A day at the Opera, part two

July 13, 2010

I’ve blogged about Opera before, and at the time (version 9.5), I didn’t like it at all. It felt too clunky and too difficult to configure to keep it around, and at the time I switched back to Firefox. I semi-regularly kept trying the new versions, and each time came to the same conclusions.

Now, I have switched browsers in the meantime. Firefox became a bit too slow, too outdated for me, and for a while, there was a GTK issue which meant scrolling Google Reader was very cumbersome and slow. That meant I switched to Chrome on Windows XP (at work), Chromium on Linux.

Now however, there is a new version, 10.60, and it’s just so much better. I already like the layout before, but it’s even better now. Tabs are on top, just like Chrome and the new Firefox Beta (but unlike Firefox, the tabs are also on top in the XP version), and the Menu button means there’s even more space for the actual web page. Firefox, again, borrowed this design for the upcoming 4.0 release, but again, not in the XP version. The default skin/colour scheme is modern and unobtrusive without being boring. It’s all good.

It’s fast too, as fast as Chrome, maybe even faster. The only reference I have is how it feels, and if there’s a difference, it’s not very big. It’s definitely faster than Safari and Firefox on the same machine though (a Thinkpad T42).

The only thing that could improve is the download manager. One, it’s displayed in a separate tab. Nothing wrong with that, but I prefer the Chrome way of displaying the downloads at the bottom, with the possibility of opening a download manager in a new tab, but only if you want to. Secondly, I wanted it to store cbr and cbz files automatically in the downloads folder, which has always worked in any browser I used. Opera however keeps asking what to do with the file, and where to store it. I only need to hit Enter twice each time, so it’s not like it’s much extra work, but it’s annoying nonetheless.  Funnily enough, I don’t seem to have the same problem in the Linux version, which I installed on Ubuntu 10.04 yesterday.

In any case, where I couldn’t recommend Opera before, I really think it’s as good as Chrome and Firefox now. Try it out.

Sander


Why I’m using Fedora 13 now

June 7, 2010

There’s a reason I don’t update that much anymore: I’m no longer as excited by Linux as I was before. What I mean is, I no longer install every OS and every application anymore, just to know what it’s like. Linux is Linux, and no matter what major distribution you install, you get more or less the same product.

I was using Arch and KDE and while everything ran more or less smoothly, I disliked two things about it:

1) As I’ve said before, I prefer GTK applications over Qt ones. I use Pidgin, Chromium, Audacious, Comix and Emelfm2 no matter what DE I’m using, and I prefer Rhythmbox over Amarok, and Thunar over no matter what other file manager because of it’s excellent batch renaming capabilities.

2) I find Dolphin to be slow, and it inexplicably doesn’t sort files alphabetically anymore whenever I want it to sort them by type.

The main reason I used KDE was because it’s fast, beautiful, configurable, easy, and KWin is a far superior window manager than Metacity. GNOME even needs a totally unrelated window manager (Compiz) to have any kind of desktop effects, and even then configuration is a total mess.

But as I said, as my excitement about (but not enjoyment of) Linux ebbed, I found that I no longer needed the latest and greatest of whatever the open source community had to offer, and I planned to install Arch with XFCE or GNOME on a spare partition, use my favourite software, and forget about desktop effects or any other bells and whistles.

I hit a snag though: whenever I installed any DE or WM that used GTK the system became unbearably slow after I was done configuring it. Because the problem didn’t show up right after the fresh install, obviously it had something to do with my configuration. It mainly happened in “Open File” dialogs, and upon logging in. It wasn’t WM or DE specific: it happened in GNOME, XFCE, PekWM and Openbox. It wasn’t distribution specific: I had the same problem in Ubuntu, Mint, and finally Fedora, which I had installed because reviews were raving.

At that moment, I had enough and devoted an entire evening to solving the problem. I looked at logfiles. I installed Arch again, checking speeds every step of the way. I browsed every forum I could find. SVG based icon themes might have been the cause, but it turned out the problem was there with basic icon themes too. GDM was a possible suspect, because that would explain why I didn’t have the problem in KDE, but using SLIM or even “startx” didn’t solve everything. I searched through the logfiles and noticed gnome-vfs errors, which did provide the explanation of that but not a solution. And I still hadn’t found the reason why a fresh install of any distribution would run smoothly as anything.

