Well, our first review back from near death of this little project is one that started long ago and seemed to never want to be concluded. It all started as I looked at my Linux Timline tree and noticed of all the branches of Linux, I had never reviewed anything by Slackware. It really wasn't a purposeful decision to skip what some regard as the one true Unix of Linux, but rather not wanting the pain, angst and trouble of getting Slackware on my fragile system.
So a Canadian friend of mine told me of a project up north (not too far north from Seattle where I live) called Vector. I started tracking the project back and noticed they had many of the attributes of Linux I like; XFce, Full working media, Claims of Fast performance and slimmed down instead of bloated packages. So, I started off with RC1, then RC2 and finally now worked with RC3. The press that Robert Lange and company put on their website is hardly only press. This little distro flies, works as one would ever need any OS to work, and even though the installation routine is a bit archaic and a bit tough to follow, it is easier than Slackware and a lot more up to date than what Patrick produces. So those people who love to hate Slackware, get your mouse and keyboard ready because with Vector, the choice is simple; if you want a fast OS that is stable, secure and plain works, there will be little to complain about from this great little package from up north.
So off to the land of maple syrup and good beer we go!!!!!Details:
Kernel - Kernel
Desktop - XFce 220.127.116.11
FAQs - http://www.vectorlinux.com/Docs/vl50/manuals/index.html
Cost - FREE!!! Deluxe version of Vector 5.1 SOHO is $26.97 and includes KDE desktop, Gnome & Enlightenment 17 so assume will be there when 5.8 goes full release, not sure on prices
Special Features - Bloat free install, Slackware built in security, stability, full media support, works on older machinesNitty Gritty:
When I first attempted an install of this on my VMWare, a technique I use to get my snappy screen shots, things didn't go very well. Basically this is a text based installer, nothing fancy and sometimes not very obvious on which path to follow. So please pay close attention and hopefully we can help guide the newbie to the promised land of a great installed system. Also note, I did run into some issues installing this onto my desktop, which had to do with the graphics mode going dark on me but I was able to complete the installation. We will get to those hurdles in a bit, but lets get started shall we?
Nothing too complex here, except note that sata (ide) is recommended. If you are installing Vector to VMWare, please use Custom installation and select ide instead of default SCSI. This was first hurdle but easily overcome.
The next screen gives you the options of setting up your keymaps, repairing LILO if your current install has gone south, start the installation process or get out of dodge. For us, we decided to go with Start. I do wish that start was the default selection here to make life easier on the newbie, but hey, safety is also good. It is just that keymap changes are dangerous and for the newbie, well if they have to change a keymap then they should be trying a different OS than Linux.
Once you select start the next option checks to see if the system can find the proper installation media. Yep, your on track Vector, try and keep up with us.
The next screen screams to me old school. I haven't seen some nice keyboard art in a long time. However in the Vector group took the time to do this, kudos...but have you heard of Gimp?
I like the dialog that goes into each step. If you take your time, they really guide one through this installation process. One must assume however the laziness of most people, who never take the time to read anything. So caution is needed as we move forward. One wrong step and back to the beginning for you. Oh, and if you do get to the prompt with a badly placed keyboard command, '/usr/sbin/setup' I think is the command.
If you want to read the release notes, by all means go ahead. I would suggest this from the website while you wait for the download however. For us, we need to establish a partition for our VMWare system. The recommendations are in line with a typical system install. Note you could get by with a system less than 1 GB if you have a very old system, small partitions and probably no home directory. We need to scroll down (no mouse here people) and select FDISK. I didn't try the resize utility and probably would recommend against this for any newbie. It states Ext2 and FAT, when most people are using Ext3 or NTFS.
This screen provides some simple instructions for FDISK, which are truly needed for a newbie heading into this text hard drive manager. Don't forget the codes of 83 for Linux and 82 for swap. There are some help functions in FDISK but not the easiest in the world to use or that useful. If you already have your partitions setup you can skip down a few screen shots by selecting Install here, if not, off to partitioning we go...
Welcome to the 1990's. This tool is very old school, but highly reliable in setting up a partition. For those who love Gentoo, you will recognize this immediately. Anyone who has only used a graphical installation tool, this is what is happening behind your cute little graphics. At first you will see nothing but one line, which is your hard drive which will state Free Space. You will need to scroll right to the New, hit enter and select Primary or Extended. The key here is that if you plan on having more than four partitions on your machine, at least one would have to be an Extended partition, as there can only ever be four Primary partitions. If you plan on the most basic setup, then you will only need four: root, home, boot and swap. I don't usually seperate my home partition out from my root. The idea there is that if you need to re-install another base system or if your root system gets corrupted, your home with all your user data will still be intact. This also allows you to share your home folder/partition amongst many different root systems. One can also do the same for Boot partitions, but that gets very complicated with installations of multiple distros.
