Vector Linux is a distribution based on the oldest Linux distribution available today – Slackware. It comes in two flavours – a freely downloadable ISO ‘lite’ version (which I used for this review) and a Deluxe CD edition which can be ordered from www.vectorlinux.com. The deluxe edition includes extras such as Gnome and KDE, as well as a whole pile of extra software.
The installation of Vector was a relatively simple affair, using a non-graphical, but nevertheless easy-to-use, dialog driven installer. The kernel choice was simple (IDE or SCSI) and the installer even checks the base install file for errors, which is handy. One issue for a new Linux user would be the
The user is given a choice of parted or cfdisk to sort out the partitioning. This could prove difficult for those without a knowledge of partitioning basics, although parted does allow partition resizing, which is a plus for those with one big Windows partition. For me, the process simply involved creating one partition in my unpartitioned space using cfdisk, as I already had a swap partition on the drive for Slackware.
Having selected ext3 for the file system type (the standard options were available : ext2, ext3 or ReiserFS), the installer proceeded to add the base package and then presented me with a simple yes/no dialog to see if I wanted X or not. I did; I clicked yes.
Once X had been installed, it asked if I wanted to perform some basic system configuration and I was amused by the dialog for this one – “select ‘no’ if you think this puppy will run ok without it (hint: it won’t).”
It was at this point that I hit a problem – a Lilo configuration menu popped up (asking if I wanted to do automatic or expert installation of Lilo), but the keyboard stopped working. I tried unplugging and plugging in the USB connector again, but to no avail. Plugging in the PS/2 connector however, did work. I should point out this might not work on all machines – I have known some that need to be restarted to get them to register a PS/2 keyboard that wasn’t there on boot up. Once the keyboard was functioning again, I installed Lilo to the super block of the root partition so that I could boot that from XOSL (a great boot loader).
Following Lilo, there were no other problems in the configuration – it’s all pretty basic stuff, and it detected my sound card, mouse, DVD drive with no troubles. As well as detecting my Realtek NIC, it even detected my onboard LAN which I don’t use as I can’t be bothered to find Windows drivers for it!
The last stage of the install presented me with a simple menu to configure a modem, PPP connection, PCMCIA support, the system timezone, and a quick note to the effect that the system was installed, and all I had to do was reboot, login as root and use ‘passwd’ to set a root password. Job done. To get to this stage it took me a grand total of nineteen minutes!
The first time I booted Vector, it took a little longer to start that I was expecting but this was my own fault – I specified that the network card should use DHCP for configuration (forgetting that I disabled the DHCP server on my router the day before XO)
A quick ‘netconfig’ and a ‘shutdown -r now’ and I was impressed by the boot speed. I tried to ping my router, and it worked fine; tried to ping google and it didn’t work. Then I remembered that I had also disabled the name server on my router, so used Nano (a nice easy to use text editor like Pico) to edit /etc/resolv.conf and put in my ISP’s nameserver inplace of my router.
X (Version 4.3)
I realised at this stage that I should be able to start up X since it asked about some screen resolutions etc. during the installation process. ‘startx’ did the required trick and up popped a nice menu for me to start from. The only problem was the mouse didn’t work. I moved down to quit using the cursor keys and was released back into the land of the console. A quick check of the XFree log revealed that it was attempting to use /dev/input/mice for the mouse device but the X log file said this device didn’t exist. I noted that there was a /dev/mouse link, and tried to use readlink to find out where it pointed to only to find that readlink wasn’t installed. Before I tried anything else I simply changed the mouse device to /dev/mouse in the X config file and it worked. I noticed however that upon rebooting the machine X would fail to open the mouse device again (this time using /dev/mouse) and hence it wouldn’t work. This happened every time I booted vector and I usually spent a while trying different devices until one worked. I have realised since however that after a short period of time X will find the device when it starts and it works fine from then on. I’m not sure what the problem is but my guess is that it’s something to do with USB hotplugging.
An interesting point to make here is that it did detect my graphics card and set it up with no troubles (GeForce FX 5800) – something that rarely seems to happen with this card.
Anyway, back to the menu – the following options are presented when you start up X:
– Fluxbox (ver. 0.1.14)
– IceWM (ver. 1.2.7)
– XFCE (ver. 3.8.18 – unfortunately not the new and much improved XFCE 4)
– Edit Menu
– Exit Stage Left
– Shutdown the System
Again I was pleased to find some humour involved – it always makes the OS more enjoyable to use (remember some of the classic moments in BeOS?). I was a little dissapointed that neither KDE or Gnome are installed but not surprised either – Vector aims to be a small distribution, and you can’t be small with either of those around. What was more dissapointing for me was that WindowMaker
was nowhere to be seen – by far my favourite of the ‘lite’ window managers.