Finally, I discovered that /etc/fstab (which contained a couple of lines I copy-pasted every time) was the problem, specifically the line that mounted the file server. Prejudice got the best of me for a moment and I briefly blamed Ubuntu, because that was what the server was running. That didn’t make any sense, however. As usual, the fault was entirely mine: I mounted a directory containing over 6000 mp3s, and most of them weren’t categorised into folders. And some movies. And some games. Creating a bit of order in the mounted directory took 5 minutes and solved the problem immediately. Which of course left me feeling a right fool, but I’m used to that.

Of course, at the time I was running Fedora, which was running fine, fast and stable, and had found by network printer just by looking at it. RPMFusion took care of the necessary media codecs and the nvidia driver (although that disabled the pretty plymouth theme, but I can live with that), and while I was surpised I didn’t find Chromium in the repositories, instructions on how to install it can be found here.

In short, I’m not running the latest versions of applications anymore, because Fedora doesn’t have a rolling release schedule. This used to be a big deal for me, now I find that I don’t care. The repositories are extensive, but of course Arch has the AUR which contains almost all open software known to man…but I’m not running anything exotic anymore.

In short, I like it. Let’s see how long it stays.

San


Arch is hard to replace

February 15, 2010

There’s a good reason I stayed with Arch for so long: it was simple, easy, behaved exactly as it should and it didn’t break. Until now.

The random plasma crashes are probably because of the recent upgrade to KDE 4.4, and I’m reasonably sure it would be solved if I delete the .kde dir or, in the worst case scenario, reinstall. In fact, I’m pretty sure the plasmoids I have installed from the AUR are the problem…

But the network problems baffle me. I don’t have these in other Linux distributions, but I don’t use them as much as I use Arch. The problem is only with the wired connection, my wireless LinkSys USB wireless thingamajammy could always connect (up until it fell and broke :/). I’m beginning to think the cable might be too long…grasping at straws here.

In any case, I started looking at possible replacements. Over the last couple of days, I tried quite a few:

I didn’t try out OpenSuse KDE, because I was curious about the GNOME version, there’s no Ubuntu because I already had Linux Mint, and I didn’t include Fedora although I wanted to, because I’m a bit worried about my download limit.

My requirements aren’t very hard, I believe.

  1. Relatively easy way to install/configure the nvidia drivers.
  2. I prefer KDE over GNOME, but will use both.
  3. List of preferred applications: nano, Pidgin, Chromium, Amarok/Rhythmbox, Transmission, audacious, k3b/Brasero, Comix, emelfm2 (or Krusader as an alternative), Yakuake/Guake.
  4. If KDE, I prefer the Smooth-Tasks plasmoid over the normal taskbar, and since I dislike the cashew, the I-hate-the-cashew plasmoid is a bonus too.
  5. Multimedia out of the box or easy to install/configure.
  6. No show-stopping bugs, crashes, or other unpleasantries.

So, let’s see what the various distributions are up against.

Arch:

  1. pacman -S nvidia && nvidia-xsettings. Okay, it’s command line, but for me, it’s as easy as that. Never fails.
  2. Arch only installs a base system, so both KDE and GNOME (and everything else) are easily installed. Arch’s packages are split, so you can pacman -S kde for the whole shebang, or pick and choose.
  3. Of those list, nano is installed by default. Everything else is in the official repositories.
  4. Both plasmoids are available in the AUR, so they’re “packaged” by volunteers. You need to be careful with these, but they’re easily installed.
  5. Many options. pacman -S gstreamer0.10-plugins && pacman -S flashplayer will be enough for most people.
  6. I guess the black screens after the latest KDE install and network problems fall in this category.

Now it’s time to have a look at the contenders:

Debian:

  1. Oh dear. While there’s plenty of documentation available, building the nvidia kernel module always failed for me without any helpful errors. I’ve tried this twice, but it just didn’t work. What I didn’t try is installing the drivers from the nvidia website…I didn’t feel like repeating that every time a new kernel came out.
  2. Debian’s repositories are absolutely huge, so both KDE and GNOME are available. The default CD1 installs GNOME, but KDE and XFCE editions are available.
  3. Everything I needed was either already installed or easy to install. Concerning Chromium/Chrome, Google provides a .deb package, but I heard these add their own repository to your sources.list, so use at your own risk.
  4. Not tested
  5. Not tested
  6. Not tested

