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.)
It consistently awes me, sometimes to tears, to see how consistently wrong some Free/Open Source Software commentators are about things like the current state of the desktop. To hear some of them tell it, it’s a hand-wringing, brow-furrowing situation in which the fate of the entire paradigm rests in the delicate balance.
Let me explain this in simple terms: It’s not. If anything, it’s an invitation to a front-row seat to witness digital Darwinism at its finest.
So stop acting like this is a crisis. It’s not.
Unity is a dog — it’s a textbook case of incredibly bad judgment by The Mark to make a cookie-cutter, all-in-one user interface across a wide range of different hardware. But that’s all it is. Is it the death knell of the desktop? Hardly. It’s not even the death knell of Ubuntu.
The same with GNOME 3: Arguably a bad move, but not one that is forcing GNOME to fold up the tents and go the way of the Studebaker or the hula hoop.
KDE thriving? In my opinion, it is. That’s a good thing, and they have weathered some bad times recently to come out stronger and with a good product for those so inclined to use it.
Xfce making progress at GNOME’s expense? Tough if you’re a GNOME guy or gal, but not bad in the grand scheme of things. Xfce has always been a good desktop environment which is finally getting the recognition it deserves — it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this (and good luck, guys and gals).
There is even more attention now toward window managers like Openbox and Fluxbox, as the current desktop environment “crisis” ushers in a sort of renaissance for window managers that gives users a new look at a facet of Linux that is not often discussed.
The bottom line is that’s what it’s all about: choice. Choice is good. Having choices is a virtue, not a vice. It’s simple: Get that and you get FOSS.
[Note to the Linux Foundation: You may think that email@example.com works, but I’m still getting bouncing e-mails across a wide variety of machines using various e-mail programs on FOSS and non-FOSS platforms. Tell you what: I’ll just print out my blog from yesterday and mail it to you. Watch your mailbox.]
(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)
Originally I had planned to write about Philip Newborough of Lincoln, England, who some know as corenominal and who even others know as the lead developer of CrunchBang GNU/Linux. The tale I had originally conceived to put on pixels here was how Philip not only talks the FOSS talk, but he also walks the FOSS walk: He has decided to leave gainful employment recently in order to concentrate on developing CrunchBang.
That’s no small feat, for starters, and it takes an enormous amount of courage to make that proverbial leap, especially when one has a family, as Philip does. Additionally, this leap of faith multiplies by a factor of several due to the enormous amount of confidence in the project one must have to press forward with this life-altering change.
Fortunately for Philip, his Debian-based distro CrunchBang does not let him down.
And while I had planned to write about Philip and how he took the plunge, I thought it would be a better blog to talk about the improvements he has made to what can clearly be described as the best distro you’ve never heard of.
With the cacophony of writers singing the praises of Linux Mint on the release of Linux Mint 12 Lisa, it might be a good idea to listen to the more dulcet tones of a Crash and a Bang and take a look the new release of CrunchBang Statler as well.
Over the weekend, Philip made available some updated CrunchBang Statler images. The changes were somewhat profound and, as Philip points out in his blog, “the new images are not really about additional features, but more about what has been removed and/or cleaned up (although there are a few new features to look forward to).”
CrunchBang is going the window manager route with Openbox, so that means Xfce version of CrunchBang is retired. the main thing to have been removed/retired is the Xfce version. “Besides,” Philip writes, “there are plenty of brilliant Xfce based distributions available, and if you know what you are doing, installing Xfce under Debian is really not too difficult.”
GDM? Gone, and it’s replaced by SLiM.
Plymouth? Gone, and the decision to remove it was really a personal preference. “I apologise to any bling lovers, but personally, I believe that graphical boot loaders take away more than they give,” Philip writers. “Also, CrunchBang is not really an exercise in branding and so removing a flashing logo is not a problem at all.”
So what’s new and/or added to CrunchBang Statler?
Openbox 3.5 — The latest and greatest version of the window manager.
Iceweasel/Firefox 8 replaces Chromium 9 — CrunchBang seems to switch back-and-forth between default browsers, according to Philip, probably like a lot of users
do. “I do not think this is problem, but merely reflects the state of browser development and availability at the time.” Agreed.
Geany replaces gedit — Geany is highly configurable, has lots of great plugins and is desktop environment independent. So it serves as an adequate replacement.
Gigolo and Thunar for managing connections to remote file systems — CrunchBang Statler includes Gigolo, configuring it to work out-of-the-box with Thunar. It is now simple to connect to remote file systems via SSH and Samba, among others.
LibreOffice replaces OpenOffice.org — Writes Philip: “Actually, CrunchBang ships with AbiWord and Gnumeric, but many people choose to install a more feature rich office suite via the CrunchBang post installation script. The script has been changed to suggest LibreOffice.”
I’ve been using CrunchBang since July on a second laptop that usually accompanies me wherever I go (long story there, but part of it can be found in an old blog here). I have always liked the speed CrunchBang afforded this old laptop, and if it runs this well on older hardware, it must fly on newer machines.
You can easily consider me a convert to the ranks of the CrunchBangers, and as such I put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Philip and CrunchBang are raising funds to get things off the ground, and I’d invite you to join me in donating to help CrunchBang along.
So thanks to Philip and the CrunchBang team for making an excellent distro.
(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.)
Yes, I know LinuxCon has come and gone, and I think they’ve got the publicity thing covered, especially with the 20-year thing, the gala party, and with Linus being there and all. The buzz is still going, and that’s good. But if you’re going to a Linux show, make it the Ohio LinuxFest in September. Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).
