Vector Linux SOHO 5.9 Deluxe -- Not Just For The Office

By Caitlyn Martin
July 22, 2008 | Comments: 33

Last year I wrote a review of Vector Linux 5.8 Standard for O'Reilly in January. Five months later I decided a new review was in order for Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO because the two weren't based on the same code and the changes were great enough to make the SOHO release seem like an entirely different version from Standard. This past March I reviewed Vector Linux 5.9 Standard and once again I find the changes in the SOHO release warrant a separate review.

For those not familiar with Vector Linux it's a decade old distribution based on Slackware that provides many of the user friendly tools and features offered by the largest and most popular distributions. I've often compared the Standard edition to Xubuntu with it's relatively lightweight Xfce default desktop while the SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) edition is comparable to Kubuntu, with a fully integrated KDE desktop. That hasn't changed. In addition Vector Linux SOHO 5.9 remains a 32-bit operating system. The 64-bit version of Standard is still in beta an no plans for a 64-bit SOHO edition have been announced, a fact which may limit interest somewhat even though the 32-bit release runs perfectly well on most 64-bit systems.

The change that will probably raise the most eyebrows is that SOHO is no longer available for free download. You can purchase the two CD set of the Deluxe version from the Vector Linux CD Store for US$24.99 or download it from MadTux for $19.99. The single CD basic version is only available from MadTux at $14.99. I should point out that all the packages which make up SOHO Deluxe (with the sole exception of themes and artwork) are in the Vector Linux repositories and it is certainly possible to start with the free Standard version, do all the package upgrades and add all the missing packages to roll your own SOHO. There are also no license restrictions and there is no EULA as is found on most paid distros. You can buy once and install as many times as you like and on as many machines as you like. What you are paying for is the convenience of receiving the isos or discs, the tight integration of the KDE environment into Vector Linux, and, of course, you are supporting the distro. This review is based on the two isos available for paid download. In the interest of full disclosure I'll also report that Vector Linux founder Robert Lange gave me access to the isos at no cost for review about two weeks before the official release date so I've been running 5.9 SOHO for almost six weeks. Providing me with a copy is no guarantee of a good review as the folks at Freespire found out last year.

Thanks to some hardware issues I once again found myself testing Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO on my five and a half year old Toshiba Satellite 1805-S204 (1 GHz Celeron processor, 512MB RAM). As I reported in my review of 5.8 SOHO last year other KDE-based distros range from sluggish to impossibly slow on this old machine. I had always assumed this is because KDE consumes more memory than GNOME or Xfce and because it always needs the dcopserver running in the background. Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO proved me wrong and showed me that KDE can be built for speed. 5.9 continues to perform well on this system. If it's reasonably fast on this old notebook it will fly on an up-to-date system.

Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO is the most polished release to date, 5.9 Standard included. Most of the issues I raised in my March review have been addressed and I've only found a couple of truly minor bugs to report. Installation and configuration is still significantly more challenging than Ubuntu or Mandriva, for example, but the end result is likely to have fewer bugs and superior performance. I've read past reviews by other reviewers describing Vector Linux as "better Slackware than Slackware" or "what Slackware should be" and I always felt that was a bit of a stretch. With this release it isn't. You get all the reliability and stability of Slackware, better performance than vanilla Slack (at least on my hardware) and the features and most of the conveniences users of distributions touted as user friendly have come to expect. Vector Linux still has some shortcomings but I have yet to find a distribution that doesn't.

Installation and Configuration

There are two supported installation methods: a conventional installation booted from CD-ROM and a hosted, scripted installation booted from another Linux distribution already running on the system. While I've only done a conventional installation with VL 5.9 SOHO the scripts provided for Standard worked well and have not been changed for SOHO. They allow for installation from an .iso image on a mounted filesystem or from a CD-ROM drive that isn't bootable. Directions and all the tools needed for a hosted installation from DOS or Windows are also provided. Installation across a network and automated installations, such as Red Hat's kickstart, are not supported, a fact which is unfortunate for an "Office" edition.

The base installation only uses the first CD or iso. The second disc contains additional software packages which can be added after the system is up and running correctly. Vector Linux still uses a text-based installer similar to Slackware which is fine as far as I am concerned. A graphical installer is still promised for Vector Linux 6. You need at least 3.6GB for a reasonably complete installation of the base system. Adding a large selection of software from the second CD can easily push that number past the 6GB mark. That number does not include space for a home directory or swap.

The installer and the documentation are in English, period. No other languages are supported despite continued progress in other areas of internationalization and localization.

Disk partitioning is handled by cfdisk in all editions of VL 5.9. ext3, reiserfs, jfs, xfs, and ext2 are all supported. A list of common mount points is provided but the ability to define a non-standard mount point for a partition is still lacking. Vector Linux uses lilo for the bootloader. The option to pass custom parameters to the kernel is offered and the installer includes a good explanation of how to set the hibernation resume partition to the swap partition for TuxOnIce.

Hardware detection has been an issue in previous versions of Vector Linux. The one area that still doesn't work quite as it should for me is X configuration. If I allow vxconf to probe my video card and display it suffers from the same issue as all previous 5.x releases of VL. When I booted up to the GUI I was once again left with a small display in the middle of my screen surrounded by lots of black space. No amount of fiddling with X configuration in vasm (the GUI configuration tool) can make it work the way it should. It turns out the Monitor section of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file doesn't have proper horizontal and vertical refresh rates set and you are warned about this possibility by the installer. In addition, some options required by my laptop screen aren't set. One other option available, to use a default vesa configuration, results in a blank screen on my laptop. An additional option introduced in Vector Linux 5.9 Standard was to select a default fbdev configuration. I hadn't tried that before writing my March review and it turns out that does, in fact, work properly on my system. So while the automated X configuration still leaves something to be desired it turns out that with some trial and error I can correctly configure X without manually editing the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, something which wasn't true on Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO.

