posted by Anthony Hicks on Tue 8th Apr 2003 16:17 UTC

"Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
Vector Linux is based off Slackware, and is 100% compatible with Slackware 8.1 or earlier I'm told. This is a good thing as Slackware's notoriously stable and well thought out, however Slackware's also notorious for being difficult to setup. Vector Linux gets around all of the problems of setting up a Slackware system, while providing some very well thought out, and appreciated extras. Vector Linux's website advertises a 100% Slackware compatible system within 15 minutes, and it delivers on that by providing the user with a simple, yet informative install process.

Vector's forte is that it offers a rock-solid and fast Linux environment, while not providing you with any bloat. Their theory is that the user should design and build their own system, and I agree 110% with that thought process. Vector installs all of the basics you'll need, and a few that you don't, and then allows the user to decide what to add on, and when.

And for me at least, Vectors default offerings are more or less what I'm looking for in a desktop environment! They've included my favorite email program, Evolution, as well as my favorite browser, Phoenix (which is a stripped down version of Mozilla for those of you not aware). They've also included such necessities as Gaim (multi-protocol instant messenger), and Open Office, not to mention K-Office, which is also installed.

Sure, there are a few things installed that I don't need, but in general, Vector Linux out of the box provides me with most of the programs that I want. It doesn't include much bloat, and in fact the installed system uses less than 500 Megs worth of drive space. Very nice indeed!

Let's see what else we get with Vector...

As mentioned, Vector Linux is based off Slackware, and in fact is supposedly 100% compatible with older versions of Slackware (but not the newer 9.0 version which was just released). This is keeping with the trend of a lot of the newer Linux distro's, which are built around a Slackware base (Yoper and College Linux are two distributions that also come to mind), so there must be something to the myth that Slackware's inherently stable and standards compliant.

This is good because now we can also use Slackware packages and documentation to help maintain the system, rather than going with a totally new distribution that has little to no existing documentation or software available for it. This is a big plus for anyone putting together a desktop system, and it was one of the main plus's for both of the Mandrake and Redhat releases that were reviewed above.

Vector Linus also includes three WM's for you to choose from, and none of the choices is Gnome (although many of the back-end Gnome libraries are included so that Gnome-based apps like Evolution will run without complaints). To me this is a good move. I do like some of Gnomes features, but in general, KDE is just so much more advanced than Gnome at this time. It's good to know that I'm not the only one who likes Gnome-based apps, but not Gnome itself!

The included WM's are XFCE, IceWM, and KDE 3.1, and all three have been outfitted with gorgeous anti-aliased fonts, in addition to all three all containing well-fleshed out menus, containing all the apps included with the distribution. While KDE 3.1 is still my preference, I've always had a soft spot for XFCE, and quite often find myself using XFCE for my root desktop and KDE 3.1 for my users environment. Let me just say that as nice as KDE 3.1 is, all three of the included window managers are setup more professionally and logically than any of the WM's I dealt with in any of the other distributions!

Additionally, all three WM's are setup as their creators had intended, so 3rd party applications and add-ons act just as they should. This is so nice to deal with after having dealt with Redhat and Mandrakes customized menus and software installations. As I've stated, I understand why Mandrake and Redhat are doing what they are, but it sure is refreshing to see how the software was intended to be installed, and then to realize that they're every bit as functional and logical (if not more so) than the Mandrake and Redhat hybridized menus.

In case you can't tell, Vector impressed me very much! I was a bit leery about trying it as historically Vector Linux has been known for its backwards compatibility and it's ability to "play nice" on older hardware. I had envisioned a distribution that was full of older, out-dated software, and that wouldn't take advantage of my newer hardware. I'm glad to say that I couldn't have been more wrong!

Vector is very cutting edge, and yet you get the feeling that the system was put together by someone who truly understands their users. Whereas most other distributions don't appear understand their target audience, and thus install a ton of software in hopes that there will be something for everyone, Vector appears to "get it". They put the best software in the install, made everything play nice together, and have come up with a desktop distro. for the masses IMHO.

But I can't just end the review gushing now, can I? As a good reviewer I have to come up with some negatives, and Vector does have a couple of minor ones. Nothing that I would consider real problems, but certainly there are a few areas that could be improved.

The first thing I'd change is to update their website to reflect the power and "modern-ness" of their new distributions. The "Hints and Tips" section of their website, for instance, refers mainly to versions 1.0 ā 2.0, and are admittedly outdated. Similarly, the "How To" section of their website refers specifically to Version 0.4, and is dated early 2000! These types of things are specifically what gave me my initial impression that Vector was not going to be a cutting edge desktop distro, and I'm sure that such items are misleading to other people researching what Vector has to offer.

Another area I'd like to see improved is an upgrade to Xfree 4.3. Xfree 4.2.1 is included, as is 3.3.6 for older hardware compatibility, and while 4.2 meets my needs, I can see some people wanting the benefits of a 4.3 display system. Iām also aware that I can upgrade this component myself, but would like to see it come as part of the default distro.

I'd also like to see the VASM tool upgraded to be a little bit easier to use. VASM is Vector Linux's system management tool, and is used to do everything from changing hardware and display settings, to User and package management. It's very capable, but it's not too intuitive to those of us not familiar with either Vector Linux or it's parent, Slackware.

For instance, I am coming to terms with Slackware packages vs. RPM's, URPMI, and apt-get, but VASM's two package management options still confuse me. Why two choices instead of one more comprehensive choice?

One last item I'd love to see is the option to install an i686-optimized base instead of the i386 one. Not that it'd be much of a change (Vector absolutely smokes speed-wise, and is easily comparable to Yoper which is i686 optimized!), but it would provide that geeky feeling of satisfaction you get when you know your hardware's being utilized to it's maximum potential. I realize that this would be a niche market, but it would be a nice option to be able to choose from during the installation process.

But such items are minor compared to the strengths of Vector. It truly is one of the most impressive distributions I've had the pleasure of using.

Summary: Vector is an amazing distribution. It integrates some of the best software available into its base install, and it runs flawlessly. Whereas some of the other distro's I've used tend to come off as either thrown together, or overly bloated, Vector comes through with shining colors, being neither bloated nor thrown together. It's based off one of the oldest, and arguably most stable Linux distributions, Slackware, while providing the speed and software that today's users demand from their systems.

There are some things that could be improved, but none of these really has any impact on the systems functionality, or it's integration. I'd also like to point out that with the aforementioned exception of including Xfree 4.2.1, Vector includes some of the most up-to-date software available, and manages to integrate it all into one well thought out package. Vector Linux is truly nice!

Table of contents
  1. "Intro, Windows"
  2. "BeOS"
  3. "Mac OS X"
  4. "GNU/Linux"
  5. "Linux Minus"
  6. "Linux Distros: Yoper"
  7. "Linux Distros: Redhat 8.x (Phoebe)"
  8. "Linux Distros: Mandrake 9.1 RC2"
  9. "Linux Distros: Ark Linux"
  10. "Linux Distros: Vector Linux (Soho 3.2)"
  11. "Linux Distros: Gentoo Linux (and other source based distros)"
  12. "Linux Distros: Suse Linux, Conclusion"
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