Of course, I knew about this operating system for ages. But I have not tried it yet. I was a rather afraid of it.
Anyway, this time had to come sooner or later, and I decided to give CrunchBang a go on my laptop.
CrunchBang is sometimes abbreviated as #!. But I will call it by its full name out of respect, and so it will not confuse people.
CrunchBang Linux is a distribution based on the stable branch of Debian, currently Squeeze, or more precisely – Debian Live. CrunchBang’s distinctive feature is the use of the OpenBox window manager. From the sound of it, this should be an extremely light and quick system. Let's have a look.
There are two versions of CrunchBang available: Stable and BPO. The BPO version includes Debian backports, and is not widely recommended for people looking for stability. My choice was the Stable system.
The version of CrunchBang that I tried (R20120207) came out on the 7th of February 2012, and is called CrunchBang 10 Statler. The 32-bit ISO image size of this version is very modest in size, just 662 Mb. It means you can use a CD on which to burn the image. Or, if you're not sure you can do it properly, you can request a CD to be delivered to you using the Buy Linux CDs site.
The ISO can be downloaded either directly from CrunchBang's site, or from a torrent. I used torrent to get my own image.
I tried to create a Live USB using the CrunchBang’s ISO image. The usual issue with the BIOS of my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 laptop did not allow me to create a Live USB with the dd command. Another usual friend Unetbootin was also useless. The Live USB created by this tool gave me an error with mounting the SquashFS file system during the boot. Finally, I burnt the ISO image to DVD-RW disk.
|The friend of mine advised me that Unetbootin was originally a Windows application. The SquashFS error comes in because Unetbootin, like Windows, uses capital letters interchangeably with lowercase, and it stops the installation cold because Linux knows the difference between them. Although, I’ve never experienced that issue before myself.|
So, the disk is in optical drive. Reboot. Choose to boot from DVD. Let's go!
Booting upThe first menu during the boot allows the user to boot CrunchBang in normal Live mode, as well as Live mode with safe options. There are some more usual items in the menu as well, for example the Crunchbang installer.
The boot time of Live version of CrunchBang 10 Statler was average, maybe little bit shorter than most other operating systems running from the optical drive.
Finally, I got the deep-grey desktop without any image on it. The default wallpaper in CrunchBang does not have anything on it. There are about a dozen wallpapers available in the default distribution. You can select them using the option in the Settings part of the menu. But all of them are in deep-grey gamma, which seems little bit dull.
The right side of the screen is taken by the Conky system monitor. It shows some useful system information, and one part of it amazed me. The freshly booted Live OS only took 91 Mb of memory!
The same Conky panel lists some useful hotkeys for quick access to frequently used functions, like Menu (Super-Space), File manager (Super-F) or web browser (Super-W).
The panel is at the top of the screen. The right side of the panel, the notification area, includes the usual suspects: clocks, power manager, volume control, clipboard monitor, network manager and keyboard layout indicator. I'd like to note here that CrunchBang initially set up my keyboard layout and, correspondingly, the indicator to GB. I am not sure whether this is the default option, or the system somehow (how?) recognised my actual location. I hope for the first.
The rest of the panel is dedicated to a combined taskbar and virtual desktop switch. The panel is split into two equal parts, which represent two different desktops. The taskbar items are only shown as icons on the panel, so you can have a lot of them shown at the same time. That's why having this combined view is quite a good idea. You can check here to get an idea what it looks like. Another nice feature of the combined taskbar is that you can move applications between the desktops by simple drag-n-drop exercise.
NetworkI was prepared for the fact that Debian-based CrunchBang was about to give me another round of troubles during the activation of my Intel 3945 ABG wireless network card. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised by the notification message about available wireless networks. Like Semplice Linux before, CrunchBang includes the necessary driver for this wireless card. A Network Manager icon was in the notification area of the desktop, ready to use. So, establishing the network connection was a question of few seconds.
Keyboard layoutsAs well as in Semplice Linux, there is no graphical tool in CrunchBang to configure the keyboard layouts. Instead, I used the same method, the command
setxkbmap -layout gb,ru -variant -option grp:alt_shift_toggle,grp_led:scroll,terminate:ctrl_alt_bksp &
It worked perfectly for me, and allowed me to switch layouts between GB and RU using the Alt-Shift hotkey. The combination Ctrl-Shift was not available for the switch. But, very interesting, the combination Shift-Ctrl worked well! So, it depends on which of two buttons you press first!
Touchpad worked fine for me: all the taps and scrolling worked as expected out of the box.
MenuThere is no dedicated menu button anywhere on the screen. This is usual for the OpenBox windows manager. Instead, the menu in CrunchBang 10 can be accessed by right-clicking on any empty desktop or panel space.