OpenSuse:

  1. Easy One Click install is available. It’s not very fast, but it works well.
  2. I tried out the GNOME version based on this review.  Of course, KDE is available too.
  3. Again, huge repositories where I found everything I needed. Not all repositories were enabled by default, so this page was a big help. It searches for and installs software in a way familiar to Windows, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
  4. Not tested, since I used GNOME. However, smooth tasks is in the repositories. The cashew plasmoid isn’t, but in OpenSuse you can hide it by default
  5. Multimedia codecs aren’t installed by default, but can be easily installed here.
  6. OpenSuse was a bit of a surprise. I liked the looks very much, and it was faster then I remembered, especially Yast. However, I couldn’t get compiz to work. It would start, and I’d have wobbly windows for one second, then it would switch back. This happened on two separate installs.

Mandriva 2010:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers has been a problem before for me, but this time they were already available after the installation. I didn’t have to do anything. Pleasant surprise.
  2. Both GNOME and KDE are available, I tried KDE.
  3. Mandriva is the only one of the distributions I tried which didn’t have nano installed by default. Considering how small this console editor is, I see no reason not to include it, but there you are. Chromium I found by enabling the backport repositories, and everything else was available too.
  4. Again a pleasant surprise: both plasmoids were available.
  5. In a way similar to Ubuntu, Mandriva detects if you want to play media which is restricted by copyright issues, and offers to install the necessary packages.
  6. There really isn’t much that isn’t to like in Mandriva. There were only two small issues: I found fonts didn’t look as nice on my monitor as they do in the other distributions, and the locale outside of X wasn’t configured properly: I still had a qwerty keyboard. Definitely a contender.

Sidux 2009.04:

  1. Installing the nvidia drivers is not very simple, but it works well. The documentation can be found here.
  2. Sidux comes with KDE as the default. XFCE is available too.
  3. When it came to software, the only problem was finding a Chromium package, but adding a repository rather amusingly called frickelplatz solved that issue.
  4. The cashew plasmoid couldn’t be found, but adding another repository named xadras made Smooth tasks available.
  5. As far as I could see, sidux played multimedia out of the box. I didn’t rest this rigorously.
  6. Some problems here. I installed sidux twice, and the first time everything seemed okay. The second time however problems arose. One boot everything would be okay, the second one the locale would be wrong and I’d end up with a qwerty keyboard. Also, the system didn’t register the first two keystrokes after switching virtual desktop. Extremely odd.

Linux Mint:

  1. Mint’s based on Ubuntu, so it detects automatically if you have hardware which needs restricted drivers, and offers to installs them. Never fails.
  2. Mint’s default is GNOME, but a KDE version is available too. I didn’t test this, because this version  is mainly the standard edition with KDE slapped on top, which makes it a 1,1 GB download.
  3. Everything I needed was already installed, except for Guake and Chromium. Guake was in the repotories, for Chromium I needed to add this PPA to the software sources, which was easily done.
  4. Not tested (GNOME)
  5. Mint prides itself on playing everything out of the box.
  6. I had high hopes for Mint: it provides everything I want, looks fantastic, and never failed me before. However, this time it did. I had no problems in the LiveCD, or right after install, but after the necessary updates, it no longer auto-mounted my USB stick. I installed Mint twice just to be sure, with the same result. I could see the USB stick when I opened “My Computer”, but had to double-click it to mount it. Installing gnome-volume-manager temporarily solved it, but then it reappeared. All in all, disappointing.

And the winner is:

Arch.

That may not be a surprise. There’s nothing much wrong with Mandriva, and I probably would have kept Mint if it didn’t have that USB stick bug, but after testing all those I simply installed Arch again. It took me 25 minutes all in all, KDE 4.4 is behaving now, and the network problems haven’t returned so far. Arch really is radically simple, there’s no substitute for /etc/rc.conf, for pacman, and for the stability that comes with a policy of not patching anything unless there’s absolutely no other way.

Granted, the rolling release model means that things occasionally break. Regular checks of the homepage are required before any major updates, to stay informed of possible issues. But in my experience, no distribution is entirely bug free. Non of them however, comes as close as Arch.

