2012-07-05

Preview: CrunchBang ("#!") Linux 11 "Waldorf"

I've been a fan of #! ever since I tried version 9.04.01. It's quite lightweight, yet the UI doesn't feel antiquated, and it's quite well-stocked with features that normal users would find useful. Two months ago, the first testing images of version 11 "Waldorf" went online, so I am previewing that now.

#! is a Debian-based Openbox distribution. It used to be based on Ubuntu, and at one point, it gained [and then later lost] an Xfce edition. It aims to be quite lightweight yet have the niceties of other distributions with more mainstream DEs.

I tried the 64-bit edition on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I should also say that until I finally get a new OS for my laptop, I will probably be trying the 64-bit editions of various distributions (after which point I will go back to trying the 32-bit editions), so I will not mention that bit after this. Follow the jump to see what this is like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a scrolling wall of text for the boot splash. The boot process took a little longer than I thought, but it was still well within reason, and after that I was greeted by the desktop.

The desktop hasn't changed that much. The Tint2 panel has moved to the top and now takes up the full width of the screen; that said, the Openbox menu is accessible even when right-clicking on the Tint2 panel (except for some special areas). The Openbox and GTK+ themes are now light gray instead of dark, while the icon theme is the default one from GNOME; personally, I prefer the older customizations more, but that's just me. Also, one interesting change is that it seems like the default keyboard layout is now US rather than UK, which is nice for me; that said, spelling checks in various applications consider US-specific spellings as misspellings. Otherwise, the desktop works just as well as always.

Chromium is the default browser, and it seems to work well. Some codecs appear to be installed, because YouTube and Hulu worked fine, but playing MP4 files from my laptop's installed Linux partition did not work. Also, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked well, and the notifications here look almost as nice as the Notify-OSD notifications in Ubuntu. Finally, although Chromium is the default browser and there is a menu entry to install Iceweasel (the repackaging of Mozilla Firefox for Debian), the properly-branded Mozilla Firefox is available in the repositories at version 13, and that installed and worked properly.

There is a link in the menu to install LibreOffice. Otherwise, AbiWord and Gnumeric are available.
Besides those, the application list is fairly sparse. VLC is present for multimedia files, while Evince and Viewnior are present for PDF files and pictures, respectively. Interestingly enough, there are two screenshot applications: Scrot is usable through the Openbox menu, while the Xfce screenshot tool is usable by pressing the 'PRTSCR' key.
Thunar is the default file manager as always. Oddly, there are no navigation buttons anymore except for the breadcrumbs for the directory path, so there are no "back"/"forward"/"up" buttons anymore. Also, for some reason, Thunar has been configured to open files and folders with just one click, which I find a little annoying. Otherwise it works well.

Skype and Google Talk were installable through their DEB files. Google Talk was easy to install and get working.
Skype was a little more difficult because at the precise moment when I tried installing it, the connection to some of the repositories needed for installing dependencies was lost, so the installation was botched. After trying again a few times with no more success than the first time, I issued the command "sudo apt-get -f install" to fix the broken packages, and that alone properly installed Skype and all of its dependencies. After that, Skype worked just fine.

Mupen64Plus is at version 1.99 in the repositories, so I installed version 1.5 the same way that I have been doing before. That worked fine, and I was able to play all of the games that I have on my laptop's hard drive.
Redshift and GTK-Redshift were installable from the repositories. While they both worked fine, unfortunately there appears to be no easy way to add applications like Redshift to the list of programs to run upon starting up. Of course, Openbox has its own "autostart" file, but when I tried to test that, #! wouldn't let me log back in because of password issues. (That's also the reason why this post has no screenshots; in addition, this pre-release version has come so early that there are probably going to be quite a few more changes in the coming weeks and months.)
The issue of not being able to log back in was also why I could not test the capability of Openbox to start different applications on different workspaces. Maybe I'll try that some other time.

