A while ago I spotted a post about a new Ubuntu based distribution that had been released, called CrunchBang Linux, as i’m not a great fan of Ubuntu distros anymore I passed this one up and never look at it again. A few weeks had passed until I heard mention of it again, Dan from Linux Outlaws, mentioned that he is trying out the recent version for a review on the show and that Fab is a massive fan. I decided to take a second look at it, trying my hardest not to be critical due to it’s Ubuntu base.
I’ve now got CrunchBang installed on my main desktop machine and I’ve been using it for a day, Maybe it’s a short length of time to review a distribution but I feel with my past experiences with numerous distros will help me get to grips with a new one quite quickly. Some of you may know, after being a Ubuntu user for well over a year I decided to move back to Debian and became quite critical of Ubuntu for its rash decisions regarding design and key choices. My dislike is not centred purely on Ubuntu, I remember one time where I had a near fit at using a OpenSUSE KDE 4.0 Live CD as I couldn’t switch off the default sound scheme, but that’s for another post. Back to the review…
CrunchBang Linux promotes itself as a lightweight version of Ubuntu, unlike Xubuntu’s XFCE desktop they’ve decided on using OpenBox and a few key programs from other desktop environments, like Thunar and Lxpanel.
My previous experience of the *box window managers have been with Blackbox during the very early days, when Enlightenment was all the rage and most distros used FVWM95, so checking out Openbox will hopefully be a refreshing blast to the past. My main concern was compatability, a lot of applications out there depend on certain features of the desktop environment. I left all my expectations at the door and decided to grab the Live CD and have a 10-15 minute play to see if everything works as expected and that it actually works on my slightly quirky setup.
The Live CD / Installation media is mirrored on a few sites, as it’s only a “baby” distro it’s not been picked up by the mainstream mirrors, thankfully, a few people in the community had offered some space up to the project and finding a local, fast mirror isn’t that difficult. As with all Ubuntu style Live CDs, it was a simple case of burning the ISO to a disc and rebooting the machine. I’m not sure if this is a feature of all new Ubuntu discs now, but the ISOLINUX menu had a option to check the installation media for errors, this would save you quite a bit of time if you suspect dodgy media.
The boot was quick, quicker than I expected. Usually with Ubuntu CDs I pop the disc into the drive the slip off to make a cup of tea and head back in time to get the last second or so of the desktop booting. This wasn’t the case with CrunchBang, after returning from a delightful brew making trip I noticed that the desktop was loaded and the default conky panel on the right side informed me that it’s been booted for about 5 minutes. So, boot speed, even from the CD it’s nice and quick.
To a user who has been brought up on the GNOME or KDE environments the initial desktop may take a second to sink in, by default it comes with a minimal panel and system information pane on the right side of the screen and nothing more, no desktop icons or fluffy applications menu, just a basic desktop. Right clicking anywhere on the desktop brings up the system menu and the list of applications. The default install gives you a nice range of applications, some you’ll never use, others are dire essentials.The default includes a few keynote applications:
- Firefox 3.0.4
- Pidgin 2.5.2
- Rhythmbox 0.11.3
- Skype 2.0
- Gwibber 0.7.2
- GIMP 2.6
A few more are available, and a full list can be found on the Crunchbang Wiki. Needless to say I was impressed, not only had they selected reasonable defaults but as the distribution is based off Intrepid it had the latest and greatest versions available. Skype is a interesting nugget in my opinion, possibly being the only QT application in the default installation. I do understand that lots of people use Skype for VOIP, but maybe they should consider including another application like Ekiga.
So, I have my desktop running as a Live CD, time to see how it fayred in real world usage. I can happly say, after a good hour or so usage I didn’t feel restricted by the choice of desktop environment, Openbox is low key but quick and powerful. I decided after just a few hours usage to commit to this distro, ditching my current Debian Lenny install.
The installation of CrunchBang was nothing really spectacular, It’s a standard Ubiquity installer which does it’s job very quickly. A few quick selections and the dreaded disc paritioner screens and you on your way. Installation took about 10 minutes on my machine and felt a little quicker than previous Ubuntu installs, but I put this down to a little bias on my part. Rebooting the machine brought up a standard GRUB menu and I happly noticed that it detected my existing Windows installation and put the relative entry in. Again, the boot was quick and my machine boots to the desktop in under a minute.
So, here comes the negatives. A few minor issues have bugged me since i’ve started using CrunchBang, but nothing show stopping. So to save time I’ll just put them down as bullet points:
- xcompmgr seems to have a “dicky-fit” after a few hours use, making all window focus go out of the window. Disable/enable of Compositing fixes that.
- Tray Icons are hit and miss to what actual colour they use for their background. In my case with the “Fawn” gtk theme you get either a brown or beige background, which looks a little messy. Not really a distribution problem but still annoying.
- Restarting Conky seems to paint over the entire desktop for no reason, causing the Windows-esq issue when you have to use an existing window to get the desktop to repaint.
- By default, the xserver won’t detect 1280×1024. Simple fix of modifying the Xorg configuration but initial boot of the Live CD can be annoying with a mishmash resolution.
As I said, the negatives are MINOR. Really, really minor. CrunchBang was designed as a “2nd - 3rd” distribution for users, so it targets the section that are more than happy to have a twiddle with the system configuration and the thought of text only configuration doesn’t phase them. If you fall into this category and you’re looking for a lightweight desktop distribution then i’d suggest you grab a copy of CrunchBang and give it a whirl.