Crunchbang 11 - Openbox done right [Text-Review]
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Offline JayVii

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Crunchbang 11 - Openbox done right [Text-Review]
« on: October 30, 2014, 09:01:21 AM »
Hi all,

so today, I want to introduce you to Crunchbang - a lightweight Openbox-Distribution, based on Debian (currently: Wheezy / stable).
Keep in mind, that English is NOT my first language, so there might be a lot grammar/spelling mistakes. Feel free though to drag my attention to it so I can correct it :)
In case I forgot to mention anything or if you want me to explain/talk about something specific, just let me know and I'll get to it.

Why would I run Crunchbang?

Well, if you have old or weak hardware, Crunchbang might suit you. It gives you a very simplistic, clean interface that runs very low on ressources (Well below 200mb after booting).

If you are a sucker for lightweightness like me, then feel free to run it on just any system.

Quote from: Brian, 2014
JayVii, you have a lightweight-fetish.

The third advantage of Crunchbang at the same time is its biggest disadvantage: The Debian-Stable base. At point of writing this review, the stable-branch of Debian is Wheezy, which by now is 1 and a half years old. Thinking of that, it's really outdated but VERY stable. You won't have any breakages caused by untested packages for sure. This doesn't mean that there won't be any updates though, however those are only security updates (like Shellshock or Heartbleed or Security-Kernel-Updates).
Of course there are alternatives to Crunchbang, that are more up-to-date. You can see a very small selection of those at the end of this review.

What makes Openbox a good Desktop?

As I mentioned previously, Openbox is very low on ressource consumption and can easily run even on ancient hardware.

Personally, I like Openbox for its simplistic, clean surface. Nothing really interferes with your workflow and your whole attention is attracted to what really matters.
It's really fast, snappy and gives you every tool you might need. The essentials are definitely there.

Don't expect any eye-candy. In that manner, Openbox is really, really basic - which again adds to the fact that nothing distracts you from your workflow. It got classic window-broders (which OF COURSE can be changed and replaced with hundreds of other themes) and a right-click menu that I will talk about later on. As compositor, Crunchbang uses the basic, but functional Compton. It can be edited to add transparency, dropshadows, etc... Indeed, basic functions.
For Wallpapers, it uses Nitrogen, as Openbox by default doesn't give you the option to chose a wallpaper.

How does the GUI work?

As you can see on the Screenshots below, There's a bar at the top of your Desktop. This bar (tint2) delivers a Taskbar (for 2 Virtual Desktops), a Desktop-switcher, a System-tray and a clock. On the right side, there's a neat little Conky which will give you information about your system and your Hotkeys.

But how on earth can I launch my programs, when there is no "Start-Button"?
In Openbox, all of that stuff is done with your Right-Click menu. You just click anywhere on your Desktop and a little menu will pop up.This is set-up really nicely in Crunchbang. You can run some favourite programs from there (Terminal, Filemanager, Webbrowser, ...), edit your system and Openbox itself, Log out / Reboot / Shutdown / ... and of course access all programs installed on your system.

Bear in mind though, that this menu isn't set up dynamically, which means that you have to add programs you install yourself manually. It's possible to make it dynamically, but I honestly don't even use it very often.

What's really cool in Crunchbang is that they added some pipe-menus to it which will display recently accessed files and the like (However, by screwing around as I always do I managed to break that function. But that's not Crunchbang's fault at all).

Default Crunchbang Desktop - Nice, clean and very easy to work with.

Right-Click menu and GUI-Menu editor.

What is bad about Crunchbang?

Honestly, not much. Just like most Distributions, they target a specific group of people and have specific intentions. If you belong into this group, then you will like Crunchbang. If you need something else, then there might not be a purpose for you to use Crunchbang.

