VectorLinux is one of those useful but lesser-known Linux distros. It’s
been around since 1999 and I’ve used it since 2006, off and on, in the
role of a secondary OS. Now, with the disruptive changes
Ubuntu forces on its user base with each new release, I’ve found myself
increasingly attracted to Vector’s stability and convenience. This
article introduces “VL” to those who may not be familiar with it.Vector is one of about two dozen Slackware-based Linux distros. Its
motto is “Keep it simple, keep it
small and let the end user decide what their operating system is going
to be.” The distro is small, fast and light. It challenges the
trend towards OS bloat. It’s a single CD download that
performswellevenon aging equipment. Many find it a
good base distro to build to their own preference. I’ll focus on what
distinguishes Vector from other distros in this review.
Vector comes in several editions. I’ve listed them all in the chart
below. They boil down to four basic choices–
- Standard — a full
featured Xfce-based desktop environment for multimedia, web browsing,
or home office work
- Standard Kde-Classic —
Standard Edition with KDE instead of Xfce
- Light — Standard Edition
paired down and optimized for low-end computers
- SOHO — Small Office / Home Office, a KDE-based version with
OpenOffice and productivity tools for office professionals
If you want a Live CD, you need to specifically download the “Live”
versions of these editions.
If you want to support the VectorLinux project, Deluxe and SOHO Deluxe editions are very
nicely-packaged systems for under $30US. VL does not withhold any tools or goodies
from you if you don’t buy these editions. Everything is available in
the free VL software repositories.
–VectorLinux Editions —
packaged with extras like KDE, OpenOffice, more
Xfce-based desktop environment for multimedia, web browsing, or home
with KDE instead of Xfce
hardware. Configurable with JWM, IceWM, Openbox, or LXDE in Version 7.
||SOHO Edition packaged with extras||No
Office/Home Office, a KDE-based version with OpenOffice and tools for
Standard Edition but 64-bit. Available as a release candidate here
at the time of writing.
|VirtualBox images for the
Standard and Light Editions
Vector’s editions allow you to stay with the distro if you have varied
needs or if your needs change over time. My opinion is that the project
should concentrate its developer resources on
fewer editions, so as to produce more timely upgrades and 64-bit
VectorLinux requires minimal
hardware, so little that I often use it in evaluating Pentium IV’s for
refurbishing. (Also, Vector is very good at hardware recognition.) The
Standard Edition even ran adequately for me on a P-III with 128M
memory, so I’ve never had cause to try the Light Edition. SOHO Edition
requires at least 512M of memory since it runs KDE with
With these low system requirements, you would expect — and you get —
excellent performance from Vector. It really snaps on current machines. And if you have an old XP or
Windows 98 computer lying around, VL is an ideal vehicle for turning it
into a secure, up-to-date system. But I don’t want to give the
impression that Vector is only for older machines, because that’s not
the case. Let’s see what it offers.
Standard Edition 7.0
I’ll review the 32-bit Standard Edition 7.0 and its Live CD. The two
identical. The Live CD lacks just a couple packages that are stripped
out of the regular Standard Edition (notably the Opera web browser), to
gain space for the Live tools. You can install Vector to disk from
either system. The Live CD additionally allows you to install to a
bootable USB thumb drive.
Standard Edition and its Live CD are currently at version 7.0, released
in November 2011. The Light Edition is also now at version 7.0,
released on March 21, 2012. Other Vector editions are upgrading from
release 6.0 as I write. Version 7.0 uses the 3.0.8 Linux kernel, while
earlier releases use the 2.6 kernel.
Applications– VL Standard Edition comes withthe full
set of apps you need for typical home or office use. Most are GTK+
based. Xfce is the default GUI, with FluxBox installed as a secondary
For web browsing, VL gives you Firefox (and Opera, too, if you’re not
using the Live CD). You get Pidgin and XChat for instant messaging and
a gFTP client. For office work
there is Abiword work processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet, J-Pilot for
appointments, the Orage calendar, ePDFviewer, a thesaurus, a
calculator, and the Geany and Leafpad text editors. For email, many
download Thunderbird from VL’s free software repositories.