In addition the installer doesn't setup the system to load the kernel modules needed to fully support my laptop at boot. I had to manually add:

modprobe toshiba

to my /etc/rc.d/rc.modules file to partially correct this. The toshiba_acpi module isn't even included in the Vector Linux kernel. (It is included in Slackware 12.x.) On a desktop system this wouldn't be an issue, of course, but I suspect at least some other laptop users, not just those of us with Toshiba machines, will need to do some tweaking by hand to get their laptops to be 100% functional under Vector Linux and a custom kernel compilation is not out of the question.

One unique option in the Vector Linux installer which was introduced in Vector Linux 5.9 Standard is the ability to chose between HAL and VL-Hot for managing removable media. HAL, used by most distributions, continually polls the hardware and can have a performance impact on slower machines. VL-Hot is triggered by udev events and offers faster performance, a definite benefit when running a KDE desktop on old hardware like mine.

Free Software Foundation purists will likely continue to be unhappy with Vector Linux as updated proprietary NVidia and ATI drivers are included. However, they are no longer installed automatically. You can select them during installation if you need them. The madwifi driver for my Atheros chipset based wireless card was installed automatically.

The installer allows the user to include or exclude large blocks of software, development packages, kernel sources, and even X, but does not allow for individual package selection within these groups. A number of optional packages are then offered which can be individually selected. For example, KDE is included in the X group but the lightweight Fluxbox window manager is an option. Two browsers, Konqueror and Seamonkey, are installed by default, with Firefox, Opera, and Dillo offered as options. OpenOffice is installed by default and Scribus, a desktop publisher, is an installer option. GIMP, which was left out of the Vector Linux 5.9 Standard iso, is included again in SOHO.

Printing and wireless networking aren't handled by the installer and have to be configured after the system boots up for the first time. Expect to go into vasm or vasmCC to choose what services to start at boot as well. Once the installation is complete and you do reboot you get to choose from a number of attractive, well designed custom Vector Linux themes for KDE. The option to use none of the above and run kpersonalizer instead is also offered.

KDE default desktop

Changes Since Vector Linux 5.9 Standard and Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO

Many applications have been updated since Vector Linux 5.9 Stardard was released and pretty much everything has been upgraded since Vector Linux 5.8 SOHO. In my January review of 5.9 Standard I lamented the inclusion of some bleeding edge versions of common applications, a number of which were broken to one degree or another. The Vector Linux developers have backed away from that approach and have gone almost exclusively with stable releases in SOHO. For example, VL did not follow the lead of Fedora 9 or some smaller distros by offering KDE 4.x as the default desktop. They wisely went with the very reliable and proven KDE 3.5.9 instead. Firefox 3 was still in the release candidate stage at the time SOHO 5.9 was finalized so version is included. Other applications include OpenOffice 2.4.0, GIMP 2.4.6, and Seamonkey 1.1.9. Koffice 1.6.3 and KDEwebdev 3.5.9 (including Quanta Plus) are now on the second disc or iso.

vasmCC, a new fully graphical Control Center, was introduced as an alternative front end to vasm, the Vector Linux system configuration tool, in Vector Linux 5.9 Standard and it is also included in SOHO. VLThemeSet is a new Vector Linux exclusive utility which does precisely what you'd expect from it's name. vburn, a new lightweight mostly graphical CD burning utility developed for the forthcoming Vector Linux Light is also included as an option in SOHO for those who want something simpler that k3b.

Multimedia applications including Amarok, Xine, and MPlayer have all been updated. Canada has no equivalent to the DMCA so all the libraries and Win32 codecs are installed by default. Vector Linux is ready to play your mp3 files and DVDs. People in the United States will need to remove some packages after installation, particularly libdvdcss and codecs-win32, in order to comply with the law.

Under the hood Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO uses a kernel, an incremental upgrade from 5.9 Standard. An upgraded kernel is currently in testing.

One of the most interesting new tools introduced in Vector Linux 5.9 Standard is vpackager, a remarkably easy to use graphical tool to build packages from source. I suspect a lot of relatively new Linux users who looked at compiling software as a daunting task will be surprised at just how easy it can be with vpackager. In addition an experienced user can edit the build script that backends vpackager, in effect allowing just as much control over the compilation process as is available at the command line. In addition to building packages from a compressed source tarball the new version included with VL 5.9 SOHO, vpackager 1.0.11, also works as a graphical front end for CruxPorts4Slack, functionality that wasn't ready when Standard was released. vpackager checks the repositories for both the Crux distribution and a library of ports contributed for Vector Linux. This is one of the innovative tools unique to Vector Linux that sets it apart from other distributions.

Running Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO

I continue to be impressed with what the Vector Linux developers have accomplished with SOHO. There is surprisingly little difference in performance between Vector Linux 5.9 Standard and SOHO despite the KDE desktop. Under heavy load conditions the extra memory consumed by KDE does make a difference. Still, in terms of speed, VL 5.9 SOHO leaves Kubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, and SuSe in the dust, much as 5.8 did. Even vanilla Slackware didn't perform quite as well. I still haven't found another recent KDE release that moves so smoothly and swiftly on my hardware.

As I've noted in past reviews the Vector Linux installer doesn't leave you with a stripped down system to build on the way Ubuntu does. It takes the approach used by larger distributions (i.e.: Fedora, Suse, Mandriva) and gives you a system with a fairly comprehensive set of applications immediately available after installation and configuration. Once you get past installation and configuration Vector Linux is as good as any other distribution in terms of a user friendly, well thought out desktop while offering the stability, reliability, and performance you'd expect from Slackware.

