Crunchbang - Beautiful Minimalism

by Ostatic Staff - Aug. 22, 2013

Crunchbang, also known by its moniker: "#!", is a lightweight Linux desktop distribution based on Debian and the Openbox window manager. Crunchbang is somewhat known as an alternative to Puppy Linux, and is perfectly suitable for older, low resource computers. I have also found that Crunchbang's super low overhead to be perfect on my workstation for every day use. By default, Crunchbang sports a beautiful dark theme that relays the intentions of the system: Crunchbang is a subdued, low friction environment that gets out of your way and lets you get to work.

Having been burned one too many times by Ubuntu, I went searching for a suitable desktop environment that wouldn't make me want to pull my hair out. I was drawn to Crunchbang when I saw a few screenshots of the default desktop theme. Having spent time with minimalist desktop environments in the past, I was interested in trying out Openbox and seeing how it felt during daily use, and an endorsement by a coworker sealed the deal.

To get a feel for the aesthetics of the Crunchbang desktop environment, one need only visit the website and spend some time browsing the forum. The muted, dark grey, black, and white colors are used prominently throughout the desktop. After the garish and frustrating animations of Unity, the Crunchbang Openbox environment feels like visiting a calm lake in the mountains. It is almost a meditative experience. There are no bells and whistles, no crazy zooming windows or random crash alerts. Only a dark background quietly asking you what you would like to accomplish today.

Crunchbang includes Conky and a default script that places some basic information on the desktop, again in a light grey that contrasts well with the background, but doesn't stand out so much that it will unnecessarily draw your eye. What I like best about the inclusion of Conky is that it prints out a list of default shortcuts to the screen, a useful addition for anyone new to Openbox. