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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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Odds and sods

June 11, 2011 1 comment

Linux for the GNU South — it’s going on right now (if you’re reading this the day the blog appears).

Yep, that title — also the name of an album by the Who — is what the British (and, I would imagine, our Canadian neighbors) call bits and pieces; which is what we’re going to talk about today since this week was full of news and I have been staring at my living room thinking, “How the &@%*! am I going to move all this stuff?”

A difference of opinion, or . . . ? Ken Hess writes on ZDNet an item about businesses going (or maybe not going) completely virutal here, but wait — maybe you should keep one or two just in case the cloud dissipates. Contrast this laugher to Caitlyn Martin’s response here, where she calls this “the most ridiculous article I’ve read in a very long time.” Me? I side with Caitlyn — clearly. This is not the first head-scratcher Hess has produced, nor will it probably be the last. A corollary to this is Andy Updegrove’s ominous look at a “cloud-free” future forced upon us here.

Dead horse, meet foot: I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the OpenOffice.org transfer by Oracle to Apache. I’d like to think something good will come of this, but I think that since joining the two projects seems to be all but impossible (for a couple of good reasons, but some not so good), we can thank the suits at Oracle for screwing up an outstanding FOSS project. Meanwhile, for all those who have an interest in keeping what OO.o started going in the right direction, get right over to the Document Foundation and pitch in.

Name, rank, and serial . . . OK, just your name will do: First, thanks for all those who liked the list blog that ran this week. I need to point out a matter of personal policy on this blog: I don’t post responses that are anonymous or come from someone named/called/nicknamed “anonymous” or any variety thereof (i.e., “anon”). I bring this up because I have got responses from people who wouldn’t name themselves — two excellent responses that I would like to post — and I’ve written each of them to ask them to identify themselves so I can post their comments. Initials would work.

Well, I should stop stalling and start packing up.

[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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Like a box of chocolates

June 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Linux for the GNU South — it’s coming up so attend if you can.

A glorious day indeed, filled with a variety of thoughts: While I was out enjoying it, I got to thinking about both the grand-scheme and minutiae goings-on in FOSSland, much of which has everyone asnitter moreso than atwitter.

There’s the OpenOffice.org handoff — or as some would put it, the OO.o drop kick — to the Apache Foundation by Oracle. This comes as no surprise. If Oracle were a good FOSS citizen, they’d have given it to the Document Foundation and LibreOffice would be its rightful heir. But this is Oracle we’re talking about, right? With Oracle finally washing their hands of OO.o, it remains to be seen what becomes of it. But since the barn door has been open for quite some time and the LibreOffice horse is at home out in the pasture, I am not sure if keeping OO.o around would be worth it.

Incidentally, LibreOffice is an outstanding program which kicks serious butt, just as OpenOffice.org did, and it’s nothing short of miraculous that the fork hasn’t missed a beat in transitioning from OO.o. So far, that’s the story of the year for 2011. I use it. I like it. I’m in their camp.

Walking among the redwoods, it’s hard to be annoyed at the new desktop wars: Not GNOME versus KDE, but the systematic “simplicity” of desktop environments like GNOME 3 and Unity. For netbooks and other mobile user interfaces, this may work and may be necessary. I don’t use netbooks or smart phones — I use a desktop or a laptop, and I’d like my desktop environment to look and function like a one. Call me old school, but desktops like KDE — which I’m using more and more as of late — and Xfce are looking better and better.

Also, I don’t assume that people who are new to Linux are complete morons who need a dumbing down of the desktop environment to convince them to join the ranks of FOSS users. But that’s me.

Finally, I live in a great area at the western foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the small range that separates the ocean from the Silicon Valley east of here. Not only is the proximity of the Valley a boon, but another of many perks in living here is having folks in the area like Cabrillo College networking professor and Cisco author Rick Graziani. Rick is opening his IPv6 seminars this month to the public — “Everyone is welcome! You do not have to be a former or a current student. All you need is to have an interest in learning more about IPv6 and don’t mind listening to me for a couple of hours,” Rick writes (though prior knowledge of IPv4 is required).

The talks are Thursday, June 23 — Intro to IPv6 — and Friday, June 24 — Intro to Routing IPv6 — at the horticultural building room 5005 at Cabrillo College, 6500 Soquel Drive, Aptos. Both talks run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

You do need to RSVP to Rick at graziani-at-cabrillo-dot-edu to attend. Tell him Larry the Free Software Guy sent you.

Forrest — Forrest Gump — was right: You never know what you’ll get.

[FSF Associate Member] (Larry Cafiero is an associate member of the Free Software Foundation. He is also one of the founders of the Lindependence Project.)
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