First Impressions - VectorLinux 5.9 Mini-Review

Friday, January 4, 2008

It's been a while since I used anything outside the Ubuntu family of distros. Two month ago, while looking for distros to recommend to friends, I started using PCLOS2007 and got the itch to try out other distros again. I mainly focused on live distros and installed only one to serve as my main distro. I installed PCLOS-Gnome, because I love Gnome. I also used Mandriva One, SAM and TinyMe at the time. Those apples actually fell off the same Mandrake tree, if you noticed. I'm hopping distros in families, so to speak - LOL.

Well, after a mishap several weeks ago (with no fault to the distro involved), I actually corrupted my Linux partition and messed the whole thing up. So, I was wandering in the interweb for a while and I finally decided to go back to the Ubuntu side of things. But then whilst downloading the newest x64 images, I saw news releases on Google that made me want to try something else. So here I am using VectorLinux 5.9 Standard GOLD. It's been 3 years since I last tried VectorLinux and that's considered an eternity in the fast-paced development world that is open source. Things have changed quite a lot and for the better!

Before anything else, here's a rundown of my current hardware:
  • AMD Sempron 3000+, 1.6 GHz
  • Biostar/Redfox NF61V Rev 1.0
  • Kingston 1GB DDR2-533 ValueRAM
  • LiteOn DH18A3P DVD-DL Drive
  • Seagate 80GB Hard Drive (7200.7)
  • Astone Enforcer Mid-ATX case with (packaged) 500W PSU

Now that that is out of the way, let's tackle the installation first. The installer was text based. If you've used the Ubuntu alternate install CDs, you won't get lost. The only minor difference would be the VectorLinux installer will give you an option to configure hardware settings during the install. To me that was okay, I guess. I knew what was connected to my machine anyway. Another thing Vector chose to do differently was to let the user choose to compile the Nvidia (or ATI) drivers during the install, something that I was very glad to discover. Anything that requires less fiddling is always a good thing for me. To get a clearer visual of the how the install process goes, you can go to the VectorLinux documentation being hosted by Oregon State University's Open Source Labs at http://vectorlinux.osuosl.org/docs/vl58/manuals/vl5_installation_guide_en.html. The page has screenshots of the whole install process for version 5.8, but not much has changed as far as I can tell.

On to the user experience. The default theme is largely based off Xfce. The overall look is that of a custom-designed Xfce desktop with an icon theme I have not seen before. The default wallpaper was that of a green field with a rock face in the background emblazoned with the name VectorLinux. It looks familiar, but I can't remember where I've last seen it. Then you have the now-a-standard, menu button and taskbar combo on the bottom. For Xfce fans, no worries, as you can still access the menus by the familiar right-click on the desktop. Populating the taskbar are large buttons for "show desktop", Terminal, Mousepad, Home (Thunar file manager), VASMCC (Vector's Control Center) and the browser. Having mentioned the browser button, I would be remiss not to note that the first time you click that taskbar button you will be prompted to choose which one you want to use (more on that in a minute).

Now for the apps. The mix of apps could more accurately be called a hodgepodge. By default, 2 apps of each kind were present in what could be considered tasks that everyday users regularly do. You had K3B and XFburn for burning to optical media. Then you had Xine and Mplayer for playing movies. You had Catfish and GTKFind for desktop search. You had Adobe Reader and XPDF for reading PDF files. For a choice of browsers you had Dillo, Firefox, Opera and Seamonkey that were thrown in the mix for good measure. Aside from the usual packages found in other distros, I was also surprised to find a few that didn't usually come installed with other distributions. Things like the HP Device Manager, Adobe Reader 8, Java and Flash were already there by default. Overall, its a good mix offering users a choice between crowd favorites and immediate functionality post-install.

Next, other jack-in-the-boxes. The surprising additions to that mix that I was glad to find installed by default were wbar (a floating taskbar app), J-Pilot (PIM for Palm handhelds), GKrellm (system monitor), Pidgin (IM client), Transmission (torrent app) and Gslapt (a Synaptic-style package manager). The NVIDIA X Server Settings package was also there (remember, I chose to install it during the installation process). It was also my first time to try apps like Htop (a terminal-based system monitor), vl-hot (which auto-mounted different partitions, card readers and USB thumbdrives) and HardInfo (system profiler and benchmark tool). I also discovered a way to lock my desktop on Xfce using xlock, which was thankfully there by default. While waiting for Gslapt to finish my first round of downloads, I installed the Firefox add-on called Flashgot and was surprised to find cURL was already present on the system when I downloaded a file of the internet.

Overall, I am pleased with this install. If there were one downside, it would be that not that many apps are packaged for Slackware distros. The number is nominal compared to say the likes of Ubuntu, Fedora or even Mandriva. However, most of my needs are met with what is there. VectorLinux has always been touted as "the" distro for older machines. The way the apps are packaged would lay credence to this. As I use it, the memory hovers a little under 200MB. That's a small footprint for something that has almost everything you need. If you do a little pruning here and there, this would be a great distro for any old PC or even laptops. Dare I say this would fly if installed in a machine like the Asus Eee.

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