2013-05-15

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

Main Screen + Openbox Menu
This is the last week of classes for me. I have turned in all my assignments and a handful of days until finals, so I can take today and tomorrow to write a couple of reviews at my leisure. The first will be #!.

#! should be familiar to many readers here. It is a lightweight Debian-based distribution that uses Openbox. While it is not technically a rolling-release distribution because it is pinned to the stable release, there were tons of preview releases for this version. Now that Debian 7 "Wheezy" is finally stable, so is #! 11 "Waldorf". Since version 10 "Statler", the Xfce edition has been dropped, so #! is back to using Openbox exclusively.

I tried this on a live USB made with MultiSystem. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

To be honest, as it turns out, very little has changed from the preview release that I tried almost a year ago; you can read that article here. Rather than wasting electrons by rewriting the same words, I will simply list what has changed.

Iceweasel + Abiword
Iceweasel is the default browser instead of Chromium, which is something I like; plus, now Iceweasel has no issue with extensions and plugins for proper Mozilla Firefox, including the Google Talk plugin. Furthermore, although Debian 7 "Wheezy" typically ships with old software and although #! usually follows suit, Iceweasel is included at version 20, which includes the separate window private browsing feature.

I had the same password issue before when I wanted to log out and log back in to try the autostarting of Redshift, but I happily found out that typing "exit" into the username entry and then typing "startx" into the resulting console would bring back the desktop as-is; furthermore, Redshift worked great, and its GTK+ panel applet integrated well into the Tint2 panel. Speaking of Tint2, it was easy enough to edit its configuration file to position it at the bottom of the screen and change its clock format.

#! now might use even less RAM than before, at 148 MB; of course, having taken 8.13 — Experimental Physics I and 8.14 — Experimental Physics II, I can't tell if that is significantly different from the previous value of 150 MB without error bars on the two values (though I could probably get a better idea with more testing, if I had that kind of time).

Thunar + Viewnior
Skype worked perfectly this time around; it had no problems in its download, installation, or configuration. Finally, VLC had no troubles at all in playing any multimedia files (including MP4 videos) on the local Linux Mint partition on my laptop's hard drive.

One of the only bad thing to come out of this was that Mupen64Plus did not have a configurable input plugin, so I could not configure which keys would map to which controller buttons, though this is an extremely minor annoyance. The other issue was that the shutdown dialog wouldn't reboot the system, but I was still in the normal session, so I was able to issue the command "sudo shutdown -r now" to make it happen.

Otherwise, overall, #! has improved quite a bit over the last 10 months, and my recommendation of it to beginner Linux users who may be getting a little more comfortable with the idea of the CLI is only strengthened. It is an even more powerful and polished distribution than before, and that is pretty darn amazing.
You can get it here. To compensate for the relative brevity of this review, I am including pictures similar to those that I could not include last time.

25 comments:

  1. Would you say it's lunar bun is fine?

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  2. I would not recommend #! to newbies. It's still to rough. But as soon as you become comfortable with the Linux system architecture and approach, #! maybe a good alternative.

    My own review of #! : http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2012/03/crunchbang-linux-good-system-for.html

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  3. I really like debian, it was my first distro, but i have a question this distribution has support for apt-repository like ubuntu's distros the main reason for no using debian right now it's that this ubuntu tools help a lot in configuration of package system

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  4. Nice small delta review. I might try it someday, although I'm usually happy with Ubuntu LTS releases.

    One small thing: you may find even with error bars that 148 MB steady state RAM used is significantly different than the 150 MB steady state of before, but I question the practicality of this difference. 2 megabytes shaved off of steady state seems, practically, insignificant. I mean we are regularly seeing 32 and 64 GB RAM machines now, with 128 GB, 256 GB and higher on the high end. 2 MB steady state saved is miniscule.

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  5. @Anonymous 1, 2: Have you two been high today? :)

    @DarkDuck: That's what I have concluded too. #! requires too much text editing and CLI work to be suitable for newbies, but beginners who are starting to get comfortable with that would like it because #! still sort of holds your hand along the process, and has excellent documentation in its forums and wiki.

    @krpalospo: I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "apt-repository", but I'm going to guess that's because I am not too familiar with the inner workings of APT. Can anyone help in this regard?

    @Wolf: Yeah I know, which is why I didn't make too big of a deal out of that generally small difference.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  6. Why isn't Semplice getting the attention it deserves. Imho it is better than #!, Been running it for a couple of weeks now and it a lot more polished than Crunchbang. Give Semplice a try.

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    1. @Anonymous: I have reviewed #! several times now, and it released its first version since Debian 7 "Wheezy" became declared stable, so I figured it was time for another review. I hadn't really heard of Semplice until you mentioned it, but now that I'm looking at its website, it reminds me a lot of the old Ubuntu-based #! (though it is based on Debian) which I really liked. I am now intrigued enough that I would be willing to review it in the near future. Thanks for the tip!

