I like Slackware, it’s simple, it’s robust, it’s fast. But I always felt there was some lacking in Slackware when it came to desktop use–I was never able to put my finger on it exactly, but using Slackware for a desktop, although it works just fine, seemed like it (or I) was out of place.
When I heard about VectorLinux a while ago, and learned that it was based on my beloved Slack, I was thrilled. Previous flirtations with VL were less than impressive. I ended up liking Slack with KDE better than the earlier versions of VectorLinux.
Recently, the VL team released RC2 of their SOHO 5.0 version; with all sorts of changes since I last looked at VL, so I figured why not give it a try?
I first went and grabbed a test machine for VL SOHO 5.0 RC2 to sit upon, a Pentium III 800 with 184MB of RAM, 10.0 GB IDE drive, integrated 10/100 NIC, and a CD-ROM drive. Just what we need. Downloading the ISO was a no brainer and I burned it. Then it was off to boot the PC…
I put in the CD, used the cfdisk utility to partition the drive in the following manner: 512MB swap, rest of the drive as root formatted as reiserfs. I installed all packages available as I wanted to test as much as I could, and didn’t know what I would want to look at later–it was a potentially wasting move, but I had the drive space and didn’t care that much. Then I waited for the install to finish.
Previously, the test system had gone through many OS installs…All flavors of Windows, Slackware 10, SuSE 9.2 Professional. Pretty much whatever I could throw on it to see what worked and what didn’t. Hey, it’s a test box, for crying out loud.
Anyway, The install of VL SOHO 5.0 was uneventful, it scrolled along installing packages while a list of names from the development group passed at the top of the screen. Nothing to write home about, but I found the name list out of place and a little bit unprofessional: it reminded me of the NFO files in a warez distribution a bit too much.
I chose to put LILO on the MBR, added myself as a user (also getting added to the “wheel” group), set my default resolution and depth, set default to runlevel 4 (GUI), and booted the system for the first time.
That’s when I was staring not at my desktop, but at a black screen. The monitor light was amber, indicating unhappyness with a setting. So I Cont+ALt+plus and the resolution came into focus. Beats me why that happened. I could see, and I could scroll past the edges of the screen; I didn’t like that (I have never liked that), so I Cont+Alt+F1 to TTY1 and logged in as root–my plan to alter the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file to change the behavior. I noticed that on log in the display informed me of the most commonly used programs, which is nice because they listed “mcedit” there, and nano or pico (my favorites) are not installed on the system. I give the VL team props for telling me what I needed to know! But VL uses a modified xorg.conf file, and there are a couple of warnings that you shouldn’t mess with it, rather use xorgconf instead. Nice to know again. So out of mcedit I went and I launched xorgconf manually–luckily for me, I knew what was in my system. The bad news is there’s a lot of differences in the number for the driver under Slackware 10 and VL SOHO 5.0. Pay attention to that, it can mess you up.
Then I, for lack of a good reason, rebooted the machine even though I could have telinit 1 then telinit 4 if I chose… Oh, well. Either way, I was soon greeted with the desktop login. I, naturally, logged in. Then I saw the transparency and some graphical broken-ness. So I Cont+Alt+F1 to TTY1 and mcedited xorg.conf manually to turn of or on whatever was broken. It was the “GLX” extension. The test computer is ancient by modern standards, and doesn’t support that. While I was in the xorg.conf file I had to reenable the mouse scroll since I wrote over the default configuration, this is as simple as entering in the following lines into the appropriate (mouse) section:
Option “Button” “5”
Option “ZAxisMapping” “4 5”
Again with the restart and reinitialization of the scripts and I was off and running looking at a desktop that was what I should have seen in the first place… But this is a release candidate, which is fancy talk for “beta.” All in all, nothing to worry about, but a true new Linux person might have been stumped.
So, I logged in, launched a program to check that the scroll worked (it did); and I logged out, and went away for a bit. When I came back I was at a frozen screen: all black with an immobile mouse cursor in the middle, and a green stripe down the left hand side of the display.
“Ok, something’s messed up,” I thought to myself. I tried to Cont+Alt+F1 to change terminals. Nope. No worky. Strangely, I can hit the num lock key and that lights up on the keyboard, same for the caps lock and the scroll lock. I tried Cont+Alt+Backspace, to kill X. Nope. That’s killing my buzz.