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

KDE SC 4.4 and Arch

San


Very quick look at Mandriva 2010

November 7, 2009

I wanted to see what KDE looks like in  other distributions than Chakra (which is, after all, the default look), so I downloaded Mandriva 2010. I just had a look around, meaning I just ran the LiveCD and didn’t install it. I mean, why go through all the trouble when I know I won’t use it anyway?

Mandriva had improved since the last time I tried it:

  • It looks better, but that’s probably because I installed the KDE version this time, instead of GNOME. Mandriva has a very consistent look, which is a good thing, but I agreed with my girlfriend when she said it looked “a bit boring”. It’s okay, but it doesn’t wow you.
  • Unlike last time, the nvidia driver was loaded. The resolution wasn’t right, but easily changed through Mandriva’s excellent Configuration Center
  • Performance was good, even for a liveCD
  • Wireless worked straight out of the box
  • Adding software was easy and pretty fast

I was just beginning to think that with distributions like this and Ubuntu, there’s really no need for the hordes of rabid bloggers, screaming that Linux has lost out to Windows 7, that Ubuntu 9.10 is the worst release ever (why does that sound so familiar?), that Armageddon is upon us, etc etc…and then I noticed sound wasn’t working. And I didn’t get a popup this time when I clicked an mp3, asking me to install the necessary codecs (which did happen in 2009). And Amarok crashed (but I won’t hold that against MAndriva because it fails to do anything even remotely useful in Arch too).

I probably could have solved this…maybe it would have been okay after install, but since I didn’t want to install it, I guess I’ll never know.

San


Chakra Alpha 3: a review

October 9, 2009

Introduction

You have to hand it to the Chakra project developers: they sure have ambition. Don’t expect a remastered Ubuntu here, Chakra takes the do-it-yourself distribution Arch, and tries to make the installation easy, providing you with the latest and greatest KDE in the process. Chakra has more or less grew out of KDEmod, a modded and modular set of KDE packages for Arch. Apparently, the devs decided that they might as well slap an installer together and create a whole new distribution. Easier said than done…

I say “distribution”, but the Chakra people are apparently very modest and call it a distrolet. Their reasoning is that after the install, you end up with regular Arch, albeit with their version of KDE. Be that as it may, they also included their own tools: the installer Tribe, the package manager front-end Shaman, the system config utility Arxin, and even live media creation scripts. In my book, Chakra certainly qualifies to be called a distribution. I know many other projects certainly do, even if they’re just a glorified Ubuntu…

In any case, Chakra is still alpha software, and it hasn’t that many developers working on it, so it’s progress is rather slow. On the other hand, those devs are involved in KDE itself, so they have a pretty good pedigree. Still, bugs are to be expected, maybe even serious ones.

Installation

I grabbed the torrent from the website (apparently the servers were a bit overloaded after release), and copied it to a USB stick according to the instructions on the website. Upon boot, I was greeted with a few options, one of them including non-free software. I have a nVidia graphics card in this machine, so that’s what I chose. I booted into a nice looking, but default KDE. As far as I know, the only modification that has been made is the menu button, which is the Chakra swirly icon instead of the usual K. I was online, things looked good, so I clicked the “Install” icon on the desktop. Apparently, the installer checks for new versions of itself before running, which is a good idea, but unfortunately the newly downloaded version didn’t work. It got stuck, showing me a message “Setting up Tribe”. After a quick search around the forums, I learned that this is a known bug, and typing “sudo tribe” in a terminal takes care of that. The installer works fine after that, but it’s not a great start, really.

As you can see on the screenshots, Tribe looks fantastic. The various installation steps are visible in a list on the left, in a layout that reminds me of the openSuse installer. I especially liked the globe when choosing Language and Time settings. The disk partitioner on the other hand, was a bit confusing. You have to click the various options to change them (like mount point, filesystem, etc), instead of a general “Edit Partition…” button. It works just as well, it just isn’t that obvious. This part of the installation also took a very long time, to the point where I thought it had crashed. A couple of steps later and you’re installing the system, which happens very fast until you hit the part where the default mirror for the package manager is selected. You can’t choose from a list, instead Chakra uses the rankmirror script by default, which checks the five fastest mirrors in your location. It’s a good idea, but it takes a long time.
Eventually, there are a couple of configuration steps left to do, like creating the user (which you can grant Ubuntu-like sudo privileges), the root user, and installing the boot loader. You can choose the right partition, but you have to do it in grub-speak (hd0 for the MBR, hd0,0 for the first partition, etc). Again, this might not be obvious for everybody.