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  7. Hi PV! Do review Semplice as soon as possible! In my opinion out of box Semplice is easier to use and prettier to look at compared to Crunchbang. It's a shame that Semplice hasn't received it's due credit. A popular reviewer writing about it might change it!
    Cheers!!!

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    1. @HakerDefo: I'm flattered that you consider me to be a "popular reviewer" :P. I assure you that Semplice is next on the list of distributions to be reviewed. Thanks for the comment!

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  8. Of course you're popular, and you should be, given the fact that your reviews are the only (or at least the most) practically useful ones I've read along the years. All this time bugs and general *nices' desktop environments' slugginess have kept me from letting go of the Microsoft world (which I've always resented, although I could also praise some of their older software accomplishments), but I've kept trying...

    Now I've just tested Mint 15 "Olivia" (Mate) which disappointed in terms of responsitivity (I only have a single core AMD CPU and 2GB DDR2), so I've found out about the latest Lubuntu and I'm impressed. It needs to be polished, but it's less bloated and everything works well (except for Gnome Mplayer which doesn't apply settings such as gamma for me, so I'm using VLC which has more features working out of the box and starts just as fast/slow...).

    So I was flattered too. Because I was still wondering what other recent distributions may suit me and you've confirmed my choices (by grading Lubuntu and OpenSuse among highest).

    OpenSuse was reccommended to me by the Linux Distribution Chooser (http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/index.php). I don't think it would be suited for even older hardware though and I intend to make some people try Linux on their Pentium III / 4 & 128-256 MB SDR... I know it's much to ask of it, but Lubuntu may work.

    The only thing that could discourage me again now would be having to spend hours making something like a mouse or hotkey setting work that should be easily configurable or some serious (eg. driver related) issue. I'm not missing any software (e.g. e-mail notifier, Find and Run Robot portable application launcher) and migrating the Firefox profile was as easy as copying a folder.

    I'm mentioning all of these details because I am of the opinion that these are the important details, the stuff that should be reviewed, to help new-comers make an informed decision, and that's just what you do best - that's what I'm trying to argue. A little more technical insight(s?) couldn't hurt, but those are probably more interesting to those already well-versed in the *nix world, and they don't need as much help anyway. So thank you!

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  9. I meant "responsiveness". I'm not a native English speaker.

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    1. @bitoolean: I really appreciate the support; I'm glad you enjoy my methods for reviewing distributions and my detailing such methods. I feel like it has been a while since I reviewed Lubuntu, but I'm glad that my past reviews of it have helped you find a good distribution for your needs. Speaking of which, given that this is the article for that, have you tried #!? It's based on Debian which makes it, in my experience, significantly more responsive than even Lubuntu, so it might be worth your time just to try it. Plus, given that it is based on Debian, you can move it from the Stable repositories to Testing or Unstable to get a more/less stable rolling-release environment. Also, your English is just fine. :) Thanks for the comment!

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  10. My Crunchbang #! boots with only 68.8 MB not trolling.
    I love this distro because the minimal idea behind it.

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    1. @Anonymous: I can believe 68.8 MB of RAM usage at idle especially if you have an older computer; I feel like #! tries to optimize resource usage for the machine in question. Thanks for the comment!

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  11. @PV: I'm late to reply mostly because I've been busy reinstalling the OS as the harddrive I had been testing/using Lubuntu lately on failed miserably (unrelated to the OS of course. I should have been watching an alarming SMART value but didn't have time whether it was changing with time or not). I've lost all my work, personal files and the conky configuration script I've been working hard at hehe.

    No, I haven't tried #! yet, and that's because I'm rather new to Unix-like systems. I'm pretty knowledgeable about technology however, given that I've been programming as a hobby since I started high-school 11 years ago (never got the chance to learn computer technology in school though... third-world country issues...), so terminal commands don't frighten me, although I understand compiling software from source can give headaches.
    BUT
    I understand from some online comment that #! is not appealing to beginners by not automatically creating shortcuts in the launcher when installing new applications, for example. That's fine with me. I'm used to using the keyboard anyway. It's faster and I don't mind pressing Alt+F2 and Enter. My target friends wouldn't be so impressed though. And I'm using the launcher too anyway, because I'm always testing software, I keep forgetting the names.

    I'm looking for a lot of configurability, such as the XFCE desktop. Lubuntu doesn't offer that. Calling the configuration utilities rudimentary would be an understatement. So the OS I've been using after the hard-drive crash is the latest OpenSUSE, KDE desktop.

