The Linux kernel is version 3.0.8 so while not bleeding edge it is quite up-to-date. The default DE is Xfce, featuring a top panel with Application menu, task switching and notification area and a Cairo Dock adorns the lower part of the screen. Xfce is chosen for its lightweight nature in order to facilitate a fast graphical environment low on system resources. Cairo dock is surprisingly responsive and very attractive, but it was still the first feature I removed as sadly it's a huge waste of screen real estate. it's good having a top panel though it's like having Gnome...with none of the bloat.
The same goes for Wicd, I've used other GUI and non-GUI wireless networking apps, but to be quite honest when I see that Wicd is employed I give a sigh of relief. Wicd just works and gives me useful feedback. Why use anything else?
VectorLinux' approach to distro design is well expressed through the choice of packages it ships with. It hasn't burdened itself will lightweight alternatives but jumped right in with the popular choices where appropriate. Hence Firefox ships with the distro and not Midori or some other (good, but less functional) lite variant, Pidgin is the default for chat. If you want a particular app it's often packaged and simple to get. Abiword and Gnumeric ship but Libreoffice is packaged and no compiling from source malarkey is required. Photos are managed by Shotwell by default and videos play back through Gnome Player, but VLC is available. This approach extends beyond applications. Wireless networks are managed by the excellent Wicd module which injects simplicity into a process that can often be too complex. Yes, there are less resource hungry alternatives but Wicd is simple and works well.
No review of any distro can avoid addressing the Desktop Environment. I've reached the point where I am happy to try anything, I just want an interface that works. I need to launch applications and switch between them. I also enjoy having some control over aspects of the system directly from an interface visible at all times. This is why I find the panel and notification area so appealing. Panels address this requirement and Gnome 2 did it extremely well and Xfce makes no bones about using this interface style.
Which brings us neatly back around to VectorLinux. Gnome 3 has removed and moved so many elements of the Desktop metaphor as to alienate long term users. Linux Mint's brave efforts to salvage Gnome 2 functionality and apply it to Gnome 3 tech with Cinnamon is still not all there. Unity is as bad if not worse in many ways than Gnome 3 Shell. If anything the difficult birth of KDE 4 looks well managed and in openSUSE 12:04 looks and works magnificently. Xfce may look like a safe choice. It can and does behave like Gnome 2 used to and is compatible with Gnome apps and extensions. It's also light and less bloated than Gnome 2 ever was. What's not to like. VectorLinux also offers you a flashy launch bar that makes Unity look drab and uninspired (no really).
A distro that runs on old and underpowered equipment, that looks and feels like a without compromise, distro heavyweight? VectorLinux is all that and more. It features a familiar and flexible DE that you can quickly modify to work your way. A sensible and pleasantly surprising software selection is allied to a comprehensive package repository so you can "decide what [your] operating system is going to be." I like VectorLinux so much I'm even considering it as realistic option for the PC as well as the netbook.