Taking A Good Long Look At Vector Linux 5.9 Standard

by Caitlyn Martin

Over the past 14 months I've reviewed two previous releases of Vector Linux: Vector Linux 5.8 Standard and Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO. Anyone who has run those versions of Vector Linux would find the new version quite familiar. In reality the changes between 5.8 and 5.9, which was released in December, are like day and night. For starters up until now Vector Linux was a 32-bit distro. A 64-bit version of Vector Linux 5.9 Standard is currently in beta and looks very promising. However, since it is still beta code I'm restricting my review to the 32-bit version.

Last year Vector Linux came in four flavors. The list has now been expanded to seven different variations on the distribution: Standard, Deluxe, SOHO, Live, Light, Mini, and Light Live. SOHO, with KDE as the default desktop and all the most popular applications, is the full featured version. Standard is based on the Xfce4 desktop and provides superior speed and performance. Both are freely downloadable. Deluxe, available for purchase, is Standard plus a second CD with additional applications including KDE and OpenOffice. Live, as the name implies, is a live CD version of Standard. Light is a paired down, extremely lightweight version designed to run on older systems with as little as 64MB of RAM. In reality it will run with less than that. Light is built around either a JWM or Fluxbox desktop and lightweight applications. Mini is a further reduced version of Light that fits on a 5cm/3" mini CD and requires only 1.1GB of disk space. Finally, Light Live is, as you'd expect, the live CD version of Light. So far only new Standard and Deluxe versions have been released but the others, all in various stages of development and testing, can already be sampled. This review will stick strictly with the Standard version from here on out.

My main box for testing Vector Linux 5.9 Standard my aging general purpose laptop, a five year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM). Though this system has adequate memory for any current Linux distro it's sufficiently challenged in terms of processing power for KDE to be sluggish and for Gnome to be noticeably slower than Xfce4 in most distros.

Vector Linux is almost to the point where it can seriously considered by almost any user, not just someone experienced with Linux, as most things do work as they should out of the virtual box. Some issues still require manually editing configuration files. I had hoped that by this point VL would be as user friendly as any distro out there but it isn't there yet.

38 Comments

Jochem Kossen
2008-03-26 06:41:16
I had begun writing a review of vectorlinux 5.9 myself, but you described exactly how I feel about the release, and better than i would have done. Nice work!
devnet
2008-03-26 06:50:26
I put Vector Standard on my a22m Thinkpad. It has rescued it from being a slow machine to a quite speedy one!
kazuya
2008-03-26 08:16:08
excellent review. Well done. You highlighted stuff that I did not even notice before using VL and then some. Great review. the upgrade all or mark all function needs to be brought back.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-26 10:05:34
Thank you all for the kind words.


@devnet: I don't think people realize just how big the performance difference can be between one Linux distribution and another. Your experience isn't unique. Vector Linux developers have done a great job at optimizing for speed.

vainrveenr
2008-03-26 13:17:53
@caitlyn,
Two aspects (really, "things to complain about" as you term these) of distro's reviewed in the past are 1) wireless compatibility and 2) the ability to run on the lowest-ended hardware.
Yes, these aspects were already partially addressed within the review's 'Changes Since Vector Linux 5.8' and 'Running Vector Linux 5.9 Standard' above as well as brief mention of some of the HW-running possibilities for the new yet-to-be-released VL "flavors".


Would you care to elaborate further on your experiences and "educated guesstimates" in regards to 1) and 2) here??
For instance,
- How effectively do WiFi-Radar and vwifi work under VL for brand-new as well as for older 802.11b cards in VL5.9 STD (possibility of fully supplanting any remaining need for ndiswrapper?) ??
- How exactly does VL5.9 STD compare and contrast with VL5.8 STD in terms of _effective_ minimum hardware requirements on lower-ended PC's??
- What exactly do you estimate would be the not-so-obvious major differences between Light, Mini, and Light Live?
- What effective minimum HW requirements (disk space, RAM,...etc) do you realistically estimate for these three particular low-end VL 5.9 versions?


Would be great to get good feedback on these aspects of the new VL5.9 release(s) before testing these out.
-vv

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-26 13:56:38
@vainrveenr: The minimum system requirements for Vector Linux 5.9 Standard are about the same as Vector Linux 5.8 Standard: A Pentium II or better processor and 128MB of RAM. The hard disk space required is larger -- about 3.2GB. In the Vector Linux forum some people have successfully customized Vector Linux Standard to run in as little as 64MB of RAM and on a 166MHz Pentium processor. On such limited systems Xfce is too slow to be usable and so are some of the applications, but with the JWM desktop and restricting yourself to the lighter weight applications those numbers are very realistic.


