Final Verdict on Vector Linux

I’ve written in a few places about how my initial impressions of Vector Linux, which were mildly favorable, have given way to a bit of contempt. Here are a few details to explain the change.

First, Vector is based on Slackware — and Slackware is good. I think one of the reasons I’ve liked Slackware so much is that it doesn’t throw “HEY $USER, THIS IS F***NG SLACKWARE!” in your face with all kinds of branding the way other distros do. I’m not totally opposed to that (after all, I helped do some of that for DSL), just in good measure and in good taste. Where Slackware is kind of plain, the Vector developers seemed to think it was a place needing eye candy and telling the user what distro is running. So from LILO through the whole process, the user is inundated with ugly blue crap that slows down the whole process. Yes, that can be reconfigured or even turned off. I edited lilo.conf to remove the line for the bitmap that slows down LILO — now I just have a pretty red and yellow ASCII interface from which to select my kernel. I installed without bootsplash (who the hell working in kernel development thinks it’s actually a good idea to cover up boot messages like Microsoft and Apple do and that the kernel is the place to put such bullshit?!). I removed the stupid ASCII penguin that reminded me at every login that I was stupid enough to install Vector instead of Slackware. I deleted a ton of icons, cursors, wallpapers, and other crud that slowed down my computer with stuff that said ‘Vector.’

Second, I didn’t catch this on my laptop install but on a later desktop install: if you choose to install the kernel headers, the headers are for a 2.6.21 kernel. The kernel you install in VL59 is 2.6.22. Double checked and it installed the same mismatched headers on laptop (tg I compiled my own kernel). Just a little thing, really… not.

Third, and speaking of kernels, someone decided to disable kernel and module sections in packaging. So if you need to install a patch for something like vmsplice, you’re SOL unless you know to enable the kernel/modules/patches sections.

Fourth, I don’t buy the line that Vector is “light” in any way, shape, or form. I was stunned to see the resource use in a fresh install with only Xfce running. A lot of that was due to having a big ugly wallpaper (that said Vector, of course) and lots of icons in the menu enabled. And all kinds of processes. And automounting, autorunning, etc. Way too much stuff running by default. Including CUPS. It would be nice to give users a choice to start or not start CUPS rather than presume installing it means it should be running all the time. Umm, no. But that’s an easy enough thing to fix. If only everything were so easy, which brings us to the next point.

Fifth, the packaging isn’t unbloated. That was why I decided to leave their “light” version alone — it uses the same bloated packages. All it does is leave out Xfce and switches a few apps around. Well, I also used their version of jwm and they managed to turn it into something that was nearly every bit as resource-demanding as Xfce was. That led me to enable Slackware-oriented repositories and try KDE. Guess what? I was using less RAM at boot with the Slackware KDE than with Vector Xfce. That should give you an indication of the “thought” that goes into how packages are set up and how distros can make them unusable by throwing in too much aesthetic nonsense.

Speaking of jwm, I ended up recompiling it so it didn’t have blurry fonts or any graphic library support. Yeah, yeah. I know, that means no icons. So what. I know what “gvim” means. I don’t need a picture to sort it out.

Then I went on a bent where I recompiled a lot of stuff because the packages (Vector and Slackware packages alike) weren’t really ideal for older hardware. Or for those who don’t need every single option. Like alsa support for GIMP. Or samba for mplayer. Or guile for elinks. Etc. I ended up removing all sound support on the laptop because I usually have an mp3 player with me. I also replaced some of the GNU bloatware like bash with mksh and trimmed down (ahem, and updated) all the different languages included with Vector — settle on one language if you need GUI tools instead of having one tool written in this language, one tool in that language, etc.

The end result is a computer that’s a lot more stable, more secure (hey Vector, where are your SSL/SSH updates?), uses a lot less RAM, doesn’t overheat except when compiling, and I have a lot more room on my hard drive for my own stuff instead of useless shit (wbar?!) I didn’t want and won’t use.

Oh, one more thing about installing it. Slackware gives you the option to set whatever mount points you want, including /usr/local. Vector has designated options — not user choice — and only will let you set /usr, not /usr/local. You have to set that manually after install if you want to protect anything you compile on your own system between updates.

My final verdict on Vector: it’s a bloated version of Slackware. It has very little to offer in the way of user-friendly tools that aren’t available in Slackware. The trade-off is a bunch of stuff that cruds up your RAM and hard drive — graphics screaming at you about which distro you’re using, too many and too big icons, smaller repository with little if any difference between Slackware packages, etc. You can live with that if you want. If not, you should just use Slackware — you really aren’t giving up too much in the way of ease because Slackware has excellent documentation.

I’m at a cross roads with this laptop. I’ve not yet decided if I’m leaving Vector on it, installing ‘core, or going back to BSD.

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7 Responses to “Final Verdict on Vector Linux”

  1. Final Verdict on Vector Linux Says:

    […] Go to the author’s original blog: Final Verdict on Vector Linux […]

  2. rockym93 Says:

    Why don’t you just quit whining about it and use Slackware then?