For our purpose, I try to keep the system simple and easy to manage. I create two partitions per distro; root and swap. Yes, I know there is a risk in doing this, but in reality I kill mine so often that having a seperate home partition just confuses me later. So create one Primary, which then you need to select beginning or end of hard drive. The best method, and easiest to manage would be to use the beginning. The default type will be 83 or linux, so no need to worry about that. I also like to set the bootable flag, which is old school in itself as Lilo and Grub both ignore this, but humor me. The size would be everything I need minus the room for my swap partition. I generally still like a decent size swap, even though with today's kernels and memory management, they are not needed. So for me on this machine, I selected 512 MB of Swap. So for my root partition I would need 8000 MB (the VMware drive I created has 9 GB of total space) leaving me a bit over 512 MB available for my swap.
Once you create the first partition, then scroll down off the new Primary one to Free space and then scroll right to new once again. Follow the same steps, selecting Primary, beginning and then use all the remaining free space. Once you get back to the main window, change the type to 82 for Linux Swap. Once you double check that the screen shows exactly what you want, scroll right to Write and then type the word 'yes' and hit enter. The tool will stay open after you write and then you will need to select Quit. Whew, that was fun was it not? You now have a hard drive to install your system too.
Once you exit FDISK, you will get the next window, which is a bit confusing and if you are installing to VMWare beware of. First, it assumes that you are running a dual boot system with Windows if you want to reboot and make sure that these new partitions and resized of FAT or Ext2 took hold properly. But if you are installing without repartitioning, or if you don't have windows, then what you need to select is Return. It is the default selection, but it is very confusing in the description.
So select Return here, unless you resized something. What that really means is continue with the current install. If you are in VMWare and you reboot, the system will try and boot a hard drive that has nothing on it, and will not recognize your CDROM or ISO file boot sequence, at least it did that for me.
This pops up, nice to see they have a fun sense of humor while I am in this installation routine. No pretty pictures, but they keep it interesting.
Now we finally are at the installation selection screen. There are also some additional things to configure here, including selecting the proper partitions, selecting the packages to include, and other admin type selections. Do not just try and skip over steps and jump down to Install, please follow along and hopefully we will get you to the proper system that will actually work for you. Swap is the next on the list, so lets go there.
The next step will be to enable the Swap partition that you created.
This will speed up any data transfers and overall system performance
moving ahead. Back to the main screen and then Root is next.
Make sure you don't select Dummy, which is just a place holder for the code I am sure. Select the one you created for your Root in the partitioning process.
Once you select which one to create as Root, then the installation process requires you to select the mount type. For older systems, Ext2/3 are pretty basic, with Ext2 getting the most efficiency while Ext3 being more reliable. Reiser is more advanced, seems to work better, but with the main inventor in major legal trouble, not sure about its future. XFS is more for 64 bit machines, but know that you need to have a boot partition with that running on something other than XFS to get it to really work. I usually go for Ext3 or ReiserFS. Your call on this, but just remember what you use for future troubleshooting.
Now you can select other partitions to mount, such as your home, temp, usr, windows, etc...here. For me, I skip this for my own personal preferences and let everything sit within the root partition which then means I select Done.
The next option from the main installation screen is the Bulk packages, which puts things into simple categories and allows one to select them by their overall structure/function. They are all pretty important, especially if you plan on adding other programs to the system later, which typically require your kernel source files, Samba is needed if you plan on talking to Windows systems and games, ah, we need those games what little there are. X11 is required unless you plan on having just a command line terminal and surfing the world via lynx. So really select them all and move along.
This next step of the installation process is to select the individual packages, with the most popular being defaulted by your bulk and others that the Vector people just know you need. If there is something you know you want, or that you know you don't want, make the appropriate selection here and then move along. Don't worry, we are about half way there.
Once you finish with everything from the main installation list, then the option to select is the Install, which takes us to the following screen. This really provides you a nice overview to the work you just completed and gives you one last chance to make sure what you are about to do is actually what you want to do. Again, I love the humor that they add, especially the toast part. If you have the confidence in what you are about to do, simply select OK and you will start the installation process. Note that you have not configured anything, so we will be back for that after you head out for a beer and pizza...see you in a bit.
This does take a while, so have a music player as there is no games to play.
The first stop after the package installation is to configure LILO. If you are a grub fan, sorry you will have to skip this step and install your grub from another tool. There is that option for you to skip, which most will probably do, but if you like LILO, then you can select here. If this is your only distro for the box in question, you are stuck for now, but can always add grub later. Speed of light comment after that slow install, kind of cracking me up right now.
Once you select where to put LILO, the next step is to determine if there are other OS that need to be included within the LILO system.
The system then takes a look to see if it will support frame buffer which adds cool graphics and other fancy features. If you are unsure of your video card or its capabilities, you might want to disable this and just move along without the fancy for functional. This would mean Standard, while if you want these, you can also choose small, medium or large, depending on your monitor size and capabilities.