I don't find a whole lot of difference in wireless card support from distribution to distribution. It is impossible for me to comment on newer cards since I don't have anything less than two years old. I suspect Vector Linux wireless support is no better and no worse than any of the major distros. Cards that are natively supported by Linux will work well without much effort. Those that aren't may or may or may not work with ndiswrapper and the appropriate Windows driver. In general 5.9 should be better than 5.8 because the newer kernel will support more new devices.


Vector Linux Light specs state a minimum of a Pentium 166MHz processor, 64MB of RAM and 1.8GB of disc space are required. I've successfully run Beta 2 on a Pentium 133MHz processor with just 32MB of RAM. It works but some applications are too slow to be used. This appears to be about the bottom end for a modern Linux distro.


Vector Linux Mini has the same requirements as Vector Linux Light except that it requires only 1.1GB of disc space. I have alpha 1.1 running on my Toshiba Libretto SS1010 (233MHz Pentium, 64MB RAM, 2.1GB HDD) and despite being early development code it really does run well and I've had little to complain about. I expect it will run on just about any Pentium class processor with at least 32MB of RAM.


Vector Linux Live and Vector Linux Light Live both use modified versions of the Linux-Live scripts. That means even Light Live will need at least 96MB RAM to run.


I hope I've answered your questions.

Carlo
2008-03-26 21:14:22
I agree with your review. I also think that VL has improved in terms of internationalization. The first time I tried it some years ago I couldn't type Japanese with is a must for me. VL5.9 now has turned out to be the easiest distro to set it up. I haven't found any distro that aproaches VL speed, It's just amazing what they have done! In my 4 year old laptop (Pentium 4, 512 ram) I can run without any problem KDE at an amazing speed that overcomes other gnome/kde distros I've tried.
vainrveenr
2008-03-27 10:01:44
@caitlyn
> I hope I've answered your questions.
Probably for some of the the wireless issues.


As far as 2) the ability to run on the lowest-ended hardware, will be compelled to refer you and other readers of this to these previous posts of yours:


- 'Supporting The Latest and Greatest; Supporting the Oldest and Slowest', http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2008/01/supporting_the_latest_and_grea.html
- 'Why I Haven't Reviewed Puppy Linux', http://www.oreillynet.com/linux/blog/2007/09/why_i_havent_reviewed_puppy_li.html


From this 1st bulleted refrnce, you already wrote (similar to the above) "VL Light is an ultra light version of VL built with a current kernel and current applications but designed to run smoothly in just 64MB of RAM. I have Vector Linux successfully running on an old Liberty small footprint box with just a Pentium 133MMX processor and 32MB of RAM."


Also,
"I’ll be following up my AliXe review with reviews of other lightweight and small footprint Linux distributions, including Vector Linux Light when it’s released."
Will be keenly following this when VL Light IS released.


Someone commented w/in this 2nd bulleted refrnce ;) "This particular user has his own criteria for using small liveCD-type distros such as Puppy
- can be put on a 200MB mini-CD -and- on a 128MB pendrive (small!) for portable use
- can run on low-end hardware..."


Neither the two VL Live's which use the Linux-Live scripts nor VL mini are yet in full release, and within this 2nd refrnce you've adamantly indicated that you'll avoid as much as possible any further serious consideration of Puppy Linux.
At the same time, Puppy Linux has incorporated binary-compatibility with Slackware as of version 3.00 (see http://www.linux.com/feature/119848). In this particular respect of flexible accommodation to Slackware, Puppy Linux is partially similar to VL. Although this particular user continues to use DamnSmallLinux as the preferred mini-LiveCD (BTW, also has a poor impression of Puppy Linux!), the questions remain the following


- What have the Linux-Live scripts in the upcoming two VL Live's truly incorporated from Puppy Linux 3.0x (if anything at all) ??
- What compelling reason(s) would there be to use either of the two VL Live's or VL mini for the lowest-ended HW as opposed to DSL (besides your expressed desire to use "a more modern distro") ??


For further refrnce, here are DSL's bare minimum HW reqs (from http://damnsmalllinux.org/wiki/index.php/Minimum_Hardware_Requirements)
--- begin quote ---
CLI (non-graphical Linux) Minimum Requirements
* 486dx or 100% compatible processor
* 8mb ram (16mb recommended)
* CDROM drive
* 1.44mb floppy drive (for boot floppy, if needed)
* Monochrome (2 color) monitor


Minimum Requirements for DSL with X-window
* 486dx or 100% compatible processor
* 16mb ram (24mb recommended)
* dual-speed CDROM (quad-speed or better recommended)
* 1.44mb floppy drive (for boot floppy, if needed)
* VGA monitor and video card
* a mouse (serial, ps/2, usb)
--- end quote ---


TYIA for your extended output on this here or in your forthcoming review of Vector Linux Light.


