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A first look at Vector Linux 4.0, SOHO edition

By Preston St. Pierre on April 08, 2004 (8:00:00 AM)

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Vector Linux has always interested me because of its purpose and origin: a simplified distribution from a Slackware base. Last month Vector's developers announced the first release candidate for Vector Linux 4.0 SOHO edition. Since, to quote Vector's main page, Slackware Linux has always been "about as user-friendly as a coiled rattlesnake," I was curious to see how Vector Linux addressed these issues for home users while still keeping the Slackware reliability and speed. I'm sorry to report that their efforts have not been especially successful.

I downloaded an ISO from the Vector Linux site and burned it to CD. Normally I run an install of a new distro under VMWare first to familiarize myself with the installation, but since this is supposed to be a friendly install, who needs practice, right? I inserted the CD and restarted my computer.

Vector Linux brought me to a text-based installer that almost immediately asked me if I wanted to set the keyboard layout, in a manner similar to Slackware. This is somewhat important to me as I don't type on the regular QWERTY keyboard if I can help it; I use Dvorak. However, when choosing a keyboard map I discovered that Dvorak wasn't an option! I opted for the regular QWERTY map, but I was disappointed -- after all, Vector is Slackware-based, and Slackware has Dvorak in its list.

Once past this small problem, the install was largely uneventful. It required very little user intervention, and asked questions only when absolutely necessary. Everything that could be auto-detected was -- or so it claimed. The time it took to copy and install files was higher than I would have expected for one CD, but the whole reason Vector can fit its distro on one CD is because of the extreme compression it uses. One pleasant surprise for me was an additional keyboard map configuration question at the end of the install with many more options. I chose Dvorak. The installer told me that loading the keymap had failed and that I should choose another. After scrolling around a little bit, I found ANSI-dvorak, which is slightly different but similar enough for me to get by.

One thing that kept the installation so short was a lack of any questions about the packages that were installed. Vector decided for me what needed to be installed and didn't trouble me with the task of choosing. While many Linux users argue that this approach is "Windows-like" and evil, the fact is that most users don't care what packages are installed on their computers, they only care that they work.

Vector's developers chose to give users the K Desktop Environment (KDE). I would have liked to have some choice to install Gnome and the Gnome libraries, but I'm not the target audience of this distro. Gnome takes up extra room, and a distribution released on only one CD has to make choices on which programs to include. Nothing is stopping power-users from installing the programs they want after the initial install.

First boot

Vector desktop
Click to enlarge

When I booted Vector Linux for the first time the system asked me a few more questions about the configuration, but most of the stuff had been auto-configured by Vector. A nice looking color ASCII graphic greeted me at the login, [can we get a screen shot?] which added to the user-friendly feel of the operating system. When I logged in, I was able to choose options regarding the configuration of my computer with a configuration program that appeared nearly identical to the initial install program. I found a downside to this when, after attempting to reconfigure my keyboard map (I wanted us-dvorak, not ANSI-dvorak), the script demanded that I reconfigure all the other options that were subsequent to keyboard configuration on the initial install. Needless to say, this would have been a huge waste of time, so I simply killed the configuration process.

My next step was to get X11 up and running. I typed startx, thinking that after all the auto-detection done by Vector my X server would work properly upon first try. It did not -- X started at a resolution and frequency too high for my monitor, and I had to force a kill before it did damage. No user new to Linux would be able to do what I then did: I edited the XF86config file to set up X properly. There were many options in this X config file that I did not recognize from other distributions, and though many of them were commented out, lines I don't understand in my config files don't please me. After I set X to run at a proper resolution and frequency, startx booted (surprisingly quickly) to a KDE desktop.

While loading, KDE informed me that it could not start the sound server as my sound card could not be found and that it would output my sound to /dev/null. I'm sure most people reading this understand that, but users new to Linux won't know what /dev/null is. Perhaps Vector Linux should consider editing that error message to read "Sound will not be activated" instead of "Sound will use /dev/null." This error surprised me, as the hardware auto-detection had properly detected both my onboard sound and my SoundBlaster Live X-Gamer. Neither of these worked without my intervention.

After this one error, KDE loaded without problems to a desktop customized with a united look for Vector Linux.