First boot

After a quick reboot you can enjoy your brand new Chakra system…well, you could, if grub hadn’t added hd0,4,4 to my configuration file, instead of hd0,4. This is such a strange error that I was wondering if I hadn’t made the mistake myself. I’m fairly sure that I didn’t. In any case, it’s quickly solved, but you need to know where to look. Another issue I had: the locale was correct, but the keymap wasn’t. Because I have quite a lot of experience with Arch, I knew I had to edit /etc/rc.conf and /etc/hal/fdi/policy/10-keymap.fdi, but I can’t imagine normal users knowing about this. Finally, upon reboot, I noticed that a couple of daemons failed to stop: networkmanager, avahi, and cdemud. I disabled the last two, because I have no need of them, and as far as I can see it’s not like there’s any trouble because of it. Still, it’s worrying to see that big red “FAIL” scrolling by.
A final minor point: a distribution that aims to look good, as Chakra obviously does, really shouldn’t have messages scrolling by at boot or shutdown at all. I prefer a nice scroll bar or animation, with the possibility to hit Esc or F2 for the more detailed messages.

Upon first boot into KDE, I was greeted with a very familiar sight: a popup asking me to configure Automatic Updates. It’s looks and like the Windows Updater, but upon reflection it really is the best way to handle Arch’s rolling release model. I am however very happy that “Download and install the updates automatically” is the last option available, and is clearly marked as dangerous. This is true for any OS but certainly Arch: look at what you’re about to install. Arch has been very solid for me, but occasionally things do go wrong. For example, the latest update of the KDE printer applet made it crash every time at boot. I knew what I had installed, I checked the Chakra and Arch forums, saw people having the same problem, and waited a day. The next update solved the problem.

Chakra: Automatic updates

This brings me to another advantage of Arch, and by extension Chakra: you’re running the latest software. KDE was updated from 4.3.1 to 4.3.2 less than a day after the official release. I’m running the latest and greatest, which from a security point of view, is always a good idea. Hardware detection was very good too: the nVidia graphics card was detected and configured properly, and so was my wireless USB dongle. This is something the Chakra devs had to add in Tribe, because I know I have to do these things myself in Arch. Cups however wasn’t added to the main configuration file (/etc/rc.conf), and I had to add it myself to be able to use the network printer.

I mentioned before that I installed the Minimal CD. The official release will be a DVD image, but in the case of the CD, Minimal means indeed minimal. You get a barebones KDE, with Kaffeine, K3b and Arora, but that’s it. Everything else can be installed with Shaman, the package manager. The upside here is that Chakra/KDEmod splits the traditional KDE packages, so for instance it’s possible to install just Ksnapshot, and not the entire kde-graphics package. I prefer to use pacman and the command line, but Shaman is a very good (easier?) alternative.

chakra: Shaman

chakra: Shaman

Conclusion

All in all, I’m impressed. As I said in the introduction, Chakra is still alpha, so the problems I encountered can certainly be forgiven. They can easily be solved by anyone with a bit of experience with Arch Linux, but for others they might be show stoppers. I’m pretty sure they will be ironed out at the time of the final release though, because it’s quite obvious the Chakra devs know what they’re doing. They wanted to bring the speed, stability, and rolling release model of Arch, combined with the elegance and beauty of KDE to the average user, and in my opinion they’re well on their way there. Tribe needs some work, but it works. Some configuration has to be automated even more, but most of it has been taken care of. Shaman is an excellent and easy front-end of the command line package manager pacman. The rolling release model makes very frequent updates necessary, which the Chakra devs have solved by including a sane Automatic Updater, which provides plenty of information both before and after install. They’re very much on the right track, and I feel confident to predict that Chakra will become a popular choice among Linux users when the first release hits the internet. I know I’m sold: I’m using it as my main OS at the moment.

Chakra: My KDE after config

Chakra: My KDE after config

San


Pardus 2009

July 21, 2009

A year ago I reviewed Pardus 2008 and I was pleasantly surprised. Safe for some details here and there, it was a very well made ready-for-everyone kind of Linux distribution. Now, a year later, the new version is out, and switches from KDE3 to KDE 4.2. It’s been gathering some positive reviews, and I was eager to try it out.

