Terry Ganus is a man on a mission — a vast one.
True to Free/Open Source Software paradigm — where if you find you can make something better, you make it so (in FOSS circles, that’s reduced to three words: “scratching an itch”) — the long-time CrunchBang forum moderator and CrunchBang user created a new distro taking the experience he’s garnered over the years working within the wider Debian community.
VSIDO, Terry’s distro, can clearly be declared “Mission Accomplished.”
The genesis of the VSIDO project is twofold: When CrunchBang lead developer Philip Newborough stopped offering Xfce support in CrunchBang, Terry went to work to make a Debian-based distro with the Xfce desktop; more importantly, however, Terry wanted to erase the stigma of Debian Sid as some sort of distro black magic that only the most experienced users can succesfully navigate.
I’ll let him explain. “My main goal with VSIDO is to show that a Debian Sid distro can be fun, powerful and does not break. I am sure you have heard that Debian is being pushed to remove the ridiculous label/moniker ‘unstable’ from the Sid name to something more responsible like ‘rolling’ . . . [and] I also have detailed what and why I did it here in this thread on the [VSIDO] forum (entitled, ‘What is VSIDO? Why Should I care?’).”
VSIDO started out as an Xfce-only distro, “but I got a lot of encouragement to include OpenBox because I had managed to make it look good and not just a bland shell,” Terry explained. “I know this rubs most of the minimalists fans at CrunchBang (and other places) wrong, but I did want to showcase a different view of OpenBox.”
A third option in window management — Fluxbox — is also offered with VSIDO. Terry explains: “Fluxbox became a part of it once I discovered Fluxbox, and honestly if I had known about Fluxbox before I ever used Xfce, I would have never used Xfce. It is that good. There are also very limited distros out there that use Xfce or Fluxbox, so they are both great fits.”
The program choices in VSIDO — one of the things that make the distro both unique and appealing — were just a list of what applications that Terry, as a power user, had used for years to make his desktop a powerful utility instead of just a work space. From a wide range of experiences with the programs included in VSIDO, Terry says that he has “gathered what ‘just works,’ not just for me, but for everyone else I have encouraged to use them.”
The list is filled with programs you already know, punctuated by some you — or, at least, I — may not have heard of.
For advanced users, tools like bleachbit, Disk-Manager, kernel-remover, debian apt protection tools, build essentials and a selection of debian power tools are standard features in VSIDO. For the beginner, everything for connection, multimedia, music, aliases, system panels, tint2 launcher panels and ease of use is standard. SpaceFM is the default file manager, though Thunar 1.6 with tabs is also installed. UMPlayer handles the media play.
What’s more, all of the programs used, like ceni for network management, might be new to some users, but given the fact that they’ve been tested for some time by Terry and others, it makes their addition to the mix.
Giving VSIDO a test drive
Those who regularly read this blog know I’ve mentioned this before: I don’t consider any review that is based on running a distro from a live CD/DVD/USB a legitimate review. It’s akin to sticking your finger in a bowl of cake batter, tasting it and telling us how great the cake is when it isn’t even baked yet.
That said — and bear in mind this is not a review as much as it is a test drive — VSIDO is an outstanding distro running from the USB drive that, if running the live version is any indication, is a solid new Debian-based distro.
VSIDO comes up quickly and provides easy navigation for those who have previously used the Xfce desktop environment. The Conky default in the upper left provides those who wish to monitor their systems an oustanding display of information. From the look of the desktop envirnoment — Xfce by default — it is very easily customizable and much of what you want is at your fingertips with a mere right-click anywhere on the desktop.
I threw a lot at the distro and was not disappointed — monitoring the memory use, the Debian-based distro handled everything with aplomb, never going over 500 MB in memory use (it should be noted that VSIDO is very lightweight in and of itself, coming up at around 170 MB of memory at the start).
The only possible stumbling block, albeit minor, for new users is working with unfamiliar programs. For example, I tripped over ceni since I had never seen it before, and while I picked it up pretty easily, it might be intimidating to some newer users.
The best way to determine whether VSIDO is right for you, of course, is to give it your own test drive.
Despite the fact that Terry is both active in his own distro while continuing to participate in the CrunchBang community, there are misconceptions that somehow VSIDO is a derivative or a descendant of CrunchBang. It’s not. Their sole relationship is that they are both Debian-based distros, despite the fact many CrunchBang users are lending a hand in VSIDO (and, conversely, vice-versa).
“I truly admire corenominal (Philip Newborough) for what he did with CrunchBang and if it were not for my passion for Sid and all it’s strengths, I would have never looked at VSIDO as an alternative,” Terry said. “My ‘following’ of smxi, tint2, xfce4, conky and lua for 18 music apps, netinstall scripts and of course GMB fans, all encouraged me to take that knowledge and experience to another level and VSIDO was born.
“More than anything to me, it is important that a user has fun, has the tools, has a vision and a strong community to rely on.”
Having used VSIDO for several days, albeit booting from the USB drive, it’s evident that Terry has taken Sid and made it the basis for a workable, and enjoyable, distro for everyone — beginner and seasoned user alike. If I had a second 64-bit machine to run it on (I only have one in an arsenal of 32-bit hardware, and VSIDO only comes in 64-bit), I wouldn’t hesitate to install it for a more in-depth look.
I will continue to use CrunchBang as my primary distro. Yet seeing and saluting the similarities between both the CrunchBang and VSIDO methods of augmenting a distro with a knowledgeable and helpful community — again, to both distros’ credit, there are many crossover personnel in both forums — I would gladly urge those who are curious to give VSIDO a try and would recommend folks who have an affinity for the Xfce desktop to use VSIDO.
This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy, Larry the CrunchBang 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.
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software in his individual consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)