The applications

No distribution is complete without a set of base applications to suit users' needs, including configuration wizards, office utilities, games, system tools, multimedia programs, e-mail clients and chat clients. Because it comes on one CD, Vector Linux does not have the space to let users choose among different programs in most of these categories.

Vector menu
Click to enlarge

I tested all the built-in GUI applications I could find to attempt to configure my sound properly. None of these applications worked, and I was forced to modprobe the module myself, edit the configuration files, and restart ALSA. That made two aspects of my hardware that Vector failed to auto-configure -- sound and video.

After configuration, the first priority in my testing was an office suite. With the lack of space on one CD for Vector Linux, I expected a relatively small (space-wise) set of tools. To my surprise, KOffice, the KDE-based office application, was not included in Vector. Instead, the distro comes with the more powerful OpenOffice.org. I question Vector's decision to use such a bloated suite when space is so limited. KOffice suits the needs of most individuals, and OpenOffice.org is an easy download/install for those who need it.

Being a music/movie junkie, I next tested the multimedia utilities included in Vector. The Xine movie player and XMMS music player worked as expected. There were a surprising number of other choices for media applications, including one to manage your Web cam. (Although I have a Web cam, it was not detected or configured by Vector, nor has it been by any other Linux distribution.) This variety, again, was surprising from a distro with limited space. I'd rather the developers had saved room for other, more important software, such as Gnome.

A shortcut on the taskbar called Mail Client launches KMail. For instant messenging, Vector provides KDE's Kopete client, which I used to connect to the MSN network. I primarily use the MSN protocol, though I have active accounts on most of the major networks, and Kopete serves me well for all my needs. Other popular instant messenger clients, such as Gaim and Avalaro's Messenger, did not make the cut.

Vector includes the default KDE Games suite, giving a wide variety of simple games in various stages of development. While much better than the built-in Windows entertainment packs, for the most part these games are not very complex in terms of gameplay. Serious games will want to add commercial games.

Vector also includes a host of programs to cover other desktop needs, including XCam to run a Web cam (which I could not get working); K3b for CD/DVD burning (I can't attest to the DVD burning features, but I burned a Knoppix CD and it worked perfectly); Noatun, Kaboodle, XMMS, and JuK for music; Xine for video, and various others. Leaving out Gnome but including four media playing applications is a strange way of doing things.

Vector Linux also provides a strong suite of development software. KDevelop is used as the main IDE, and also included are the Cervisia frontend for CVS, Kompare as a frontend for patches, Qt Designer for interface design, KBugBuster for bug management, and the KCacheGrind profiler. Two other useful tools include the Quanta Web development application and the kjscmd Javascript command interpreter.

Conclusions

Vector Linux is fast, secure, and up to date, but I'm afraid that it doesn't yet meet its goal of being friendly enough for home and small office users. While there was nothing major wrong with Vector Linux, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other distro either. If you know what you are doing and want a reasonably secure, fast, base operating system, Vector Linux is for you. I, however, will stick with Slackware.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer science student at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Colombia, Canada.

Preston St. Pierre is a computer information systems student at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada.

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on A first look at Vector Linux 4.0, SOHO edition

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Wrong!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 01:49 AM
Vector Linux is designed for older PCs per Vec (lead coder for Vector Linux). SOHO has higher needs, per Tigger (lead coder for SOHO). This can be verified in their Forums. Though it isn't as high as some of the others.
The reason there is no Gnome is not only to keep it to one CD, but also to reduce the amount of additional libraries to compile and ensure are working. KDE was chosen over Gnome. However, IceWM is also included and works very well. Open Office was chosen over K Office because of its superior support for other formats. Tigger chose the KDE best apps in their field. Where KDE apps were lacking, he went to non specific DE apps, hence XMMS. There are four audio players, because three of them come with KDE. When you try to remove them, you get multiple dependency problems. Tigger wanted to keep the support to a minimum, which is an intelligent decision.
The problem with X and audio need to be corrected and I am sure Tigger will handle that. He should also look into the keyboard problems.
GAIM and Avalaro's MGR were not included since Kopete is a native KDE app and was found sufficent. Remember, this is a small, fast distro without un-needed libraries and services taking away its speed.
It is obvious that the author would have prefer Gnome, but for a small distro, having the two "Heavyweights" Gnome and KDE, just doesn't make sense. Besides, since it is fully Slack compatible, Dropline Gnome is a download away.
Too many things were left out of this article to make it very useful. Seems that he really just wanted to vent on SOHO not having Gnome included. Hopefully the author did make a bug report to get the errors he found corrected.
No mention was included on printing, (CUPS, APS, IPR, etc), web browsing (do we assume konqueror? Is Firefox included?), file browsing (still MC like SOHO 3.2?), SAMBA support, etc. Heck, no mention was made on how easy it is to download additional apps. Is Swaret used?
At least he took the time to describe the problems he had in detail. So some good will come out of this article.