Speaking of Openbox itself, #! used 150 MB of RAM at idle. While I have come to expect that from #!, given that I have recently tested a number of distributions which use a whole lot of RAM at idle, this is always refreshing to see. In addition, the built-in compositing function worked fine.
Despite this being a very early pre-release version, #! 11 "Waldorf" was incredibly stable. I experienced no crashes or any other issues at all.
The only other minor complaint I have is that when I installed new applications, the Openbox menu would not automatically update to reflect this change. I know that in general Openbox does not do that, but for whatever reason I have been under the impression that #! does that. In fact, I'm pretty sure that when I tried installing and using Skype in #! 9.04.01, the menu automatically updated itself to reflect the installation of Skype. Anyway, that's a fairly minor point.

That is essentially where my time with #! ended. I'm pretty sure that the MP4 issue is just a matter of installing the proper codecs; plus, #! is supposed to have a post-installation script that automates the fetching of such useful packages. Other than that, I am aware that as #! uses Openbox, I will need to get my hands a little more dirty in configuring the system to my liking, even when it comes to things like setting certain applications to start upon logging in. I feel like that would be fun for playing around in the live session but it would be a pain to deal with on a daily basis; just to be sure, though, I may make this the subject of the next long-term review right after Chakra. I would recommend this to Linux users who are comfortable with the CLI and are OK with occasionally editing configuration text files; it's not for total newbies, but it's amazingly powerful and quite polished for something that uses Openbox.
You can get it here, but do keep in mind that this is not a final release and may present alpha-quality bugs that I have just been lucky enough to avoid.

7 comments:

  1. "...The only other minor complaint I have is that when I installed new applications, the Openbox menu would not automatically update to reflect this change..."

    Openbox's failure to update menus as apps are installed or removed is a deal-breaker for me. For most of last year, I had the Xfce version of #! Statler installed on my computer but left when it was announced the Xfce version was being dropped. Unfortunately, for the first half of this year, I had been unable to find a distro that I had enjoyed as much as #! Xfce, so I finally gave in and installed #! Waldorf. But to me, Openbox's refusal to automatically update its menus as new apps are installed or removed is inexcusable, so I replaced Openbox with Xfce (my favorite desktop, BTW). And BTW, I too get similar memory usage readings with Xfce as you did with Openbox.

    In any event, it's good to be back with #!, even if it involved taking the extra time to ditch Openbox and everything associated with it in favor of Xfce.

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  2. @ Fred
    openbox is a minimal window manager. it aims to manage windows and do that well, and it really does. it doesn't even have a native panel, that is how it's designed. there are plenty of WMs and DEs with self-updating menus, and so on and so forth. no WM can be everything to everyone. openbox is what it is, it's actually very consistent in its "philosophy". i believe that your criticism is not valid from an objective pov, although of course you're perfectly entitled to be unhappy and ditch it.

    as for this blog post,

    "Speaking of Openbox itself, #! used 150 MB of RAM at idle."

    i used to run crunchbang and it would boot at 39 MB after i removed a few things i didn't need from the background. it's an excellent distro for its niche - older hardware and/or minimalism lovers. what it really is though, is debian, and that is as good as linux gets, so...

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  3. @Fred: It isn't surprising that properly configured, Xfce can be as lightweight as Openbox, considering that was exactly the case when #! still had an Xfce edition.

    @istok: I agree with most of your assessment of Openbox, except that I do distinctly remember that #! did at one point have Openbox menus that automatically updated themselves to reflect changes, so that is a somewhat annoying regression. Also, I'm not surprised to see such a low RAM usage, especially if your computer has less RAM in general.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. Auto updating Openbox menu is easy with;

    http://mimasgpc.free.fr/openbox-menu_en.html

    Or try Archbang with auto updating openbox menu included;

    http://archbang.org/

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    Replies
    1. @Neil Houghton: Thanks for the tip!

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    2. Build Arch from the ground up, don't go with Archbang.

      And if you need a self-updating menu, check for Debian menu and add it to the Openbox menu.xml by hand.

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    3. @Tom: Thanks for the tip!

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