I've only run into two relatively minor bugs with Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO. The ethernet chipset for the built in network port on my venerable laptop uses the eepro100 driver. After using 5.9 SOHO for about a week I booted up the system and found I had no network connectivity. It turned out that the boot process was no longer recognizing my NIC at all. I solved this by manually editing the /etc/rc.d/modules.rc file and uncommenting the line that forces loading of the eepro100 driver. Once I did that I had no further problems. Other users reported in the Vector Linux forum that blacklisting the eepro100 driver worked equally well as the e100 driver is also acceptable for this chipset. It is also likely that upgrading to the newer kernel currently in testing would resolve this issue but I haven't tried that just yet.

The second issue, the one holdover from Vector Linux 5.9 Standard, is that the patches repository isn't enabled by default and, as you'd expect, this is where security patches for software included in VL live. This can be easily corrected in gslapt, the graphical package manager by clicking on Edit->Preferences and then clicking on the Sources tab. The other alternative is to edit the /etc/slapt-get/slapt-getrc file.

I've seen a grand total of one other bug reported in the Vector Linux forum: ALSA configuration in vasmcc (the Vector Linux Control Center) or vasm doesn't launch as it should. A patch to correct this issue has been promised. It does run correctly from the command line. Compared to most major distributions Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO is remarkably bug free.

The Vector Linux 5.9 repositories continue to grow and improve. Unfortunately there is still a rather large backlog of packages in the testing repository that haven't made it to extra just yet. Users may need to enable this repository to find applications they want and then disable it again before doing a system upgrade. The number of packaged applications for Vector Linux still falls far short of what is available for distributions like Debian, Mandriva, Ubuntu, or Fedora.

The Second Disc

The second CD or iso supplied with Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO contains two broad categories of software. First, it contains everything included on the Multimedia Bonus Disc for Vector Linux 5.9 Standard that isn't already included on the first disc. It also includes SOHO Extras, a large variety of packages from the Vector Linux repository, including development tools, games, and server applications.

If you execute from the root directory of the CD-ROM you'll be prompted for your system root password. Once the password is entered a fully graphical installer is launched. The heading on the window that opens read "VL Multimedia Bonus Disc" but the installer does handle all of the software on the disc, not just the multimedia apps.

DIsc 2 installer
The installer presents you with four options. The first is to install everything. This is by far the simplest method but there is a huge amount of rather diverse software and I don't think many people will need or want all that is offered. The second option is "Expert Install (Choose individual packages)." This option is probably the best for most people and really doesn't require much expertise. An Expert Install opens the graphical package manager, gslapt, which is quite similar to Synaptic on a Debian or Ubuntu system. You can check off the packages you want to add to your system and gslapt will automatically add any required dependencies to the installation.
The third option, Overwrite Mode, is really designed for people who tested beta or release candidates of the included software to make sure that all the files from previous installations are replaced. Most users can safely ignore this option. The fourth option is Uninstall, which does precisely what you'd expect.

I should also note that the Multimedia Bonus Disc is also available as a free download for those who purchase the single iso from MadTux or who are running VL Standard. The downloadable version doesn't include the SOHO Extras, so you won't get software like Emacs or the Apache web server. Those would still have to be installed from the repository using either gslapt or slapt-get at the command line. I personally recommend the two disc or two iso set for anyone who decides to purchase SOHO as you really do get a whole lot more software in a very convenient package that doesn't require high speed access.

Anyone who has run previous versions of Vector Linux and who just installed the first disc will wonder where all the games have gone. Yes, they are on the second disc, and there is quite a variety to choose from.

Security Concerns and Package Management

As I have already mentioned Vector Linux uses Slackware Apt for package management, offering the choice of slapt-get at the command line or the graphical gslapt. For straightforward installation of software these tools work extremely well and handle dependency checking flawlessly.

Upgrades are another matter. A command line system upgrade done with the commands:

slapt-get --update
slapt-get --upgrade

has worked perfectly well in Vector Linux since late 2006. Repository management by the Vector Linux team is as good as any other distribution I've tried and I haven't run into the sort of snags some of the big distributions have had from time to time.

gslapt - upgrades disabled
Unfortunately the Vector Linux developers don't seem to trust users who prefer to work within the GUI to judge whether or not a full upgrade is a good idea. If you go to click on the "Mark All Upgrades" button in gslapt you'll see a "Disabled by VL" notice. Disabling that feature is a disastrously bad choice because it makes keeping a system secure difficult for a Linux newcomer or anyone else who isn't terribly comfortable at the command line. There is now no automated method within the GUI to determine what patches are out there and install them. One Vector Linux user called this "nannyism at its worst" and I must say I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, this issue more than any other prevents me from recommending Vector Linux to Linux newcomers. A command line upgrade on a cleanly installed system reveals that most of the new packages, ranging from seamonkey to xine-lib to openssl, are patches for known security vulnerabilities.

One major improvement in the area of security was launched on the same day SOHO 5.9 was released. The new Vector Linux website has an area on the right-hand side of the screen called "News" where all security vulnerabilities and patches are announced. It's also available as an RSS feed. Previously there wasn't one single place Vector Linux users could go to get a definitive list of security issues. While I'd prefer to see security separated from other package news this new functionality is a huge step in the right direction and it eliminates one of my biggest complaints about past versions of VL.

The one significant deficiency in Slackware Apt is that it doesn't do any dependency checking when you remove software. If you try to uninstall something that another application depends on with gslapt or slapt-get it will happily do so with no warning to the user and cause the expected breakage.

