2011-12-13

Review: VectorLinux 7.0 Standard Gold

One of the distributions I've been wanting to check out for a while now has been VectorLinux. Recently, version 7.0 of VectorLinux was released, so I'm reviewing it.

Main Screen
What is VectorLinux? It's a Slackware-based distribution that ships customized versions of Xfce and KDE that aim to be a lot more user-friendly, while retaining the benefits of using Slackware. The version I'm reviewing today is the Xfce edition ("Standard"), because the KDE edition ("SOHO") of version 7.0 hasn't been released, and as far as I understand it is not free of charge.

I tested the live session using a live USB made with MultiSystem. I tested the installation in VirtualBox on a MultiSystem-made Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" live USB, with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS. Follow the jump to see what it's like.


After the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text. The boot process took a little longer than usual, but it was definitely bearable. After that came the desktop.

The desktop looks like Xfce made to look like Apple's Mac OS X. On top, there is a shrunken panel containing an Xfce menu, shortcuts to common applications, a window switcher, a system tray, and a workspace switcher. On the bottom, there is an instance of Cairo Dock to use shortcuts and manage open windows. I find it interesting that Cairo Dock has been included given that most other distributions that use pretty docks use Docky, but then Cairo Dock is still way more fully-featured, and here it has been customized a bit. The GTK+ theme is FnColor, the XFWM theme is AlphaCube, the icon theme is Faenza Cupertino, and the cursor theme is the standard X/11 theme. One nice thing is that contrary to the default in Xfce, the desktop icon labels have transparent backgrounds and borders. It's good to see that kind of attention to detail, because even Xubuntu (which is otherwise about the slickest and easiest-to-use Xfce distribution you can find) has those ugly backgrounds on the desktop icon labels. There are just two things I would change. The first is the cursor theme, because it looks really dated, and it doesn't fit in with the slick look of the rest of the desktop. The second is the icon theme used by Cairo Dock: for some reason, Cairo Dock uses a weird mishmash of icons from the Humanity theme (used by Ubuntu) and the Faenza Cupertino theme, and it breaks the nice blue consistency from the desktop using the Faenza Cupertino theme everywhere else. Otherwise, the desktop looks quite nice and inviting.

Mozilla Firefox + Thunar
The default browser is Mozilla Firefox, present at version 8 (the latest one). One pleasant surprise was the inclusion of proprietary multimedia codecs out-of-the-box, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine. Though my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts were not recognized, its wireless capabilities were recognized, which is good.
Other applications include AbiWord, Gnumeric, and other standard Xfce applications. One interesting thing was the inclusion of VL-QwikPicks, which is a program like FedoraPlus (formerly AutoTen) which provides a nice GUI for installing commonly used programs, such as Cheese Webcam Booth. It seemed to do the job well, though it was a little slow to start up the first time.

The GUI package manager is GSlapt, which is a front-end to VectorLinux's core package manager made to look like Synaptic Package Manager (hence the name). True to its name, it looked and felt almost exactly like Synaptic Package Manager, though it ran a little slower. Of course, it manages dependencies automatically; while this may seem like a trivial point, it's worth remembering that Slackware doesn't support dependency management out-of-the-box.

GSlapt
Surprisingly, Skype was available in the repositories, and it installed fine in GSlapt (I'm having a hard time not writing "GSplat"). Unfortunately, the first two times I tried opening Skype and logging in, it crashed about 2 seconds after the successful login. After the third attempt, it cooperated, and it recognized my laptop's webcam and mic correctly.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get Google Talk to install and work in any way. In truth, this means that I can't use it as my primary distribution, but don't worry, because this review doesn't end here.

VectorLinux used about 225 MB of RAM at idle, which is decent considering the shiny nature of the desktop. Unfortunately, everything from using menus and the dock to opening applications and documents felt slow. Sure, you may say it's an issue with running it from a live USB, but then why do so few other distributions I've tried have this issue? Cairo Dock seems to be the primary contributor to this slowness, because Cairo Dock itself rendered animations and did what it was supposed to do a bit slowly. (On another note, its auto-hide feature is quite jumpy, which is annoying.) Thankfully, this slowness did not imply instability; aside from the Skype crashes, true to its Slackware roots, VectorLinux was quite stable.
One other issue I had was that from time to time, when doing stuff like installing packages from the package manager, VectorLinux would flash cryptic warning dialog boxes on the screen. While nothing was wrong with the system, such unhelpful, uninformative windows didn't particularly instill confidence in me.