Now you can add any options. Most of the time you won't know you need this until your system crashes and then you google the solution. Leave blank for now, and hopefully you won't need anything special.
Now you get some options associated with the package, in a similar list to the Install main window, in that you need to select each one according to what you need, but there is nothing for it to really make sense. Make sure you select what you need and when in doubt, just add it to the system. Typically having something silly doesn't break anything, but not selecting something will just not allow something to work. This might affect performance but nothing here is that memory intensive that you would break anything or really notice a major difference.
Next you will get to select which version of clock your system has. Most are set to local time. I wish they would have a clock on the screen which would show you what the current hardware time is, which some actually are starting to do. Oh well, if wrong, you will just have to change later.
Next the time zone. Sorry, I can't help you much here, either you know it or you are on the wrong planet.
Your mouse settings, again can't help you here, pick up and count....
Like the message states, if you have some settings you need to use for your network hostname or ISP, then you will either know them here, or just leave as default. If you plan on setting something up later, go ahead and put whatever you want because this really doesn't affect much without other computers in your LAN.
If you run on your own DSL, wireless router, or other device, 99% of the time you will need to use DHCP. If you have a static setup for whatever reason, you will most likely know those settings. If you don't know, just guess DHCP.
Sound configuration is next, and ALSA will try and auto config itself. Unless you really know what you are doing, please use this utility and your sound will most likely work.
What the probing finds will pop up here. If you don't know anything else about this, go with what it finds. Legacy really doesn't work well, so only use that as a last resort.
This just lets you know that you are complete and that the system will try and set some default sound levels for you. Also note, my system install stopped here and I had to restart and get back to this spot so the graphics change a bit, but I didn't have to repeat, just continue the installation, which was nice minus the worry until I got back to here.
The next probing will be on video. Once again, unless you really know what you are doing, please let the system attempt this first and then you can try and fix later.
You get to select your color depth. Most new cards can support 24 bit or greater, older cards (5 plus years) may want to try 16 bit.
Next you get a default monitor resolution, which will be based on your monitor's capabilties. If you don't know, typically most all will do 1024x768, while larger ones (17") will be likely 1280x1024 or greater. The 1600x1200 is typically the LCD flat screens that are 21" or greater and odd layouts, more movie screen ratios.
Keep your default keyboard mapping unless you know of a problem or have a special needs keyboard.
Now, here is where things went a bit wrong, but not so wrong I lost anything. Typically I don't put system install problem screens in my review, but this one was just way too damn cool.
The steps after setting up your monitor, which do not think that just because this probe and test fails that the system is configured wrong, as this happened in VMWare , my laptop and my desktop in different ways. You can typically see enough to get through the next couple of steps which is user configurations. If you reboot, the configuration routine will continue here and you can set these up that way, or just fight your way through the imaging problems. The top option is root password, which of course you enter twice. Then you enter a user name, followed by their password again twice. Then that is it. You have a great Slackware system ready to be rebooted. Starting ()
Now one of the things that the Vector website boasts and also is included in most things I saw online about Vector, is their speed, lack of fluff or bloated packages (Mandriva and Suse should learn from this), and overall performance. This is also very evident in the first boot onward once you get this little baby installed.
Nothing too fancy in the LILO boot screen, but there is a cute Tux. Hi Tux. Why does everyone love Blue?
Pretty cool boot status updates with a new Tux every step along the way. I count 18, but who is counting. I really enjoy the graphics here but they do not tend to slow anything down. The boot time is very agressive and one can quickly tell that the boasting is not just that. They really kept things simple and working here.
You can't really see them here, but there are cute little Tux's running around the login screen. Now, with the Deluxe package, I am assuming they will offer more than XFce, but realistically here is a nice simple login box that gets you in to where you want to be.
The desktop is nicely arranged and organized in a way anyone will be able to find what they need. It is a bit too XP for me, but that is easily changed.
The XFce setting manager is pretty basic and easy to follow. This is your basics about the desktop, but for more advanced modifications you need to use VASM
which has to be selected from the main menu select "System",
then select "Vector Administrative and Services Menu" and
you will be given the appropriate menu.
Most of the advanced features that one would need to modify are under Super, which requires a root password. For more information and to learn how to use VASM, please see here
(same link as above). The more I played with VASM and Super VASM, the more I became to like the layout and functionality within these tools. I like how they keep lower level instructions seperated from advanced functions, which allows newbies to access things they will likely need, but keeps the items that will kill their system seperated for now until they get their teeth cut into the system and they learn enough to venture further. Now it does seem that the online documents are still 5.1 but I am sure as 5.8 gets towards full release a lot of the names and layout will be updated.
