Vector Linux, a good little distribution for all.
Vector Linux Logo
As I have progressed with The Linux Project, I have come to discover that some distributions are truly friendlier than others. One of the most friendly in almost every sense of the word is a distribution known as Vector Linux. It is available at their web site, ( http://vectorlinux.com ). If you are a newbie who wants your first foray into the world of Linux to be a good experience, then you need to consider Vector Linux very strongly.
Vector Linux is built upon Slackware. It should surprise no one that has been keeping up with The Linux Project that I consider that a good thing. Since Slackware has become my fast favorite, it tends to follow that anything built upon Slackware is probably going to get some hefty praise from this hefty man! In the case of Vector Linux, the fact that it's built Slackware is a good thing indeed.
What's even better is that in some ways, it stands as a serious improvement on Slackware. There are certain little goodies in Vector Linux that make me wonder why others couldn't figure out some of these things. I'll get into that a little more when I get into the heart of the review. Suffice it to say for now; Vector Linux is good stuff! But let's get the criterion.
On the first criterion, installation, Vector Linux gets four stars. It is one of those distributions that needs a little help getting started. When you boot the CD, you come to a point where you can either type in arguments that get passed to the kernel. At that point, you need to type in the following: "ide=nodma", without the quotes. What this does is shuts down the ultra DMA function of modern IDE drive interfaces. If you do not type in that argument, the install disk may die as soon as it's time to start cramming all the data onto your hard drive. I very nearly threw my Vector Linux install CD away thinking it was corrupted. I also played CD ROM drive roulette thinking the problem was hardware related. While it technically was, replacing the CD ROM drive wasn't the cure.
Once you get past that hurdle, you have to pick options from an ANSI style menu system. It's pretty straight forward, and on par with its Slackware counterpart. Once again, you need to know a little about computers to partition your hard drive, but you can elect to have your drive partitioned automatically. From there, just tell it to install everything. Then sit back and relax. Vector Linux installs fairly quickly when you consider that it's pumping almost 1.6 gigs of data onto your hard drive from just under 700 megs on the install CD. Even on the test system, which is at least five years out of date, it took barely an hour to go from sticking in the CD to the first boot from the hard drive.
Once again, since it is built on Slackware, it comes as no surprise that it receives five stars for the second criterion, basic system operation. Once it boots from your hard drive, it's ready to go! Internet functionality is perfect. It comes with Firefox (a very good thing), as well as some other bundled web browsers. I don't quite get the idea of packaging so many web browsers with one operating system. Maybe it's all about giving you lots of options. Freedom of choice is a good thing, or so we are told. It also comes bundled with lots of other programs. It has the obligatory office suite, as well as graphics, networking, games, and some system tools as well. They all work well.
The thing I really liked about Vector Linux is the configuration tools you get with it. You can configure it to boot directly to the GUI, or you can elect to start out in console, or command prompt mode. At boot time, you are once again afforded a choice as to which way you want to boot. This means that if your GUI dies, you can get it back by going to console mode and fixing the problems.
If you do elect to go for console mode, right after you log in, it spits out a list of the most commonly used console based programs. Among them is yet another configuration utility. It allows you to set basic parameters for each possible boot scenario. By using it, you can fix errors, or change the look and feel by the choices you make. There is also a GUI version of the same configuration program so you can also reconfigure in X Windows as well console.
On the third criterion, device support, once again, Vector Linux gets five stars! Not only did it find the sound card, the net card, and the video card and set them up properly, it also realized I was using a two button wheel mouse, and set it up properly. It checked with me to make sure it was right, which I thought was a great thing! To me, that showed a bit of class on the part of the person whose idea that was. It also worked just fine with both CD ROM drives. It was the first to set them both up properly. I was quite impressed.
When I began to really delve into The Linux Project, I didn't think that I'd find a distribution that would set things up properly the first time. I didn't think I'd find a distribution that would come close to the Microsoft ideal of having everything work right from the first reboot after installation. Vector Linux proved me wrong. I admit I was somewhat surprised, but in a good way.
On the fourth criterion, look and feel, Vector Linux gets another five stars. Now, it's not just that it looks and feels cool, once again; it's about how configurable Vector Linux is. Right before you get to your desktop, you can make a choice about which desktop you want to use. Vector Linux comes out of the box with Xfce4, fluxbox, and the tvwm desktops. Using the provided package installation program (yet another really awesome feature), you can also take the time to download the entirety of the KDE desktop. I elected to do this because I wanted to check to see how difficult it would be to add something like a new desktop setup.
It was a snap! I entered the letters "kde" into the search space provided with the package program, and grabbed all the files necessary to install the KDE desktop in my Vector Linux set up. A mere half an hour, and about a gig more space taken, and I was working in KDE under Vector Linux.
That wasn't nearly as impressive as the fact that KDE was operating at incredible speed under Vector Linux. For some reason, even though it's built upon Slackware, Vector Linux runs everything faster. While I'm willing to bet somewhere down the line, they are sacrificing overall stability for speed, you can hardly tell.
To be sure, there were some glitches with Vector Linux. It had a tendency to get a little unstable at times, but never did it crash to the point that you couldn't get back to operating close to normal. Perhaps the biggest annoyance with Vector Linux was that the streaming audio player kept dying for no apparent reason. I don't know whether it was a problem with the player or something else in the system. I also made it operate a bit on the ker-chunky side by becoming aggressive with some of the configurations. However, when I figured out what I was doing, a little backtracking always brought it back around.
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