Ever since Mike Saunders forgot to include it in a distro Roundup in issue one of Linux Format Slackware has a had a loyal following. In some ways it’s the purest form of Linux, as its development team (we say team, but really it’s the work of one man – Patrick Volkerding) tends not to modify the component parts in the way that, say, Ubuntu does. We love Slackware.
We also love Xfce. It’s the desktop environment for people who don’t want to tolerate the hardware overheads demanded by such titans as KDE and Gnome, but it doesn’t skimp on finery, using as it does the same GTK toolkit as Gnome. Put the two together, add a few thoughtful customizations to make things easier for the user and you get VectorLinux, which is now at version 7.
The most obvious addition to the standard Xfce desktop is the Cairo Dock at the bottom of the screen. Mouse over it and icons magnify beautifully, and those that contain further options display a preview (shown in the main image). Xfce has also been improved with an Applications menu, which provides a more intuitive way of finding installed software than the usual Xfce method of right-clicking on the desktop to open a menu. In places, the customization seems to have been taken too far, though, or done for no good reason. For instance, the Firefox icon appears in the Cairo dock, and there’s a different icon in the top panel that also opens Firefox- but this one looks completely different. It can be argued that the success of Debian- based distros is down to the excellence of their package management, and a corollary of this is that Slackware’s insistence on packaging applications as .tar.gz packages has held it back from further mainstream adoption. VectorLinux, however, uses the graphical Gslapt package manager, which goes a long way towards recreating the usability of the Debian/Ubuntu/Mint packaging system.
Gslapt isn’t as intuitive as Synaptic.
It won’t tell you that there are updates available, for example, trusting that you’ll know that you have to click on Update in order to get information about upgrades. Some users will find this annoying, and want the same sort of treatment they get from the likes of Mint and Ubuntu, but we prefer to think of it as Vector getting out of your way until you know you want to get something done.
To make VectorLinux work in just 128MB of RAM, the developers have had to get rid of some heavyweight applications. LibreOffice makes way for the winning combination of AbiWordfor word processing and the Gnumeric spreadsheet, which is standard enough in a distro aimed at older hardware; but the most unusual choice is Exaile as the music player. This is a continuation of Amarok as it was before KDE switched to version 4, but it has been rewritten to use the GTK graphical toolkit rather than Qt. As Xfce is based on GTK, it integrates brilliantly.
Most of all, VectorLinux shows what developers can do when they have a clear goal in mind. Like Linux Mint, it takes a base distro and applies a layer of polish that adds immeasurably to the user experience.
|Developer||The VectorLinux Team|
|Ease of use||9/10|
|A mini distro that doesn’t feel as if it has left anything out, albeit not one that’s recommended for beginners.|