-vv

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-27 11:41:51
@vainrveenr:
Vector Linux' roots are as a lightweight distribution but at this point it's best described as a full featured distribution competing with the big boys (Fedora, Mandriva, Ubuntu, Suse, etc...) While I applaud their decision to continue supporting the low end that really isn't what Vector Linux Standard does. This review is really about Standard, not Light or Mini. I also don't think VL will ever attempt to support the ultra-low-end systems that Damn Small Linux or Basic Linux support. That simply isn't its purpose. There are plenty of specialized distributions for that purpose. Having said that...


I'm not aware of anything at all from Puppy Linux that has been included in Vector Linux. The Linux-Live script requirements have not changed in Vector Linux AFAIK which means that 96MB of RAM would still be the absolute minimum for a VL Live CD to run. I do know the the VL Light developers did look at incorporating grafburn into Vector Linux Light but discarded it because there are better lightweight burners with fewer system requirements. The current Beta includes WishCD.


Vector Linux can be run on a pen drive. Any distro which uses the Linux-Live scripts supports a frugal install and VL Light Live is no different. It has a 350MB footprint so it will fit on a 512MB pen drive easily. VL Mini has a 200MB footprint so it can be modified to fit on a 256MB pen drive. VL Mini is still early in development so I have no idea if that functionality will be included. It would be a good idea, though. Considering how inexpensive 256MB and 512MB USB sticks are I don't see getting under 128MB as terribly important and I don't think Vector Linux will ever be that small.


I don't think Vector Linux aims at providing the lightest or smallest distro. If someone still has a 486 or anything with <32MB RAM that they need to run then Damn Small Linux is probably the best choice out there. I simply don't have any equipment that old.


My problem with Damn Small Linux for my purposes is the 2.4 kernel. I used to use DSL as a maintenance partition. It no longer works for that purpose. For example, I do have Damn Small Linux running on the same system as VL Light (the Liberty P133) in a dual boot configuration. I tried to do a hosted install but it failed with a "kernel too old" message. You'll get the same result if you try to do a minimal debootsrtap installation of Ubuntu. Nowadays you can't chroot into a broken distribution with a 2.6 kernel from DSL because the 2.4.x kernel simply isn't compatible with newer 2.6.x kernels.


To summarize I wouldn't use or recommend using Vector Linux in any form for "the lowest end" hardware. I simply reported what the lowest specs Vector Linux will support are and that Vector Linux developers are making sure that they still support relatively low end hardware that some bigger distributions have now abandoned.

ArthurHLevine
2008-03-28 04:11:16
A very nice, and IMHO, pretty objective review!
VL5.9 is either my 2nd or 3rd favorite distro, depending on the day.....
It's either VL or DreamLinux for 2nd place. I'm never really sure....
But, faster (much to my surprise) more stable (if possible, but I might just be a bit biased towards SM7) and easier to use on this system here would have to be SimplyMepis7. After going back and forth between SM7 and VL5.9 I am never unimpressed with how much faster SM7 appears to run.
The VL install is very straight forward and VL is most useable by even just about the most casual PC user...My best friends wife had no issues with installing and using VL5.9. I Installed SM7 for her and she asked about other distro's that I had mentioned,she brought up VL's website and DL'ed and burned a copy of 5.9, tried it live and installed it and has had no problems figuring it all out on her own, it's all she uses ever now.....
So it must be pretty total-noobie friendly, as well as just plain pretty good overall too.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-28 07:51:38
@ArthurHLevine: Nice commercial for your favorite distro. However, I doubt I will be evaluating SimplyMepis anytime soon. I doubt many of my readers will look at it. Why? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not freely available for download is it? I have to pay for a copy to try it out, right?
ArthurHLevine
2008-03-28 10:03:03
http://www.mepis.org/mirrors


It's from where I got mine....and Mary (and some others too) got theirs.....


Hope this helps....


HAGD!!!

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-28 12:07:00
@ArthurHLevine: Thank you for the link and the correction. They don't make it obvious that the distro is freely downloadable from the home page, do they?


I will promise you this: I will download and try SimplyMepis. Why? I find your claim that a Debian-based distro with a KDE desktop environment is noticeably faster than a Slackware-based distro with an Xfce desktop environment incredible. I simply don't believe it. I will try it and find out for myself, though.


