Posted by: duskfire | May 16, 2012

Crunchbang Linux review

In my continued look at out of the ordinary Linux distributions, I installed Crunchbang Linux. Crunchbang’s main version is a distribution based on Debian’s stable branch (known as “squeeze”). This review is based on the 32-bit version of Crunchbang Linux. At this time, Crunchbang offers a regular version and one with backports installed (for the new kernel, among other things). I chose to use the regular version, R20120207 “Statler”.

Crunchbang is definitely not for casual users, nor does it claim to be. It’s a low-resource-using system for more advanced Linux users who won’t be frightened by the minimalist but very functional Openbox window manager.

Installing

Crunchbang uses a text-based installation program. I was a bit surprised to discover that if you run it live, you cannot install it from that session, like most live CDs allow. You must choose the install option at the menu.

Even though it is a text-based process, most of the installation is quite routine. You choose your language, geographic location, keyboard, and then must name your network. After that, you choose your user name and password. There’s no indicator of password strength, and Crunchbang uses the practice of not assigning a password to the root account, using the “sudo” command for most administrative duties. Following that, you choose what time zone you’re in, go through a manual partitioning process, and finally install the GRUB bootloader. Partitioning can be guided, but it looked like you would be wiping the entire drive if you choose that. So for people who desire a dual-boot system, manual partitioning is the only way. I was able to do this successfully; however, the text-based partitioning may be uncomfortable for people who are not used to doing it. Here again, Crunchbang is just not aimed at newbies.

After the installation is finished, you must re-enter your wireless password for a secure connection. After prompting you to update your system, Crunchbang then has a guided series of (optional) questions inside of a terminal, which are used to install additional software based on your answers. You can add printer support, Java, Libre Office, and up to 4 groups of development files: version control, ssh, LAMP, and deb file packaging. I was impressed that Crunchbang makes it so easy to set up a LAMP system (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) or work on debian packaging.

First impressions

Crunchbang certainly doesn’t try to fool users; it has a pretty, yet spartan Openbox setup with 2 virtual desktops ready to go and Conky running on the right hand side (a utility showing useful information about your running system). I changed the default wallpaper in the picture below, but otherwise this is what you get when you log in:

All of the wallpapers you start with share this dark theme, although some aren’t bad. Openbox has an excellent configuration utility, also used in most LXDE-based desktops.

Software

Crunchbang starts you off with many useful accessories, GIMP, an image viewer, a screenshot program, VLC, a CD burning application (xfburn), Xchat, the Firefox web browser, Abiword, Gnumeric, and Evince (a PDF viewer). You also can install Dropbox (a cloud-based storage application) from the main menu.

If you didn’t choose to install LibreOffice earlier, the menu offers that option, along with offering you the chance to install the Opera and Chromium browsers. The version of LibreOffice that is in the repositories is 3.4.6, not as old as I had expected.

Because Crunchbang is based on the stable version of Debian, many packages are somewhat outdated. Python versions, for instance, are still 2.6.6 and 3.1.3.

When you look at games. most are a couple of versions behind the ones you can get in most distributions. There are also slightly fewer games at first, since the additional repositories from GetDeb are not in your sources list file. Emulators are not as well supported either; there are 3 NES and one for Genesis, none of which have graphical front ends. The GBA emulator isn’t the best one, and the other emulators are not all that good either. Your best choices are ZSNES for Super NES and Mupen64plus  for Nintendo 64 (the best version of this, actually). Wine is only version 1.0.1, there are no Playstation emulators, but the Nintendo DS emulator is available.

You do get most of the chess programs and engines, a fairly recent Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup version, the GNU Backgammon program, and the usual Go playing programs.

I decided to install the Fluxbox window manager to complement Openbox. Openbox is really an excellent window manager, but I like Fluxbox as well. Here’s a picture showing the menu:

Unlike Openbox, Fluxbox automatically adds newly installed games and programs to the menu. But you will need to edit the fluxbox configuration file in order to get your wireless to connect. Once I figured out that I needed to copy 3 lines over from the openbox configuration file, it worked fine.

Things I liked

There is support for most codecs built in; you can play videos, listen to music, or stream radio right after installing. The only thing I was not able to do was to watch Quicktime movie trailers.

watching an old TV series on Hulu

Crunchbang has a friendly and helpful forum, and a wiki that the users are building into a good source of information. Firefox comes populated with a few Crunchbang related web pages. Xchat automatically puts you into 3 channels, although only one looked to be a Crunchbang discussion.

The printer setup utility had no problem finding my wireless printer, and I didn’t have to pick it from a list.

The games that are there work well. In fact, Dreamchess finally worked perfectly for me. Supertuxkart, another troublesome game, also worked quite well although its appearance revealed how old it was.