    I've always liked the concept of KDE. But the unavailability of so much software (I can't get any system-tray e-mail notification app to work and I think compiling may not be the solution since the ones I could find are old and incompatible and made for other desktop environments anyway - they don't even appear in the software manager), along with general GUI slugginess and the long-time ubiquitous KDE instability (not even the window buttons in the tasks panel are consistent at times) may be too much to put up with. I'm so going to miss the desktop "folder view" desklets :( and some KDE-specific apps which seem to generally be better regarded in reviews feature-wise, such as the K3b.

    All in all, my experience with Linux so far is still shaky :( It's gotten a lot better (Lubuntu at least was very stable) but there's the problem of incompatibilities between software not made to work together (and there are a lot of these kind of issues generally - such as the Eclipse IDE being difficult to install),
    BUT
    a Linux Notepad counterpart/alternative is much slower (launching, reacting to input, displaying GUI elements) than what I'm used to. That would be OK if the promise of opensource would mean more software choices in the end, but that's not the case unfortunately. So it may still have to catch up on the desktop/end-user/client side.

    I'd still recommend it to friends however. For most day-to-day computing, it's still more reliable, it has a more promising future and by using open-source software exclusively I never have to worry about malware again. Plus the LXDE launch menu is automatically organized, very descriptive and probably available in my language too. I'm only returning to Windows to game once in a while, but gaming gets old and I'm getting old too...

    So am I returning to Lubuntu or are you helping me choose the next lab rat? Is the #! distribution one that you think I'd do well to recommend to my computer-unsavvy friends? Would I need to simply change the desktop environment to overcome the launch menu issue (not automatically being updated)?

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    1. @bitoolean: You mentioned Xfce, and frankly I think that would be the best thing to satisfy your equal desires for configurability, power, light weight, and ease of use. I might recommend Linux Mint with Xfce, Xubuntu, or SolydX (based on Debian). You could also try Manjaro Linux, which comes with Xfce and is based on Arch. Xfce also of course has an automatically updating menu. Thanks for the comment!

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  12. @PV Thank you for taking the time to answer. Yes, I'll very probably return to Xfce eventually (or, rather, immediately). Thanks for the suggestions.

    As for my friends, I'll probably be installing an LXDE-supporting distribution like Lubuntu in the near future, as it's more lightweight, simple and stable.
    Even the comment regarding the launcher not being automatically updated I'm not sure what it has to do with. It was updating fine in the LXDE on Lubuntu...
    So I'm giving #! a try after all. Or I'll investigate the XFCE distros you suggested.

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    1. @bitoolean: If your friends aren't technically inclined users, I would suggest Xfce even for them, because I think LXDE may still be a little too bare-bones. Thanks for the comment!

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  13. And why not a pure Debian (stable/testing/unstable/exp) installation with openbox added http://packages.debian.org/wheezy/openbox for expamle...

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    1. @Anonymous: I could extend that logic to the point of asking, why didn't I just make different permutations of Linux From Scratch for each review? Sure it's possible to remake #! using pure Debian with Openbox, but the point is that #! adds a lot of niceties to the Openbox interface, Debian application collection, and post-installaation configuration process that make it a distribution worthy of use. Thanks for the comment!

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  14. Semplice looks good, but its based on Unstable (Sid) instead of Stable (Wheezy). For my needs, #! is the better choice.

    Also Iceweasel instead of Chromium to me is the better choice. You could also add the mozilla.debian.net repo to have the latest firefox. #! is pretty much Debian stable + their repo.

    So far with #! i had only needed to add debian backports to upgrade the wheezy kernel from 3.2 to 3.10, for a wifi usb stick i had around, and the usual firmware-linux-nonfree package.

    In some of my test machines (assorted p4s) when booting #! off an usb thumbdrive (made with unetbootin), after choosing install it would seem as if it had hanged...

    Actually, it didn't; it just took REALLY LONG to start the graphic debian installer, something like 20 minutes. Thankfully i left it running to do something else before calling it quits when i found out. Installed fine, and runs excellent from the hd with 512mb of ram. Next on my list are p3s with 128m of ram, i might switch iceweasel with midori on those :)

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    1. @Artemis3: Thanks for the comment!

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  15. I've been running Crunchbang on a Dell Latitude D610 for over a year. Just upgraded to the newer distro. For many users that just use browser/email, it's ideal and FAST.

    The learning curve is small, so for most people with even basic familiarity with Mac or Windows, it's easy to learn and live with. I've converted a few complete novices who now have older laptops that are screaming fast - and no more Windows problems. This is a good distro for beginners.

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    1. @Michael Taylor: I'm not sure how meaningful it is to say that #! has a small learning curve for people who just use a browser, because to be fair, that could be said about basically any distribution. That said, it is great that you have been able to get other people interested in #!. Thanks for the comment!

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