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CrunchBang worth more than just a test run

July 24, 2011 19 comments


OSCON 2011
Next up: OSCON. Get there if you can, and give them my regards because I can’t make it this year :-(

Those of you who read these hallowed pages know I have an affinity for distros that — how can I put this tactfully? — are unique and can be arguably considered as “boutique” or specialized distributions. While others may consider them as such, I don’t necessarily see them that way — I liken them to modified distros in the same way a Shelby Cobra is a step above a mere Ford Mustang, with the proviso of course that ultimately, like the Shelby, they’re not for everyone.

When I test these distros — as I did recently with Kororaa and Bodhi (not to mention the BlueBubble spin of Fedora 15 that Juan Rodriguez built from the ground up, nearly single-handedly) — I generally put them through their paces and, until I update them, I don’t use them on a regular basis despite the fact they remain on the laptops they’re tested on. Generally after the review consisting of a day or two of use, I go back to my old trusty Fedora for daily digital duties.

However, I’m on my fourth day of using CrunchBang — also known in shorthand as #! — and, for once, the temptation to use it for longer that the simple “test drive” is overwhelming, to the point where it’s completely feasible that I may be using this for quite awhile.

The last time I had an opportunity to use the words “crunch” and “bang” in the same sentence, I was describing how an old pickup truck had run a red light and, not seeing it thanks to traffic in the left lane, I ran into it with my Volkswagen Jetta last January.

Yet for those of you keeping score at home, there’s nothing close to resembling a crash here. CrunchBang, so says its home page, “is a Debian GNU/Linux based distribution offering a great blend of speed, style and substance. Using the nimble Openbox window manager, it is highly customisable (Editor’s Note: That British English for “customizable”) and provides a modern, full-featured GNU/Linux system without sacrificing performance.”

Without sacrificing performance — let me emphasize this for a moment, because when I first used CrunchBang, running the ThinkPad T30 from a USB stick, the performance from the live media was the fastest I’ve ever experienced from live media. I’ll give credit to the Openbox desktop atop the Debian Squeeze for that. Further, installing it on a hard drive and running it for the last few days, the speed with which this old T30 runs is nothing short of remarkable.

For the uninitated, the Openbox desktop can take a little getting used to, with navigation being a little different than some of the other, more common desktop environments. But what you give up in lacking familiarity (albeit temporarily) you get back with speed and efficiency — I would go out on a limb and assume that the processor temperature never going over 50 has to do with the fact that the ThinkPad’s not breaking a sweat thanks to the lighter desktop.

One of the features that I found astounding in CrunchBang was that the VLC Media Player, for the first time, actually worked on this old Thinkpad; I’ve never been able to get it to run on other distros. I watched part of “Mr. Baseball” on a laptop which had never shown a DVD before. Also, CrunchBang comes with Chromium as a web browser, with Flash support — this may not appeal to some free-as-in-freedom software advocates, but for those who absolutely, positively must have their YouTube and other Flash-driven sites, it saves those users from having to set it up themselves.

A deal-breaker that became a deal-maker: The only quirk it took awhile to overcome was not being able — at least immediately — to replace OpenOffice.org with LibreOffice. There are workarounds outlined on the CrunchBang forums, however the way I did it was to follow the instructions on the forum regarding changing a Debian repository and changing Synaptic to “Download from : Server for United States.”

CrunchBang is probably not for the neophyte, but if you’ve been using GNU/Linux and FOSS for about a year or longer and you are comfortable tweaking your system, you should have no trouble getting up to speed on this quick distro. The site does have a caveat on the “about page” at the bottom that “CrunchBang Linux is not recommended for anyone needing a stable system or anyone who is not comfortable running into occasional, even frequent breakage. CrunchBang Linux could possibly make your computer go CRUNCH! BANG! Therefore CrunchBang Linux comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY, to the extent permitted by applicable law.”

I think the lawyers made them say that, because after four days of tweaking, some of which not exactly the most advised (but nonetheless corrected), I have yet to make it go “CRUNCH! BANG!” In fact, I think I may keep the drive with this distro installed in the ThinkPad for awhile for use on a daily basis.

Finally, the naming convention for CrunchBang does not escape mention: Currently, CrunchBang is based on Debian Squeeze — keep that letter S in mind — and the name for the current CrunchBang version is Statler, as in Waldorf and Statler, the two elderly gentlemen in the balcony on “The Muppet Show.”

CrunchBang is one of the more pleasant surprises on the Linux distro scene, and it’s clearly worth a test drive. Or more.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)
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