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A crunchbang experience : a year later

Today it marks the one year of my switching to CrunchBang Linux as my main operating system and I figured it would be in order to write a simple blog post about why I chose CrunchBang and my experience of using Crunchbang for a year.

Choosing CrunchBang

A little more than year ago, I decided to use Linux on a regular basis.

Around that time, a good friend of mine donated to me an old Dell laptop. It was running Windows Vista and was full of viruses. A standalone PC was just what I needed, as I did not want to deal with dual-booting anymore. However, this laptop was pretty low on specs and I contemplated whether I could run Ubuntu on it. I had to find an alternative. I started asking questions, and wherever I asked, people mentioned the same set of distributions - Lubuntu, Crunchbang, Arch, Mint LXDE.

I had to choose in between these distros, the one that would suit my needs perfectly. So, what were my needs?

I needed something that I could install and forget. That's right, I just wanted to install and forget about it and actually use it. The minimalist in me had whittled down the utility I had for my computing to:

  • hobby programming.
  • blogging.
  • dropbox.
  • occasional movie watching.

Arch

From all the advice I received, initially I thought Arch was a pretty good fit, but I did not go for it for two reasons:

  • Stability.

Being an Debian/Ubuntu fan, I didn't really have a problem with Arch. I considered Arch to be a top notch distribution. Choosing Arch meant investing time to build the whole system as the standard install is pretty elementary. This meant taking time to learn all the nitty gritties of setting up an OS, like making the wi-fi work and how and where to look for problems etc. I did not want to go down the path of spending endless nights trying to fix problems.

  • Not a debian derivative.

This is important since I would be carrying with me the knowledge I sought all the years I was on Ubuntu. Where to look for solutions when things go wrong, who to ask questions and stuff like that.

Mint LXDE

Mint LXDE was alright, but I did not like the panel that came with it, LXPanel, as it reminded me of Windows, which, though, I was not against, I felt I needed something more minimal. Overall, I felt Mint to be a bit flamboyant than I needed.

I knew pretty well that things like the wallpaper and panel could be changed easily. At the time, I just did not want to invest time in learning to do things. However, I liked its appeal so much that I suggested it to one of my friends who did not have much exposure to Linux at that time. He bought a new Acer laptop, latest hardware and all, and inspired by me, he wanted to use Linux initially in a dual-boot setup. I helped him set up Mint with Maya and he got hooked.

Lubuntu and CrunchBang

Lubuntu was a distribution I knew for a long time and it felt like the one for me. Lubuntu = Lightweight Ubuntu. It was definitely a great choice considering how well it was known to run on low spec laptops. Lubuntu felt like it was made for me. I am considering Lubuntu for the netbook I am looking to setup for my dad.

During those days of my research into the distributions, many people also suggested that I give CrunchBang Linux a shot. I might have heard of CrunchBang around July/Aug 2011 and remember not being impressed with it.

I vaguely remember why I felt so, but it had something to do with the first impression of CrunchBang's website. May be my eyes were really tired that day (or night), but I couldn't gather much momentum from the website. I have outgrown my love for all things dark themed after my formative years and was not about to finalize it.

One day, I took a serious look at it and I realized that it fit all my requirements.

  • Lightweight enough to run on older machines.
  • Debian derivative
  • Out of box usability
  • Helpful community

Lubuntu had all these attributes. I chose to ignore the fact that it had a huge community, which I remember being extremely helpful during my Ubuntu years, as I was polarized towards smaller communities, which tend to be more responsive and have a certain "community" aspect to them.

The thing that tipped me in favor of CrunchBang is that its defaults, OpenBox, tint2 and conky, looked more aesthetically appealing the more I looked at them. Speaking of the aesthetic appeal, it might depend on where one is coming from, but for me, after having experienced more than a decade and a half of personal computing, I knew I was looking at exactly what I could see myself using in the coming months. And that is how I chose CrunchBang.

