Reconsidering Vector

I noted in my entry yesterday that I’m thinking of doing a low resource slackbuild. Part of the reason for that is my experience with both Slackware and Vector Linux. Not to mention my experiences with Damn Small Linux in both traditional and frugal installs.

Now that I’ve had a few months to use Vector, I’ve found several things that cause me second thought about recommending it. I’ll check the Vector forums later today to see if these are issues others have dealt with. Last time I went to the Vector site, it had been hacked (search my vectorlinux category for screenshots).

(Edit noon CDT: I’ve been to the Vector forums and I’m awaiting approval to post in their forums.)

First, upgrade options in gslapt have been disabled. This means users are unable to upgrade their systems using the default package management system’s GUI. I haven’t found out yet if it’s still possible via slapt-get or other parts of pkgtools. I can’t blame Vector for conflicts due to using different repositories, but Slackware and slacky.eu repositories are NOT suitable across the board for use in Vector. I found this out when trying to update OpenSSH and getting an error from SSL not matching the version against which SSH was compiled. Easy fix to revert to the older version. I still haven’t found the security update for OpenSSH in Vector’s repositories, though. Which is the underlying issue for me — security and upgrade-ability.

Second, the base packages are very bloated. I appreciate the desire to make the system usable by everyone without having to add font packages, but the tools for using the included Ethiopian fonts aren’t included. If you’re not going to include the tools to use the fonts, don’t bloat up users’ hard drives with 50+ MB of fonts! Geez. Add to that the dependencies which many packages have been compiled — e.g., requiring samba to run mplayer. Little thought given to users who may not install/keep samba. Like the security issue noted above, that means more work compiling myself. And I was trying so hard to not do that on this ancient laptop.

Also, the included wallpapers and icons aren’t what I consider light or fast. They’re pretty heavyweight compared to other options. This is noteworthy when considering the 82 lines in .jwmrc with icons — some of them being scalable, some of them being quite large, and the menu icon itself being over 40kb. All of that crap loads to RAM and causes performance issues as jwm has to scale the various and sundry icons. I realize my own jwm configuration is spartan and probably not to most users’ tastes, but there has to be a reasonable approach to this. And I’m not arguing for removal of all icons from .jwmrc, just use sensibly-sized icons that don’t cause users to use the same amount of RAM to use jwm as they use for Xfce!

Third, there are several bugs to be sorted out. For example, the setconsolefont script is broken (line 41):

/usr/bin/setconsolefont: line 41: $REPLY: ambiguous redirect
putfont: KDFONTOP: Operation not permitted

While that’s not particularly serious (setfont /path/to/consolefont), I’ve had several getty issues on my laptop. Suspend/tuxonice doesn’t work and causes me to lose all video whether in X or console if I go idle. If I kill X, I don’t get any video input — just a blank screen. I can blindly type “startx” to get back to X but can’t view any console output.

Fourth, another sort of minor thing that isn’t very minor: I also noticed that my wireless router light would continue to flash for a few minutes after I shut down. I found that /etc/wireless/interface.conf listed INTERFACE=”wlan0″ instead of eth0, which is where my interface was set up using VASMCC — Vector’s own tool.

There are a few other issues that I’ve wrestled with but these are the ones that come to mind. While I still think Vector is commendable and headed in the right direction, I can’t recommend it to inexperienced users. I also think in some ways experienced users wanting a Slackware-based desktop would be better served using Slackware in the first place. The packages are going to be about the same. I’ve already recompiled more things than I wanted to, and here I am thinking of removing X altogether and rebuilding the system to pare down the bloat. I just think Slackware’s minimal install with a few select packages is a more sensible choice than Vector for someone wanting a low-resource system.

I intend to check out Vector’s lighter project soon. Maybe that will be better, maybe not. I don’t think it’s adequate to offer jwm and/or fluxbox and call it “light.” There’s more of a need for a paradigm shift to it than merely remixing apps and window managers. Anyone can do that and the world doesn’t need more sub-distro remixes masquerading as “new” distros. Will it actually use distinct, separate packaging with minimal associated bloat? Or will someone ostensibly update to full-blown Vector when installing something from the repo because the apps aren’t compiled with forethought to keeping the system as small and unbloated as possible?

If it’s the latter, no deal. If not, there won’t be any need for me to continue with my low resource slackbuild. Or to be a little more cautious about recommending Vector without qualifying it.

EDIT: I resolved the issue with losing ttys after killing X by modprobe vga16fb (I don’t need framebuffer before X but I do after?). I’m still sorting out tuxonice. Or giving up on it. I’m also still waiting for activation for the Vector forums. Registered once, just hit my second ‘resend activation code’ button today.

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2 Responses to “Reconsidering Vector”

  1. mzucker007 Says:

    Have you looked at Zenwalk Linux? (http://www.zenwalk.org/)

    I’ve been running it on my old t23 Thinkpad. I even managed to get the wireless working (using madwifi and my Atheros card).

  2. lucky Says:

    Yes, I tried the (last? only?) beta for 5.0 before the RC was released and before trying Vector. Same problem I’m complaining about Vector, too — the packages really aren’t built with lower-end users in mind. The two aren’t that different. Both are Slackware-based, both have similar default mixes of apps, both use Slack packaging.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong and Zenwalk packagers are more inclined to reduce/minimize dependencies than to add in every possible feature.

    Zenwalk core edition is on my list to try as a base for the lower resource build above that (choice is between that, Vector without X, Slackware current minimal, or start from scratch). I’m in the middle right now of backing up /home. Not sure I’m going to install anything this week because my schedule is too full for me to make much progress. Depends, too, how close the NBA playoffs are this week (priorities) and if you correct me per the above paragraph.

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