  3. lucky Says:

    This is a blog and I’m not whining about anything. I’m explaining some very significant shortcomings in one distribution that bills itself as “light” and fast. It’s neither. Got a problem with anyone telling others that? Or can I only blog about shit that you find agreeable?

    If you like bloat, if you like installing mismatched kernel headers, if you like installing developmental releases rather than stable (which is a point I didn’t raise in this entry and VL59’s abiword version), if you like broken scripts, if you like having one language just to run one or two scripts or apps, if you like being told at every point in your session — from boot to shutdown — which distro you’re using, then Vector is probably perfect for you.

  4. jason5876 Says:

    You know, I used VL almost exclusively for about a year, back when 4.0 was the current release. 4.0 and previous VL releases reminded me of DSL in a lot of ways ( I didn’t happen upon DSL until later). Vector was my second distro, after SuSE. So it was indeed a welcome change of pace. I loved it. It was very light and fast. And required some Linux knowledge to use, but not quite as much as Slack. But in 4.3 the bloat started and by version 5.0 even the default icewm started to feel slow. Vector had become nice and easy on the eyes, but at the expense of performance. Vector is what I call “Slackbuntu”. It is basically to Slackware what Ubuntu is to Debian.
    I owe Vector a high place in my Linux history since it introduced me to the small distro scene. But they have done a 180 in direction in recent years. I too wish they would by now quit billing themselves as small, fast, and light. They are not a hair lighter now than Ubuntu (minus Gnome) with the same package selection. For normal people nowadays the Vector or Ubuntu way of things is a good thing. They prefer the eye candy and automation even if it is at a high cost to memory and cpu usage. But you and I both know that we are not normal people. Hence our choice in distros…

  5. lucky Says:

    Hi Jason. I haven’t messed about much with *buntu so I can’t do a healthy comparison. I initially almost installed Xubuntu instead of Vector on this but wrote it off because I’d recently deleted Debian from a desktop hard drive and thought a “lighter” 2.6 distro might have less bloat, more streamlined packaging, etc. Live and learn.

    I left out one important nugget from my article because I haven’t booted their stock kernel in quite a while. I did this morning. Then I remembered:

    % ps aux | grep fs
    root 175 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S< 06:02 0:00 [jfsIO]
    root 176 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S< 06:02 0:00 [jfsCommit]
    root 177 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S< 06:02 0:00 [jfsSync]
    root 178 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S< 06:02 0:00 [xfslogd/0]
    root 179 0.0 0.0 0 0 ? S< 06:02 0:00 [xfsdatad/0]

    Those kernel threads tell me they compiled xfs and jfs into the kernel. I double checked and noticed the fs modules (no xfs or jfs, so it’s in kernel) to make sure. Guess I should’ve just looked at their config:
    % grep -i jfs config-2.6.22.14
    CONFIG_JFS_FS=y
    CONFIG_JFS_POSIX_ACL=y
    CONFIG_JFS_SECURITY=y
    # CONFIG_JFS_DEBUG is not set
    # CONFIG_JFS_STATISTICS is not set

    % grep -i xfs config-2.6.22.14
    CONFIG_XFS_FS=y
    CONFIG_XFS_QUOTA=y
    CONFIG_XFS_SECURITY=y
    CONFIG_XFS_POSIX_ACL=y
    CONFIG_XFS_RT=y

    That’s a lot of dead weight to throw into a kernel for file system options many users won’t want. Let alone the mismatched headers they shipped with it in the 5.9 ISO. It would be nice if they’d spent as much time properly, and more considerately, configuring a kernel as they spent on graphics, icons, bootsplash…

    I’ve made so many changes to this install that it’s no longer VL. I don’t know yet if or when I’m installing something else over it but when I do it’ll definitely be something more minimalist and unbloated that lets me build what I want rather than un-do stuff and then rebuild like I did. My next article will be about some of the stuff I’ve changed around and one the things I’m going to try — if I go FUBAR, I guess I’m one step closer to installing core or DragonFlyBSD (at least til OpenBSD 4.4 is released).

    (edited to clarify previous Debian install)

  6. redandwhitestripes Says:

    After reading your verdict I took VL off my system and switched to an LXDE version of Puppy Linux which, I hope, is less bloated. Maybe you can confirm that?

    • lucky Says:

      I don’t have high impressions of Puppy since it runs exclusively as root. This is what gets Windows users in trouble — running as administrator, running as root. Puppy ignores one of the best aspects of Unix-like systems in separating privileges and permissions and instead offers what Windows 95 did. Not good! If you use Puppy or otherwise run your Linux system as root, you’re relying on security through obscurity. That’s not security. That’s obscurity, and any apps that can be compromised could provide attackers easy access to your data and your system.

      Hopefully the next version of Vector will be much improved and more attention will be paid to details like how the default kernel is configured rather than loading up RAM with logo’ed wallpapers. As sloppy and bloated as I think VL 5.9 is, at least it doesn’t run as root by default like Puppy. There are much better options available than Puppy, IMO.

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