Also, how do you find Vector Linux 5.9 unstable? You claim SimplyMepis is more stable which implies there must be some instability in VL. I haven't encountered any. I'd love to know what makes it unstable. If noting else it would be something to report to the developers to be fixed.

ArthurHLevine
2008-03-28 13:20:15
"Also, how do you find Vector Linux 5.9 unstable? Also, how do you find Vector Linux 5.9 unstable? You claim SimplyMepis is more stable which implies there must be some instability in VL. I haven't encountered any. I'd love to know what makes it unstable. If noting else it would be something to report to the developers to be fixed"


It may not be an issue of/with OS stability, but rather an issue of who is using and how/what a distro is primarily used for.......
I don't write code, administer any other systems, build web-pages for people, or do many other typically geek type doings. I just like to play and learn new things/software and have this thing about web browsers and web surfing with as little concern for complexity and security/safety issues as is currently possible (w/o having to figure out another OpenBSD installation, tht may be easier now, it was a while ago..).
I have a few injury related cognizance/learning/memory issues that I refuse to give in to, and I tend to lose track of things and become rather confused quite easily at times. So, system/browser/window/tab stability is a very important issue to me. It/they are my memory assistants at many times.
Running 2GB physical RAM on this machine,I find that when running Konqueror, Opera, Firefox browsers and usually one other browser too (which would be almost all the time), all running lots of windows and tabs along with a random program or two or ten left open at almost all times, that SM7 never has any issues, no freezes, no crashes, no nothing.....No other distro has been as reliable for me for what I use it for, not yet anyway. Somewhere I have a file detailing my record" which is something like, close to anyway:
>>>9 programs/4 browsers/twenty-something-windows/120-something-tabs<<< all open and running for an extended period of time that may have been measured in days. Now that's what I personally consider "stability"!! Your requirements may differ.
I rarely disconnect my DSL connection, and rarely ever turn off or reboot this thing, except to try a new distro, anyway.... And mysteriously, things just keep on keeping on.
I am not one who is much for "brand loyalty", except for trucks , which must be Chevrolet, and chainsaws which must be Stihl or Husquavarna.
I check out distrowatch.com every Monday morning and see if there is anything new that might be of interest to me, and I try out new distro's somewhat regularly. As soon as, or I suppose, if a more "browserly" stable and reliable distro comes along, well, I guess it may not be my favorite to use, but regardless, it will become my most often used.
HAGD!
AHL

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-29 09:25:21
@ArthurHLevine: Stability is the hallmark of Linux, not any one distribution. I haven't had a crash or freeze up in Vector Linux 5.9 or 5.8 before that. IN fact the only distribution I've tried that has locked up on me in the last year or more is Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon (64-bit release). Everything else has been rock solid. I support Linux servers for a living and uptime is frequently measured in months or even years.


Browser stability is generally not a function of a given distribution. Every distro uses the same upstream code for Firefox, Seamonkey, Opera, Konqueror, Epiphany, etc... Only the version varies. I have seen some Firefox crashes, particularly in versions 2.0.0.11 and 2.0.0.12, but again, those happen no matter which distro I use, 32-bit or 64-bit. I place the blame squarely on Mozilla. In general they have a track record of getting problems fixed sooner or later. Interestingly Vector Linux 5.0 comes with a preview version of Opera 9.50 and despite being beta code I've had no instability at all.

Ken Buck
2008-03-29 17:08:24
Great review! It's too bad that my own experience with Vector 5.9, did not turn out very well. When I installed 5.9, it ran great until I installed packages from the deluxe CD. I prefer KDE to XFce, but as soon as I installed it along with other packages, the HAL daemon would not start. I believe I can attribute it to the Gigabyte K8 Triton main board not being compatible for some reason, after lots of tinkering with it. It won't stop me from using and supporting VL though!.


I still use VL 5.8 SOHO as my main operating system. I just update the browsers, myself and run OSSEC locally, for the sake of security. Hopefully the next SOHO version will be compatible with this machine as well.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-29 21:27:13
@ken buck: I'm sorry you had a problem with 5.9 but I can't imagine that 5.9 SOHO will solve the problem since SOHO is generally built on the same code base as Standard. Did you raise the issue in the Vector Linux forum? I've always found the community helpful and the developers often answer questions directly. Also, did you try VL-Hot as an alternative to HAL?
Steven Rosenberg
2008-03-29 21:58:07
DSL's Robert Shingeldecker told me that he's working on a 2.6 kernel version of his distro. He said he won't abandon the 2.4 kernel but will maintain both.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-03-29 22:14:44
@Steven Rosenberg: I'm glad to hear that the DSL-N project is being resurrected. It's been dormant for far too long. Thanks for the update.
John
2008-04-04 11:47:07
I have a question regarding X setup for your laptop. I'm considering installing Vector on the same model you have and was wondering what other options required for the screen weren't configured by default. If you could even post the monitor section from your xorg.conf file (or any other section if needed) I'd appreciate it.
Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-04 12:05:09
@John: The monitor section from my xorg.conf file follows:
# **********************************************************************
# Monitor section
# **********************************************************************


