Posted by: duskfire | October 25, 2011

Vector Linux 7

Vector Linux gives a good first impression – I’ve been using the release candidate of 7.0 for several days now and it initially looks like this:

The bottom bar is the Cairo dock, which fades away when not needed.  The thin barely visible strip at the top is the Xfce taskbar, which pops into view when you mouse over it. In my opinion, this is a nice combination of Xfce with one of the best dock programs.

I know that Vector has been around for a long time – back in 2003 they were on version 4.0, a year before Ubuntu even came on the scene. It is a Slackware-based distribution, so it uses .tgz for package management. I don’t know when 7 is scheduled for release, but I hope it’s soon – I didn’t encounter too many issues. Version 6 is more than 2 1/2 years old at this point. If you visit their website, you will notice that they encourage you to buy the distribution. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, in my opinion.Their community page has links to forums, a Twitter feed, an IRC channel, and documentation.

(I should mention that some of the issues I encountered may relate to Xfce, not Vector Linux itself. I had a problem with the Firefox browser that developed a couple of days after updating it to version 7 that is an old issue, “failed to execute default browser – input/output issue”. Also, both Vector and Zenwalk show the local time 4 hours ahead of what it should be. I don’t remember seeing this when using Salix with the KDE desktop.)

Vector’s installation routine is about 14 steps, and surprisingly is now graphically based. It asks for the default monitor resolution, then goes on to ask about language (Spanish or English) and keyboard layout. Next you can either resize partitions or use existing (this is based on a drive already running Linux; I’m uncertain what your options are from a Windows conversion). I chose the FULL installation – the other options were customized or minimal. One nice touch was that while the packages were being installed, a large section of the screen provided a scrolling list of credits: the people behind this distribution.

Vector offers you a choice between lilo and grub to use as your boot loader. Then it asks for the local time setting, followed by the root password. After that, you can add in any user accounts you expect, and set up rights management for them immediately. The last two parts of the installation were configuring your network connection, and choosing your system services from startup. It looked like there were very few already checked, which is good. You should always turn off the services you don’t use, since they provide possible security holes into your system.

The installed programs are:

Development: CMake, Epydoc, Geany, Glade

Graphics: Dia, GIMP, Inkscape, Shotwell, XSane, Scribus

Multimedia: Exaile, Gnome Mplayer, Grip, MPlayer, Xfburn, Xine

Network: Opera and Firefox browsers, Pidgin, XChat, Wicd Network manager, and a few other tools

Office: Abiword, Gnumeric, Orage calendar, a PDF viewer, Scribus, and Tuxcards

Games: PySolFC

and of course a lot of accessories and system tools.

Games: Nearly 40 other games are in the repositories, including the Gnome games suite. Some of my favorites weren’t there, but they do have Freeciv, Wesnoth, Angband, Stone Soup, OpenArena, Saurbraten, TORCS, and Super Maryo Chronicles. There aren’t many emulators at all, though: I only found Snes9x, and DOSbox. Virtualbox is absent too. Luckily, Wine and PlayOnLinux are included in the repos and seem to work as expected.

Applications & Developement: Some applications you can install are Libreoffice, LMMS, Blender, and a number of video editors. But quite a few other popular programs are not available. Lua and Ruby (programming languages) are installed by default and you can get Bluefish, QtCreator, and Kompozer, but some development environments are absent – such as Netbeans, Eclipse, and one of my favorite C++ IDEs, Codeblocks.

There is a tweaking tool called vl-QwikPicks that helps organize the Gslapt lists so you can see all the applications in a particular category. This is nice, but only helps when installing. You still need Gslapt to update or uninstall applications.

In addition to vlQwikPicks, Vector also features its administrative tool, VASM. There are 2 versions, the only difference being the skin:

For printing, you can try using the CUPS web tool or install “hplip” and use that. The latter almost worked perfectly, however the listing of PPD files failed and when I tried to browse for them, it returned me back to the initial wizard screen.

Vector does recognize DVDs that are inserted, and you can play them in either MPlayer or VLC (the latter is not initially installed), However, I couldn’t get game and music CDs to be seen at all. (I didn’t spend too much time trying to fix that issue).

Unlike Zenwalk, Vector has the current (13.37) Slackware mirrors available in their list of repositories (must be enabled), to expand the selection of software. Although GSlapt is a fairly good installation tool, it does occasionally have dependency problems, where applications can’t be updated because some file is not found in the repository. Also, speeds often seem slow (under 100kb/s to download), with no tool to automatically find the closest mirror.

In conclusion, Vector, like Salix (and to some extent Zenwalk), is a distribution with a lot of potential. Being based on Slackware gives it stability, while keeping quite current with applications. But the community seems small, and may not have the manpower to offer a truly compelling alternative to the more popular Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Fedora. Vector has a reputation for working well on older or more limited hardware, which I didn’t have a chance to test.

Fedora 16 is scheduled for release on the 8th of November. During the next few weeks I plan to use it full time on my laptop so I can evaluate GNOME 3.2 and see how Fedora differs from Linux Mint, still my preferred version of Linux.

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