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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 12 Apr 2012

Crunchbang Linux -- So far it's 'like' at first sight

I've been distro-hopping/shopping lately, and last night it was time for Crunchbang Linux, a Debian-based distribution that uses a very nice implementation of the Openbox window manager.

Crunchbang is appropriately minimal but with its Debian underpinnings can be just about anything you want.

I used the 64-bit Backports (aka "bpo") image of Crunchbang Statler because the Lenovo G555 likes a newer-than-2.6.32 kernel.

I used dd to put the hybrid-ISO image on a USB flash drive and booted off that into Crunchbang.

From the Crunchbang online install tutorial, I already knew that the system includes the traditional Debian installer, meaning an installation with fully encrypted LVM or individual encrypted volumes or partitions is possible. That's what was missing for me from Bodhi Linux (the ability to use LVM at all, as Bodhi uses the Ubuntu live installer, and the ability to encrypt /home, perhaps because the installer is too old).

I started a live session and took a quick look around.

I like the gray-black theme. It reminds me of one of my old favorite distros, the Slackware-based Wolvix. The keyboard shortcuts printed on the screen below the Conky system-info display were very helpful. It was easy to launch the Firefox/Iceweasel web browser and the Thunar file manager, the latter's inclusion on the desktop being a nice touch; Crunchbang could have gone with PCManFM).

I've heard that the Xfce 4.8 version of Thunar (which this version is not) includes native support for networked drives, including connections via ftp/sftp and WebDAV. I'm very interested in this kind of connectivity through the file manager, and which I rely on Nautilus to manage it for me in GNOME 2.

Since this Thunar is a bit older, connecting to networked drives is managed by the Gigolo utility (very poor choice of name, right up there with the GIMP).

I've had poor success with Gigolo in the past, but in Crunchbang it worked for ftp and sftp connections.

But while I was successful in connecting to my WebDAV server, and I could then open a document on the Crunchbang desktop, after that I couldn't make any changes to the document.

I'm pretty sure that I could solve this the same way I did with PCManFM in Debian Wheezy's LXDE system: with the davfs package.

Otherwise I've always loved using Thunar in systems running Xfce. Crunchbang's Openbox desktop is easily navigable, with menus on right-click, and I like the default choice of applications. It's easy enough to add the things I depend on every day from the very extensive Debian respositories.

I do look forward to browsing networked drives directly in Thunar in a future edition of Crunchbang.

The Iceweasel Web browser, a good file manager and a great text editor (Crunchbang offers the excellent Geany, which I'm very comfortable with) along with an FTP client are pretty much all I need. OK, I need image editors, the full LibreOffice and a video editor, too ... but the guts of Crunchbang look pretty darn good.

Especially for my "older" hardware -- including the 2002-era IBM Thinkpad R32 and Gateway Solo 1450, plus the circa-2001 Toshiba 1101-S101 and really ancient 1999 Compaq Armada 7770dmt -- Crunchbang is a very viable choice for a Linux desktop. It is pretty much pure Debian with a lot of setup and tweaks by someone who knows what they want and knows how to get it.

And once there's a Debian Wheezy-based Crunchbang, I could easily see using this distribution on the Lenovo, a 2010-made laptop that's my main machine these days -- especially after this morning's successful LCD inverter replacement (after a mere half-hour of pulling the screen apart and replacing a sub-$8 part from a Chinese supplier; beats the $50 I'd seen it for elsewhere).

Crunchbang Linux was impressive as a live distribution. It has a very active community, and the ability to leverage the entire Debian community is an added bonus for users who want to solve problems and get things done on their computers.

While many, many distributions are based on Ubuntu, itself based on Debian, I find basing on Debian directly both efficient and refreshing. Debian's roughly two-year cycle (with an extra year of security support after that) fits me very nicely, and there is a lot of emphasis on making things right in Debian that both developer and end user can appreciate.

Lead developer corenominal should be commended for building something so useful on top of Debian. He does provide a disclaimer:

As always with CrunchBang, this release is not recommended for anyone who requires a stable system. Anyone who uses CrunchBang should be comfortable with occasional or even frequent breakage. Remember, CrunchBang Linux could make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG! :)

Here is corenominal (aka Philip Newborough) on why he's basing Crunchbang on Debian instead of Ubuntu:

I have been using Squeeze, in one guise or another, on desktops and servers, for well over 18 months and it has been an absolute joy to use (I say “joy”, but to be honest, I am not sure that “joy” is the correct term. What is the correct term for something that stays out of the way and just works?)

I am so glad I made the decision to switch from using Ubuntu when I did. This last 18 months of using Debian has not only provided me with a solid OS on which to build, but it has also given me a better understanding of the advantages of using a release for more than 6 months at a time; something I am sure I would never have been able to achieve as an Ubuntu user. Now, before I get slated, I should point out that I am well aware that Ubuntu do provide a long term support release, but the thing is, as an Ubuntu user I always found the temptation to upgrade too much to resist (I point the finger of blame directly at the Ubuntu hype machine, not at my infallible self) :P

A developer with a great sense of humor! Very nice.