KDE or Openbox

February 19, 2010

I love KDE, and the latest release is better than ever. It’s easy, fast, beautiful, all that.

So when I installed Arch on another partition in another attempt to to find the cause behind those pesky network problems, and I slapped Openbox on it because I didn’t want to waste my bandwidth on a KDE install I’d never use, I certainly didn’t think I would consider using it full time.

But conky is getting better all the time, and I tried fbpanel just for the hell of it and thought it came out just fine…and there’s this wallpaper I found on the Arch forums I absolute loved, and that Buuf icon set is a work of art, and…

Well, just look at it and judge for yourself 😉

Arch + Openbox: Clean

Arch + Openbox: DirtySan

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Arch and Asus EEE 900

August 25, 2009

My collegue bought an Asus EEE 900 about a year ago, and confessed he was a bit disappointed with the power and HD space, so he sold it to me at a good price.  It had Win XP installed, but I quickly wiped that and installed Arch on it. Mind you, at that point I wasn’t at all confident. I assumed I wouldn’t get things like wireless, webcam, suspend and resume and the function keys to work, and I expected to have to use specialist distributions like EEEbuntu or Moblin.

Well, wireless even worked during the install, so no problems there. The install itself went flawless, which meant that all I had to do was the usual configuration. There were some differences with my normal PC, since I wanted to save as much space as possible. A panel was out, the system tray is on auto-hide, I cropped the window decorations from applications like Firefox and Thunar, and that was pretty much it. Everything else was my normal install of Openbox.

The function keys I got working by adding an extra module from AUR, and although I’m not a regular user of Skype, I installed it to see if the webcam worked. It did, without any tweaking from my part. Same thing for going to sleep when I close the lid. Opening pops it back to live, without a hitch.

Battery life is surprisingly good on this little thing. I’ve been working on it for what must be over two hours now, and I’m still at 30%. CPU load is something like 10% on average, and memory usage has yet to rise over 200 MB, and that’s with Firefox open. About the only thing I don’t really know how to do is slightly adjust the keyboard layout. It’s close to be-latin, but not quite. Some of the more exotic keys aren’t really where they’re supposed to be…

All in all, I love this little thing which I named Tinkerbell, so here’s some showing off:

Tinkerbell: Pseudo clean

Tinkerbell: Pseudo clean

Thunar and audacious. Stalonetray bottom right

Thunar and audacious. Stalonetray bottom right

San


CrunchBang + Openbox screenshots: July

July 2, 2009

I created the red desktop in my CrunchBang review as a bit of a joke, but I’m incredibly pleased about how it turned out, and more than a little proud of the Shiki-Wine theme I ported to Openbox. The OSD gave me some problems, but the Openbox help page came to my rescue there. I added my favourite conky bar and the calendar, adjusted the GTK-theme a bit to make the tray icon background transparent, made some final changes to the meny and replaced lxpanel by bmpanel using the carbon theme, and trayer in the upper right corner.

CrunchBang: clean

CrunchBang: clean

CrunchBang: busy

CrunchBang: busy

I’ll be using CrunchBang for a while…it’ll give me something to fall back on while I finally upgrade that Arch installation to ext4.

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


When you use Ubuntu, stick to the defaults

June 29, 2009

After a few days, it became apparent my Ubuntu + Openbox experiment wasn’t as succesful as I had hoped. There were some nagging issues with it which prevent me from using it full time.

  • Sound muted after boot: a weird one, since it didn’t show up when I used GNOME. After a bit of searching I learned that, instead of the sound being muted after boot, it became muted as soon as I launced any application that made a sound. After that, I had to unmute the Front channel, and everything would be well until the next reboot. I fiddled around with sound settings and alsa for a while, but in the end I simply uninstalled PulseAudio, which got rid of the problem. As a sidenote, why do I need PulseAudio again? I didn’t seem to lose any functionality. Sound still worked…as a matter of fact, it worked better than before.
  • Another sound-related problem: I couldn’t get rid of the sound theme while Openbox. Both gnome-sound-properties as gconf showed me that the Ubuntu sound theme was disabled, but I was still hearing drums everywhere. Minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.
  • The flashplugin had some issues (I can’t play Zynga Texas Hold’Em poker in Facebook). This isn’t Ubuntu specific: I have the same problem in Arch but I work around it by using Midori. In Ubuntu however, Midori doesn’t even want to load Facebook…probably because it’s an older version. I tried Opera, Kazehakase and Epiphany but that didn’t work. Very minor annoyance, and not Ubuntu’s fault at all, but I need to play poker!

Which proves that Ubuntu’s a very polished distribution as long as you stick to the defaults. For example, when googling the second issue I found that some users of Mythbuntu and Xubuntu were also affected. It seems like Ubuntu is a very versatile OS, with its *buntu variants, but actually only Ubuntu itself rises above the rest. Ovbviously, when I try to create my own “Openboxbuntu”, a lot of what makes Ubuntu good disappears.

That being said, I’ll try to install a real Ubuntu with Openbox next: Crunchbang Linux. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

San


Arch + Openbox screenshots: September

September 5, 2008

I’ve been playing around with Ubuntu, Mint, Mandriva 2008 Spring and the RC of Mandriva 2009, all of them with Gnome. There was something wrong with all of those, so I returned to Arch + Openbox yesterday. The last couple of months I used a blueish theme, but this month I’ll try a combination of black and orange.
First, a “clean” screenshot. Conky’s running at the top of the screen, displaying information about the kernel, CPU load, incoming and outgoing traffic, free space, used RAM, uptime, what Rhythmbox is playing, and if I have any mail on Gmail. At the bottom there’s a transparent panel called LXpanel. But you can’t see it, except for the systray and the clock. Since it’s, well, transparent 😉

Then, a “busy” screenshot with, clockwise, Rhythmbox (music manager), Thunar (file manager), Mirage (image viewer), Openbox menu and Sakura (terminal).

I think the background matches the theme well. It’s a fantastic image by David Lanham, whose work I’ve praised before.

San


Arch + Openbox screenshots: August

August 3, 2008

New month, new screenshots. This month I made quite a few changes. I started using QT applications, and to maintain a uniform look with the GTK software, I changed the theme to QtCurve. I replaced pypanel by LXpanel, switched to the Oxygen icons, and of course, I changed the background.

Clean

Clean

Busy

Busy

Why so serious?

San