Installer
It was at this point that I started the installation. The installation was quite bare. For example, partitioning had to be done in GParted, though thankfully the installer was nice enough to open GParted on command rather than waiting for me to do it myself. Also, I had to do stuff like configure programs running in different runlevels. While these were generally well-explained, I'm not sure such configuration is really necessary. I mean, I've seen it before in Slackware and other distributions, so I guess I should have expected it, and I basically stuck with the defaults throughout the installation process, so it wasn't a huge deal, but I'd still like to see stuff like this relegated to maybe an "Advanced" section of the installation process. The installation itself took a little more than 5 minutes, which is pretty good. After that was done, I restarted the VM, and VectorLinux seemed to run post-installation just as it did on the live USB. That's where my time with it ended.

So what's the deal? The fact that Google Talk doesn't work is a deal-breaker for me, but that won't affect my recommendation for others too much. It's stable, and it generally works well, but it's slow, and it throws some rather weird warnings at times. I'd say this is best left for people with at least intermediate skill in working with Linux, but considering that the VectorLinux website says this is for people who want their OS to be exactly as they want (i.e. for power users), I guess it has achieved its goal quite well.
You can get it here.

16 comments:

  1. I have the same experience in regard to the speed of Vector Linux 7.0. It is noticeably slower than SalixOS 13.37 when installed on one of my rigs, a vintage HP Pavilion running on 500MZ processor and 500MB RAM. SalixOS is well-integrated, elegant looking and snappy. Unfortunately, I had to replace it with Bodhi Linux 1.2.1 on the same machine because it uses LILO instead of GRUB or GRUB2 and applications available are limited.

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    1. Just fyi it is very easy to put in the grub stanza for Vector Linux. If you already have grub on your system you can simply add the lines for Vector Linux (example: with Vector on sda3 - on my system note: the partition name is "B-Vec_dev3" The title can be what ever you want the last three lines is what gets the job done.
      title 1 Vector Linux sda3 (B-Vec_dev3)
      root (hd0,2)
      kernel /boot/vmlinuz root=/dev/sda3 ro verbose
      initrd /boot/initrd

      If you do not have grub installed I highly recommend useing Puppy Linux - you can do a Frugal install (or not if you choose) and install grub - then edit menu.lst (located in the /boot/grub directory of whatever partition you use) as indicated above

      I have used alot of different Linux variations, and Vector Linux is still one of my favorites !!

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    2. @Chris: Thanks for the tip!

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  2. i have not used vector for a long time but I have used Salix and it is fast. In answer to Barista, what is wrong with lilo it does all that grub does I used it with multiboot win+ 4 linux distros no problem. regards software with Salix you have the whole world of Slackbiulds at your feet and a wonderfull packagebuilt system that finds all the deps. Also 64bt uses only 180mb ram running KDE4 its more stable than bodhi.

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  3. Also 64bt uses only 180mb ram running KDE4 its more stable than bodhi.

    Ahum......what are you smoking ? 180 Mb RAM ?

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  4. @Barista Uno: Well, I'm glad to know I'm not the only one experiencing these speed issues. That said, what exactly is wrong with LILO? In fact, I've read that because of the licensing differences between LILO and GRUB (and because GRUB 1 has been essentially dropped in most cases in favor of GRUB 2), LILO could be the way to combat the issues with UEFI/Microsoft Windows secure booting without breaking the security mechanism altogether.

    @kelvin: Could I have used the Slackbuilds in VectorLinux then too? Maybe that could have solved my Google Talk issue, but from what I read, it didn't seem to be that simple.

    @Nikkels: It's certainly possible if all effects are turned off. Granted, I have not seen that amazing performance from KDE 4 on my own computer, but I have seen that running distributions on lower hardware specifications (up to a certain point, of course) makes them use fewer resources.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  5. i tried vector linux 7.0 and it ran fine on my machine with the live usb but trying to installl it would not order my drives correctly. i have 1 IDE for my OS drive plus multiple SATA drives for storage. it would not see the IDE as drive A which every other OS does. ended up going with pinguyOS

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  6. @kevin: Huh. That's interesting. Were you able to confirm that the drive recognition issue was a problem with just VectorLinux or any Slackware derivative? Anyway, I hope Pinguy OS works out for you. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. ive tried salix as and did not haave that issue. also had removed all sata drives and VL installed fine hooked up drives and VL froze at boot

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  8. I see no reason not to use slackbuilds in any slackware based distro.
    Don't let the anti lilo brigade put you of and you can install grub or grub2 in slackware based distros there is a guide in the Salix forums and also for slackbuilds.

