Crunchbang #! GNU/Linux on Lenovo X100e
Last weekend I thought I just couldn’t wait any longer for Gnome-shell and Gnome 3, so I tried to install Fedora Rawhide on my laptop. After trying to yum update the system, a weird thing happened and the machine turned off spontaneously. Then when I rebooted the Live USB I’d made with Unetbootin, a mysterious mixture of Gnome 3 and Gnome 2 became the default desktop (I am not joking, there was a Gnome 2 panel sitting right on top of Gnome-shell). This was too weird. I decided to just give that up until Tuesday when I knew the Fedora Alpha was coming out.
However, I also knew about a relatively new distro called #! (Crunchbang) that I really wanted to try. The only thing holding me back was that it’s based on Debian. I have had seriously bad times with Ubuntu in the past, and my few attempts at installing Debian had not gone well (the first time the machine completely froze up the first time I opened synaptic). Despite my difficulties with Ubuntu and Debian, I’ve always acknowledged that Debian has a lot going for it, and Crunchbang’s “philosophy” certainly agreed with me. This laptop is not “underpowered” but sometimes I’ve felt like Gnome is a bit of overkill; the only reason I use Gnome is because my two main applications (or “shells”) are Emacs and Firefox, both GTK applications. Much to my delight, I found that Crunchbang has an Xfce version.
I thought I’d give it a try. I download the .iso for the Xfce 4.4 version, made a bootable USB with Unetbootin (no CD drive) and cranked it up. I selected an encrypted system this time, another reason I wanted to reinstall; the university is pretending to enforce rules about keeping student information private, so I’d like to be able to tell them my laptop is encrypted. The only surprise was that the installer took about two hours to erase my partitions before it started the actual install. Once that was done, however, the installation was really nice. The installer asks which features you want to install (Java, web server, development tools like version control systems and the autotools) — this was already much nicer than most other distros I’ve tried — all in a text interface running in a terminal emulator. This is nice because I’d rather just install that stuff before I need it, and while the installer knows which packages those are. In Fedora I can install package groups, but it’s just much nicer to take care of it at install time.
Just about everything that I need on a daily basis works really well with Crunchbang. The laptop speakers work, surprisingly without monkeying around with anything. I had to install the wireless drivers from the Realtek website again, but surprisingly the next morning when I booted the machine the wireless card worked without having to copy any firmware or anything. Nice!
There were two interesting surprises: the default web browser is Chromium. I really like Firefox, so I installed Iceweasel, and have had no problems; I really need Firefox because I use Zotero. Another major surprise is Youtube using gnash works really well. Of course, it’s not perfect, in fact the BAcksliders froze the whole machine when I tried to put it on 1080p.
Remarkably I’ve had no problems yet with package management. Of the three or four times I’ve installed Ubuntu it was only a matter of time before something got really screwed up in the normal course of updating the system. It was pathetic. Once I got a stale file handle of all things and there was nothing I could do to update the system (this would require a fresh install to fix). Nothing’s broken yet. I’ll give it a little time, but I’m taking the blame back from Debian and putting it squarely on Ubuntu.
Probably the nicest thing about Crunchbang is that it lives up its advertisement. I get annoyed when the promo for a software project says their main application or distro is “light and fast”; everybody says their thing is “light and fast.” Crunchbang’s web site merely says Crunchbang offers
a great blend of speed, style and substance. Using the nimble Openbox window manager, it is highly customisable and provides a modern, full-featured GNU/Linux system without sacrificing performance.–Home Page
This also means it’s the antithesis of Ubuntu: I can’t do anything with Ubuntu without it sending a notification my way saying “You can’t do that,” or “Wouldn’t you rather do this?” If I wanted that I would use a Mac.
What I haven’t done
As amazing as the fact that I’ve done all my daily work with Crunchbang for the past week, and only turned on my home workstation for use as a DVD player, is what I haven’t done. I have not changed the theme, I have not changed the wallpaper, I have not changed the … anything. And these are things that I compulsively tinker with, so that’s saying a lot.
If you’ve been hesitating trying Crunchbang for any of the reasons I was (mistaking it for Ubuntu, just not needing to try another distro), I encourage you to try it. It had already changed my mind about swearing off Debian-based distros. I am loving it.