How do you know if you belong to this group?
Well, if you want a beautiful Desktop with much eye-candy and bling-bling, then Openbox isn't for you at all. If you want an up-to-date system with the newest software and features, Crunchbang isn't for you either. It is based on Debian-Stable which prefer's stability over "up-to-date-ness". At the time of writing this Review, Debian stable uses Kernel 3.2 which is really, really old (but stable)  compared to the current Kernel used in Distributions like Arch (I think 3.17 / 3.18 ?).

Another sad thing I noticed when trying to install Crunchbang on my main Desktop machine: the installer wouldn't recognize my keyboard. It's an Roccat ARVO which needs some specific kernel-module. That, however doesn't seem to be implemented in the Wheezy-installer. Surprisingly enough it DID work in the live-session. Other than that I never had any problems with Crunchbang.


The Repositories point to the Debian-Stable branch and to the Crunchbang repos that have some additional tools and software. Of course you can change those to point to the Testing-Branch, although I'd suggest not doing that as it could possibly cause interferance with the Crunchbang Tools that are meant to be used with Debian-Wheezy packages.

As I mentioned before, it runs with under 200mb of RAM consumption which makes it suitable for Devices with less than 1GB of total RAM.

What can I do out of Crunchbang?

I am currently using Crunchbang on my little netbook, which has
  • 1GB of RAM
  • Intel Atom 1,6Ghz CPU
So it is really not the strongest device, but can handle Crunchbang very well.

Everything worked out of the box (media-keys, WiFi, screen-brightness keys, ...). So I'm really happy with it and use it daily. As I mentioned before, I rarely use the right-click menu anymore as I setup a little launcher in my Top-panel and I work with Hotkeys A LOT. Although I changed a lot and have a few autostart-applications, it runs at about 210mb after booting it up, so it is indeed very lightweight. Below you can see screenshots of it in action :)

BTW, sorry for the low resolution, but the netbook only has a 1024x600 screen...

As you can see, I added launcher-icons to my Tint2-Panel on the top and removed the second virtual desktop. I also changed the conky significantly and the design of openbox as a whole.

Because of the small screen, I usually run programs in this state, as it is big enough to see everything, but I still can see my conky with all the hardware-stats.

If you take a look in the lower right corner, you can see my musicplayer (MPD) integration in the conky, which to me is really nice.

Here you can see my music-player opened up in a dropdown-terminal, bound to a hotkey so i have very easy access to it whichout it interfering in my work-flow.

Final thoughts.
So, at the end of the day, you have to decide if you want a stable and lightweight system or not. All I use it for is writing documents and getting work done, listening to music, watching videos, browsing the web and get in contact with people (chatting, video-chat, etc).
Everything worked for me OOTB, printer-support, networking, editing files and documents, ... So Crunchbang really is a work-horse.

Of course, there are many Distributions that claim to do the same thing, but the stability delivered by the Debian-Base always brought me to Crunchbang.
If you however are looking for a similar Distribution that is more up-to-date, you have many choices. Below are some suggestions that I personally like as well:
All of those are certainly good choices, but I find Crunchbang to have the best implementation of Openbox (yes, I am well aware, that some of the mentioned distributions above come with fluxbox, rather than openbox). This brings me to the conclusion, that Crunchbang in my opinion is the best Openbox-Distribution out there, right now.

So if you liked, what I talked about here, make sure to check this Distribution out! You can get a free copy on the Crunchbang Website.
« Last Edit: November 13, 2014, 07:54:03 PM by JayVii »

Offline Spatry

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Re: [TEXT] Crunchbang #! - Openbox done right
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2014, 11:28:38 AM »
Awesome review! Good job! Cheers!
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Offline glsmaxx

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Re: Crunchbang #! - Openbox done right [Text-Review]
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2014, 12:07:04 PM »
I have ran Crunchbang before but it has been quite awhile. Very good review!
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Offline JayVii

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Re: Crunchbang #! - Openbox done right [Text-Review]
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2014, 08:16:02 PM »
Thank you guys for the warm words. I try to do the review(s) as good as I can, although I'm not experienced with that at all.

*added the "Final Thoughts." section to the review which also includes alternatives to Crunchbang*