Section "Monitor"
Identifier "Monitor1"
VendorName "TOS"
ModelName ""
HorizSync 31.5 - 50.0
VertRefresh 40-90
Option "UseEdidFreqs" "1"
Option "DPMS"
EndSection


Please also be certain that the Screen Section has your default resolution set for something the laptop can handle. I find 1024x768x24 works very well.


I hope this helps.

Ken Buck
2008-04-07 19:23:32
@Caitlyn: I did try VL-Hot to no avail as well. I suspect some, if not all of the problem could be with KDE. VL 5.9 did well with Xfce until I installed the KDE packages. I installed PCLinuxOS2007 with the KDE desktop on this machine and had similar results. The Gnome version of PCLinux2007 runs just fine with no problems at all. The latest Mepis release 7.0 does run well, but 6.5 didn't. Go figure.


This machine has a Gigabyte K-8 Triton motherboard with an AMD Athlon 3200+ 64 bit processor. My last machine had a Gigabyte K-7 Triton motherboard with an AMD Athlon 2400+ xp processor and it ran almost every distro with no hardware problems. I also have a fairly new HP laptop (That came with Vista) and another older desktop that I use as well. Hardly any problems with any distros on those either, and I have tried several. Conclusion: It is probably this K-8 motherboard not being compatible with KDE.



Niki Kovacs
2008-04-08 14:01:13
Thanks for that detailed review, Caitlyn! I've been a long-time Slackware user (7.1 or 8.0, IIRC, back in 2001), and I'm a big fan of XFCE since 4.0. Currently using it on all my desktops. (I don't know if I like where KDE is heading, and since I once built GNOME entirely from source, I try to avoid their mess :oD) I must have easily tried out 30+ distros over the years, all the major ones, plus some exotic birds (including LFS). Most of my sympathies go to the Slackware-based distros which use XFCE as their main desktop. Some time ago, a friend of mine asked me what he could possibly put on his old PC, so I geared him to the polish KateOS. At work, I'm mostly using CentOS, with XFCE 4.4.2 also. But working on a RHEL-type distro is a bit like driving one of those huge unsexy family cars. Recently, I got that old itch again and wanted to get that Lamborghini feeling again. I gave Arch Linux a shot... well, a long shot. I spent a good week reading most of their (excellent) docs, and now, it's already on two of my PCs, plus I already have my custom package repo online. Arch simply follows Slackware's KISS principle, and so, they really keep things simple. NCurses-based installer, vi to configure everyting, BSD-style initscripts (very clean!), plain .tar.gz format for packages. Plus some nifty tools that I already can't miss at this point. ABS for example, the Arch Build System: imagine the FreeBSD ports ported... to Slackware. (No more weeks spent writing 200+ SlackBuild scripts...) The distro follows a "rolling release" principle, it's rather bleeding-edge... and surprisingly stable for bleeding edge. I'm actually pondering if I will replace my CentOS production machines with some Arch installs. Looks more and more like a "yes" than a "no". In short: give it a spin, it's really worth it. Cheers from the sunny South of France...
mepix
2008-04-08 18:18:19
Art...thanks for the info on mepis. I tried VL and just found it unstable for my hardware. Like others, mine is stable with other distros and it was refreshing to have one like Mepis just work. What a concept! good work Art and thanks for the link
Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-09 09:51:54
You know, I read the Vector Linux forum pretty thoroughly. There have been zero, as in no reports of instability with this distro. The only reports I see are from two people writing Simply Mepis commercials here. There are no "others". I find that a tad bit suspicious.


Look, I promised to ook at your favorite distro. I've downloaded it. I may even review it. I certainly understand that some people prefer a Devian/Ubuntu based distro and a KDE desktop. That's fine. Enough of the "my distro is better than your distro" post, OK?

Ken Buck
2008-04-09 19:27:04
Well, I downloaded the preview release of VL 5.9 SOHO and loaded it into ram. The VL developers have outdone themselves again. Everything worked!. I even played with Compiz, which completely outdoes Microsofts Aero. The desktop looks great and the apps I need are all there, except for the Windows apps that I run with Crossover Linux. No bugs to be found, either.


