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”)
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