2011-01-11

Review: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 10 "Statler" Openbox r20110105

Main Openbox Screen
I've had a couple of encounters with #! before, starting with this review of version 9.04.01 and including this review of version 10 "Statler" Openbox (Alpha 2). I was pleasantly surprised by the features and minimalistic beauty of version 9.04.01, and I was later slightly let down by the relative lack of polish and removal of some features in version 10 (Alpha 2). Now, the #! developers have come out with a (actually, two) post-alpha release(s) of version 10 "Statler". The website says this:
Regarding the “20101205″ thing, this release and any future Statler releases will now feature a date based revision identifier. There will not be any more “alpha” images and you should not expect to see any “beta”, “RC” or “final” images either.  From this point on, if anyone needs to make a judgment as to the stability of Statler, they should check the date based identifier against the progress of Debian Squeeze.
Given that Debian 6 "Squeeze" is probably going to come out soon, I think it's safe to assume that this is a stable release. I grabbed the newest version (r20110105) of the Openbox release (there is also an Xfce release available which I did not test) and went on my way.
In terms of testing, I tested the live session through a live USB (made through MultiSystem) on my computer. I mentioned in my previous post that VirtualBox on my Linux Mint system is broken; given that, I installed VirtualBox within the #! live session and used the already-downloaded ISO file to install #! onto a new virtual hard disk of size 10 GB (with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS) — more on that later. Follow the jump to see how #! compares and to see if it has improved any since Alpha 2.

