drive, but this is fixable. The community at the VectorLinux Forum includes all the developers, so you can usually find a friendly and informative response to any query.

Many users new to VectorLinux ask how VL SOHO 5.1.1 can be so much faster than distros such as Ubuntu, Mandriva, and Fedora Core. Having tried many of the modern Linux distros, I believe the answer is in its sleek Slackware 10.1 base, efficient boot-up and shut-down scripts, and the loading of only minimal workstation services. A recent process comparison (ps aux) of Ubuntu and Vector showed the former had, by default, almost twice as many processes running as the latter.

Originally I set out to find a Linux distro that would work well on older computers. Instead I found VectorLinux. All three editions work well on older computers and positively fly on newer ones. Speed, stability, and lack of bloat are important to me, and VectorLinux SOHO V5.1.1 provides these features and more.

What desktop OS do you use every day? Write an article of less than 1,000 words telling us what you use and why. If we publish it, we'll pay you $100. (Send us a query first to be sure we haven't already published a story on your favorite OS or have one in hand.) In recent weeks, we've covered SimplyMEPIS, Xandros, Mac OS X, Fedora Core 3, Ubuntu, White Box Enterprise Linux, Mandriva PowerPack 2006, Slackware, SUSE, GRML, Kanotix, and Gentoo.


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