CrunchBang Linux hands-on


In depth: Ubuntu has a lot to answer for - in four short years it has risen to dominate the Linux landscape. It has also spawned several re-spins, including the excellent Mint Linux, and now CrunchBang Linux. The principal method of installing CrunchBang is by using a Live CD, which will enable you to get a taste of the distro before installing, and never before has this been more important than it is with CrunchBang.

For starters, it's designed to be minimalist in order to increase performance, but not to lose any functionality in the process. To aid this, the developers have opted to use the Openbox window manager, which is extremely minimalist.

It's not helped by the fact that the theme is based on a greyscale look and feel, which takes some time to get used to, especially if you're used to the caramel colouring of Ubuntu. Once your eyes have become accustomed to the lack of colour, it becomes quite soothing to look at.

As for the rest of the desktop, you get the ubiquitous NetworkManager icon, the clipboard, desktop switcher, clock and also a basic Conky task bar, which serves as a quick reference guide to some of the keyboard shortcuts that come configured by default. We hadn't come across Conky until recently; however, we're very glad we did, as it's a useful resource and fits in very well with CrunchBang's minimalist approach.

The primary method of accessing the menu is to right-click anywhere on the desktop. Who needs a Start button?

Build on brown

CrunchBang Linux is built with mostly Ubuntu packages, making it compatible with the already huge Ubuntu repositories, and therefore Debian also. However, the work only begins there, as the creator has taken the time to customise the distro to make it as speedy as possible. With the Conky sidebar, it's not long before you're well versed in pressing Super+Spacebar to get the menu on screen, or opening up Firefox by pressing Super+F - the speed with which the applications snap to life is extremely impressive.

Under the hood, CrunchBang retains the same kernel version as its parent (2.6.27 in this case), and rather annoyingly it also configures Grub to show Ubuntu 8.10 rather than CrunchBang, which is something of an annoyance when you have a multiboot system. As mentioned earlier, Openbox is the window manager of choice, allowing access to the GTK libraries and consequently any Gnome applications.

AbiWord is bundled by default, along with Claws Mail which has long had a reputation for speed. Also included is Gwibber, a social networking application that connects to multiple services, including Twitter, to keep you in the loop as to the activities of your social networking buddies. It's the first time we've come across Gwibber being included by default in a distro, and it only serves to indicate the trend of integrating web 2.0 technologies within distros.

Codecs are in place to handle MP3s as well as DVD playback; our trusty collection of Carry On DVDs worked just fine, but The Dark Knight seemed to pose some problem, which prevented playback.

CrunchBang comes armed with an array of software, including Gwibber, Skype and Claws Mail, and codecs for playing our collection of classic DVDs.

On the whole CrunchBang Linux offers an enticing performance-focused alternative to Ubuntu - it's unlikely to become a mainstream distribution any time soon, but it should appeal to those Ubuntu users who are looking to dig deeper into Linux.

Verdict: CrunchBang should find a dedicated following among performance seekers. 8/10.

First published in Linux Format magazine

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Your comments

Old Version

It looks like you all reviewed an older version without VLC media player. What gives?

Old Version? Not Likely!


Andy Hudson here - the version I reviewed was 8.10.01 - the only one that was available at the time of writing! I see that 8.10.02 has since been released which also includes VLC.

I'm guessing that the developer is moving fairly rapidly; I don't see the need for VLC, but I'm happy to be proved wrong.


Grub fix

Use what ever you use to edit /boot/grub/grub.conf

Change the "titel" option for the partition you set aside for CrunchBang.

Problem solved.

Grub fixed

Hi TravisB,

I appreciate that it's as simple as that; the issue is, when it's that simple why not do it by default? Call me a perfectionist, but this was a blot on an otherwise impressive copybook.



Very fast boot and all working
the only Issue I have is that after installing a program (like OO3) it does not appear in the menu. You have to launch it through the RUN command.
Except if I do not know how to set it up to appear in the menu.
This, for instance is a major contrast with linux mint


JP - Menu

Hi JP,

It's actually relatively straight-forward. CrunchBang includes the obmenu editor, which you can find under the preferences menu, Openbox config, GUI Menu Editor.

Simply add a new item, including the command, and use the up and down arrows to move it into position. It's all relatively straight-forward.



Newer Version? Quite Likely!

Alright, look, the 8.10.02 was released on 18 Jan 2009. Unless you don't have broadband, I'd say you had plenty of time. Also, you may want to look at where the title of your review is CrunchBang Linux 8.10.02.

My problem with CrunchBang

My problem with CrunchBang 8.10.02 was that I couldn't change the keyboard to US.

I made several attempts but so far no go. I tried to change to US keyboard in 2 ways so far:

1. From the logon screen (if I recall).
2. Configuring the xorg.conf file the old way by running command:

dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

Both ways let me select the US keyboard and save but when I type the # sign, it showed British pound. In both cases, I restart X by CTRL-ALT-BACKSPACE.

I might install it to HD to see if it can be changed.

But that was my short test drive of it so far.

did you try the "setxkbmap"

did you try the "setxkbmap" or "loadkeys" commands? it works for me on almost all distros.

Adding programs in GUI

Thank you very much Andy
I had looked at it before posting the message I could not enter and save a command
do you need to be root for this? If so, how to enter the gui menu editor as root?

but, and going to my original point, and hoping I'll be able to make it working, it's still not as user friendly as Ubuntu or Mint



RE: did you try the "setxkbmap"

No, I have not tried these commands.

Never had but I have seen them being suggested before in other forums/blogs. It was just that I never had problem with reconfigure the keyboard to US standard for any Debian/Ubuntu-based before.

CrunchBang has always defaulted to British keyboard but I never had problem switching it with the older releases. The newest one surprised me that it didn't work.

I didn't mention in my last post but all attempts were done via sudo.

I'll give these commands a shot and see what happens.

Thanks for the tips!

RE: RE: did you try the "setxkbmap"

Well, if you open the terminal and type

#setxkbmap us

it should work. I always used that command for my spanish keyboard in the graph environment without a problem on almost all distros (I can't remember the exception). "loadkeys" would be the same but when not in the graphical environment.

re. Adding programs in GUI

No, all the files in that run your session are in your home folder, so you can edit them either via the gui tools, or in a text editor as your normal user...

@Just Sayin'

No doubt you will have noticed that it says "First Published in Linux Format magazine" below the article. The article appears in #116, which hit the news stands on 5th February. Unless Andy is a very quick writer and LXF have very short deadlines, then it's unlikely he could have downloaded on 18th Jan, tested and had his copy submitted in time for a magazine which was published early this month. In fact subscribers got their magazine the week before.

@Just Sayin'

Timely review in the magazine. A day late and a dollar short on the web.


#! really smokes on an Eee PC! You get all of the benefits of Ubuntu (huge repositories, tons of documentation, etc.) in a stripped-down package. OpenBox takes some getting used to, but people like me who love Gnome Do will take to it right away.

setxkbmap works!

I just wanted to report that, at least for me, issuing the command "sudo setxkbmap us" worked flawlessly for me. It made the change instantly and I'm currently running live off the CD. Thanks guys!

FEDORA 10 , on EeePC 901

Try Fedora 10 ,Gnome/Open Box ,Clearlooks Compact, and SEAMONKEY . My personal opinion The BEST !!

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