Power off and restart. Relaunch and edit xorg.conf again, this time turning off the “DBE” extension, just to see. That seemed to work, apparently the i815 graphics chipset (integrated) doesn’t support DBE either. Good to know. I never had issues before under Slack 10, but hey, who knows… Plus, this is still a release candidate, not the full final. I logged out again, and went to lunch.
When I returned all was well and ready to go. Sweet! This raises the question: how did I know to comment out GLX and DBE? I didn’t. I simply guessed. I did no research on the topic at all. It just seemed to me that GL, not being supported, didn’t need to be loaded; and DBE was the only other explanation for the odd behavior. Whatever the reasoning, it worked. Now, on to the show.
The following review will be in sections: Appearance, Responsiveness, Applications, Ease of Use and Usability, Extra good stuff, and any bad things I discovered. Following this will be a final opinion and grade.
Every icon and display of VectorLinux is clean and concise. It looks really good. There’s no uneeded junk going on except the anomalous modem icon on my desktop–this computer has no modem, something correctly detected at install, that makes me think that this icon shouldn’t be here.
VectorLinux is fast. Darn fast. I don’t believe I’ve seen a KDE distribution move so quickly before. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that kind of responsive feel from a distribution. The VectorLinux team made some kind of improvements that I appreciate, even if I don’t know what it was. The time to boot is swift, the login process is streamlined and faster than I’ve seen in a long time, installation of software, such as OpenOffice.org 1.1.4 is a dream. Thumbs up on this. If I was running this on a more modern computer, it would really fly.
Ease of use and Usability:
It doesn’t get better than this. Pretty much, that’s all there is to say about that. There’s utilities for everything included, wireless, or otherwise. Glad to see all those there, even though I don’t use wireless.
Extra good stuff:
Firefox is the default browser. Thank you! No more choose between 5 different browsers. Glad someone made a choice in this direction. On that note, do we Linux users really need twenty different text editors? How about just one…Choice is good, but do we need that much choice? Sure, you can uninstall all the extra stuff, but it’s getting a bit rediculous to do that with multiple CD distributions, such as my beloved Slackware.
A full install took less than 2GB. That’s always a good thing to see. I cringe of the thought of a 4GB install someday, and I know it’s coming.
The firewall works. I like that. I love protection that I don’t have to worry about. Home users can rejoice.
The Remote Desktop Connection software is darn good to see as well. Glad it’s there.
And now the bad news:
Changing the system time on the computer is annoying, and on more than one occasion trying to alter the time caused the system to shift out of X and never return. That’s a definite no-no. Changing the time should never kill X like that. For some odd reason, the clock never gets set the way it should: contstantly defaulting to UTC as opposed to CST, as it should. Oddly, as I restarted the workstation after that it finally kept the correct time.
The test system had no modem installed, and that fact was correctly detected on install; but there’s this “modem” icon on my desktop. The VL team should address that with a simple addendum to the script…no biggie.
AbiWord: why is this even around? With OpenOffice 1.1.x, AbiWord shouldn’t even be available–sure, that’s an opinion, but lots of people share it. Let’s bid AbiWord adios!
I noticed that the /etc/fstab entry for the swap partition was incorrect. They had “/dev/hda1 none swap sw 0 0” and it should have said “/dev/hda1 swap swap defaults 0 0”. This explains why the “free” command showed no swap available or in use. It also appears that mkswap had never been run on the partition. Running that and a quick edit of the fstab and we were back to normal, but there’s no reason for that to be wrong, ever.
Things I’d like to see:
Ximian Evolution and the Exchange Connector should be integrated, this would make the package more attractive to businesses as there are a lot of them that rely on Exchange.
A 2.6.x kernel. Keeping the 2.4.x line is great, and makes for a more stable environment, but there’s some speed improvements in 2.6.x that would make VL even faster. I know Slack 10 is using 2.4.28, and the next release will still be 2.4.x, but that would be a nice option to have 2.6.7 or something.
Correct video settings detection on install would have been nice, but since I was able to fix the issue I’ll give it a passing grade.