Using CrunchBang

After a year of using CrunchBang Linux, I fully recommend it to everyone who is part adventurous and part happy-computer-user. Here is why:

Stability

CrunchBang is really a Debian under the hood and it promises all the stability of Debian. To the pragmatist in me, the ability to use the system without frequent crashes is invaluable. To the tinkerer in me, the ability to tinker with newer software without leading to crashes also is equally invaluable.

I have been able to build latest versions of software from their sources without a single crash till date. Every upgrade or dist-upgrade I have done until now has been quite smooth and I have not had a single breaking change all year.

The only time I had to do something about the OS was when I installed the Waldorf edition. Having read so many opinions on how Debian Testing is actually pretty stable, I didn't even wait for forums members opinions on what was working and what didn't. And expectedly, nothing broke. It was just as smooth as earlier.

This is what I meant by "install and forget", or better yet, "install it, use it, and don't lose your mind."

It brought a great deal of inner peace to me.

For this reason, I consider CrunchBang to be the Dragon Warrior in a certain sense.

Software

CrunchBang has access to all of the 29000+ packages that are included in Debian repositories and also comes with a number of customizations, utility scripts and sane defaults.

CrunchBang also improves the desktop experience by including a compositor by default which adds drop shadows the windows and certain amount of transparency to the menus. It comes with a minimal desktop setup which includes OpenBox for window management and tint2 for panel, both of which are quite lightweight and have really good defaults, and conky for system monitor. For someone who expects things to work out of box, yet look elegant and minimal, CrunchBang is perfect.

When I first installed Waldorf (CrunchBang's code name), which is initially to be based on Debian Testing, the default package manager Synaptic was missing its search functionality. I did not really try to learn why it was so, nor did I try to fix it. I started relying upon the command line version called apt. Within a couple of days, I learned that apt is not just a tool to install and uninstall software, but also a complete package management system which provides package search functionality, download sources of software, configure repositories, dissect package information and much more all from the command line.

Community

What's a distro without a community? Or worse, what's a distro without a helpful community? CrunchBang is widely known for its helpful community, which is steered forward by a handful of extremely talented and helpful individuals and a number of enthusiasts. Users of all levels, regardless of their computer literacy and language skills, are quite well received on the forums and are helped equally empathetically. In fact, its not just a community, but it is the community.

Once you are a part of it, you may never want to leave. One of the most remarkable things that I observed in this community is the fact that people are very accepting of all kinds of people. People ranging from Arch enthusiasts, distro-hoppers (distro-hopping is very much encouraged here), occasionally-pebkac guys like me and even people with problems on their other distros.

An enthusiast with ample time could easily be a decent Debian expert within no time with the help of a great community. A normal non-geeky user would feel right at home getting help and while simultaneously feeling superior to the commoners around them who don't grok the ways of Linux.

As I mentioned earlier, CrunchBang is just a Debian inside. A Debian with OpenBox, tint2, some sane defaults and a community. You can install Debian all by yourself, configure it to use OpenBox as the window manager, tint2 as the panel and conky as the system monitor, but it does not include a community. Sure, you can spend hours on the internet searching "debian install problem wi-fi" or "debian problem configuring blah", or get on the mailing lists, but it does not not only solve your problem easily, but also may turn you against using Linux. What does it matter if you want to be on and learn a distro, if there is little to no support out there for it?

Knowing that I stand on the shoulders of the awesome CrunchBang community, I even occasionally do some tinkering with my configurations and such, while being happily carefree.

IMHO, its community is what makes it CrunchBang and takes it from a great distro into a league of top distros.

Conclusion

CrunchBang is Debian packaged right. If you fall into the following categories of users, then just go for CrunchBang.

  • You want a ready to use Linux Laptop.
  • You want to be a happy customer (user).
  • You want great help at your disposal.
  • You want a minimal, but functional distro.
  • All of the above.
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