After restarting my computer and modifying the boot order in the BIOS, I was greeted by an almost cartoonishly colorful boot menu thanks to MultiSystem. The menu also seems to have things like Grub4Dos, Parted Magic, and other useful portable tools, which is nice; these have nothing to do with #!, so I digress. Following the boot menu is a verbose boot splash, which leads into the default #! Openbox desktop.
Thunar, Terminator, and Viewnior
The desktop hasn't changed a whole lot; the "#! CrunchBang Linux" on the wallpaper has been reduced to just "#!". Conky is still on the right with vital statistics and useful keyboard shortcuts. tint2 is still on the bottom, though it looks a little nicer; the different virtual desktops are clearly numbered and thick borders have been removed, leaving a clean and much more elegant look. The aesthetic issues from Alpha 2, primarily regarding the overuse of monospaced fonts, have been suitably addressed, as the non-monospaced sans-serif fonts look much more inviting and much less CLI-ish. The usual icons, including keyboard layout, network manager, volume control, power management, and clock are all present in the tint2 system tray. tint2 now also seems like a more normal panel, as left-clicking on an icon minimizes or restores that window, while hovering over it reveals a tooltip. Moving along, the dark theme may look a little scary to a newbie, but the desktop is immediately familiar to anyone who has used #! before. As with any #! release, right-clicking anywhere on the desktop brings up the main menu; again, the aesthetic issues from last time have been addressed, making for a nicer experience. The default Openbox/GTK theme is Shiki-Statler, a modification of the Shiki theme most notably used in Linux Mint versions 7-9, while the default icon theme is GNOME-Colors-Statler, a gray version of the GNOME-Colors icon theme (the green version of which was also used in Linux Mint versions 7-9). Together, these give #! 10 "Statler" a much more refined appearance than the stark and dated Tango theme of version 9.04.01. Overall, #! looks very appealing especially for such a lightweight desktop.
In terms of specs, #! uses a svelte 110 MB of RAM at idle, and CPU usage is similarly light, even in the somewhat slower live USB session.
Chromium with Volume Control and Gedit in background
Iceweasel from Alpha 2 has been replaced, and the default browser is now Chromium, which is a great choice for a lightweight system, as it uses minimal system resources and for things like YouTube it uses the lighter and more stable HTML5 rendering instead of Adobe Flash. Most codecs seem to be present out-of-the-box, which is nice.
The default file manager is Thunar from Xfce, which is fine in terms of being lightweight, but I have one big issue with it: [the lack of] tabbed browsing. What is this, 2001? Even PCManFM, another lightweight file manager, has tabbed browsing. I guess I can deal with Thunar, but I really, really wish there was tabbed browsing; it would certainly add to the perception of being lightweight, as there would be no reason to open multiple instances of Thunar.
The default text editor is Gedit, which puzzles me as that's a somewhat more heavyweight text editor. If I remember right, the previous release of #! used Leafpad as the default, which is a much lighter but still GUI-based text editor. I have no problem with Gedit per se, but I thought Leafpad would have been preferred as a lighter-weight alternative.
Themed #! + XCompMgr (Transparency)
The default image viewer is Viewnior, which is competitive with the previous default GPicView in terms of using as little system resources as possible while having a GUI more similar to the Eye Of GNOME image viewer.
Unfortunately, there is no instant messaging program present (aside from XChat IRC). While it's just a quick trip to Synaptic Package Manager (or the terminal) to install something like Pidgin or Empathy, it would be nice to see one included out-of-the-box. It shouldn't take up that much more room in the ISO file, which is already relatively small (just over 600 MB).
#! Installer in VirtualBox
Other installed programs include VLC, Xfburn, Catfish (a desktop search tool), AbiWord, Gnumeric, Transmission (a BitTorrent program), GIMP, and Heybuddy (a microblogging program). Though OpenOffice.org is not included by default, there is a menu entry allowing for its installation, which is nice. Similarly, there is a menu entry allowing for installation of Dropbox.
I wanted to see if my laptop webcam would be recognized, so I went to Synaptic Package Manager and installed Cheese Webcam Booth. After that finished, I didn't want to pointlessly add another entry to the menu for it, so I just fired up the terminal. Before typing the command for starting Cheese ("$ cheese"), I noticed that the terminal was displaying the desktop background. Out of curiosity, I moved the terminal window a bit, and lo and behold, the #! logo in the background moved in the opposite direction by the same amount. Compositing wasn't turned on (confirmed by the fact that when moved above the Conky part of the desktop, the terminal didn't show that section of Conky), so it turns out that when compositing isn't turned on, the terminal displays all, part, or none of the #! logo in its background depending on its size and position on the screen. That's a neat trick (though it seemed to lag a little)! (On a related note, compositing also worked perfectly (and without lag), and when compositing was turned on, that terminal trick was turned off as all terminal windows were set to a default level of transparency (I think 10 or 15% transparent).)
Plymouth in #! in VirtualBox
That aside, thankfully, Cheese worked fine and it recognized my webcam and mic immediately.
I also wanted to install Skype, because when showing a college friend Linux Mint "Debian" and installing Skype in the live session, Skype recognized this friend's laptop's integrated webcam but the image was upside-down; also, Skype didn't recognize input into the integrated mic. Thankfully, none of these issues were present, even though, now as then, I had to install a static DEB from the Skype website built for the older Debian 5 "Lenny". My webcam and mic were recognized just fine out-of-the-box.
GDM 2.20 
I then decided to see what other themes are available, and found another nice combination: StatlerBox, a milky gray Openbox/GTK theme along with the Elementary icon theme, which is one of my favorites. This also presents a very elegant look, and is certainly much more refined than the look in 9.04.01.
At this point, I closed my laptop lid and opened it to find myself shut out of the live system. I didn't know what the password was for the live session, so I forced a cold shutdown and restart. Unfortunately, all my screenshots were lost (as I had them stored only in the live session and not on my hard drive), meaning I've had to retake those since then. That was annoying.
After that, I installed VirtualBox (version 3.2) in Synaptic, created a new virtual hard drive on my real hard drive (as the live session has too little space), and started a virtual live session of #! 10 "Statler" within a live USB session of #! 10 "Statler". I thought that was pretty cool. Anyway, I started the installer, which turns out to be a rebranded version of the Linux Mint "Debian" live installer — that's a huge step up from the old ncurses interface in Alpha 2. Other than branding, everything else is the same. The process was quick (I took one trip to the restroom and it was already done installing packages and was onto configuring GRUB), and after that, I rebooted the virtual machine.
CB-Welcome in #! in VirtualBox
When I rebooted the virtual machine, I was greeted by a plain GRUB menu followed by...Plymouth! Yes, the #! developers have successfully ported Plymouth to Debian-based #!, though it isn't quite as refined as what's present in the newer versions of Ubuntu and Linux Mint — it's just the trifecta of forward-progressing gray bars as seen in Fedora when the graphics aren't set up right. In any case, it's a pretty good achievement. That's followed by GDM 2.20, which is a lot lighter-weight and more easily customizable than GDM 3 (but still not as lightweight as SLiM). After that, I was greeted by the #! desktop, which brought up a terminal running the CB-Welcome ("CrunchBang-Welcome") script. It offers to update and upgrade the system packages, and then offers to install things like (but not limited to) Java, CUPS (printing utilities), OpenOffice.org, and development tools. That's pretty nice; I would even say, though it is a CLI utility, it's better than tools like MintWelcome and the openSUSE welcome tool.
Well, that ended my time with #!. Other than things like Thunar (instead of PCManFM), the lack of an instant messaging program, and the issue I had with XScreensaver when closing the laptop lid, I am extraordinarily pleased with #! — I would even say more so than with version 9.04.01. I'd be inclined to go ahead and install this along side Linux Mint 9 and Microsoft Windows 7 if I had more room on my hard drive, but oh well, I guess that won't happen just yet. If you want a lightweight system that doesn't cut corners, give #! a spin. You won't be disappointed.
On a side note, I'll now be incorporating many of the changes to #! in my UberBang respin; some things like CB-Welcome and the Openbox-logout program are unique to #! and available in the #! repository, so I'll be including that as well.