VL SOHO 5.0 is good. It will be really good when all the bugs are worked out. If you like Slackware, if you like a single CD install that has lots of tools, is fast, and looks good give it a try. The worst bug I found was the swap issue. Even that wasn’t difficult to fix, but a true newbie might have been stumped. (Note to newbies: Google is your friend!)
Final Grade: B (fix the remaining bugs and you get a healthy, solid “A”)
If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.
I disagree on your opinion to replace the 2.4x kernel with 2.6x.
Kernel 2.6x still doesn’t work properly with other numerous hardware….
The best possible solution would probably be to provide both kernels, so everyone would be happy…
Just a thought.
I also disagree on his opinion to kick out AbiWord “because we have OpenOffice”. Some people only want a word processor (not the rest), or want to use a featureful word processor on older machines. That’s where AbiWord fits in.
It would be the same as to say, let’s kick out IceWM because we have KDE.
Weird but the copyright on the bottom says:
Copyright © vectorlinux.com 2001-2003
Also some sections such as:
BTW I’m amazed by its sys requirements.
Times to install it on my old notebook when 5.0 will be out:-)!
The vec-team have some solid explanations about using 2.4x kernel.
Nice and friendly forum is also a plus.
And it was a pretty lite edition,geared for old slow boxes.It had a text based installer that was on the line of free bsd,from there i dallied with Peanut Linux,which seemed way nicer,but then I found Mepis which is my current favorite amoungst the smaller Linuxes,with a nice graphical installer running from a bootable cd,and the ability to apt-get anything else you want once installed,there’s very little there not to like!
How did the author come to the conclusion that this product was any good at all. It seemed to me like he had mountains of problems for a distro that provided an older kernel than he wanted, and didn’t have a number of apps that he did want. I guess it ‘seemed fast’ whatever that means.
bman08 asked why I gave Vl a good grade when there were things I wanted “fixed.” I’ll try to explain. Sure, I’d like a 2.6 kernel, sure I want the silly bugs fixed, but recall this is an RC, fancy beta. I’m sure they’ll fix those. The product is darn near ready, if you ask me. Just those minor annoyances to correct, the worst of them being the swap issue and the video issue. But neither were something insurmountable. Even a n00b with Google access could have fixed those within 5 minutes, I’m pretty confidant of that. The swap issue *has* to be a simple oversight or a flaw in the installer. No other explanation makes sense. As for the kernel version and the modem icon deal… Those are nice “want list” stuff. No biggie.
AbiWord: My opinion is that you don’t need it, OOo is just as fast and better. But if there are those that need it, it’s a small program so I’d be willing to ignore it. That’s not a deal breaker either.
As for the final grade of “B”, I’m pretty lenient when everything else is as good as it was.
I originally tried Vector in 2003 precisely because it was supposed to be small, and I only had a piece of old junk to install it on.
The people in the forum were nice and helpful, and I got it working with all my hardware.
But I eventually got Debian installed too and stuck with it.
I tried Peanut Linux in 2003 as well, and while it looked kind of cool to a Linux newbie, even on an old piece of junk, it seemed to have all kinds of trouble. But it did have xrick installed by default, which was a big plus!
It is very easy to get the 2.6.x kernel after install. It is available trivially on the slapt-get repository. 2.6.10 is there now.
Editors are very small and there are a lot of favorites, so this variety is good in my opinion.
AbiWord rocks, esp. when dealing with files from people stuck in the MS cash-for-bugs system.
I have really liked Vl since 5.0 RC1. No fstab problem for me.
I tend to shy away from Slapt-get and/or swaret since I have personally hosed machines with those tools, and seen other’s hose them as well. They’re a great idea, but if you make one mistake you’re a goner.
Cpu0 : 0.3% us, 0.7% sy, 0.0% ni, 97.7% id, 0.7% wa, 0.7% hi, 0.0% si
Cpu1 : 1.0% us, 1.7% sy, 0.0% ni, 96.7% id, 0.0% wa, 0.7% hi, 0.0% si
PID USER PR NI VIRT RES SHR S %CPU %MEM TIME+ COMMAND
1056 kcroft 15 0 133m 36m 26m S 0.0 7.3 0:04.30 soffice.bin
1151 kcroft 15 0 25m 14m 8m S 0.0 2.8 0:00.96 abiword-2.2
I’d like to know what strict advantages VL has over Slackware. I’m running Slackware-current with a 2.6 kernel and everything was a breeze to setup. Don’t get me wrong, VL looks nice….i just wonder what features should tempt me away from slack?