I have been happy with VL 5.8 SOHO as my main OS, but I can hardly wait to buy and use 5.9 SOHO.

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-13 11:46:57
Q1: is it easily possible to configure a best-of-the-breed one-app-per-task system? Normally, when I install a desktop, I take the base system, add X11, then XFCE, and then I add whatever is needed, one app per task.


Q2: how does VL handle updates? E. g. bugfixes / security updates?


Q3: do stock SlackBuild scripts work with VL? Must have something like 200+ SlackBuild scripts for missing Slackware applications.


Cheers!

Ken Buck
2008-04-14 18:19:28
Q1: is it easily possible to configure a best-of-the-breed one-app-per-task system? Normally, when I install a desktop, I take the base system, add X11, then XFCE, and then I add whatever is needed, one app per task.


I am not sure why you would want to go through all that, but you can certainly add or uninstall apps to suit yourself. My VL desktop is set up exactly how I want it.


Q2: how does VL handle updates? E. g. bugfixes / security updates?


Generally, bugs are weeded out before the final release. Actually, this is a question best asked on the VL forum.


Q3: do stock SlackBuild scripts work with VL? Must have something like 200+ SlackBuild scripts for missing Slackware applications.


Most of us don't compile from source code. I have done some of it, but I prefer to spend my time on other things. "installpkg [packagename].tgz" is much faster. If the VL repository does not have what I need, then I go to http://packages.slackware.it/ or http://www.slacky.eu/ . Then there is also http://www.linuxpackages.net/

Caitlyn Martin
2008-04-14 18:43:36
My answers are quite different from Ken's, I'm afraid...


Q1: is it easily possible to configure a best-of-the-breed one-app-per-task system? Normally, when I install a desktop, I take the base system, add X11, then XFCE, and then I add whatever is needed, one app per task.


Vector Linux, like a lot of the larger distros, really isn't set up for that. The most minimal installation will include a lot of things that go way beyond what you describe and which aren't truly necessary. Even a minimal build of Vector Linux Mini will weight in ~1GB. For what you describe if you want in a Slackware-based distro you will probably find Zenwalk or Goblin X Micro more to your liking.


@Ken Buck: Stripping things out of a distro, any distro, is a whole lot harder than building up from a minimalist start. It's not nearly as painful to custom build the way Niki describes as you might think. Vector Linux is particularly hard to strip because the package management system isn't sophisticated enough to let you know if you are deleting something that is a dependency for something else. Stripping VL is a great way to end up with breakage or to land in dependency hell.


Q2: how does VL handle updates? E. g. bugfixes / security updates?


Poorly. As I pointed out in my review there is no notification system. Things just show up in patches and if you do an upgrade you get them, otherwise not. This is one of my main complaints in the article when I referred to "security concerns". Bugfixes only show up if a developer or volunteer packager builds a new package and that often doesn't happen. See my complaints about both AbiWord and Opera in the article for an example. This is an area where Vector Linux will have to improve in a big way to become a major player.


@Ken Buck: I'm not going to mince words on this one and I apologize in advance if I offend you. Your answer is just plain wrong in every important way. No distro is without bugs. New security vulnerabilities turn up all the time. For a distro to be really good it MUST have a good system for updates. Vector Linux doesn't and that is it's biggest single downfall. A knowledgeable user can keep up on security threats and do their own fixes. For example, I've installed Firefox 2.0.0.13. There is no package in patches yet for that, is there?


Are you running the stock kernel (2.6.22.14)? If so, have you installed the novmsplice package? If not your system has a serious security issue.


Q3: do stock SlackBuild scripts work with VL? Must have something like 200+ SlackBuild scripts for missing Slackware applications.


Yes, with a caveat. Vector Linux is 100% compatible with Slackware 12 so the scripts will create functional packages for sure. They won't have any of the customizations that are in a standard Vector Linux Slackbuild script. A good example are compilation flags. VL packages are built for i586 architecture (not i486 as is the case with standard Slackware packages) and are optimized for i686. This improves performance for Pentium class systems, particularly Pentium II and higher.


@Ken Buck: Quantify "most of us". Whom have you polled? I have always found missing packages for VL. I used to just compile things for me but since 5.8 I've contributed packages. For Ubuntu or Debian or Fedora there isn't much to compile. For Vector Linux, with a more limited repository, I find compiling from source to be very necessary. Also, taking packages from third parties, as you suggest, does work but can cause all sorts of interesting dependency problems.


Vector Linux isn't for newcomers for a lot of these reasons. By the same token it's lacking for those who really, really customize heavily.

