May 21, 2007

VectorLinux SOHO: A better Slackware than Slackware

Author: Susan Linton

VectorLinux has been one of my
favorite projects since my first test of the distribution almost 18 months
ago. I like VectorLinux because its roots are firmly planted in the stability
and simplicity of Slackware, yet it comes with an extensive software base and
lots of out-of-the-box great looks; in other words, a rock solid foundation
with eye candy and useful functionality. While standard VectorLinux comes with the Xfce desktop environment and a variety of general-purpose applications, VectorLinux
5.8 SOHO
offers the KDE desktop and a host of
applications for small and home office users.

The VectorLinux install program is a variation on the Slackware ncurses
installation with some added steps that make system configuration more
user-friendly. VectorLinux uses cfdisk for partitioning. If the disk has been
partitioned already you can choose to designate the root and other desired
partitions. If it hasn't, you must specify the partitions and their types and sizes; the installation procedure won't offer you its suggestion for a good configuration. I've had some installs of VectorLinux not detect my swap partition, leaving me to add an entry to /etc/fstab later.

Once the disk is partitioned, a menu-driven process guides you through the
software category choices and system configuration. Unlike the Slackware
letter categories, VectorLinux gives selections meaningful names such as
openoffice.tlz and kernel-src.tlz. Some other additional packages include
Moodin, Firefox, Pidgin, MPlayer, and the GIMP; all are installed by default.
VectorLinux supports Hebrew, Dutch, and Spanish languages in addition to the
English default.

After software installation, the next step is configuration. Again, menus
guide you through each step, with either checkboxes or text areas for input.
Some of the steps include user setup, desired screen resolution, hostname and
network configuration, root password, and bootloader. VectorLinux lets you use either LILO or GRUB. In addition,
VectorLinux offers hardware detection that simplifies setup. Most often you
only need to confirm the hardware configuration proposals.

The system

When the system boots, after login, the desktop displays several icons for
user convenience, including links to documentation, local directories, and
regularly used applications. The panel at the bottom of the screen contains
the system menu, a few quick launchers, desktop pager, system tray, and
clock.

Click to enlarge

The menu is the KDE default populated with the whole of the KDE suite as
well as additional apps and tools. Package management is handled by a
graphical application called Gslapt, which is similar to Synaptic in
appearance and operation. It comes with repositories already configured to
install updates and additional packages. After updating the package database,
I was able to install several packages without any issues. To install a
package, right-click on the package choice, click the desired action, and
click Execute in the toolbar.

VectorLinux includes its own graphical system configuration suite called
the Vector Administration System Menu. The program opens a window containing
a menu that lets you change your user password, set up which window manager
to use, reset the skeleton files entries (skeleton files set default behaviors for an application or process to make it more functional or user-friendly) in part or as a whole for a fresh configuration,
and perform deeper system configuration requiring the root password. With
that fourth choice, you can configure the autodetection utility, manage
users, set up the X server, start up services and boot procedures, set up
hostname and networking options, configure hardware devices, and configure
filesystems.

Another Vector extra is the included documentation. The desktop icon
labeled Vector-Docs opens a browswer window with an introduction to the
VectorLinux system. It has hyperlinks to the project's Web site and help
forum, but it also links to a variety of local howtos and frequently asked
questions.

Hardware support

I tested VectorLinux 5.8 SOHO on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv6105us
Notebook PC. It features Nvidia GeForce Go 6150 graphics, Altec Lansing MCP51
sound, and a Broadcom 4311 wlan chip. I've tested many distributions on
this laptop, and most of the hardware is supported by the kernel
out-of-the-box.

Most distributions do a good job with auto-configuration on the laptop, and
VectorLinux did as well. The keyboard, sound, and wired network all worked
upon login. My touchpad functioned fairly well, although it did seem a bit
over-sensitive. When I inserted a USB mouse or USB thumb drive, the mouse was
immediately available and an icon for the drive appeared on the desktop.
Printer configuration is handled primarily through the CUPS browser interface.

The graphics display was setup to use "vesa" and a resolution of 1024x768
by default. This is not the optimial setting for my display; I'd rather
use the manufacturer's recommended 1280x800 resolution. The X server
wouldn't start using the NV driver, so I had to download the proprietary
Nvidia drivers. After installing these I was able to adjust the resolution to
my desired 1280x800.