Internationalization and Localization

Support for languages other than English is one area where Vector Linux has slowly but steadily been improving over the past couple of years. KDE i18n files and aspell dictionaries for all available languages are included but have to be installed once the system is up and running in English. Bidirectional support for languages written right-to-left such as Arabic and Hebrew is also included. What is still lacking are graphical configuration tools to allow a newcomer to change language, locale, and keyboard settings for the system default, individual users, or on a session by session bases. Language packs for Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird, and Sunbird are all in the repository. Surprisingly Seamonkey language packs aren't included even though that browser is installed by default. Open Office internationalization packages and dictionaries are also still missing.

A wide variety of fonts for languages that use non-Latin character sets are now in the repository. The more exotic ones are no longer installed by default as they were in 5.9 Standard. This is probably a good idea as I can't imagine that a large percentage of Vector Linux users can read or would use Syriac or Ethiopic glyphs, for example.

If your goal is a truly localized system, not just a system running in English with support for other languages, you still need to do significant work to make it happen. The default display manager is a rebuilt, trimmed down version of kdm. As previously noted language and/or locale switching at login is not supported, nor is there any graphical tool to change these settings, either in vasm or stand-alone. If you want to change the default language or locale you have to do it at the command line and/or by editing appropriate configuration files.

Stepping Into The Server Room

As previously mentioned the second disc offers many of the software packages needed to set up common server tasks using Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO. In addition Vector LInux now does sell paid commercial support but the offerings, to this point, remain very limited. A new Server Solutions Disc is now in development and, if coupled with some stronger support offerings, may allow Vector Linux to compete in small and medium sized business server space.


There is no doubt in my mind that Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO Deluxe is the most polished release of Vector Linux to date. There are very few bugs and the ones that do exist are minor and relatively easy to correct. The look and feel of the distro is professional and attractive by default. Installation and configuration continues to improve and on many systems should be straightforward and painless. For newcomers to Linux and those not comfortable in a text-based environment the installation process is still a bit more challenging than some of the more popular, larger distributions. Those with some laptops or some unusual hardware may still have to get under the hood and tweak things a bit more than on some other distributions. Once everything is installed and configured Vector Linux SOHO, for the most part, is very well thought out and easy to use.

Vector Linux offers a number of utilities and applications which are both innovative and unique to this distribution. VL-Hot allows for detection of removable media without constant polling. Vpackager simplifies the task of building custom packages to an extent which is simply not seen in any other distribution. vlsmbmount makes finding and mounting Windows filesystems a snap. The list goes on and on.

The other extremely strong point in favor of any of the Vector Linux flavors, not just SOHO, is performance. Slackware based distributions tend to be good performers to begin with and the Vector Linux developers have streamlined and tweaked everything to get the most from a system.

Internationalization is much improved but is still somewhat incomplete. Localization still isn't up to par with more popular distributions. Automation of security patches and upgrades is not easy for the newcomer due to a conscious choice made by the Vector Linux developers and that is the one compelling reason I still can't recommend Vector Linux for those just starting with Linux. That's truly a shame because in so many other areas VL is intuitive and is no harder to use than distributions who tout themselves as user and newcomer friendly.

Despite the SOHO (Small Office, Home Office) name Vector Linux SOHO is clearly aimed at the home user as well with a large variety of multimedia applications and games on the second disc.

Vector Linux 5.9 SOHO isn't free as in free of cost but the price is modest and there are no restrictions on use. It is probably worth the price of admission for those who know and like Vector Linux already and for anyone who is looking for a Linux distribution that is optimized for performance and who doesn't mind an occasional foray to the command line. Despite the caveats I've raised Vector Linux remains one of my favorite distributions for the desktop. SOHO is the flavor of Vector Linux that has the most to offer in terms of ready to go software for those who like KDE for their desktop environment.

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"Vector Linux SOHO is not available for free" and "There are no license restrictions and no EULA" are interesting statements. Before the flame-wars start, l believe there is nothing wrong with this approach as long as all the packages(and the sources) are made publicly available.

I was very satisfied with vector SOHO 5.8 :-)

I too have been using Vector for about 5 years and find it to be one of the fasted distros out there. I have always enjoyed slackware tremendously. I am lazy and prefer it when the devs do all the work for me. Hardware support and package management are top notch with vector and I look forward installing 5.9 soho.

thanks for the review. I found it very well written and very informative.


@Gigi: I will admit I had some trepidations about reviewing a non-free distribution but, like you, I had been impressed with the previous SOHO release and this one was even better. It's not flawless by any means but it is the only KDE-based distribution I've been satisfied with on my older hardware.

Your point about the packages and sources being available is well taken. Fortunately that is indeed the case with VL SOHO.

@David: Thank you for your kind words. I've played with Vector Linux on and off since version 1.8. It was only with the 5.x series that I seriously began considering it as something I'd want to run on my desktop as my primary distro.

As much as I like Vector Linux I really am looking forward to Wolvix 2.0. That's another Slackware based desktop oriented distribution that has really impressed me.

I have never used/tried Slackware, or any of its offshoots. How easy is it to do distro upgrades? From everything I have read thus far, they don't appear to be as easy as say Ubuntu which does it all via apt-get dist-upgrade or via the Update GUI. You mention that VL has very poor update methodology, and that is the reason why I moved away from Gentoo/Sabayon, so I would not want to revisit that nightmare again...

There are many reasons to switch Distro's. Complete Repositories and automatic update systems are usually top of anyone's short list. For VL to look the other way when it comes to these two things, while focusing on things like GUI eye candy utilities, just baffle's me. Functionality is of course, usually the number two reason for selecting a Distro, and VL does have that, along with stability. Should VL decide to dedicate more effort into the top 3 area's, I would think about switching from Ubuntu to it. The VL devs must stop and ask themselves, why should anyone pay any $$ for a product which does not function properly, or at least as well or better than the leaders in the field - Ubuntu, Fedora, SUSE, Debian which are all free of charge?