Well, the install is still very easy. It looks even better than it did before, especially because of the custom-made icon theme which is one of the best I’ve ever seen. The first-boot KAPTAN configuration tool is still a very good idea, and helps to personalise your desktop right from the start. Configuration in general is still very easy, especially network configuration.

But something must have gone horribly wrong during the install, because the stability is simply atrocious. Applications keep crashing. One time, I could move the mouse but I couldn’t open a single program because I couldn’t click anything. I booted into 5 minutes ago and Firefox wouldn’t start. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t feel like installing it again.

It’s a shame, because as I said, it looks incredible.

San


CrunchBang Linux 8.10.02: A review

July 2, 2009

As I become more knowledgable about Linux, the thought has crossed my mind to create my own distribution. However, I’ll readily admit I’m not the most technical user, but at least I’m getting to a point where I could give it a try. Using Ubuntu as the base would probably be easiest, starting from a minimal install, and using my favoruite window manager: Openbox. It wouldn’t be a minimalist or leightweight distribution, just one that provided almost all of the functionality and none of the bloat.

Well, someone beat me to it, and that someone is Philip Newborough. Not only did he steal my idea by thinking of it first, he also did a much better job than I could ever have done. The distribution is called CrunchBang Linux, and inbetween the endless muddy rocks of Ubuntu derivates, CrunchBang is a rare gem.

LiveCD

The LiveCD does not offer the familiar IsoLinux menu of Ubuntu, but keeps it text based. That means you can’t immediately choose your language and keyboard layout at boot, which becomes a bit of an issue later. Otherwise, the progress meter is very familiar, and throws you into a sparse, dark looking desktop. There’s no background to speak of, just a sign that reads (you guessed it) “#! CrunchBang Linux”, some information about your system and a list of keyboard shortcuts (nice touch) on the right, and a completely dark panel at the bottom. That’s all, but don’t get thrown by the minimalist looks.
The first thing I did was right-clicking the desktop, which opens the Openbox menu. Now, in a default Openbox installation, the menu is next to useless, providing a list of applications which may or may not be installed on your system. That’s why I’m very careful to always have a backup of my menu.xml, which is the configuration file: I simply don’t want to go through all that work again.
Well, if I thought my menu configuration was a lot of work, I was dead wrong. Crunchbang’s menu is a doorway to your entire system, but with a well thought-out layout which keeps it from being overlarge and eating a lot of screen estate. It provides easy, direct links to some default applications, like “Web browser” or “Terminal”, but also provides the usual categories of “Internet”, “Office”, “Graphics”, and so on. It’s worth pointing out that CrunchBang comes with a bigger list of applications than a default Ubuntu install, but we’ll look into that later. The most interesting part of the menu is at the bottom: since Crunchbang doesn’t come with GNOME, it doesn’t have the GNOME configuration tools. Instead, there’s an interesting selection of configuration utilities which nearly provide the same functionality. Nearly, but not quite, and this is probably the area where a GNOME or KDE user would need a little adjustment time. In the end, all the important functions are there, save one: choosing the keyboard layout. Again, as you can’t pick your layout at boot, this can be a bit of a bother, as the default choice is the UK layout. I changed it by using the setxkbmap command, but I wonder why it isn’t somewhere in the menu. It couldn’t have been that hard to include it? In any case, that was the only tiny hiccup after an otherwise very impressive first experience. The only thing left was taking a screenshot (already mapped to PrintScrn!), and install it on my hard disk.

Crunch Bang: Live CD

Crunch Bang: Live CD

Installation

CrunchBang has an entry for the installation in its menu, and this is where the distribution shows it’s heritage: the installer is Ubuntu’s all-familiar Ubiquity. It also shows its age, since (as he name suggests) CrunchBang 8.10.02 is not based on Ubuntu’s latest release (Jaunty), but on the one before that (Intrepid). Among other things, that means you can’t install CrunchBang on an ext4 partition. A bit of a shame, since that would have boosted the performance even more. As mentioned in CrunchBang’s last newsletter, a new version is in the works, and there’s even a little sneak peek of the new theme there. For now, however, it’s a bit behind the curve. The install itself didn’t take much time, ten to fifteen minutes.
After first boot, another familiar sight. The Restricted Device Manager pops up and asks me if I want to install the proprietary driver. I always thought this feature was one of the best things of Ubuntu, one of the easiest ways to deal with this (necessary) free software hurdle, and it’s good that CrunchBang has it too.
In other words, the whole install was uneventful, and that’s the way it should be.

