When I reviewed the ZaReason Alto 3880 earlier this year, I liked it so much I got one, and I told Cathy and Earl Malmrose of ZaReason that I’d write my impressions of the Alto three months later.
That was in February and now it’s May — three months hence — and I have to say that I have not had one bad experience with the laptop.
To recap: Until I gave the Alto a test run, I was a dyed-in-the-wool ThinkPad guy, utilitarian to the core. All my ThinkPads — and there are several — look like NASCAR entries with their sticker-laden covers displaying the best of FOSS programs.
Since February, though, I’ve been using the Alto for hours on end on a daily basis, giving it the rigorous workout that the ThinkPads normally got when I was using them exclusively. The Alto 3880 has proved to be a very tough machine going step-for-step, measure-for-measure with the ThinkPad in all categories.
The advantage that the Alto has over the ThinkPad is that it looks good — no, it looks great — doing it.
Which of course brings me to the keyboard: As I wrote earlier, I thought the keyboard in the Alto 3880, at first touch, was a little light. With the pounding I normally give the sturdy ThinkPad keyboard, I openly worried about my heavy fingers and not-so-gentle touch on what I thought might be a less-than-sturdy keyboard. I was completely wrong about this — the keyboard is tougher than the first impression lets on, and it is one of the Alto 3880’s outstanding features. If it handles the range of tapping I give it — and it has — then it passes that test with high marks.
As I’ve written before, I’m running CrunchBang Statler on this machine and it runs flawlessly on the Alto. In the original blog, I mentioned that I had also run other distros on the Alto as well, but I choose to run CrunchBang for a variety of reasons I write about in another blog. For the unenlightened, CrunchBang — which is on the verge of releasing another version soon — is a Debian-based distro running the Openbox window manager. On the Alto, the combination of Openbox with Debian rumbling under the hood makes this laptop a digital rocket.
The ZaReason Alto 3880 is an outstanding machine that continues to earn my highest recommendation. The specs are here and, as I mentioned in the original blog item, the price is higher than you’d pay for something off the shelf at a big box like Best Buy (and, in a word, don’t!). But the Alto is worth every bit of the extra cost, and one of many features that ZaReason offers is that they provide a wide variety of distros to choose from on their hardware — though I don’t use it often, I understand Linux Mint would be a good off-the-shelf choice — and they even will install a distro at your request.
Like — oh, I don’t know — CrunchBang, if you ask for it.
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.
(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.)