@davemc: Actually I think Vector Linux, for the most part, does function properly. It certainly functions a lot better than Ubuntu does in my experience. With Gutsy Gibbon (both 32- and 64-bit) Network Manager would intermittently hang and my wireless connection would disappear. I had to manually kill the process and restart it and sometimes even that wouldn't work. I'd have to reboot which was just plain insane. After I'd boot my laptop sometimes sound would work and sometimes it wouldn't with no apparent pattern and no failure message in the logs. Hardy Heron was a bit better but the fact that Ubuntu had to put out 8.04.1 to fix a significant number of relatively serious bugs speaks volumes.

So... to answer your question, Vector Linux DOES work better than the four distributions you called leaders in the field. I'd argue that Mandriva belongs on that list as well, particularly on the desktop, and I find Mandriva to be better than the four you listed.

You are correct in pointing out that Vector Linux does not support in-place distribution upgrades, That doesn't bother me because I don't believe in in-place upgrades. I've had experiences in Ubuntu, SuSe, and Fedora where those upgrades went anything but smoothly and I ended up needing to do a fresh install. In my experience a fresh install is always the way to go. It's one of the reasons I always recommend that /home be a separate partition so that you don't lose any data when you upgrade the OS.

I wouldn't call something like vpackager "GUI eye candy". Nobody, not even Debian, has a complete repository of everything out there. Making the process of compiling for a source or port easy enough so that most anyone can do it is a major innovation in Vector Linux and a compelling reason to give it a try.

Regarding system updates it's obvious that I agree with you that the Vector Linux developers have made a very poor decision. However, if you aren't afraid of the command line then slapt-get --upgrade does work perfectly well.

The main reason Slackware derivatives like Wolvix and Vector are so appealing is reliability, stability, a relatively small number of bugs compared to some of the distros you mentioned, and above all else performance. If you are using a Netbook/UMPC, older hardware, or just plain pushing your system to its limits having a distro that is optimized for performance is a huge advantage and it's the area where Vector Linux really shines.

No one distro is right for everyone. If you're happy with Ubuntu and the bugs don't effect you then by all means stick with it. VL certainly has a smaller repository than Ubuntu. The real question is does the VL repository have the apps you want? How important is performance to you?

One last point: Mandriva, SuSe, and Red Hat/Fedora all have both paid and free versions. If you like Xfce then Vector Linux 5.9 Standard may be worth looking at and it is freely downloadable. If you prefer KDE you can try before you buy with the free Preview edition of SOHO (non-installable) and decide if it's worth the $20. To me that isn't a lot of money considering the value I get out of the distro. I'm willing to pay $20 to support the development efforts of a distro that I really like.

Thanks for the review. I have been thinking about what distro to move to next.


You do analyze a lot of usability elements like most reviews people do... but how do you manage the system? Imagine that you had several hundred (at least) systems to manage, since your organization was smart enough to realize the value of Linux. How would you deal with that? How would you build an unattended installation process over the network that could handle a range of hardware for example? How would you push updates to the systems? With remote offices? Just some thoughts... If they really are aiming at business use that is...

Incidentally, you can buy a perfectly legal copy of Vector Linux for a lot less money on EBay. I think I may do this, since I'm curious about it, but it's not likely to be my main distro.

I used to run Vector Linux 5.8 from time to time, and it was one of the fastest smoothest experiences I ever had with Linux. The most amazing thing was that Vecor automatically detected my nVidia card, and automatically installed the proprietary driver. The first time it happened, I was blown away.

The fly in the ointment was a somewhat limited selection of easily available software. It was actually pretty good bun nothing like those debian repositories.

@stephan: I did not say nor do I believe that Vector Linux is ready for the enterprise. I clearly pointed out that network installation and automated installation were lacking. Where Vector Linux may be suitable for business is small to medium sized businesses that have very few servers. When you only have a handful of servers the effort to setup automated or network installs is actually greater than just doing a straightforward install and cloning.

The needs of a small business are not the same as the needs of a large business. Your questions all address the needs of large businesses. It's called "Small Office, Home Office" for a reason. Large businesses are not the intended market... at least not yet.

@blackbelt_jones: Are the copies on eBay VL Standard or SOHO? If someone took SOHO and copied it and is selling it for fun and profit for a few bucks less I sure wouldn't buy it. The main point of buying SOHO is to support the distribution.

The repositories are growing but they will never match Debian because there simply aren't as many volunteers building package. The community is smaller. I do believe that most things most people want are there. The whole purpose of vpackager is to make it easy for people who want something not packaged for Vector Linux or Slackware to build there own package relatively easily. It's an innovative solution, don't you think?

Caitlyn, I haven't run Vector since 5.8, and while I did like it, I didn't like it as much as Wolvix. I had no idea that a Wolvix 2 was imminent, but I'd sure like to see that happen.

Also, I agree with you about a separate /home partition. I just wish that I actually did it more than occasionally.

And now that Vector is selling this thing, do they promise a definite period of support as far as updates go?

One thing that you might be able to answer for me is a question about kernel updates.

Debian seems to update its kernels all the time. But Slackware doesn't. There's been one kernel update so far in 2008 for Slackware, and it doesn't look like there are any for 2007 (or I can't find any on the Slackware security page).

And in Wolvix at least, Gslapt is configured NOT to update the kernel.

Is the kernel update procedure for Slackware (and by extension Wolvix, Vector and ZenWalk) radically different from that of Debian? And if so, are there security compromises being made on one side or another?