Configuration

Pleasant surprise: the codec installer doesn’t pop-up, because they’re already installed. However, not everything is perfect here. Videos are opened in VLC, which is fine, but mp3s in Audacity, which is an audio editor, not an audio player. I installed Audacious, a GTK xmms clone, which is much better suited to that particular task. Another oddity is that Firefox comes equipped with plugins for Flash and Java, but not for video files. A VLC plugin is avaiblable, but not installed by default…and it isn’t that good anyway, because it doesn’t play QuickTime files. I feel a combination of mplayer and the gecko-mediaplayer plugin would have been the better choice here.

When I started adjusting the software selection a a bit, removing some applications here, installing some others there, Openbox showed one of it’s few limitations. The menu doesn’t get updated by default, you have to do that by hand. It’s not very difficult using OBMenu (Preferences > Openbox Config > GUI Menu Editor), but it’s an extra task you don’t have to bother with in a DE. To perform all that software shuffling, I used aptitude, but Synaptic is available from the menu.

As is customary in an Ubuntu based distribution, I didn’t have to do much post-install configuration. Aside from the details I mentioned, everything worked as intended.

Look and Feel

Ah, this is an interesting part. According to the website, one of the best things about CrunchBang is that it isn’t brown. I’m sure that many would agree, but instead CrunchBang is pitch black. Now, black is popular among Openbox users, but I’ve never been a fan of it. As far as black themes go, these is one of the better ones, with a nice balance between grey, dark grey and black, and the dev has gone through the trouble of creating his own Openbox and GTK theme, which fit together beautifully. Still, when checkboxes consist of a black tick on a dark grey square, I can confidently say that sometimes you can have too much darkness on your desktop. The icon theme is Tango, which is okay, but not isn’t very inspired.

CrunchBang is the new black

CrunchBang is the new black

In other words, it looks good but I have trouble using it. No harm done, as looks are easily changed. I experimented with orange and blue desktops before, so this time I decided to go over the top and go red. I used Shiki-Wine as the GTK theme, gnome-wine for the icons and arc-wine as the background. Openbox didn’t have a theme that went with that so I created my own. This is the result:

Paint the town red

Paint the town red

Of course you could argue that I sissy-fied a perfectly manly desktop, but this is more to my tastes 🙂 I still have to get a conky bar up there, and add the calendar I’m fond of, but that’s easily done.

When it comes to software selection, CrunchBang is a mix of lightweight and traditional applications. Part of LXDE is installed, most notably the file manager PCManFM, LXpanel and LXappearance, the theme and icon chooser. It also comes with a healthy dose of terminal applications, like rtorrent, irssi and naim, and uses Terminator for the terminal. OpenOffice isn’t installed, but Abiword and Gnumeric are. Claws is also an unusual choice for the email-client. The rest is pretty standard fare: Firefox, Rhythmbox, Deluge, The Gimp, Skype… The full application list can be found on the website, and it’s pretty obvious that omitting GNOME and OpenOffice left a lot of room for other great software.
As a result though, CrunchBang really can’t be called a “lightweight” distribution. It’ll run faster and use less resources than standard Ubuntu because it doesn’t have to run GNOME, but we’re not talking huge margins here.

Conclusion

Despite the use of Openbox and some lightweight alternatives to popular applications, CrunchBang isn’t a competitor for distributions like Puppy, DamnSmall or Slitaz. It’s not designed to be as small or run as fast as possible. I think that what Philip Newborough was trying to do here was simply create an Ubuntu that was more to his liking, sacrificing a bit of the ease of GNOME for the speed and versatility of Openbox, and including more of his favourite applications. When I look at the positive comments about CrunchBang I’ve been seeing everywhere, I can only conclude that he filled a real niche in the distribution list.
In my opinion, CrunchBang comes very close to my beloved Arch. It’s a very easy way to end up with a nice Openbox system, while retaining the easy install and hardware configuration of Ubuntu. The only major drawback I can see is that the current release is still based on Intrepid, which makes the software selection a bit outdated. Other than that, it’s simply one of the best distributions out there.

San