The software management is selected from the admin icon (screwdriver and circuit board icon next to globe) and then GSLAPT, which is a slapt-get client.
There is no real new aspect to Gslapt, but you may want to test the repositories or add any favourites.
So realistically Vector gives you what you need in the way of productivity, communication, entertainment and web browsing (they do put in IceWeasol, but Firefox is there as well and you get to set the default browser the first time you click the globe, nice touch) without all the crap you don't want. If you need some more, Gslapt is excellend at allowing additional packages without the dependency hell of other install methods.
Vector is a well rounded package that just simply works and works extremely fast and with little additional user input. Like the desktop picture states, this is a little distro that grows on you. What they fail to add is that this is truly a Slackware Linux one can work with, has the latest and greatest kernel out there, functions on media and graphical that one would need and an excellent admin tool with VASM to boot.
So there is nothing fancy here, except a Linux distro that flies, functions and is easy to maintain, configure and operate. Well done Canada, well done indeed!!!!!!
Bonus Stuff ()
Like a couple of other packages, Vector really doesn't sell itself by being anything other than an excellent distro suited for older hardware and Slackware fans alike. So instead of rating anything additional here, I decided to reach out to Robert Lange with a few questions and provide him the opportunity to speak on the behalf of his (and his team's) work instead of my silly opinion.
Knolinuxguy - I see that your product is a Slackware based distro. What got you to start Vector Linux instead of supporting Slackware directly?
Robert Lange (RL) - I liked the slackware method and way of doing things. But I felt there were better ways to skin a cat then
what Slack was doing. So instead of reinventing the wheel I just used slackware as the base and fixed things that I felt would work better for Vector.
Knolinuxguy - Many in the community like to talk about how Slackware is a single sourced product and very difficult to work with. How do you look at this?
Robert Lange (RL) - Slackware is Patrick, what he wants is what you get so you either love it or hate it. I personaly think he makes very good choices and keeps Slack on a very steady road. This is the biggest reason I chose Slackware as our base, stability. Without a stable foundation you are bound to crumble sooner or later.
Knolinuxguy - You state your product is "bloat free", and I am very impressed with the performance I saw. What did you stay away from that keeps it so fast and efficient?
Robert Lange (RL) - We have redesigned the basic init system which allows users to pick and choose what processes they want running at boot up. With Slackware you basically run everything thats installed so that slows the system. We also optimize our packages to the i586 level Slackware still uses i486.
Knolinuxguy - What do you think really sets Vector apart from other distros?
Robert Lange (RL) - Community, simplicity and speed. I think bar none we have the friendliest community of users you will find in a linux distro that is willing to help anyone with the basic first time linux blues and beyond. I really believe we have made linux as simple as installing a program in windows. The default selections in the installer should work for 95% of the people trying it. Speed is the key, everyone wants the fastest response time from their pc. I honestly don't believe you will find a faster system then Vector. Gentoo users will argue that their source built system can be tweaked to be faster but you need to really know what your doing to accomplish that. Users with that kind of knowledge will not be interested in Vector or any other prebuilt distro.
Knolinuxguy - What can the community do to help support Vector Linux?
Robert Lange (RL) - As a small distro we need more coders and package developement people. We really want to expand on the packages available to install but we need more people willing to give a little time for that. Reviews from kind folk as yourself are wonderful as it gives needed media exposure so we can grow.
I would personnally like to thank Robert for taking the time to respond to my questions and I hope that we can do a little bit while our review is hot on Distrowatch and possibly for people who find out about Vector Linux from our little project.
am honestly pleased to give this package a 4 Pennie review. Vector Linux, while not being the easiest system ever to be installed, simply works. Not only does it work, it comes in a package that is secure, reliable and built for speed. XFce is not anyone's favorite desktop manager, but with Vector you even forget that this isn't KDE, except when doing something and the response time is almost immediate. On all machines I installed this too, the response times were almost the same. Click-Pop. With VASM you also get an admin tool that isn't overly complicated by fancy icons or graphics, it just gets you where you need to be in simple text based instructions that any newbie will enjoy while the linux enthusiast will appreciate the efficiencies.
I wish Robert and gang at Vector nothing but the best of luck with 5.8 and I think they have an excellent product. If they could improve the installation process a bit, make it even more intuitive and less apt for confusion, then there will be no reason to stay clear of a Slackware based system ever again.
As always, I hope you enjoy this review. I truly am glad to have worked out my issues with Godaddy.com and hope to be continuing my little hobby for years to come. As with most Linux projects around the world, don't ever forget that Free as in Gratis is not the same as in Free as in Beer. Support your favourite distro in time, effort or financially and then sooner than later we will won't be worried about the doomsday machine in Redmond or anywhere else. By working together we can build products that will take on the beast and get open source to being what computing always should have been...an organization of people sharing knowledge freely and openly around the world to make this rock a better place for all.