With the upcoming deadline for the Linux Journal Readers’ Choice 2011 Awards upon us — it closes this Saturday — other bloggers have been been taking to beating the drum and holding the phone for their favorites.
Not to be outdone, of course, there are a few candidates on the LJ ballot that deserve special mention. If I were campaigning for them, I’d definitely cast votes for items in the following categories (note, however, the list of categories and software on the ballot is long, and they’re not all here):
Best Linux Distribution: No question, hands down. Fedora. Judging which is the best distro is akin to picking the best ice cream flavor — each of us has our own favorites, and hopefully you’ll vote for yours. Mine comes in blue, is based on Red Hat, has the best desktop background release after release (the Design Team at Fedora is the best in the FOSS realm, period), it’s always rock solid, and even if I can’t use the default GNOME 3 desktop, Fedora runs great under KDE or Xfce. Fedora is reaching a point now where the myth that it’s “only for experience users” is falling by the wayside, and if a lack of confidence in your skills has kept you from using Fedora, you should give it a try.
Best Desktop Environment: Oh, look! A minefield! Let’s skip through it! You all know how I feel about GNOME 3; the aspect that I can’t use it due to older equipment moreso than anything else (if I could vote for GNOME 2.32, that would be great). KDE? I like KDE though — truth in advertising — I’m a post-KDE 4.x user and not familiar with the way things used to be (and not familiar with why there’s such a hubbub about it). I don’t know why Openbox and Fluxbox, both windows managers, are in this category, and why isn’t there a separate WM category? How did I vote? I’m cast a vote this year for Xfce, because I’m using it on Fedora 15 and will be using it again on Fedora 16, and while it’s reputation is a lightweight environment, I’m finding there’s a significant degree of tweakability to it. Also, if you really like WMs, I’d vote for OpenBox.
Best Web Browser: Konqueror. Just kidding. While there are some advantages to Konqueror that do not involve Web browsing, for getting on the information superhighway I usually go with Firefox, though on the Windows box at the newspaper I use Chrome. It’s a toss up between those two.
Best E-mail Client: Another minefield and another tough call. What I use most is Thunderbird, because everybody knows the ‘Bird is the word, and it’s always worked well for me. What has always worked well for me in the past, too, and something I’ve always thought was one of KDE’s stars is Kmail, which deserves a vote if you’re so inclined. Claws is something I’m looking to try and haven’t yet, so maybe if it wows me, it can be a leading candidate for 2012.
Best IRC client: Simple — it’s irssi. It’s what the cool kids use, once they graduate past Xchat. Konversation gets high marks, too, and readily available on KDE. But I voted for irssi.
Best Office Suite: OK, here’s where we get to make history. Vote for LibreOffice — it’s OpenOffice as it should be. It would be outrageously cool if LibreOffice took home the prize in this category, for starters because it deserves it, and it would be a good nose-thumbing to Oracle as well.
Best Graphic Design Tool: All of them. I’m serious. If there’s ever been a category where each of the candidates deserves to win, it’s this one. GIMP finally gets a single window, I’m told, thank $DIETY, but I ended up voting for . . . Inkscape. I’m not the artist in the family; that title goes to my daughter Mimi, but having drawn a little, I do like Inkscape a lot.
Best Audio Tool: Audacity. If Carla Schroder uses it and writes a book about it, then I’m there.
Best Kid Friendly Application: Another easy one — Tux Paint. I should be ashamed to admit this, but I’m not: Ever since Mimi was younger and we used Tux Paint together when she was learning her way around a computer, I have always loved this program and I still fiddle with it from time to time when I’m not doing anything else. Also, I count Tux Paint as one of the main influences in cultivating the artistic talent Mimi has shown.
Best Game: As bad as I am at it, I still think Super Tux gets the nod here, as it’s a very creative game. Truth be told, I’ve never played any of the games on the list, except for Tux Racer, and I know my good friend Ken Starks over at the HeliOS Project is a fan of World of Goo.
Best Database: Our first heart-versus-head conundrum. If MySQL were the best, I may not vote for it on principle, but fortunately other databases have knocked MySQL from its perch at the top. I’ve only used two other databases and have liked them both: PostgreSQL and MariaDB. I really want to see MariaDB do well, but PostgreSQL is clearly the best of the bunch.
Best Programming Language: Again, the ice cream comparison comes into play and in my limited programming experience, I vote for what I know best. That would be Python.
Best scripting language: bash — accept no substitutes (OK, ksh if you need to).
Best IDE: Emacs in the hands of someone who really knows what they’re doing (and sadly, that’s not me) is simply an amazing tool. But I’m voting for vim. I can get more done using it, and I’m never backed into a corner, as I am sometimes with Emacs. Sorry, RMS.
Best Package Management Application: If it sounds like it tastes good, you have to go with it: yum. Honorable mention goes to Synaptic.
Best Content Management System: I’ve used Mambo and Joomla! in the past, and those happen to be my CMS roots. However, having used Drupal over the last few months, I have to say that I’ve made the switch. Drupal gets my vote this year.
Best Linux Laptop Vendor/Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor/Best Linux Server Vendor: I’m lumping these three categories together because the vote is the same in each category — ZaReason. The Berkeley, Calif., outfit makes outstanding, dependable hardware that’s Linux based (or if you’d prefer, no operating system) and the service is top notch. You’ll have to write in ZaReason in the Best Linux Desktop Workstation Vendor category, but you can mark the ballot in the other two.
Best Linux Book: A real page-turner, especially if you’re into audio — “The Book of Audacity,” by Carla Schroder. Buy it now.
Again, there’s a plethora of other categories that I haven’t touched on. Polls are open until Saturday. Vote early.
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.
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.