Thursday, 17 March 2011

Crunchbang Statler R20110207 Review

Following my trial and review of Crunchbang Linux Statler Alpha 1 quite some time ago I recently decided to give the latest release R20110207 a try. Again, having little to no experience with openbox, I opted for the XFCE 64 bit version of the distro, all the versions are available here . For those of you that may have tried Crunchbang in the past, the one main change within the distro is that it is now Debian based instead of Ubuntu based. People have different opinions on this, but for the majority of users the main thing you will notice is the software available in the repos is different, especially if your only previous experience is the Ubuntu software centre. But then again, if your a relative newbie then I'm not convinced that this is the correct for you. For the new users venturing out of Ubuntu for the first time then I would probably recommend gaining experience with Linux Mint, Simply Mepis, Mandriva or Pardus. A potentially unstable system is great for learning and experience, but not so convenient for inexperienced users as an everyday system.

The first thing that you notice about Crunchbang is the speed: it's fast. This distro is one of the quickest implementations of the XFCE desktop I have come across. The desktop, by default now comes with a taskbar along the bottom, the workspace switcher is implemented in a much neater fashion, in the traditional way beside the newly added system tray. The Conky widget displays system information and some useful keyboard short-cuts is positioned in the upper right area of the screen. Whilst this may be useful to some users, I really would like there to be a quick way of disabling it.

The menu can be accessed via a right click on any part of the desktop, a new feature is a quicklaunch toolbar on the left hand side of the screen. This is hidden by default but appears when the user moves the mouse over to the left edge of the sceen. This can be easily modified to suit the users taste.

For such a nimble distro Crunchbang comes with a large variety of pre installed programs:
GIMP (photo editing)
Viewnoir (image viewer)
Hey Buddy (microblogging client)
xchat IRC (Chat client)
Chromium (web browser)
Abiword (word processor)
Gnumeric (spreadsheets)
VLC (media player)
Thunar (file manager)
Synaptic (software centre)

Whilst everybody has their own personal preference, this distro comes with a minimalist approach, but is highly usable out of the box.

Despite the inclusion of the Synaptic Software Centre, I've found that I have installed all my apps from the command line, Crunchbang opts for apt-get, I personally prefer aptitude, but this can be easily installed from either a Synaptic or using apt-get.

The overall system feels a lot more polished this time around. Philip Newborough (@corenominal on has done a really good job of tweaking this distro and having it run very smoothly. I've been using it for a month now and have not run into too many problems.

The biggest concern for the average user is the lack of pulseaudio. Most people may think 'who cares' but pulseaudio is needed to run Skype. I have had some problems trying to setup Skype on Crunchbang, but if I'm being truthful I haven't spent much time on it.

Being Debian based, there is a huge commitment to pushing free software. Getting MP3 and other non free media types to work isn't simply a matter of clicking 'ubuntu restricted extras' from the software centre. For those who are having problems with this I recently produced a guide here. But at the end of the day Crunchbang isn't design for the newbie. It will require a bit of knowledge to get everything setup to the way the end user likes.

It's a great starting point if you want to build your own Debian based distro, or is especially good at running older hardware. An improvement under the hood and smoother running has lead this to become my joint day to day distro, probably one of the main reasons I haven't fixed some of the pulseaudio issues is that I've already setup Skype on my Gentoo distro. If you haven't tried Crunchbang before or if it's been a while, then I recommend that you give this superfast, Debian based distro a go. It won't be to everybody's taste, but if your interested in creating your own distro and don't feel ready for Arch or Gentoo yet, then this may be a very good starting point.