December 22, 2006

Review: VectorLinux 5.8

Author: Joseph Quigley

VectorLinux, a lightweight, fast Linux distribution for the x86 platform, just released its new version 5.8 this week. This user-friendly distribution makes the average computer user's life easy by supplying office software, Web browsing, photo editing, and archiving on top of a fast, clean Xfce window manager.

Vector is based on Slackware Linux, but adds features that Slackware lacks, such as slapt-get for package management and a Linux 2.6 kernel, a few proprietary programs and plugins (such as Flash) and some eye candy.

Installing Vector is easy. The CD uses a clean, fast Slackware-style installer. It let me set my Vector /home folder to an existing partition that I use as /home on Kubuntu and Gentoo. The installer gave me the option to select some packages, such as X11, Xfce4, Samba, the GIMP, and development tools. It then installed and configured the system on my computer in less than 15 minutes. After the CD finished copying files, it prompted me to install the LILO boot loader; I was disappointed to find that the GRUB boot loader was not an option. I didn't install any boot loader, but after the CD restarted my computer, I manually booted VectorLinux from the GRUB prompt and added a rudimentary title and kernel entry in /boot/grub/menu.lst. I also installed VectorLinux on another computer, this time with LILO, and found an attractive boot loader splash and a clever bootsplash theme.

Vector booted quickly and gave me an appealing XDM login screen. After I logged in I was surprised to see a nice-looking Xfce4 configuration that brings together the simplicity of GNOME and the beauty of KDE in a clear-cut, attractive theme that resembles Mac OS X.

I tried some administrative tasks with the Vector Administrative and Services Menu (VASM). VASM is a GUI interface for administrative tasks, such as configuring everything from Xorg to the LILO boot manager. It presented me with a gksudo prompt (which is a GUI alternative to su and sudo) so that I could type my root password to gain root privileges, which allowed me to dig deeper into the bowels of the system. With root privileges, VASM unveiled disk partition and network configuration management and several other root-only tasks.

When I discovered that VectorLinux doesn't include, I resolved to install it. To install a package on VectorLinux you can use the default command-line installpkg/removepkg tool that is native to Slackware, or you can use slapt-get, an APT-like system for Slackware package management. Debian and Ubuntu users will feel at home with Gslapt, the graphical user interface for slapt-get, which is nearly identical to Synaptic. VectorLinux doesn't have very large package repositories, which is a slight disadvantage to the lazy. The default repositories didn't have, but the Linux Packages repository did, which made installing painless and simple. You can add Slackware repositories to increase the amount of packages available, but the total still doesn't come close to that of Arch, Gentoo, Ubuntu/Debian, or Fedora Core.

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Vector offers a wealth of desktop applications. Multimedia fans will enjoy having DVD, MP3, and Win32 codecs installed out of the box, as well as MPlayer and xine to play them. Vector offers the Opera 9.02, Firefox 2.0, Seamonkey 1.0.6, and Dillo Web browsers, AbiWord for word processing, Gaim and aMSN for instant messaging, and Seamonkey Mail for email. I was also pleasantly surprised to find Xara Xtreme for Linux included as well.

If you like, you can install a different window manager. I was able to install KDE painlessly using a binary package. I logged out of Xcfe4 and selected KDE from the Sessions Menu from the Login Manager. KDE configuration was simple, but it lacked an automounter to automatically detect and mount devices.

You can also install GNOME, but not from a package. After I discovered that GNOME was not in any VectorLinux repositories, I searched the VectorLinux forum. I found several results that pointed towards Dropline GNOME, so I went to that project's Web site and downloaded its installer. When I ran it, it gave me a list of packages that I could choose to install, then proceeded to download and install everything it needed. After about an hour it finished, and I rebooted the system. When the system restarted, XDM came up. I was expecting the Gnome Display Manger (GDM), but I logged in anyway, and to my surprise Dropline GNOME loaded.

Dropline GNOME is pretty, and its simplicity almost matches that of Ubuntu. One advantage to using Dropline GNOME is its included automounter. I plugged in my external DVD drive, a camera, and several SD chips, and they all mounted perfectly. The automounter gives Dropline GNOME the edge over KDE on VectorLinux.

VectorLinux's speed is comparable to that of Gentoo and Arch. I ran a locate -u command to update the locate database (which is used for finding files) with, amaroK, and Firefox 2.0 running. The entire system barely slowed down in Xfce, GNOME, and KDE (although even less so in Xfce). This is a definite plus for those who are tired of systems that lock up when their computers do heavy number-crunching.

I found VectorLinux to be an attractive OS for those who just want to browse the Web, watch DVDs and other video formats, and perform basic word processing. Its slapt-get application makes package management simple when the application you want is already packages. Linux gurus will have to find and locate other packages, convert RPM or Debian packages with alien, or compile the software, as VectorLinux's repositories are tiny.

If you have a slow computer and aren't happy with Xubuntu, or don't like the bloat of Kubuntu, the complexity of Gentoo, or the size of Fedora Core, consider VectorLinux, as long as you don't mind hunting for packages.


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