When Choice Matters: VectorLinux SOHO 5.1 rc2
"VectorLinux is a small, fast, Linux operating system for Intel, AMD and x86 compatible systems, based on one of the original Linux distributions, Slackware." The developers unleashed released candidate 2 of the small office - home office edition on Jan. 4, 2006, and since we've never tested any Vector, we thought it was time. The soho edition, "as its name implies, is a distro aimed at Small Office and Home Office users."
Some of the features of the Soho version include:
- OpenOffice productivity suite.
- Business applications for personal information, finances, and database work.
- Powerful web development tools, including a local server.
- Graphics editors, from simple to advanced.
- Complete Internet applications pack, including Firefox web browser with preconfigured PDF, MPlayer, FlashPlayer and Java plugins
- Multimedia and entertainment, for music and video playing and even web content streaming.
- Internet and local Network connectivity.
- Support for peripherals including printers, scanners, digital cameras, fax/modems.
The installer appears to be based on Slackware's ascii-graphic installer. If not, it certainly shares a similar appearance. The installer worked flawlessly and walked me through a complete install and setup. It includes some great extra configurations, such as specific keyboards, without overkill or adding confusion for the user. The only problem I saw with it was during choosing from a list of a few extra packages of libraries and drivers. This list included such as rt2004 and zd1201. As I didn't know what they were, I figured I didn't need them. Whereas this method works for me, it may not work for a new comer who hasn't heard what their drivers are called or what libraries they'll needed for their given needs. Otherwise the installer was straight-forward and can practically guarantee a successful install. One of the cute extras I observed was at the start of the system/package installation phase, a message was offered stating, "You may leave if you want." teehee But if you do, you'll miss the scrolling message above the progress bar first giving the forum ip addy and then the nicks of the developers. The rest was fairly standard giving the user a chance to setup a hostname, root password and user account(s). Given the opportunity to install lilo, make a boot floppy or skip this step was appreciated here. It appears one is given the choice of two kernels: a 2.4.29 or 2.6.13. I chose 2.6.13.
During the install you are given your choice of type of login:
- Text Server
- Text Desktop
- Graphical Server
- Graphical Desktop
First boot stops to check the filesystem, or it did in my case as I chose ext3. Then I looked away to make a note and the system rebooted. I expected a failure. Second boot it updated libraries and did some last minute configuration, then I was taken to my chosen graphical login. At that point I surmised the initial reboot was normal.
The graphical login is quite pretty with a theme that I will come to discover matches the desktop. One is given a choice between KDE and XFCE4. Both desktops were quite pretty, although KDE defaults the plastic theme and default kde colors. Xfce4 was plain gorgeous, using the same VectorLinux wallpaper as KDE and utilizing a lovely theme. The default wallpaper is a pretty yet professional looking background in shades of blue featuring the Vector logo. Included are the standard kde wallpapers as well as at least a couple variations of the Vector background.
The menus are quite healthy with many application for most all of your small or home office needs. There are text editors, word processors and desktop publishing. There are image viewers, photo viewers, and image capture and manipulation. There are finance applications, spreadsheets, and mobile device synchronization. And of course there are plenty of internet and multimedia applications as well.
There are quite a few system tools as well. Besides the usual SysV editor and popular system monitoring applications, one finds gkrellm, gslapt, and Vasm (Vector's own Administration System & Menu). Inside this Vasm one finds a plethora of modules for configuring hardware, services, and system setup.
Upon the desktop is an icon labeled vector-help. That opens firefox to a local index file that can lead one to local help files, online documentation or the vector forums for example.
Multimedia isn't neglected in this office version of Vector. In the menus we can find ogle dvd player, xine media player, and xmms. Ogle played an encrypted dvd here with no problems and xine did a wonderful job playing mpegs and avis here. Xmms had no problems with music cds either. You may think this is a given, but I've tested several distros in which xmms refused to work. Mplayer is in the package list, although I didn't see it in the menu.
And true to their claims, browser plugins worked out-of-the-box here as well.
Some little problems encountered here include a lack of mysql (although sqlite is listed in packages as well). I figure a distro for small office and server use should probably contain mysql. In fact, I couldn't even find it available in slapt-get. Speaking of server, I wasn't able to find this small local web server mentioned as included either. That doesn't mean it's not really there somewhere, I just gave up looking for it before I found it. My scanner functioned only after editing the usual /etc/sane.d file. Gslapt is listed in the menus and a binary is available in /usr/sbin, althought I could not get it to open here (cli slapt-get worked fine). As root I got display errors and as user I got permission problems. Bearing in mind this is still a release candidate, I have high hopes this matter will be resolved before final.
Some version numbers of interest include:
- kernel-source 2.6.13
- Full list
I liked VectorLinux very much. I found it to be quite stable and functional with great performance. The desktops were very pretty, polished and professional with limited but very nicely rendered fonts. The list of included applications was more than adequate for just about any generic office needs, or at least a solid foundation. I can envision my small office running Vector on a daily basis. I thought it was a wonderful binary distribution and I don't hesitate to recommend it for a second.