21 comments:

  1. Nice review, thanks. I´ll use #! to resurrect my centrino laptop!

    My big problem with Leafpad is that it has no syntax highlighting.

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  2. @Anonymous: Hm, I didn't know Leafpad lacked that. Maybe that's why the developers decided to switch to Gedit. And I too would highly recommend installing it on your laptop (especially if it's an older one). Thanks for the comment!

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  3. Thanks for the excellent review. I am tempted to renew my love affair with Crunchbang, which ended when I switched to Mandriva, thence to the Lubuntu varieties and now to PCLinuxOS.

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  4. @Barista Uno: I would certainly be in support of you renewing your love affair with #!. Thanks for the comment!

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  5. nice review. so this would probably be a great os to just install games onto for quickness right. i am newer to linux but been using for bout 6 months. i keep three os's at all times to make sure no issues. one for normal use one for games and one that sits there as backup. i have a slower laptop so is this the one

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  6. @Anonymous: Out of curiosity, what are the 3 OSs? I suppose #! would work well for games in that the desktop itself doesn't take up too much memory, allowing more memory to be allocated to things like games. And yes, this would certainly work well for slow computers. Also, what games are you thinking? Happy Linuxing, and thanks for the comment!

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  7. i use peppermint ice,zorin lite, and linux mint. i like sticking with debian. I play games like 3d first person shooters such as openarena, assault cube, nexuiz, alien arena. so of course i need something fast and lightweight so the game can use most all the memory and processor. now since i am newer to linux is there any kind of software for gaming or 3d accelerators i should look into for a dell inspiron mini 10 http://reviews.cnet.com/laptops/dell-inspiron-mini-10/4507-3121_7-34145256.html Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (GMA) 950 is the graphics card it uses. thanks for any input and your welcome.

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  8. @Anonymous: Hmm, if you're already using Peppermint Ice which is pretty lightweight (I reviewed it before, so please do check that out), I don't really see any reason to switch to #!, unless you really want to stick with a Debian base. If that's the case, just make sure you have the appropriate drivers for your video card installed and you should be able to play those games just fine. I don't think there's any sort of specialized graphics software just for gaming (but I may be wrong). Thanks for the comment!

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  9. I'd like to comment on a few things.
    Crunchbang has never been aimed at being a lightweight distro. It's about the right tool for the right job. Case in point, gedit is far superior to leafpad for many users, and thus it is included instead.