If you’re happy with Slack Vector probably won’t tempt you from it, it may however work the other way round: tempt those not satisfied by their distributions to Slackware.
I have SOHO installed on a slow 400MHz box with 128M of memory (1998 vintage Compaq Box).
All in all the VL SOHO 5 is a great OS. Again, it was mentioned already but the speed is awesome. The only other OS that resembles the same speed on my box is an alpha distribution out of Germany named CCux Linux. I am not sure what it is based on but it is fast. Maybe it is a source base distro.
I have tried all the distro’s from Gentoo to Red Hat and all in between. I am very impressed with VL’s and the solutions it has to offer. I do wish they would provide Open Office by default. However, Open Office is easy enough to install.
Just my 2 cents,
I also question the AbiWord dig. If you haven’t tried AbiWord 2.2.x, you’re basing your decision on incomplete information: AbiWord is really nice now. I’ve never seen a system where OO.o came even close to being as fast as AbiWord, even with the preloader installed (Windows), and AbiWord does it without a preloader. It also can sometimes deal with Word files that choke OO.o.
(disclaimer: I do some qa and art for AbiWord. Only because I feel it’s a great program, though)
VL comes as SOHO, and as a small (200MB) “dynamite” ISO. On “dynamite” the OOo is obviously not applicable, and besides that just try running OOo plus some dictionaries loaded at some 128MB RAM box… where is your fast system? Actually it may not move at all!
Actually I do not use Abiword at all either, and I prefer Slack and Arch over Vector, but IMHO Vector Linux is a very nice and very well thought out distro.
your ramblings about the xorg issues would have turned away most people who were interested in reading what this distro has to offer.
You could have summed it up in one or two lines instead of most of the first page.
As far as kernel 2.4 versus 2.6…once you’ve tried 2.6 you’ll never go back to 2.4 IMO and for pure speed on your desktop, Yoper ( http://www.yoper.com/ ) still is the fastest, on my hardware anyway (my PCs: AMD 3200, AMD 3000, PIII 1GHz, PIII 500MHz)
On a pentium 200 , Vector Rocks !!!
Nothing else to say.
I trust you provided all this feedback to the devs? I read their board fairly often and I don’t remember ever seeing two of those issues…
BTW, VL4.3 had 2.6.X–it some VL users had issues. As previously noted, a pkg for 2.6 is an optional d/l away.
RC is not the same as beta (unless your company is Yellowtab). There are 3 basic parts of software development: alpha, where software is not feature complete, has quite a few major bugs, and you will probably have a hard time getting it to run right — if at all, beta where the software is closing in on feature completeness but still has quite a few bugs to work out (though few major ones like in alpha, but a majority of medium to small bugs that only arise in few instances) and of course Release Candidate (RC) — these builds are feature complete and should have no major bugs. If everything goes well and no one finds any bugs during the testing period of the RC, then that build becomes the final and it is shipped/released.
This is the general practice of course and is not done the same in all companies/organizations/projects (again the example of Yellowtab Zeta).
I was kinda interested in Vector Linux but this kinda seems disheartening that it has that many issues in an RC release. I guess I’ll just stick to plain Slack for my projects.
I tend to shy away from “rm” and/or “fdisk” since I have personally hosed machines with those tools, and seen other’s hose them as well. They’re a great idea, but if you make one mistake you’re a goner.
> I have personally hosed machines with those tools
Lets be specific and not make the age of mistake of the ad hominem that one thing breaks a box and the other by categorical association is also assumed to do the same. Also, I hope you submitted bug reports as a courtesy.
Ad hominem? No. Truth. I have fried installations by using both those tools to update to -current. Both reduced the machine to non-booting lumps. It’s not an attack, what I said, unless you think PatV’s opinion of them is an attack too.
Just for kicks i switched my monitor for my 29″ LG TV.
What really shocked me was that VL was able to detect it out of the box!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
WITHOUT ANY X CONF hacks!!!