Spotlight on Linux: VectorLinux 6.0
VectorLinux is one distribution that seems to hum along under most users' radar. This is a mistake because Vector has many of the characteristics that make Linux great while adding some that has often been heralded by competitors as not existing except with larger commercial distributions.
VectorLinux is based on Slackware Linux, which remains the oldest living distribution to this day. Vector is fairly old itself. Very few people realize this distribution has been around since the last century although little proof remains of these early versions. The Vector Website has a comparison chart that goes back to 1.8 and one archive of old mailing lists posts preserves a support question from August 2000 on 1.0.
While Vector is based on Slackware, its developers have been working slowly over the years to separate themselves from Slack. The larger part of Vector is now independently developed with only the inner core still being derived from Slackware.
VectorLinux comes in several versions which can be confusing for some. They have versions based on different desktops, different software configurations, and different costs. Probably most popular is Vector's KDE free download version. As the name implies it is based on a stable KDE desktop and is usually dubbed their SOHO Edition. 6.0, the latest stable version, features multimedia support, OpenOffice, proprietary drivers, and lots of handy applications.
Other versions are designed to be lightweight. These are the Light and Standard editions. The difference between these are the size of the download, specific window environment, and included software. Both are designed for older machines. The Light version, which features Fluxbox and JWM, is said to operate on processors as slow as the Pentium 166 and 64 MB RAM. The Standard Edition features Xfce and boasts the ability to run on the Pentium 200 and 96 MB RAM. The standard version as well as its accompanying second software CD can be downloaded for free or ordered for a nominal fee.
Some version come in a SOHO (small office, home office) Editions. These differ by concentrating on software believed to be of interest to those using their desktops for business purposes. Desktop publishers, word processors, spreadsheets, accounting, and graphic design are some of the business oriented categories addressed by these SOHO Editions. The latest stable versions of SOHO often ship with newer desktops and software. Two version are generally available in SOHO line, the free downloadable Standard and the commercial Deluxe.
Then there are the Deluxe and Live versions. The Deluxe version is a general purpose desktop that contains extras and is available at a small cost for a box set or high speed download. The Deluxe comes with 14 days technical support, which many say the lack therof is a barrier to the wide adoption of Linux. The Live Edition is just that, Vector's installable Live CD. This is for those that wish for a portable solution or perhaps for those machines without a permanent hard drive.
All these different version aren't designed to be confusing, but to offer choice. Unfortunately, it can and probably does cause a bit of confusion. More choice is almost always a good thing for most people though. As if Vector users couldn't get more choice, here's another: commercial support. Should you wish for help beyond the documentation and user forum, Vector offers expert support from senior developers for the cost of $30 per 3 hours. This includes a support ticket system that can be monitored real-time as well as one-on-one email conversations.
Of course Vector comes with lots of software, but it also comes with handy original configuration tools. Through those you can set up hardware that may require tweaks beyond auto-detection and auto-configuration as well as install additional software. While the package management isn't original to Vector, it offers a familiar environment. The hard drive installer was once very much Slackware, but has been replaced in latter versions by a one with a graphical interface.
Pros & Cons
Advantages of Vector are stability, performance, easy-to-use, and paid support. Vector offers an attractive but conservative and professional look as well. Disadvantages might be the number of versions available possibly causing confusion, having separate live and install versions, limited 64-bit support, and a general lack of buzz. Vector suffers from silence. Its users need to get out there and blog about it, write some how-tos and get it some attention.
Development is slower than many other distributions, but that means a long life span. This can be either good or bad depending upon your point of view. The latest stable release is the various 6.0 editions, but 7.0 is on its way. Don't wait for it though. Developers are cautious and 7.0 is unlikely to go gold much before fall of 2011. Finally, don't let all the versions confuse you. You can go and grab any of them really and then install about anything you need from repositories.
VectorLinux 6 Standard Deluxe
Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of tuxmachines.org.
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