Sunday, July 22, 2012

Crunchbang Linux Review

As a long Linux user I have experimented with a lot of different operating systems. I have used Debian for a short while (before a dependency managed to bring the system down), Linux Mint, Ubuntu, and a lot of other Debian based Linux distros but it wasn't until about two days ago that I decided I would try out crunchbang: a lightweight Debian derivative using Openbox as its primary window manager. Here is a breakdown of its strong points and weaknesses:

Good: Speed
Crunchbang's boot process beat my Ubuntu partition by about 30 seconds. I do have a lot of bloaty services running on Ubuntu, but this is quite a big bonus; especially so if reboots are commonplace.

Good: Stability
Depending on the version of Crunchbang that you chose (testing, stable, backports, etc) there will be varying degrees of stability. It's based on Debian, which is a widely used operating systems on servers, so it inherits a lot of Debian's stability. I have not had a graphical hiccup or a kernel panic once.

Bad: Backport Repositories
On crunchbang it is easy to change around the repositories using synaptic or just editing /etc/apt/sources.list. That makes this issues less of a big deal. However, the backports did not seem to have enough packages that I am used to having. Codeblocks was not in here, and dependencies were an issue. Adding Debian Wheezy's repositories fixed some of the issues.

Very Bad: Installer
I installed Crunchbang twice. The first time, the installer failed to recognize my Ubuntu partition and when it wrote Grub to the master boot record. This gave me a barely functioning crunchbang install and no Ubuntu. For a novice computer user this would be an instant dealbreaker, because of they do not know their way around mount then all of their data would have been lost.

When I entered the (then only) operating system on the grub screen I was immediately displeased. Thunar (the file manager) would not start because it could not find the display and glibc6 was not found. These are two enormous errors. Rebooting solved those issues, but not the issue of the MBR. I reinstalled Crunchbang and it worked perfectly, detecing all three of my Operating Systems.

Great: Aesthetics
In addition to Openbox, a dark icon theme, and a light gray background (simple yet elegant) Crunchbang comes with my personal favorite display manager: SliM. SliM is one of the simpler display managers available. It is configurable if you have the root password, and allows quick different user logins. It doesn't show a list of users. It just shows :username and :password. If your username goes along the lines of xXxXleethaXorZxX then SliM is not for you.

You decide: Ice*
On Debian and Crunchbang Mozilla Firefox is replaced with a browser called Iceweasel. This is because some of Mozilla Firefox (the crash handler and images) is proprietary. Iceweasel is completely free, but lags behind a bit in terms of features and up-to-datedness (aurora is 11.0). Firefox addons and themes are fully compatible. Iceweasel has a brilliant feature added to the search bar. It can search for Debian packages, which is a lifesaver on the broken backports repoistory.

Icedove, the Thunderbird replacement, is also a bit outdated but is not as noticeable. It works the same as Thunderbird and even has (in my opinion) a prettier icon.

Bad: Out of the box software
Crunchbang comes with a bit of preinstalled software, but not all the choices are good. The file manager (thunar) and the terminal emulator (terminator) are two of the few good examples of preinstalled software. Abiword and Geany are the only two text editors that come with the system (if you discount VI). There is no middle ground and no libreoffice. If someone wanted to edit their rc.lua file for the Awesome window manager, lets say, they would have to decide between opening it in a word processor with no syntax highlighting or a full fledged IDE.

Gedit does not have many dependencies, so installing it was easy enough.

Other essential tools like CUPS and git are not included, but a welcome script called cb-welcome allows them to be downloaded.

I have had a love-hate relationship with Crunchbang over the past few days. Dependencies have killed me, but the stability and speed are good things. Crunchbang is NOT for beginners, unlike what Crunchbang enthusiasts may try and tell you. I had to mount my /dev/sda7 partition from the command line to even get my old files transfered over (and no, thunar did not detect it). However, if you are an experienced Linux user that wants to escape the bloaty grasp of Canonical or the outdated and fully free beast that Debian Squeeze is, then Crunchbang could be for you.

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