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Re:Wrong!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 03:07 AM
I must say, I am surprised at some of the criticism here. I made no attempt at saying this article covered everything. I attempted to cover what as many areas as I could that would have an effect on the user while not getting into too windy an article.

Also, note that I only said I doubt the decision to include certain programs - not that there weren't reasons for it. I didn't know the reasons - thank you for telling me. I was very certain to be sure that I said it was my opinion when it came to the choice of Gnome over KDE - and that their decision to use KDE did not affect my judgement of the distribution.

Mayhap Vector Linux is built for older hardware - but Slackware works on older hardware, too. On Vector's homepage, they do state that they are attempting to be a more user-friendly Slackware - so that is what I used as a basis for comparison. All non-objective views must have a basis for comparison - and if you want a completely objective view, I'm sorry but that is near impossible.

This was my first article - I'm sorry if you were disappointed. I will be taking note of what people say so I can be sure to include the more pleasing aspects of any other reviews that I do.

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Re:Wrong!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 03:08 AM
I forgot to mention something. The reason I did not test any printing capabilities is that I do not have a printer.

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Re:Slow down - You missed VASM!!!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 04:57 AM
Slow down - YOU MISSED VSAM AT LOG IN!!!

Before you derate Vector about configuration - At the login prompt it says that for configuration you should run VASM. You should do this as root. This allows you to set up X and sound along with many other things!!!!! Then startx.

I did this on 4 machines and the confuguration works great.

Why would they not have configuration of X and sound on a distro like this?? That does not make sense.

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Re:Slow down - You missed VASM!!!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 05:02 AM
Oh - I just noticed that this was your first article. Other than missing the setup, GOOD ARTICLE!!

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Re:where are the packages ?

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 08:16 AM
Use the packages at linuxpackages.net. Vector linux is an attempt to make a user friendly desktop distro based on Slackware. You don't need "Vector" packages, since they are really Slackware packages. So if Slackware has the package, Vector does also.

Please note that this is also a release candidate and not the completed product. Perhaps you should try Vector Linux 4 which is a completed product. SOHO is Vector Linux Supercharged.

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Re:where are the packages ?

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 09:50 AM
" Use the packages at linuxpackages.net. Vector linux is an attempt to make a user friendly desktop distro based on Slackware. You don't need "Vector" packages, since they are really Slackware packages. So if Slackware has the package, Vector does also. "

OK, handy to know, will be interstting to see how compatible these packages are.

" Please note that this is also a release candidate and not the completed product. Perhaps you should try Vector Linux 4 which is a completed product. SOHO is Vector Linux Supercharged. "

I tried VL 4.0.
For the life of me I could not see what VL 4.0 does better than Slackware...<nobr> <wbr></nobr>... but I am happy for people to use what ever they like.

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Re:Wrong!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 08:20 AM
Preston, permit me to apologize. I wrongfully concluded that you were nothing more than a troll bad mouthing a distro. It is my mistake for assuming the worse in people.
After reading your reply and then re-reading the article, I understand where you are coming from. I hope you will not let my stupidity keep you from writing other reviews.
I have to learn to keep my big mouth SHUT!

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First Look at VL SOHO

Posted by: Administrator on April 08, 2004 10:54 PM
It would appear that you have entirely missed the point of Vector Linux. Yes, it is intended to ease the Slackware experience, and it does mitigate many of the hassles that the end user experiences with Slackware. Is it perfect? Your article shows clearly that it is not. However, there are a few things that you fail to mention in the article. For example, Vector Linux is aimed at users of older hardware, and their distribution's kernel is optimized to run fast on this hardware. I run a PII 300 laptop and I have VL 4.0 SOHO on it. Its performance is rather surprising, considering its age.