Linux tends not to do as well with the wireless adapter in this laptop. My wlan chip is not natively supported by the Linux kernel, so
I rely upon NdisWrapper to utilize the Windows driver. I've found that I
can achieve a connection in little better than half of the recently released
distros I've tested. VectorLinux detected my chipset and automagically
inserted the bcm43xx module. This is correct for similar chipsets, but it
does not work with mine. With Vector, all that I needed to do to get wireless
networking was run the commands rmmod bcm43xx,
ndiwrapper -i bcmwl5.inf, modprobe ndiswrapper, and
dhcpcd wlan0. To make this configuration persistent through
reboots I blacklisted bcm43xx and enabled the ndiswrapper load at boot.
VectorLinux was one of the easiest wireless setups I've experienced. The
driver supports WEP and WPA encryption.

VectorLinux's power management is a mixed bag. The battery monitor
functions well and appears to be accurate. The powersaving option functions
properly, adjusting the CPU speed if the klaptop profile is set
for "ondemand." However, it does not automatically switch profiles upon
unplugging or repluggin the AC adapter. It does not automatically blank the
screen or go to sleep as configured. In addition, the options to hibernate
and suspend are completely missing from the klaptop right-click menu. There
are no options listed for suspend to disk and suspend to RAM or hibernate and
suspend in any menu including the logout. The backlight does turn off when
the lid is closed, but the laptop doesn't suspend. I verified all was
setup in the klaptop configuration properly and acpid was enabled; it just
doesn't seem to work very well here.

Bundled software

The area of software is where VectorLinux really shines. The 699MB install
image is chock-full of useful software. Besides the whole of KDE applications
and some extras, VectorLinux delivers a wide range of applications.

Linux 2.6.21.1, Xorg 6.9.0, gcc 3.4.6, and KDE 3.5.6 lay the foundation for
the system. GNOME is available through Gslapt for those who prefer the foot.
VectorLinux comes with all the standard KDE apps, including Development and
Games. In the area of graphics we find the GIMP, Xara Xtreme, showFoto,
digiKam, and xsane. Internet applications include the Seamonkey Internet
Suite, but Firefox, Opera, Dillo, Lynx, and Konqueror are also included.
Others are Pidgin, Grsync, and three separate wireless monitoring and
connection tools. Multimedia is handled by mhWaveEdit, MPlayer, JuK, Amarok,
K3b, GTV, XCam, Xine, Kabooodle, and VLC media player. The office apps
include the whole of OpenOffice.org as well as Tellico, Samba Network, and
J-Pilot. The Settings menu mostly contains the KDE configurations found in
the KDE Control Panel, but also the Xscreensaver configuration. The System
menu has a wide variety of monitoring and configuration tools, including
gkrellm, vcpufreq, VL-Hot configuration, vwifi-connect, Gslapt, VL firewall
configurator, VASM, and printer administration. In the Utilities menu we find
things like editors, Character Map, Groupware Wizard, and KchmViewer.

I had no problems with any of the applications, except Pidgin, which kept
crashing. The standard KDE apps I tested functioned as designed. The video
players did an excellent job playing any of the video files on hand, except
Xine, which had problems with .bins. The browsers utilized the wide range of
plugins included. Everything seemed stable and fast. OpenOffice.org took
about 10 seconds to open the first time, but subsequent starts took about
half the time. Firefox took five seconds to open the first time. Most of the
other applications were more or less instantaneous.

Conclusion

I've always admired VectorLinux for offering what I consider a better
Slackware than Slackware. It's beautiful and functional, and would work
well for me in my home office. On the desktop it is an excellent distribution
with no real problems. As a mobile system it could be a bit more refined.
Most of the requirements are met, although the support for the advanced
powersaving functions such as suspend are lacking. Hardware detection,
support, and setup are excellent overall, but I was a bit disappointed that the distro includes an older
Xorg version. This may cause minor issues with a few
systems. The included VASM tools and Gslapt are wonderfully useful. The set
of included packages seems intuitive, though there may be a bit too much
redundancy in the areas of Internet browsers and video file playback. System
performance was rock stable, fast, and responsive. Overall VectorLinux 5.8
SOHO is a solid release that I can recommend for both experienced and
new Linux users.

Category:

  • Linux
Click Here!