    Nikkels i don't smoke or take drugs I don't make things up neither I run a 64bt desktop with 8gb of ram so DO not need to exaggerate kde4 in arch boots at 200mb openbox 64mb, gnome3 shell 130mb yes a big difference to mint, salix kde4 180mb crunchbang 54mb, mint gmome3 shell 480mb bodhi 280 that is disgusting for a E17 distro under 80mb on Debian, ubuntu 560mb, Parsix 220mb gnome2, Lubuntu 240mb again very high 60mb Debian, Salix, is as solid as a rock as is crunchbang, parsix,

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  9. Nice to see a review on Vectorlinux. Thanks. There are a couple points I would like to look further into.

    1. This distro is one of very few running the latest Xfce. Since it is new, I think some of your reviewing audience would have liked to hear what you thought of it's newest features. Networking right in Thunar, compositing, etc.

    2. Kind of unfair comparing speed of Vectorlinux to a distribution that is not running the newest Xfce. If you want to compare apples to apples, turn off the avahi daemon, (old xfce never did networking), turn of compositing, and quit cairo-doc.
    (You can take Cairo-doc out of auto-start if you never want to see it again.)

    3. Sure you can install google talk. Here is how.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsOjNA0OaoE

    4. Your comment "ie for powerusers". This is just not true. After install everything is ready to go. Codecs, applications, drivers. Where does the need to be a power user come in.

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  10. @kevin: I appreciate the clarification.

    @kelvin: I too was sure there would be a way to install GRUB if it was really desired. I appreciate the tip.

    @Ken: I'll try to address your issues one by one.
    First, I don't really use networking in file managers, so I don't worry about it when trying out distributions. Also, I didn't really notice any difference in compositing, so I didn't feel that there was anything to write about there.
    Second, what gave you the impression that I was comparing VectorLinux to a distribution with an older version of Xfce? My implicit comparisons were with Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot", which does run the latest version of Xfce. Furthermore, I've tried other distributions with GNOME 2.X that use a dock like Docky or AWN, and they certainly aren't this slow. If it's Cairo Dock itself that is problematic, perhaps the VectorLinux developers should consider replacing it with another dock application (while still leaving Cairo Dock available in the repositories).
    Third, I really appreciate the fact that you took the time to make a video just in response to this. However, I tried both methods you suggested (copying the contents of the root-ish directories into their counterparts in the actual root directory, as well as converting the DEB or RPM into a TXZ file) and neither of them worked. This isn't particularly surprising, because I tried extremely similar methods with two other Slackware-based distributions (Kongoni and Porteus, I believe), and Google Talk didn't work there either. What I mean by this is that in both cases on all distributions, the package installed correctly, but when I went into Gmail to try out my webcam and mic, they were either being recognized in a faulty way or Gmail claimed the plugin wasn't installed at all. Thus, for now at least, I think my complaint still stands.
    Fourth, I get the feeling from the weird error messages, the slightly contrived installation, and difficulty to install some popular packages that unless this distribution is being set up for a newbie by an experienced hand, it may not be quite right for total newbies to try out alone.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  11. What I'd like to point out is that Vectorlinux is the first distro that I know of that ships with all of Xfce 4.8's latest features.

    Doesn't Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" ship with Xfce 4.8's networking feature disabled. Opting instead for Gigolo.

    The networking feature does add a serious lag time to the thunar file manager at first launch (as it searches you network for possible shares.) Much faster after that. Add to this the weight of the avahi-daemon running in the background and that could explain the feeling of slowness you first experienced. Granted the dock does not help but most of the overhead is in the networking.

    This may be why Xubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot" decided to do without it.
    I think the Vectorlinux team deserves some credit for shipping the new XFCE with all it's features. If you don't use the feature it's easier to turn them off than add them in later on.
    That's all.

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  12. @ken: Well, I'd like to thank you for pointing out that there is a difference between the networking features offered by Xubuntu and VectorLinux; I wouldn't have known otherwise. Thanks for the comment!

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  13. So with Google-talk I've found I have to use a usb microphone on my Vectorlinux systems or else I can't find it in google talk settings. Video has not been an issue so far.
    I've updated video to show video/chat
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhNw7mfCez8
    Thanks again for the review. All press is good press. :-)

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  14. @ken: I think I had a similar issue with some other distribution (I don't remember exactly which). Anyway, thanks for the clarification!

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