I was also surprised that you failed to mention the other window manager that comes with VL 4.0 SOHO. KDE is not the only choice of D.E. And your prejudice for Gnome was not missed. How many times do you need to mention that you wish Gnome was included on the distro? Yet you rightfully point out that users can download and install software on their own? I find this to be paradoxical. On the one hand you argue for removing OpenOffice.org and adding KOffice in order to make room for Gnome, while at the same time arguing that users that need OOo can download it. Methinks you need to follow your own advice and download Gnome.

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Re:Slow down - You missed VASM!!!

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 07:02 AM
I'm sorry that I didn't mention it in the article, but it was not relevant. I ran that vsam program, and the configuration utilities were the same as the ones that had already been run during the install - and also failed to properly configure X.

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Re:my experience

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 07:52 AM
This may be FUD, but it was on Vector's page - not my opinion. You will note that I am sticking with Slackware, which was actually easier to install and configure on my system.

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Re:A few words about Vector Linux

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 01:55 PM
I did indeed review rc1. The editors at NewsForge chose to omit that from their headline - probably because it doesn't look good in a headline.

As far as the configuration goes, yes I killed the process; but if you read closely, you will note that I already went through an X Configuration menu during the install - the same one that comes up when you run that script. This is also true for the sound.

If I have time, I will continue using VL and attempt to visit the forum from time to time. I may write a follow up in a few weeks, if the strengths you speak of become apparent to me.

Thank you for taking the time to reply so constructively. Some people seem think saying "you suck" helps.

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Well, it's the truth.

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 02:45 PM
Preston, I meant every word. I really *DO* appreciate it when people catch glitches that I miss. And I'm not one of the developers, I'm just one of the avid testers.

Some people seem think saying "you suck" helps.


Well, when you're talking to a vacuum cleaner salesman, it does... !

G.B.Y.L.B.T., PastorEd

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my experience

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 06:52 AM
Slackware : mature
Vector : not mature

The reviwer cites Slackware as being unfriendly but this is repeating old FUD from _years_ ago.

These Slackware is no harder than any other distro to install. It is pleasantly simple & quite zippy. Try it you'll see.

I tried Vector & found it not as zippy as claimed & everything about it was less mature.
The installer is not as good as slack. Once installed the OS needed more fiddling than Slackware. etc

So I question this distro's reason to exist.

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where are the packages ?

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 06:58 AM
This version of this distro claims to be for SOHO, so once installed where do get the latest version of K3B for example...doh!... there is'nt any.

This is the other big drawback of this son of slackware distro, severe lack of up to date 3rd party packages.

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A few words about Vector Linux

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 11:48 AM
First off, let me say thank you to the author for writing the piece. It's always nice to have one's favorite distro noticed by the public.
--
Having said that, I *do* want to point out a couple of things. First of all, the reviewer did NOT review Vector Linux SOHO 4, because Vector Linux SOHO 4 has not yet been created.
--
The reviewer must have downloaded RC-1, the first attempt at bug squashing as the Vector developers work towards a SOHO release.
--
Since the premise behind a release candidate is to find bugs and difficulties, I am honestly very pleased at the review... it pointed out some flaws that were known, but others which had escaped the notice of the testers. Every bug found during a RC cycle is one more that can be squashed!
--
The comments about the Dvorak keyboard are appreciated, simply because I don't use a Dvorak keyboard, and would never have thought to even test out that function. So, kudos to Preston for finding that one.
--
Preston also wrote:
"Nothing is stopping power-users from installing the programs they want after the initial install."
While this is technically true, I know the Vector devs are working on answering the problem of dependency issues. So, as for right now, Vector SOHO will NOT be a bleeding-edge distro. Every package that will be made available to the SOHO user base is built specifically for Vector, and tested on VL systems. Only after a package has been tested in real-world conditions will it be moved from "testing" to "stable". If one were to look around the SOHO directories, one would notice that NOTHING has been moved to a stable release - it's ALL in testing so far. But as an RC tester, I can report that the majority of the packages work quite well.
--
I also happened to notice that the reviewer admitted to interrupting the auto-detect install process:
"...the script demanded that I reconfigure all the other options that were subsequent to keyboard configuration on the initial install. Needless to say, this would have been a huge waste of time, so I simply killed the configuration process."