"Still, in terms of speed, VL 5.9 SOHO leaves Kubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, and SuSe in the dust, much as 5.8 did." ... sounds great, but can we have some numbers? Boot times? Startup times of the desktop? Startup times of applications? Reboot times? anything ...

@Steven Rosenberg: I'm not sure Wolvix 2 is imminent. There is a notice on the new Wolvix website from Wolven saying it's being actively developed but that they are not ready to announce a date for even an alpha version. Wolvix 1.1 is getting pretty long in the tooth so I hope it isn't a long wait.

If you've followed my Vector Linux reviews you know that I believe there has been significant improvement in each release. The difference between 5.8 Standard (12/06) and now is huge. You may want to give it another look.

Vector is only selling the Deluxe and SOHO versions. Deluxe has always been pay to play. Standard, Light, and 64 are still all freely downloadable. As far as I know support has always been community based and open ended, meaning that so long as someone can answer any questions they will. I do not know what their paid support policies are in terms of how long a version will last.

Regarding kernel updated, I hope you aren't doing upgrades. I always recommend installing the new kernel side by side with the old one. That way if the new kernel has an issue on your system you're not left with something you can't boot. I've been known to end up with six or seven kernels on a system at times.

Kernel installation or upgrades are fundamentally the same on any Linux distro. The packaging system varies but the kernel really doesn't. Debian seems to roll out a new kernel whenever a patch is needed for security reasons or whenever significant new hardware support is offered. Vector Linux tends to offer a package that patches the kernel when there is a security issue and only seems to offer a new kernel sporadically. Wolvix uses the Slackware repository for kernels so they track Slack. Slackware seems to post new kernels for significant security issues or when a new release comes out. I haven't tracked what Zenwalk does. I should note that not all Slackware derivatives track Slack. Many do their own thing.

I think all the distros you asked about take security pretty seriously. I'd have to look at all the Debian kernel release announcements in order to form an opinion about whether or not any of the others are missing anything in terms of security. I do know that when the vmsplice kernel vulnerability was posted it took the Vector Linux developers a matter of hours to post a patch.

I hope I've answered your questions. Obviously in some cases I just don't know a definitive answer.

@Andreas: Sorry, I didn't do any benchmarking so it is a relative, subjective comparison. How about this: KDE is slower than molasses running uphill in the wintertime running Kubuntu on my system. It is almost unusable. It's responsive and very usable under Vector Linux.


****Are the copies on eBay VL Standard or SOHO? If someone took SOHO and copied it and is selling it for fun and profit for a few bucks less I sure wouldn't buy it. The main point of buying SOHO is to support the distribution.

Well, I appreciate that, but my circumstances are going to dictate my choice, whatever that will be. According to my understanding of the GPL, this is a legal practice, and I put the information out there for the benefit of those who genuinely feel they can't afford the thirty dollars. I just cancelled my Netlix account because I need to cut back on expenses, and I'm probably not going to be able to justify this expenditure just to satisfy my curiosity.

@blackbelt_jones: I hope I didn't imply that copying and reselling was illegal. If I did then I apologize for not communicating clearly. It may be ethically questionable for the seller to do this in my opinion, but it certainly isn't illegal. I also understand about tight budgets and I wasn't being critical of you. I was just trying to point out why buying directly from the distributor is, again in my opinion, a good idea.

One minor quibble/correction: the cost is $25 for the two CDs by mail, $20 for direct download from a high speed server for two isos, and $15 for the single iso basic version. Nobody should be spending $30.

Hi. I like your review very much, from now on I'll be a dedicated reader here :P

I certainly agree that it is a good idea to support the Vector distribution if you can, but selling Linux CDs is a perfectly respectable cottage industry. I've bought CDs from the particular vendor before, and I think he's been doing the community a real service for years. I bought my first copy of centOS from this guy four years ago, when I didn't have broadband, and you wouldn't believe the level of friendly email support I got for my handful of dollars. Right now, he's selling several linux distros, most of them are available as a free download.

I think it's exactly as ethical to charge 5.49 including shipping for two Linux CDs as it is for Vector to charge 20 bucks for them, or for CentOS to give away remastered RHEL code for free. There are all sorts of ways in which giving people who can't afford it access to Vector Linux can benefit Vector Linux in the end. Likewise with RHEL.


Vector should really start offering the option to fully encrypt your harddrive during installation, or at least the possibility to use luks. All major distro's inlcude this feature by now ( see debian, slackware 12.1, ubuntu, suse, etc.)

I tried luks on vector 5.9 standard. And i couldn't make it happen. Though on slackware 12.1 it's easy.

You will learn to appreciate harddisk encryption once your hardware get's stolen. (imagine some dopehead browsing through your pictures, email, financial data, etc.)

It's really a basic feature nowadays.

@Dopher: It is certainly possible to encrypt your hard drive volumes (one or all) in Vector Linux. You are correct that it isn't offered standard but it most certainly can be added. Linux is Linux. Anything that can be made to work in one distro can generally be made to work in all. The question, of course, is how difficult is it. It's more difficult in VL because it's not neatly packaged up for you.

Personally, I disagree with the notion that hard disk encryption is a be-all and end-all way to protect your data. If you lose your encryption key you'll find out just how imperfect a solution it is. It is also a really bad idea on older hardware like the machine I used for my review since it has a major impact on performance.

Should luks and the supporting libraries be packaged for Vector? It's probably a good idea. Did you make a request in the package request section of the Vector Linux forum?

