2010-09-22

200th Post: Preview: ArchBang 2010.09 "apeiro"

Happy 200th post Das U-Blog! I hope you readers have enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them! And, as always, if you have not already done so, please take a moment to click any one of the various subscription buttons to get updated on new Das U-Blog posts as they come out (either by email or in your favorite RSS/Atom reader)
Main Screen
  1. This is not a typographical error.
  2. This is not "CrunchBang ('#!')".
  3. THIS. IS. ARCHBANG! [insert dramatic music here]
Of course, the real story is slightly more nuanced (did I use that word right?) than that. ArchBang, while not a badly-spelled version of #!, is actually inspired by (but not derived) from #!; it aims to be to Arch Linux what #! is to Debian (and was to Ubuntu before version 10 "Statler"). That's right: ArchBang is an Openbox derivative of Arch Linux. I was actually looking for other reviews of Linux Mint "Debian" when I found this article whose comments section linked to an article on #! and ArchBang. Naturally, I was intrigued upon seeing Arch's response to #!, so I went ahead and downloaded the ISO image to try it. Please do note that to better reflect this distribution's advertised capabilities as a solution for old computers, I have decreased VirtualBox's RAM allocation for this distribution to 192 MB (keeping video memory at 12 MB). Technically, the minimum requirements are 128 MB of RAM, but I think 192 MB is a reasonable stand-in for an old computer these days. Follow the jump to see how it fares in these harsher conditions.
Boot Menu
The boot and startup time is rather fast, especially for an environment so low on RAM. (Please note that this is relative. Just six and a half years ago, before I got my Sony VAIO desktop with a ridiculously high 1 GB of RAM, I was using an IBM desktop with 32 MB of RAM (nowadays one can probably get 32 GB of RAM), an ATI Rage 128 video card, and Microsoft Windows 98 SE. I do know what low-resource environments are like first-hand.) The GRUB theme is nice as well.
Mozilla Firefox "Namoroka" + Modified Desktop
Upon startup, what surprised me was the overwhelming amount of orange. It kind of reminded me of the screenshots of SliTaz and similar distributions; I'm not knocking against ArchBang for this, but it's surprising because the Arch logo is blue — no matter. The icons and theme do look a little dated, though this is easily fixed in the theme configuration editor (and new themes can always easily be downloaded and installed). The tint2 panel was too wide on my VirtualBox screen (1024 pixels wide), and I didn't really like the rounded corners, so I made the corners rectangular and the panel 768 pixels wide. As this is Openbox and tint2, all of the features quirks present in the #! desktop (well, they're quirks for new users/people not used to Openbox) are present here as well.
AbiWord (is "Ahem" an R-rated font (hence the censor bar)?)
Mozilla Firefox is included (version 3.6, but the titlebar uses its codename "Namoroka"), though AbiWord is used instead of OpenOffice.org, which is understandable. Most proprietary codecs are included, though YouTube and Adobe Flash-heavy sites make Mozilla Firefox crash due to such low RAM. Even when Mozilla Firefox is showing a very resource-light page like the ArchBang Google search page, it pushes memory usage up to 110 MB (compared to an idle memory usage of 60 MB, which is very impressive), so 128 MB is definitely a bare minimum requirement. AbiWord, thankfully, is a rather light application, as it only pushes memory usage up to 75 MB or so. It also does well as a basic word processor, similar to WordPad or Microsoft Works in Microsoft Windows.
PCManFM and tint2
Problems? There weren't many, thankfully. One issue I had was that for some reason, changing the wallpaper would only change the parts of the desktop covered by Conky and tint2. Also, double-clicking a file or program would open up not one, not two, but three instances of the file/program; this became especially problematic in the case of Mozilla Firefox.
I think ArchBang has a lot of potential as a usable, modern desktop for old computers. I'm a little confused about the whole "stable release" thing, given that Arch Linux is a rolling-release distribution. More importantly, however, ArchBang is another example of the identity issues LXDE has, in that it uses some LX-tools like LXAppearance and LXTerminal, but it advertises its DE as Openbox (not LXDE) and uses tint2 instead of the LXPanel. That's not meant as a ding on ArchBang at all. If you're even remotely interested, please do go try it out!

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