The menu options are all self explanatory, the only two gripes I have with this menu are the fact that “Edit Menu” simply brings up a text editor to edit an incredibly long file representing the menu, and shutdown will make a beep and make the screen flicker quickly but then nothing appears to happen for several seconds. In this time the system has actually begun the shutdown sequence and after the aforementioned seconds have elapsed then the console will reappear showing the end of the process. You may be wondering why I mention this but the first time it happened I didn’t think that clicking
shutdown had really had any effect, and hence clicked it another 10 times before I realised it was actually doing as requested. Feedback would be nice 🙂
I tested out the window managers available to ensure they were all functioning correctly and soon settled for fluxbox. I noticed during this testing that closing a window manager does not close the programs you were running, something which makes the system appear ‘messy.’ All three of the managers included a bunch of (not bad looking) icons on the desktop for some of the most useful apps
installed. These included links to the CD Drive and Floppy, a file manager (xfe), a word processor (the great abiword), a web browser (firebird) and even a CD burner (X-CD-Roast).
Out of the list of icons (see screenshot above) the two that I was most impressed with and that are a real plus for Vector, are linNetwork, which launches xfsamba – allowing you to browse a windows network, and Software Plaza.
This is one feature Vector can be especially proud of. I opened it up to be greeted with a simple menu for managing packages, allowing you to install and remove packages, as well as retrieve packages via ftp. If you choose this option it will connect to the Vector ftp site in the background then it will present you with a list of extras/updates for your system. You can then simply select a couple (or all) of the packages and leave it to get on with the downloading and installing of them for you.
Basically everything the average user would need is catered for with a great quality specific application. There is no application redundancy – and although some users may prefer more of a choice, I like the fact that there is one great application assigned to a particular task, rather than a whole load of not so good apps. The only areas not covered are games, graphics and video (xv being used to view images, but nothing available to create them).
I noticed when running software plaza that the packages available included MPlayer and also the DVD libs such as libdvdcss. I clicked on these and let it do its thing. Once they were installed I tried to launch MPlayer by typing ‘gmplayer &’ in a console, only to be faced with a black interface. I remembered from using Slackware that for some reason the first time you run mplayer each X session you have to tell it to use a skin (the default one!), so I killed the process and launched it again using ‘gmplayer -skin default &’ and it popped up as expected. If this seems like hassle, just set up a launcher for it!. I opened the preferences, set the DVD drive to /dev/cdrom (Vector doesn’t set up a /dev/dvd symlink) and set the video output to use xv. Then put my Matrix DVD in the drive, hit play and it started up beautifully (I actually got a bit wrapped up in it and left it on while writing up the rest of this review).
Vector’s speed has been very impressive, the system boots in about 20 seconds, and X starts up in less than 5 (it was slightly faster before installing the nvidia drivers as I haven’t disabled the splash screen) and applications take next to no time to start (abiword takes about a second). The speed reminds me of the responsiveness of BeOS, which is never a bad thing.
I decided to install the nvidia drivers (from www.nvidia.com) to see if there would be any problems using hardware acceleration for OpenGL. Downloading and installing them took literally about 2 minutes (thanks to nvidia’s great new installer) and I started X again and ran glxgears to test the hardware acceleration was functioning correctly. 8400 FPS. Faster than I usually get with Slackware (about 7000 FPS) – this would lead me to believe (along with the fact that Vector flies along anyway) that Vector would make a perfect OS for running WineX (see www.transgaming.com for more info).
Another factor of performance is stability, and since Vector is based on Slackware, it has possibly the most stable Linux base available to build on. Vector is rock solid and I have experienced no crashes whilst running it.
The downloadable version of Vector Linux 4 is a fantastic distribution, especially when you consider the fact that the size of the ISO is only 229MB. It comes with all the software an average user would need but none of the extras.
It gives you a very fast and very stable system and doesn’t require a whole lot of configuration to get running. Aside from the problems with my mouse and the keyboard stopping during installation (see the Installation section above), I had no troubles with Vector, and hence it is an appropriate distribution for those with a least a little experience of Linux. For example, by default Vector boots to the console and a newbie would probably not know that they need to make a simple change in /etc/inittab in order to boot straight to X. Being a Slackware user, I was able to see the similarities between the Vector installer and the Slackware installer. The only thing that seemed to really be missing was the option to mount existing Windows partitions on boot (which is available in Slackware). Instead you must edit /etc/fstab manually to achieve this goal.
Vector has definately become one of the best Linx options out there, and I urge anyone with a mild curiosity to give it a try. The Deluxe edition is still very cheap “Only $22.97usd and INCLUDES PRINTED USER GUIDE ! (plus shipping & handling)” (from the website) and with the extras on top of this solid base I think it would be a much more attractive purchase than any other commercial Linux option.
Hardware Support: 9/10 (it got all my stuff)
Ease of use: 8/10 (easier than Slack but maybe not for newbies)
Features: 8/10 (Deluxe would probably score a 10 here)
Speed: 10/10 (fastest distro I’ve used yet)