@blackbelt_jones: Your comparison of Vector Linux SOHO to Red Hat Enterprise Linux isn't a valid one. Red Hat (the company) encourages the development of CenIOS and communicates with the distributors. It also offers the source code as your quite correctly point out. Try and sell copies of Red Hat CDs on eBay and see how long it takes for a Red Hat attorney to get in contact with you. They'll probably contact eBay first and get the auctions pulled.

What is happening with VL SOHO CDs on eBay is essentially the same thing. Someone is taking the paid product, not paying for it, and selling it online with no benefit to Vector. The difference is that Red Hat chose to add a restrictive license to their product and Vector did not which makes it legal to sell the SOHO copies. It is, in my view, unethical because it deprives a small but growing Linux distribution one of their few sources of meager income. It's a parasitic venture. Selling VL Standard on any other distro that is offered for free download is a service, a convenience for those without a high speed connection. Copying and selling something that isn't free is an entirely different matter.

What is happening with VL SOHO CDs on eBay is essentially the same thing. Someone is taking the paid product, not paying for it, and selling it online with no benefit to Vector.

Why do you assume that he didn't pay for his own copy?

The difference is that Red Hat chose to add a restrictive license to their product and Vector did not which makes it legal to sell the SOHO copies. It is, in my view, unethical because it deprives a small but growing Linux distribution one of their few sources of meager income. Selling VL Standard on any other distro that is offered for free download is a service, a convenience for those without a high speed connection. Copying and selling something that isn't free is an entirely different matter.

But it is free! It's free software.

How much money do you think this guy is going to make selling Vector at 5 bucks a pop? If he sells 50 copies, , that's maybe 200 dollars. If he makes more than that, he's going to have to work for it. It would be far more parasitical to restrict the flow of software that Vector really didn't create either just because we think that the Vector organization deserves it more.

This is exactly how it is supposed to work. The sharing of software is the primary value. People are allowed to charge money, but not at the cost of the unobstructed flow of software.

I think it's pretty close to perfect. People who can afford it will buy from Vector, and people who can't afford it will buy from the EBay guy, and people decide for themselves if they can afford it or not. I can't imagine a better system. Vector must have anticipated this, and you've got to think that if they aren't going to money out of someone either way, they'd prefer that the person still gets to use their software.

@blackbelt_jones: You asked what I really think. My views aren't going to sit well with you or with anyone else who believes in Free Software Foundation philosophy. You did ask, so I do feel an obligation to give you an honest answer

No, I don't think the Vector Linux folks anticipated this. No, I don't think this is a perfect system or even a good one. I think the Vector Linux developers should have put some restrictions on their license if they wanted to make any money at all. I think having a fully unrestricted license was a mistake. They could have permitted unrestricted use (as many machines as you like) and prohibited resale of the complete isos/CDs without violating the GPL. That's what I would have done and that is what I would advocate that they do in the future. Such a license would be far less restrictive than what Red Hat or SuSe or Freespire do but would still protect their interests.

I told you that you wouldn't like my answers. Then again, I have never been a Free Software advocate as you probably know if you've been reading my O'Reilly posts over the past couple of years.

I get the impression you expect me to be outraged. If you're not an advocate of free software, that's fine. I'm no purist myself... but if this is free software, the free software rules apply. And ethics means playing by the agreed-upon free software rules. It's arrogant to impose your outside ethical standards onto someone else's voluntary arrangement.

I thought that you considered Vector to be the victim here, but I'm starting to see that you don't seem to approve of Vector, either. You're starting to sound like the angry moralist, fretting about what other people do in their own home.

If Vector could have legally prevented the redistribution of Vector SoHo and didn't, how could they not have anticipated and allowed for this? It sounds like they either have the worst lawyer ever, or they made a conscious choice to permit it.

By the way, I decided that I couldn't afford the six dollars either, and so I installed Vector Standard and I'm trying to install KDE and it's not as easy as I'd hoped. I'm not finding all the dependencies in slapt-get. I'm not up for compiling all of KDE's dependencies. Looks like it's back to Kubuntu for me...

@blackbelt_jones: Talk about putting words in my mouth! I'm not trying to impose anything on anyone. I'm not claiming this is a moral issue so the term "moralist" doesn't apply. I do see Vector Linux as the victim of the $5 or $6 eBay sales and I don't see how you can assume that I don't approve of Vector. There is a big difference between believing someone made a mistake and disapproval. My last comments reflected the former, not the latter. I'm certainly not angry. I didn't try to elicit outrage nor did I have any specific expectations about how you'd respond or if you'd respond. We disagree and we've had what I've seen as a respectful discussion about the issues involved.

Regarding KDE dependencies: did you enable the testing repository? If not I suspect that is why you're getting dependency issues as exeterdad (the repository manager) is in the middle of moving things from Testing to Extra and Testing to Patches. I suspect some things you need have been moved and some haven't, hence the dependency issues with some of KDE. If that doesn't solve the problem I'd post a question in the Vector Linux forum. Installing KDE shouldn't be hard and a fair number of VL Standard users have reported it worked for them. In general I find the Vector Linux community very friendly and helpful.

If Kubuntu works for you that's fine. It's too slow for the aging laptop I tested VL SOHO on. That performance difference, for me, is a compelling argument for VL SOHO. It's less of an issue for people running on newer hardware.


First of all, before my critisism ;) i have to say that i really like your articles in general.

Unfortunately it's not just a simple thing in vector like creating or adding a package to use full hd encryption. It's also a kernel parameter (actually 2 i think). Which means you have to recompile a kernel, or create a complex script.