I guess I’ll need to install this version everywhere else.

Things I didn’t like

I’m not sure why the Openbox menu doesn’t automatically add items that you have installed; I guess it just isn’t set up that way. Fluxbox does not have the wireless connection set up for you by default, but since it isn’t the primary window manager I can understand that.

Too many applications that I’m used to seem to be missing (for instance, the repositories do not include Code::Blocks, my favorite C++ IDE).


Final Thoughts

I don’t want to leave the impression that Crunchbang is a poor distribution; I don’t feel that way. However,  the main version, based on the older stable repositories, isn’t really suited for me. I enjoy my games and emulators very much, and in that respect, there are distributions that are better. In my next post, I’m going to take a look at the newer development version (Waldorf), which is based on Debian wheezy (the testing branch of Debian).

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Responses

  1. I expected this review to be a little more appreciative of Crunchbang’s strengths when I started to read it. Starts off making it clear that this is not a beginner’s distro but ends up focusing on things the author finds problematic because it’s not a beginner’s distro.
    But this is just my opinion, I still find it noteworthy that author took the time to document (with screencaps) a pretty detailed explanation of his experience.

    • Yep.

      I installed Crunchbang when the first Debian edition came out – two or one and a half years ago? – and I never had one single crash! It just works.

      As for Code::Blocks not being available – well I realized that too. Put in relation to Debians vast repository that’s kind of negligible I guess. At http://www.codeblocks.org/downloads/binaries you can download Debian packages directly from Code::Blocks.

      By the way that’s one feature I like most about Openbox – the application menu not being cluttered but completely personalized. (I use xfce4-appfinder to have a quick overview of installed packages.)

      And yes I am a Crunchbang fanboy who thinks the distro really is the de facto openbox implementation:-)

      (Don’t expect to much from Waldorf as it is not for productive use. It’s only thought for bug hunting and to prepare the next stable release.)

      Oh and the target audiences I’d say are (completely personal opinion) users tired of kde-gnome-not-yet-enough-features/eye-candy – ideal for your workplace to do really serious working;-)

      Cheers

  2. I’m not sure why the Openbox menu doesn’t automatically add items that you have installed; I guess it just isn’t set up that way.

    You can see a guide in the CB wiki about getting Openbox to auto-add installed applications to the menu: http://crunchbanglinux.org/wiki/configuring_the_openbox_menu

    • Hmm. Thanks a lot for this, I guess I didn’t look through the wiki thoroughly enough.

  3. or use openbox-menu;

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

  4. Active “contrib” and “non-free” repos on /etc/apt/sources.list .
    Just add “contrib non-free” after “main” and you’ll get tons of emulators.
    PCSXR doesn’t even requiere a Sony SCPH BIOS to run.

  5. The emulator/wine issue has more to do with the debian repositories than crunchbang itself.

    Wheezy is more emulator friendly. MAME, MESS (which is not included in ubuntu for some reason), and bsnes have all been added to the testing repositories.

    Also pcsxr for playstation, although I’ve never used it and can’t attest to its quality.

  6. Second the last post. It depends from the Debian packages. Apart from that, CrunchBang is awesome. ;)

  7. After 8 years of using Linux, I can say Crunchbang simply fills all that I need and expect of a OS. Been using Fedora, Suse and Debian over years, and Debian appeared as the most reliable one (especially when you deal with old hardware)- you just have to be a bit deeper into Linux to get comfortable with Debian.
    Crunchbang got a step further by “simplifying” the Debian, making it lighter and faster, and more configurable in terms of desktop usage. But it is still “pure” Debian that you’re running with Crunchbang.
    I never had any serious crash, apart of some disobedient apps like Cairo composite or such. It’s a rock of a system, and very attractive once you configure the Openbox which is capable of being the most beautiful window manager (and desktop environment if it is preferable to be classified as such).
    I have been installing and testing CB on Laptops, Netbooks, old and new desktop computers, nettops, you name it – and the average is 98%-100% of efficiency (not the case with other popular distros, for sure)

  8. Just installed the latest version. I am really liking it. Not a newbie but not an expert hacker. Had a 2005 Compaq presario that Ubuntu didn’t like the graphics card. All the ubuntu derived linuxes had same problem.

    Regarding installed programs not being added automatically to the menu: There is a very nice menu editing GUI. Look under Settings > Openbox > GUI Menu Editor. You can easily arrange the menu just as you want. (The installed programs are in /usr/bin.) I frequently use Lyx, the latex frontend, sort of wysiwyg editor. Put it on the first level to get quick access. I’ve noticed with other linuxes, sometimes the installed programs go into screwy places in the menu.


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