Niki Kovacs
2008-04-15 04:39:07
@Caitlyn: Thank you very much for your detailed answer to my questions! Thanks equally to Ken Buck. Back in 2006, when I had to install a series of Linux desktops around town halls and public libraries here, I was into some heavy distribution testing. Challenging detail: many offices would still run low-end hardware such as PIII 500 with no more than 128 MB of RAM, which would already rule out a significant amount of major players in the distribution pool.


I had given Zenwalk a go, and even volunteered for a few weeks as packager, but I backed out very quickly. The release policy was - and still is - ridiculous: one release every two months just isn't doable in a production environment. Testing was inexistent, and when I filed a series of bug reports to the project leader, the answer was a curt "I don't know what you complain about, it works here". Conclusion: great potential in theory, and a big mess in practice. The latest release of "Linux Pratique", a french paper magazine, sports a Zenwalk Live CD so readers can test the latest XFCE desktop. I gave it a spin just out of curiosity... and booted right into a kernel panic. So much for Zenwalk.


My post may display the disturbing enthusiasm which you normally find among neophytes, but I spent the best part of this morning installing a LAN of five machines in a local library with Arch. Here's my custom "Survival guide for first-time users": http://www.microlinux.fr/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=8 I went through the excellent documentation on the Arch Wiki site and made my own HOWTO out of that: http://kikinovak.free.fr/archlinux/os/i686/Arch-HOWTO.txt


Some signs are promising: in the Arch forums, I find many ex-fellow Slackers. And there's also many previous distro-hoppers (like I was) who express the feeling that they "have finally settled".


I've always thought that the "best" solution for a Linux desktop (on the server I still use CentOS... but only because OVH doesn't provide Arch as distro on their dedicated servers :oD) would be something close to Slackware-on-steroids. That pretty much describes Arch.

Ken Buck
2008-04-19 11:54:52
@Ken Buck: I'm not going to mince words on this one and I apologize in advance if I offend you. Your answer is just plain wrong in every important way. No distro is without bugs. New security vulnerabilities turn up all the time. For a distro to be really good it MUST have a good system for updates. Vector Linux doesn't and that is it's biggest single downfall. A knowledgeable user can keep up on security threats and do their own fixes. For example, I've installed Firefox 2.0.0.13. There is no package in patches yet for that, is there?
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@Caitlyn: I actually was thinking in terms of usability. Of course all software has bugs. Mandrake for example, was one of of buggiest distros I had ever used. You're right, VL is totally lacking as far as updates are concerned, along with many other small distros. As I take care of my own fixes, I guess I tend to forget that others do depend on those important updates. I am using VL 5.8 SOHO as my main OS and like you I am also using Firefox 2.0.0.13. I also have installed rkhunter, chkrootkit(watch out for false positives) and OSSEC. I also use Nmap to check what ports are open and and tend to my firewall.


I do believe that most, if not all of the packages that VL does have are adequate for the "average user". Part of my attitude stems from repairing Windows machines that most of the owners view their computer as just another appliance, like a toaster or stove. These people just want to use their computer and don't think that they should have to pay for anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on a yearly basis. Their program requirements are nothing special. Internet browser, e-mail, word processing, photos and maybe some games are about all that they require. (Of course I am talking about home desktop users) Thats why it is hard to imagine that most Linux users will compile programs from source code which requires a lot more than just following simple directions. I have done it in the past when I had a lot more time and will do it again when I find an app or two that I can't live without.


I will also agree that VL is a poor choice for new Linux users. Thats why I installed PCLinuxOS2007 on my wifes computer. Also, Slackware package management is lousy as far as handling dependencies. I don't get too concerned if I break something as I constantly back up any important data and the home directory is in its own partition. I have had to do more than just a few re-installations through the years from playing too rough with the OS.


Overall, my response to Niki was poor at best and I will apologize for that.
BTW: Thanks for the tip about novmsplice. It is now installed!

SA_Ron
2008-05-10 19:55:42
@Caitlyn Well, after the wireless nightmare that was 5.8 SOHO, this 5.9 Gold was a breath of fresh air.


Good review. The installation is still butt-ugly, but it works. XFCE is way better looking in this release than it is in 5.8. They seem to have cut down on the number of network tools in the menus and they're actually where they're supposed to be. Wooohooo!


I would like to comment on the networking, since that was my beef with 5.8. My network still didn't come up on initial boot, so I tried vasmCC since you mentioned it in your article. Wow. I'm not sure if I'm just relieved or truly impressed with how vasmCC handled my wifi. Step-by-step and through the menus. I had to load a driver that I had stashed, but that was no problem either.