Now i was a bit confused about your remark 'If you lose your encryption key..." That like saying, "please do not lock your car, and leave the key it it, for you might lose it, and then you find out how imperfect key's are"

This is not the point. The point is that with having a mobile device like a laptop, and nowaday's use of computers (we use them for everything) you got lots of data on it that you want to keep private. (since someone might use it for identity theft, using your data to gain money, or other reasons)

Therefore, in my opinion, encryption is a must. (debian, MS vista, SW12.1, ubuntu...etc have it) And should be a basic option, even in Vector.

Are "ethics" and "morality" two different things?

If I'm wrong, this is where I went wrong. I've said everything I possibly could want to say about the ethics of selling Linux disks on Ebay, and I have no desire to prove you wrong (even if I was all that sure that you are) after you wrote such a terrific review of Vector SOHO 5.9. I think I was just irritated at you for presuming my reaction to what you had to say about free software, so I decided to mess with you a little. Sorry about that.

I think free software is great, but it doesn't need to take over the world. Basically it's there to make sure no one else takes over the world. Competition is what makes free enterprise free.

Nope, I didn't enable the testing repository. Thanks. I'll keep that in mind if I ever want to try again.

YOW! Watch out for this!

When I reinstalled Vector, all my ~ configuration files were destroyed, including .fluxbox files I had been working on for several hours today. I guess I had it coming for not backing up the files, but I've been installing, uninstalling, and reinstalling Linux distros promiscuously for a while, and I've never had a distro destroy any data in my seperate /home partition before, certainly not as a default, and what's worse, I think the instructions were pretty confusing. (Obviously, they were confusing enough to confuse me) Here's how I remember it. I think I was asked if I wanted to keep the data in my configuration directories. It thought that was how they put it. The directories were listed, and by default were marked with X's. So I thought an X meant "keep data".

I'd been working all afternoon on a home page for Konqueror, html and icons, linking all over my system. It was pretty gruesome.

I should have backed it up. Doing this a hundred times didn't mean I could do it a hundred and one times, but it's crazy for Vector to create an installer that overwrites data in your home directory by default, without a warning that even an idiot like me will catch.

Anyway, watch out for that.

@blackbelt_jones: MANY Linus distros rewrite the base configuration files for the window manager or desktop environment during installation. Most do so with no warning. Xubuntu, for example, certainly does that with Xfce configuration. At least Vector Linux gives you a choice.

I've always found the instructions on that page clear but I guess that's me. Also, VL does not destroy data or overwrite the home directory -- only the configuration files. I don't find that crazy. It's pretty darned normal for Linux installations.

Well, I did the install again so I could be authoritative. It was pretty clearly my mistake, ( "Please select the settings you want to reset") So anything I say from here on in comes from "my bad" perspective.

HOWEVER: I can say for certain is that it's not normal for a new installation to overwrite fluxbox configuration files. I've been doing this for a couple of years now, using the same fluxbox files from distro to distro.

I understand what's going on better now. Vector is giving the user the choice NOT to overwrite configuration files, and I think that's awesome.

But in my opinion-- which I intend to convey to the Vector Linux folks in the most friendly, constructive way possible -- is that Fluxbox probably ought to be the exception for automatic overwrite by default.

Fluxbox configuration files are simple, and they're not automatically generated. Fluxbox files tend to be hand-edited, and there there's very little chance of the files causing trouble in a new install, beyond the obvious (and easily remedied) case of different applications being installed. In fact, fluxbox devotees often post their configuration files for other devotees to copy and use at will.

So I would change nothing, except that one default.

OMG you're not going to believe this!

After I did a second install, I found that my fluxbox files had again been overwritten, even though I had unchecked the .fluxbox box. Just to be sure, I added my backup files, and did the install a third time, and the same thing again!

I'm definitely going to have to alert them about this... again, in the most friendly and constructive way possible.

Caitlyn...thanks for this thorough review...would test this on my vmware instance hosted on Ubuntu Hardy..that way I can ensure that I dont lose any files if there are any problems. And other not get into duels with your readers...they have a point to make..let them do that...I host a column myself and I know it is not logical responding to each and every line of thought :)

little FYI, SOHO is now free, from my exp it seems to be pay AT FIRST, then later they make it free, the DELUX editions are still pay(they include more stuff tho as well)

Vector is the first distro I think of when it comes to older hardware/systems that run poorly on other distros and windows.

SOHO has run well for me on systems as old as my old POS 233mmx laptop that has 4mb video ram and all of 208mb ram, sure it wasnt fast, but it was faster then win2k :)


Good review, old thread now! Vector 6 is superb and WAY diff from the first VL SOHO, and from earlier Vectors. I didn't use 5.9, so can't say vs that.

I first ran into Vector about 4 years ago - version 3 or 4, I forget. It installed on a then old machine as well or better than Deb, Fedora, and Suse. All had hardware issues, tho. Today I'm writing this from a VL6 machine, while my Ubuntu 9 main machine is sitting on the other side of my office. I have nowhere near your command line expertise, but I'm finally learning, because this year the aforementioned distros finally worked well enough out of the box that I could get started from the gui and then dive deeper, instead of having to try and labor from the command line to get the gui to work.

One other comment - imho, your thinking on marketing Linux is dead-on. Thinking that forces Linux into an free-only box will greatly restrict the audience willing to use it. Linux has been battling for market share with MS and Apple for well over ten years, and has had wonderfully huge opportunities to grab major share, yet has failed to do so. Producers are motivated by profit, and no amount of moralizing will change that.

I'm glad to find that Linux distros are getting on top of the useability thing.

Best Regards;

@wctube: Your comment makes no sense. Vector Linux SOHO uses KDE, not Fluxbox. Fluxbox is not an option during installation. Also, this article is three years old. Vector Linux is now releasing version 7.0. VL 5.9 is reaching end of life so it is unlikely anyone would choose to do a new 5.9 install now.

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