Spotlight On Linux: CrunchBang

CrunchBang is a lightweight Linux distribution based on Debian. It comes in OpenBox and XFCE editions, and a very dark visual theme. It's the OpenBox version that I took a look at.

Being based on Debian is a point is its favor as it means that standard trouble shooting and standard packages work on the system. The documentation on the website assures that CrunchBang is, essentially, a standard Debian installation with a few additional custom packages.

Installation takes a familiar path. It's a usable system when booted from the CD image, and hard disk installation is invoked by running a program from the desktop.

So far, so much the same. So, in what ways does CrunchBang differ from other distros?

When CrunchBang is booted for the first time, the user is presented with an interactive post installation script comprising of 15 questions. These prompts allow the user to further refine and specialize the installation. They allow for the optional installation of various applications such as Open Office, suites of tools such as build tools and conveniences such as popular media codecs and the Sun Java runtime. One option is to install a specialized kernel which is apparently optimized for desktop use. If selected rather than skipped, each installation option takes between a few seconds and several minutes to complete.

The desktop itself has a dark theme consisting of black, white and gray but this can, of course, be changed. On the backdrop there is a system information panel showing free memory and CPU usage amongst other data. Below this area is a reminder of keyboard shortcuts. For example, Windows key + W launches the web browser.

I'd not used OpenBox before, and I can confirm that is has a minimalist appearance along and feels responsive and fast. As standard, the window controls use a series of Braille-like dotted icons. These look cool, but it's impossible to guess the function of each at first glance. The task switcher sits on the bottom of the screen and features a standard status area with a clock. The task switcher is icon-based and also includes a virtual desktop switcher in quite a nice arrangement, although it doesn't automatically stay on top windows, which will perturb some. The application launch menu and system menu is the sort that is invoked by right clicking on on either the backdrop or the task switcher.

Any guesses as to what these dots mean?

The taskbar is also a pager. A nice arrangement.

In conclusion, CrunchBang looks like it could be a good distro for people who want to try something with a bit of kick to it in the speed department without straying too far from standard Debian. It might be also good distro to set up for a Linux novice if you don't think that they'll get on with the more common KDE/Gnome desktops. It's a worthwhile distro that has enough uniqueness to justify its existence without having the feel of a experiment that won't be around for long.

The CrunchBang website.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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Works on old computer

jscottu's picture

Just loaded it into my Compaq 733mhz 256mb and it flies. I had to use the text install (not graphic install). Now I don't have to throw my old computer away.

Those dots...

Ariya's picture

Actually, I never thought about those "dots" in the way the reviewer saw it. Interestingly the middle arrow-like dots change directions, and its cool!

I think the only problem is that it should have stayed on Ubuntu rather than going in Debian way! I believe as #! started with Ubuntu there should be some loyalty. #! Statler appears to be better than the new Debian one for me, of course! Actually, #! is the best!

Debian v. Ubuntu

Zorklat's picture

You're not the only one who thinks #! should have stayed an ubuntu spin. Google UberBang, and you'll find somebody who did his best to continue Corenominal's efforts in that regard.

Me, I understand why he made the switch. It eases up some of the development headaches that can arise from keeping up with the ubuntu release schedule and using the ubuntu development tools. Warren Woodford did the same thing a while back; MEPIS up to 6 was Debian; MEPIS 7 was Ubuntu; Mepis 8+ are Debian again.

And I like the #! statler better than I do any ubuntu distro I've ever used, including lightweight Mint spins.

Get over the dots already

Anonymous's picture

From this review, one might think that the 'braille' dots are the single largest downside to this distribution, since that is the only negative aspect mr. Reed mentions. If that is so, then it must be one heck of a distro! Or perhaps this review is a bit superficial?

The right-hand buttons perform exactly the same function as those of any other operating system in the world. The outermost button closes, the next maximises, the last minimises. If you are truly confused at this point, you can safely ignore the left-hand buttons. Again, if you feel adventurous, do check the manual to learn their function. There are only two of them, so I'm confident you will memorise their function given a little exercise.

Also, the Braille alphabet uses six dots, not four.

I use the XFCE variant of #!

Anonymous's picture

I use the XFCE variant of #! on my notebook. I came from Mint XFCE and immediately fell in love with crunchbang's simplicity, lightness, speed and stability. One of its strongest points is that you can turn #! statler into a rolling release distribution by simply pointing apt to debian's testing repositories (or even to sid for a bleeding edge system).

The XFCE DE is beautifully integrated into the CB/debian system and I've yet to encounter an issue. I whole-heartily recommend CB XFCE to anyone but the raw beginners.

The Openbox variant is even lighter yet needs a little more care. I use it within a virtual machine on my office pc. It's the lightest and fastest full-spec'ed linux I came across.

I was deeply perturbed by

Sal's picture

I was deeply perturbed by this review. You see, I have not used a computer for more than 30 years. I was utterly bewildered by the braille dots and their possible meaning. WAT DO?

Interesting looking distro

dick's picture

Has anyone tried the XFCE desktop for this distro? I tried openbox and has a few problems getting into it. I have used xfce on other distros and found it very easy to get used to. Just wonder if this distro works well with xfce. I am planning on trying openbox again to see if I can finally get it to do what I want.

weak review of a strong system

Lee Leapy's picture

#! is my distro of choice. It is flexible and configurable enough to be used on my high end laptop, workstation and on my first gen eeepc netbook. It can be tailored to work exactly how I need it to on the different devices. In fact it has the feel (in terms of tweaking) that Linux had when I started using it more than ten years ago before the advent of the mega-distributions.

As other comments mention, there is a really supportive and buzzy community over on the forums and development shows a constant progression while retaining the distro's aim to provide a true balance of performance and low-fi simplicity on low-spec devices.

It truly is wonderful for my needs and I encourage everybody to give it a go. I am aware that it won't suit everybody.

Have fun.



istok's picture

I don't believe Openbox is spelled in camel case.

I can't say for the distrolette.

The dotty window controls, btw... are just one of a BillionThemes for OB. They're no standard by any stretch of the imagination.

These Dots

!?!Marcel's picture

Those Dots

Anonymousey's picture

Okay, I can buy that you wouldn't understand the left two dots (or use them), but no one could possibly be confused by the right three (or not be able to immediately guess what they mean); they're in the same position as certain controls on other desktops!

C'mon, Linux Journal is better than that.

reviews and such...

Anonymous's picture

probably one of the worst reviews i've ever read. you obviously have no idea about the distro, its community, openbox and even debian itself. what was the point of this review? one can hardly get it from reading it.

I think that you highlighted

bmnz's picture

I think that you highlighted several of #!'s good qualities in this article, but left out one that was very important to me when I picked it up: customization. The desktop tools are intentionally minimal. Openbox, Conky, and Tint are tools that are amazing to retool for yourself with a few config files.

Another thing that has attracted many #!'ers is its helpful and robust forum. Not only is it a welcome place for OS support, but there are threads where everyone shows off their latest desktop setup or conky configurations. These get quite complex, and they mostly include the config files necessary to duplicate it yourself.

Many have noted that #! might be a great sandbox for those of us who love to configure and reconfigure the way our desktop looks. Lots of active forum users seem to have moved on to using Arch, but where Arch might be a "kit" that you piece together as a hobby, #! is the product that begs to be taken apart and put back together.