Haven't really 'driven it around' yet, but it got my network up so I'm happy. Thanks for referring me to this particular linux. Looking forward to putzing around with this. Got any more good OS's to try? I've got another dozen or so partitions and I'm looking for new things.


If it wasn't for your reply about 5.9 and your mention of vasmCC here, I probably would have just gotten rid of Vector, so thanks for the tip.


P.S. Does anyone else have "What's your vector, Victor" playing in their head when they think about this product? And I haven't even seen Airplane! in years.

Caitlyn Martin
2008-05-11 11:40:12
@Ron: First, if you still prefer KDE you'll find packages for it in the VL repository. You are not limited to Xfce when you install Standard.


Second, in all fairness, VL 5.8 wireless wasn't a "nightmare" for most users. It worked just fine but you did, in many cases, have to edit a configuration file. It took me all of 30 seconds to make wireless work properly. They key is that you had to know what to do and you had to be confident enough in your Linux knowledge to edit a configuration file.


People need to remember that Vector Linux started out as lightweight Slackware. Slackware users still edit configuration files for almost everything and GUI tools are few and far between in a standard Slackware install. (Those tools do exist and can be easily added, of course.) Vector Linux has gradually become more and more user friendly but if you've read my reviews you know it's not 100% there yet. This is why I still don't recommend it to newcomers to Linux. You need to choose the Linux distribution that makes sense for you. At least with Linux we have choices.

Tracy
2008-06-18 18:04:06
I installed Vector 5.9 onto a P3/700mhz/256mb laptop. It's fast and I love everything, except, just can't get the "listed & supposed to work fine" wireless card to function. I've been in multiple forums and tried scads of fixes (it was suggested that the amtel driver in Vector may be wrong?)- the last was to "rebuild the kernel"? Sorry, I'm not quite that geeky & it seems a strange thing for someone to have to do just to get wireless working. The card is detected in iwconfig- but while the vasm menu items allow me to input the wep/details, there's still no connection. I should add that many of the live CD's (aka Knoppix)- detect this same card without any trouble...Sigh...
Thomas Gebert
2008-07-01 08:45:02
I am a linux newcomer (although, not really if you count extensive use with Cygwin) and I didn't find much trouble with anything in vector linux, including updating. I had, in the same day, installed openSuSe and Ubuntu, and severely hated both of them (chiefly because of speed and the fact that I can't get Wine to work on them), and loved Vector Linux. It seems to offer all the ease of Windows with the speed, security and hardware compatibility of Linux. The one major selling point of this distro, I think, was that in the installer, it recognized my video card, and asked if I wanted the nvidia driver, opposed to the crappy nv, which I have never been successful with installing on the other distros.
Bernie
2008-07-18 00:09:26
I would like to install Vector but you make a comment that it uses LILO as its bootloader. I currently have Mint installed and want to dual boot with Vector. Mint uses GRUB. Will I have experience difficulties trying to do this?
Caitlyn Martin
2008-07-18 09:33:12
@Bernie: If you are even a little bit savvy about configuring a bootloader (grub or lilo) you shouldn't have a problem. There are two ways you can do this.


1) If you prefer grub you can skip the installation of a bootloader in the Vector Linux installation. You would then boot into Mint and edit your /boot/grub/menu.lst file to add Vector manually. Please remember that grub is currently incompatible with the latest versions of ext3 which is the reason so many distros have gone back to lilo.


2) You can have Vector Linux install lilo to the mbr. In my experience Vector is really good about detecting another Linux instance. It may not label Mint correctly (it might see it as Ubuntu or Debian instead) and you may want to tweak your /etc/lilo.conf file and reinstall lilo after boot if you have to pass any special parameters to the kernel on your system.


Either of those methods should work just fine. There are plenty of friendly people in the Vector Linux forum who will gladly answer any additional questions you may have if you run into a problem but I honestly wouldn't expect problems.

HackerYoda
2008-08-13 12:32:47
Thanks for the informative review. There are a lot of distro reviewers out there -- you consistently write the most detailed, information-packed reviews anywhere. In this case I'll be able to upgrade from Vector Standard 5.8 to 5.9 and have a good idea of what awaits me... this is *way* better than flying blind.


I've used Vector 5.8 Standard for about a year... I don't tweak it much, just use it like most users would, and I've found it performs quite well on my old hardware (P-III with 256M). From testing on this box (at least) Vector is faster than the popular Xubuntu or its larger gnome sibling Ubuntu. Vector's not quite as fast as Puppy Linux, but it is more polished. So that's how I came to love Vector.