    Also, many of the current programs have been the default since Statler Alpha 1, so when you suggest that an application has replaced a default, you should be sure to mention it was replace at least 2 versions ago (certainly some changes, like gedit for leafpad happened before 9.04)

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  10. @Anonymous: That is true, and I have to admit that it was basically in my own mind that I pictured #! as a lightweight distribution - the website (or at least the old website, as far as I remember) specifically shied away from touting it as a lightweight distribution/one for older computers. Also, while it may be that Gedit was the default in version 9.04.01, Leafpad was also present then as well. Version 9.04.01 had a whole lot of redundancies in the application selection. Plus, I'm not doing a whole lot of comparison to Alpha 1 because that was a prerelease build, not an official release. (Then again, the #! developers ask us all to consider this and future releases of #! 10 "Statler" to be "official releases", as there will be no explicit labeling of builds with "Beta", "RC", or "Official Release".) Thanks for the comment!

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  11. [Swedish, pardon for my primitive english ;-) ]
    Very interesting review. Currently I run Ubuntu 10.04 as I don't like some changes in 10.10. Though I have 3Gb memory on my portable, it would be nice to skip some overhead of Gnome, maybe Chrunchbang Statler could be the perfect fit. I really need to add Firefox, Chrome does NOT always work well for me: CPU Usage suddenly through the roof, strange behaviour in text boxes when accessing bank account... Anyone else with these Chrome problems?

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  12. One that I have tried and liked was archbang. I very much like a rolling release. I have arch linux that I am using now with KDE as the main desktop but I was quite impressed with archbang and may go back to it. They also mention a CTXarchlive which is based off of arch. They both look pretty nice.

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  13. @Lars: Yeah, making more use of available RAM for important processes is always better. And yes, #! could very well fit your needs. Also, if you want a full GNOME desktop that's still lightweight, I would suggest trying the latest build of Linux Mint "Debian" - it uses less than half as much RAM as the standard (Ubuntu-based) Linux Mint at idle. Furthermore, it has the latest version of Mozilla Firefox (not Debian's older Iceweasel).
    @United against: I have reviewed ArchBang before (twice), so please do check that out. When the next build of ArchBang comes out, I hope to compare it to CTKArchLive (which I haven't yet tried). I'm also considering trying out MadBox, an Ubuntu-based Openbox distribution, so keep your eyes peeled for all these things coming up.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  14. at idle what distro is the best you can remember of all you tested. i know u prolly tested a ton so think hard and good review, you guys should have a section or something or on the distros about page put if it runs on slow computers good or not. computers get so many upgrades every 5 years and there are alot of us that go for 7 or 8 with a laptop or more.

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  15. ^same person hi again. didnt find anywhere else to post besides reviews. if you could help me answer this thank you. when downloading iso how they come i386 i686 amd, etc etc as they come i dont know all i dont think. but obviously amd is amd processor. i have an intel atom processor so which ones best. i386 i686 all run so far never tried amd, so hows this work. would amd run anyway?

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  16. @Anonymous: That's a good question. I would have to say the lightest distribution I've tried so far is probably either this or ArchBang. The lightest distribution with a fully-featured DE (GNOME) is Debian 6 "Squeeze" (with Linux Mint "Debian" coming in a close second). Also, with regard to "AMD", if you have an Intel atom processor and it's single core, get either "i386" or "i686"; if it's dual-core and there's a generic "x86-64" or "x64" version available, use that, but otherwise, "amd"/"amd64" should work fine. Thanks for the comment!

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  17. thanks and for quick response

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  18. Excelente Review, gracias !

    Mi pequeña review sobre CrunchBang:
    http://goo.gl/fb/9VCcb

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  19. @Anonymous: I'm happy to answer it!
    @Mauricio Suescún: Thanks for the support. Unfortunately I don't know Spanish; that said, I feel like I did see your review of #! 9.04.01 before (translated into English via Google Translate). If you noticed, though, this is the newest version of #! and is drastically different as it is based on Debian directly rather than Ubuntu; plus, version 9.04.01 is no longer supported.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  20. Impressed after reading that #! used only 100M RAM, I ran a Live #! CD on my eeepc 701, which has Lucid 10.0.4 installed. I opened only a terminal and ran "top".
    True, Conky says #! is using only 100M RAM, but "top" showed only 15,700Mb free RAM (out 485M).
    Rebooting Lucid, "top" showed 180,000M free RAM.
    Can anyone explain this discrepancy?
    TIA

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  21. @Anonymous: That is a rather odd discrepancy. Maybe one of the other commenters could help out here...? Thanks for the comment!

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