--
Preston THEN went on to say in the next line:
"My next step was to get X11 up and running. I typed startx, thinking that after all the auto-detection done by Vector my X server would work properly upon first try. It did not..."

--
I found it interesting that the reviewer stopped the auto-detection script before its completion, and then commented on how the auto-detection didn't work correctly. Could there be a connection?
--
Here's an example of a VERY helpful comment:
"Perhaps Vector Linux should consider editing that error message to read 'Sound will not be activated' instead of 'Sound will use<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/dev/null.'"

Now THAT's an *excellent* idea from this review. I hope that the devs in charge of fine-tuning the KDE portion of the install are able to change this one.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:D Give that man a gold star! (or whatever the current rate is for identification of a rough edge that needs to be smoothed.)
--
Preston wrote:
"I was forced to modprobe the module myself, edit the configuration files, and restart ALSA. That made two aspects of my hardware that Vector failed to auto-configure -- sound and video."

Hmmm... see above comments about the consequences of killing the detect-script in mid-configure... the sound detect portion of the script is a little later in the code, if I remember correctly.
--
"I question Vector's decision to use such a bloated suite when space is so limited."

This is a simple one: the users of Vector voted, and we decided that we liked OpenOffice more than KOffice... so THAT's what was included. However, if someone really wants KOffice, there are pre-built packages for it that will be released when SOHO is finalized.
--
Some of Preston's final comments:
"Vector Linux is fast, secure, and up to date, but I'm afraid that it doesn't yet meet its goal of being friendly enough for home and small office users."

Ah, very true. It doesn't... YET. But it's not quite done, either. VL SOHO isn't quite ready... yet. But these comments will certainly help us polish off the rough spots and make it better for the next RC.
--
Finally, Preston said:
"While there was nothing major wrong with Vector Linux, there was nothing to distinguish it from any other distro either."

On this point, I'd have to disagree wholeheartedly. And why? Because Vector Linux is not JUST about the collection of packages burned onto a CD. It's ALSO about the collection of PEOPLE who volunteer together to make the VL forums a very newbie-friendly place to learn Linux.
--
I would encourage Preston to follow up on this review by keeping the SOHO RC on his hard drive for a couple of weeks, and by interacting with the community at http://www.vectorlinux.com/forum as he uses VL. I think that his follow-up review might have a different conclusion once he gets to know the strengths of Vector Linux.
--
Thanks for the review, Preston, and thank YOU, reader, for reading such a long reply.
--
G.B.Y.L.B.T., PastorEd

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About the keymap....

Posted by: Administrator on April 09, 2004 04:06 PM
Heh...
Other points already are adressed by other people , but there is , indeed , the keymap-issue ;
It's actually pretty simple : That issue came up with me in the past and is due to a faulty script in<nobr> <wbr></nobr>/sbin ; "kmapset".
There a corrected one available on the ftp-site ; simply download it and replace the old one with the corrected one , then re-run the keymap-configuration.

This corrected kmapset was supposed to have made it into the RC1 , but due to a human error , the "old" one has snuk in.
This , for sure , will be corrected in the next RC.

Also , on a side-note ; KDE has a very complete list of keymaps to choose from by itself , so when in X , one has no need to go without one's preferred layout.

Thought I'd just point this out.(Keymaps are my main-peeve with Linux , can ya tell?)
SuSE-Refugee

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good first attempt

Posted by: Administrator on April 19, 2004 11:23 AM
Like a few of the other regular VL users, i felt a little dejected at first read. but since this is your first review, i have turned around and want to appreciate you and teh effort you put in;
I hope you also similarly take your time to reconsider VL4soho, hangout in the forums and read up more docs and follow the development plans. I am sure you will also like the whole experience.
As for me, i always have good ideas, and want to do a lot of things.. but i realise the difference between those who actually do things and those who always want to but never endup donig anything;
I appreciate that you actually wrote a review, different people will have different opinions, but my only advice to you is that "you DONT suck"; it was a good review; when you update this review, please take your time to go through the forums.. talk to a few of us there.. and form a more informed opinion.
cheers
ram

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