Developers get Perl, Python,
GTK+ and Qt, the GCC GNU compiler collection, the Glade IDE, and a
graphical front-end for CMake. Graphics round itout, with the Dia
Diagram Editor, GIMP the GNU Image Manipulation Program, Inkscape for
drawing, the Geegie image viewer, and Shotwell for managing photos.
VL’s multimedia works right out of the box. This includes
Youtube, Hulu, and DVD and audio playback. The product ships with Java,
Adobe Flash, and all popular codecs, so you don’t have to run around
figuring out and installing things to get multimedia going.
(Distro-hoppers, I’m sure you’ve played that game before.) Vector includes MPlayer, UMPlayer,
Xine, and Exaile for playing
almost all media formats (even libdvdcss for playback of encrypted
DVD’s), and Grip for audio CD ripping. I really like that this light
distro comes with such robust multimedia from the get-go.
Look and feel–If you
haven’t used Xfce before, you’ll find it simple but full-featured. It’s
an easy-to-use menu-driven GUI. Take the Version 7 screenshot
tour to get a look-see or review screenshots at the VL website here.
Vector’s Xfce-4.8 GUI comes with a custom theme and artwork. By default
the screen includes both a top panel bar and the Cairo dock at the bottom,
theMac-like panel that enlarges icons as you sweep your cursor
over them. It’s
odd that nearly all of the icons on these two panel bars are redundant.
But just a couple clicks of the mouse removes either.
what nice about the interface. You control the theme, the appearance,
windows decorations, and fonts, and it’s
easy to change anything you don’t like. For example, after installing I
always update the
panel’s cute little weather app to reflect my own location and to
report in fahrenheit instead of celsius. A few clicks does the job.
Xfce is quick and practical.
Administration– VL is easy to manage because it
centralizes configuration into a single a GUI tool called Vasm. With
Vasm, newbies can manage Vector more easily than distros that offer
powerful — but disparate — tools. Vasm configures hardware, printers,
services, Samba file and printer sharing, networking (Wi-Fi,
line-connected, and dial-up), the X-Windows GUI, user accounts, and the
Some of theutilities that come with VL include the Ufw firewall
and its GUI, Wicd for Internet connections, Gparted and Red Hat’s Disk
Utility for disk management, the Thunar file manager, the Grsync backup
tool, and the Htop and GKrellM resource monitors. I
like to place GKrellM on the desktop to graphically display resource
use in real time. It fits unobtrusively in the corner of the screen.
Read more about the utilities here.
Repository and Packages– Vector’s
package manager makes it easy to download any apps you want that are
not in the initial install. One
reason many folks like VL is that it’s a slender distro that doesn’t
try to cram everything into the base install. You can tailor it by
adding only the apps you need. This keeps your system lean and mean and
eliminates the bloat common to some operating systems.
Vector’s package manager is called Gslapt. It’s a GUI front-end
to Slapt-get, the backwards-compatible dependency tracking extension to
Slackware’s package tools. Gslapt looks a lot like the Synaptic Package
Manager used by Ubuntu. By default, Gslapt points to Vector’s own free
software repository. Though previously criticized as being rather
small, in version 7.0 the repository claims
one thousand packages. (Check and refresh the repository sources after
installing Vector to see them all.) This should satisfy most users.
Of course, you can also download and install any Slackware package, or
you can compile from source code. The downside is that you assume
responsibility for dependency-checking and maintenance can become
Being based on Slackware, Vector uses .tgz
packages. (This is as opposed to distros like Red Hat that use .rpm packages and those like Ubuntu
and Debian that use .deb
packages.) Vector also uses .tlz
packages, which are LZMA-compressed, and .tbz
files, which are squished archives made by first using TAR and
then compressing the result with BZIP2. The benefit to compressed
formats like .tlz is that
downloads are faster because files are smaller. Also more files fit on
the distribution CD.
Installation– VL disk
installation is straightforward and easy for anyone familiar with
installing Linux. As with any distro, first-timers may need help. This
leads you through how to install VL with screenshots. (It covers
Standard Edition 6.0; the installer is simplified but
otherwisesimilar in 7.0).