The menu itself in CrunchBang is not the biggest I've ever seen, but it includes the most common applications.
The default and the only installed browser in CrunchBang Linux is Iceweasel. If you are not aware, Iceweasel is a de-branded form of the Firefox browser. This time it is version 10.0. Other options include installers for Opera and Google Chrome. I tried to install Chrome in my Live run, and it worked well. The icon appeared in the menu immediately after the installation, and I was able to use it without any issues.
Other network tools include Transmission torrent client, Dropbox client, gFTP, xChat IRC client, remote desktop and remote filesystems tool Gigolo.
Office tools in CrunchBang Linux include GNOME Office native AbiWord and Gnumeric. If you prefer LibreOffice, the installer is available in the menu too. Also, the Evince PDF viewer and Calculator exist in the Office menu section by default.
Graphic tools in CrunchBang include the GIMP editor, a screenshot utility and the Viewnior image viewer. I'd like to mention that screenshot utility allows the user to make screenshot directly from the menu with or without the delay, for the whole screen or for a selected area. I've never seen such options in the menu so far, even though the technical realisation of it looks pretty simple. The idea looks appealing to me. For example, this feature allowed me to make a screenshot of the indicator showing the "clean" memory usage without some of memory consumed by screenshot tool application itself, which is normally not possible in other distributions.
Multimedia tools include VLC player, Xfburn disk burning tool and Volume control. I'd say that the set is optimal. VLC is powerful enough to play both audio and video files of almost all available formats right out of the box. It is not overloaded with functions, while Amarok, Banshee or similar super-duper-advanced media centres are.
There are the usual suspects in the Accessories part of the CrunchBang menu. Just to name a few: archive manager, terminal, Thunar file manager and Geany text editor.
System tools include GParted partition manager, Synaptic package manager, printer set up utilities and login window configuration.
In contrast to other sections of the menu, which are crystal clear and not overloaded with different options, the Settings part of the CrunchBang menu is too complicated, from my point of view. It is especially important since most of the settings are actually text files of one or another form. You can configure Conky, Openbox, dmenu (what is this?), gmrun (another "what?") and half a dozen other aspects of your operating system. I'd say that this section is definitely not for Linux or even OpenBox newbies.
CrunchBang includes software enough for the tasks of an average user. What if you need to install some other applications? The answer is very simple: Synaptic. Because CrunchBang is based on Debian, you can employ the full set of Debian repositories! It makes no sense for me to list available applications here.
Network partitionGigolo is a very useful tool for people who require a nice and easy way to connect to network partitions. Of course, only if Gigolo is properly installed in the system. If you remember, I had examples where Gigolo was not able to connect to my external network drive in Fedora 16 and Xubuntu.
CrunchBang does not have this issue. "Windows Share" is one of the options in the connection type in Gigolo. Provided with this option and the network name of my network disk, Gigolo was able to find all the shared folders there. Connection was established quickly, and all the Russian names were shown correctly.
MultimediaOnce connection was established, I tried to launch an MP3 file from the external drive. The result? Of course, VLC had no issues in here. Although, and it is not the first time where I have seen this issue, the speakers' volume was dropped to the minimum in the default Volume Control manager configuration in CrunchBang 10 Statler. It was an easy fix.
|CrunchBang Linux supports Flash out of the box|
ConclusionCrunchBang is a Linux distribution, which definitely deserves the attention of people who have known Linux for some time. It may be too steep a learning curve for newbies, but once you get comfortable with text-style configuration files and command line interface, then OpenBox can be a good alternative to more popular desktop environments. And given that CrunchBang is based on rock-solid Debian, you are unlikely to miss any important application, or feel any instability.
While talking about stability, I’d like to mention that unfortunately CrunchBang was not too stable in my Live run. Both Iceweasel and Google Chrome kept crashing when I tried to play the video featuring on the screenshot, having another window open with my own blog. That could be linked to lack of memory, but I had no way to check this.
Are you ready to try CrunchBang yourself? Or maybe you’re a CrunchBang user? Share your ideas about this distribution.
If you want to try CrunchBang, but cannot burn an ISO image yourself, then you are free to try the Buy Linux CDs service, which can do all the work for you. ChrunBang Linux is now listed as available option there. You’ll get a CD with CrunchBang or any other distribution of your choice right in your mailbox.
Video used in the screenshot:
Some useful links:
Crunchbang Linux homepage: http://crunchbanglinux.org/
Review by Prashanth: http://dasublogbyprashanth.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/review-crunchbang-linux-10-statler.html
Review by Landor: http://landorsplace.org/2011/04/18/it-doesnt-go-snap-crackle-pop-it-goes-crunchbang/
Review by Dedoimedo: http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/crunchbang-statler.html