Ubuntu has an unusual upgrade process, where users are encouraged to upgrade an existing installation rather than use a fresh install when a new version comes out. This has worked pretty well, but over time I think I was accumulating cruft. I had an Ubuntu install from early 2008 that I had upgraded through several releases, and it was hard to tell what packages were installed for which upgrade. I ran XFCE on Ubuntu, because I have never been a fan of large-footprint desktops and because I am a poor resident who can't afford speedy hardware. I also like the radical customization of interface that XFCE allows.
Over the last year or so I had problems with intermittent slowness that I couldn't track down. I think it was a memory leak because my system would get low on memory when it would happen. I couldn't tell which application was leaking, though. I tried a lot of things to fix the problem, like changing the timing and length of time between my backups, and then changing around the disc and partition that I backup to. I disabled all of my Firefox extensions one at a time. I tried switching to Epiphany for browsing. Nothing really helped. My wife kept complaining about the problem, and eventually she stopped using the computer very much because it was unusably slow.
I had the week off last week, so I decided to dig in and finally solve the problem. I started with a fresh install of Ubuntu 11.10, but for some reason XFCE wasn't working. The window manager wouldn't draw the window decorations properly. The window manager in the Unity desktop worked just fine, but I found Unity unusable and unconfigurable. Next I tried installing Xubuntu, thinking that XFCE would probably work better in that distro, but I had the same weird window manager problem there too. I couldn't find a peep about that bug on any of the Ubuntu forums or elsewhere on the web, even when I searched for my specific hardware (an old Compaq Presario SR1010Z). I also had weird problems with the interface freezing, and I couldn't find out what was causing it.
Eventually I thought of VectorLinux and decided to give it a try. I was happy to see that XFCE was the default desktop. I installed the 7.0 Standard Gold edition. As soon as the machine booted into the desktop I was amazed at how responsive the interface was, even compared to XFCE on Ubuntu or Xubuntu. Boot time is comparable, but once the system is up and running it is really fast compared to a fresh Ubuntu/Xubuntu install. It took me a day to find and install all of my favorite software, and I ran into a few hitches here and there.
The biggest challenges were GnuCash (discussed on this thread: http://forum.vectorlinux.com/index.php?topic=15782
) and rsnapshot. (Actually it was anacron that posed the challenge, but I found help here: http://www.grocock.me.uk/blog/setting-up-anacron-on-slackware/
Finding and installing software is more challenging on VL. Ubuntu has made software installation thoughtlessly easy. But that ease comes at the price of not knowing the details of your system, which can be frustrating and sometimes dangerous. On the other hand, if I really wanted to have absolute control I would probably be running Gentoo. It is hard to strike the balance between the two extremes, but I think VectorLinux hits a sweet spot for power users who want a system that works really well without too much fuss, but who do like to wield some authority over their system and are not afraid to dig into details. The VL community has always authored really useful tutorials and forum discussions, which I think is awesome.