I like some of the thoughtful touches in the VL installer. For example,
Vector makes it easy to mountother partitions.So you don’t
end up trying to figure out how to mount your Windows partition after
you’ve booted Linux for the first time and found it missing. (If you’re
a distro-hopper I know you’ve run into that one.)
The 7.0 installer does not by default let you resize NTFS partitions.
Windows users who have to shrink their sole Windows partition to create
space forinstalling a second OS may want to use another tool for
In addition to the installer, a handy little tool called vl-QwikPicks
makes it easy to locate and download apps by category. This front-end
humanizes the package names that otherwise confuse many of us.
As I write this review, I gaze over at two books on my shelf whose
titles are Linux Annoyances for
Geeks and Windows 7 Annoyances. VL has its
share of annoyances, too. The big questions with annoyances are always:
how serious are they, and how many are there?
I’ve never run into an issue with Vector that I couldn’t solve with
either the help materials or through the top-notch online forum.
However, I have run into many minor annoyances and inconsistencies,
often more than I’d like. My sense of it is that VL — like most Linux
distros — could be a little more polished. I feel the project should
focus on eliminating minor defects rather than supporting so many
VL lacks the “Update Manager” found in many other Linuxes, such as
Ubuntu or openSUSE. Presently users update individual packages that may
or other issues. The Vector team recommends against
“full system upgrades.” They are working on this feature and intend to
provide a GUI solution.
Two reviews (here
and here) knock
Vector’s GUI for seeming old-fashioned in places. I feel this criticism
is misplaced. VL’s GUIs are functional and easy to use. That’s what
counts. By this measure
VectorLinux is as good as most distros and better than many.
VectorLinux distinguishes itself from many other distros by its strong
support. Right off the bat you’ll notice the VL website
is visually appealing and makes it easy to find help.
Vector offers the help systems you expect: an active forum with 4,600
registered members and 20 to 30 online at any time; IRC support, typically with
someone online; and Twitter broadcasts. There’s also a Knowledge Center,
a Solutions Bank with many How-To’s
for specific tasks, extensive FAQs, and a Cheat Sheet.
You’ll also find some two hundred free videos featuring
VectorLinux in all kinds of Linux How-To’s.
VL offers clear, well-organized release-specific documentation. There
are seven online manuals covering all aspects of Version 6, for example
(Version 7 doc is just coming out.) What I especially like is that
Vector always notes to which version any doc applies. This is critical
because in many mid-size Linux projects there’s lots of documentation,
but it’s disorganized, or worse, it doesn’t specify to which release it
applies. The result is that you diligently follow instructions you’ve
found for some task only to discover that the doc you’re using doesn’t
apply to your version. VL spares you that headache.
VL is one of the few Linux distros that offers a paid support option.
Such professionalism is probably one reason VectorLinux has survived
and thrived for 13 years, even as many competing distros have fallen by
Is VectorLinux for You?
Vector is a good choice for those who want:
- A speedy, easy-to-use distro with a full set of apps
- A slender distro they can build into exactly what they want
- A bloat-free OS
- Stability and reliability across new releases
- Multimedia that runs right out of the box
- Great performance
- A distro for older hardware
- A Slackware-based distro
- A range of editions
- Excellent help and support materials
- Paid support
If you are an end user, you’ll find VectorLinux easy to use and
productive. As with most Linux products, you’ll want an experienced
friend to install and configure it for you first.
Who is Vector not for? If you want the greatest
number of applications in your distro’s base install, you should choose
a DVD-sized distro instead of Vector — like Mint,
openSUSE, or Fedora. If you want the flashiest GUI with “wow-me” visual
effects, some other distro may be a better choice. And if you like to
live on the edge and continually change your system to conform to the
latest features — and fads — look elsewhere.
I’ve found VectorLinux flexible, functional, and fun for six years. If
its strengths match your needs, I highly recommend you try it.
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Howard Fosdick (President, FCI) is an independent consultant who
supports databases and operating systems. Also see his OS News reviews of Puppy
Small Linux, and The Sins