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September 1, 2005

Vector Linux 5.0 SOHO

I've been setting up an old Toshiba Satellite 2805 I acquired for my wife. It's mostly so she can read ebooks in bed. She currently uses the PC we use as a gateway to our (awful) DirecWay Satellite ISP. The gateway computer has to run Windows, so that's what she's used to. I refuse to buy another copy of Windows and she gets scared whenever she has to use my fluxbox machine. She was wanting to use a "less-legal" copy of Windows, but I'm not doing that anymore, so I showed her KDE and she was happy enough with that.

The Toshiba needed a new keyboard, it got a memory upgrade, and a larger hdd. It still needs a new DVD-ROM, but it works intermittently, so I'm putting it off as long as I can. Because this laptop is so old, it still needs a pretty light installation if it's going to run KDE well. I tried SUSE 9.1 on it about a year ago, but even dragging windows around was painfully slow. After a very impressive experience with Puppy Linux I considered using it. But I decided I wanted to go for a KDE-based distro. I had read a lot about Vector Linux being great at bringing older hardware back to life; it also has a SOHO version which is KDE-based so I wanted to give it a try.

Vector Linux 5.0 SOHO ISO fits on a single CD and is based on Slackware 10.1. Vector distinguishes itself by producing a light and fast desktop while preserving usability and flexibility found in other, larger distros like Red Hat or Ubuntu. Vector claims to be the fastest non-source Linux distribution; at the risk of being anti-climactic, I'll go ahead and say that it is a pretty fair boast. I found the speed of the "beefier" SOHO edition to be comparable to Puppy Linux or Damn Small, and neither of those loads a full KDE desktop.

Because the CD/DVD-ROM is going out I was unable to get it to boot from the CD-RW ISO I burned. I copied it to a CD-R and even when it would boot from that (about 50% of the time) it would get errors half-way through and I would have to start over. So I removed the hdd and installed it in my main notebook. I installed Vector using that laptop and put it back in the old one when it said to reboot.

The install process was very simple and straight-forward. Users with a very basic understanding of Linux and fairly common hardware should have no problem with the installation. The installation was the fastest I'd ever experienced and presented me with enough options so I felt "in control", but it was automated enough so that a new user won't get too lost.

After the initial install, I moved the hdd back to the old Toshiba. It booted fine and finalized the installation. The first time (yes, I Installed more than once) I was able to log in as root with a command-line interface and run through the Vector Linux configuration program, VASM. The automated detection options found the new hardware without much need of intervention from me. Once complete I was able to start X and use KDE.

Vector Linux offers a few common commands listed when you use a terminal emulatorOne thing I found very impressive about Vector is that when you log in to a text-based interface it displays some common commands such as vasm, vlapt, mc, startx, etc. I don't remember seeing this elsewhere before, but It's possible I have and just don't remember.

Once in KDE, the visible desktop was a small rectangle in the center of the screen. Changing the resolution in control center or vasm did not solve the problem, so I spent a few minutes with xorg.conf and was good to go.

Vector Linux uses slapt-get for package management. This same system is used in Slackware and is very similar to the popular apt system common to Debian-based distros (and gaining popularity in SUSE, as well). Vector provides a slapt-get front-end called vlapt. In keeping with the general Vector theme, vlapt is very light and simple. You can select mirrors, choose packages to update, search for new packages, and many other functions you would expect from a package manager. Of course it is just window dressing for slapt-get, so command line junkies are free to use that, instead. Using vlapt, I've had a few problems with mirrors not updating or packages I search for being found initially, but not installing when selected. Sometimes these problems were fixed with slapt-get --clean at the command line, sometimes not. At any rate. going to the command line to use slapt-get instead of vlapt worked.

Nearly all Slackware 10.1 packages will work with Vector 5.0, so you'll never be too far away from the software you need.

I mentioned I installed Vector more than once...here's why. After playing with Vector for a while I installed enlightenment to see how it did with older hardware. It did very well, but it was a novelty because my wife needed KDE. So I went to slapt-get to uninstall it and before I knew it, pkg, slapt-get, KDE, and several other mostly unrelated packages were getting uninstalled right along with it. I'll take the blame for not checking what was to be uninstalled before confirming it, but I don't think I did anything to make it uninstall so much just to get rid of enlightenment.

So I was left with a machine that was stripped to the bone and decided it would be easier to just reinstall Vector. So I did the laptop-hdd switch-a-roo and reinstalled. The second installation went as smoothly as the first.

There's a far more complete and professional review of Vector Linux at Mad Penguin (that's where I got the idea to try enlightenment). In his review, Adam Doxtater made several mentions of Vector Linux's great community; I'd have to agree that the forums seem very comfortable and inviting even to new Linux users. There is also an IRC channel on freenode at #vectorlinux. The IRC channel seems pretty sleepy, but there is usually a handful of experienced users there who will patiently answer a question if given enough time to respond.

So to wrap this up, I'd highly recommend Vector Linux to anyone wanting to get a modern, fully featured desktop on older hardware, or someone on a quest for speed. I really like this distro because it manages to give the feeling of simplicity and transparency while keeping all the Vector and Slackware packages only a slapt-get command away.

Posted 15 years, 1 month ago on September 1, 2005
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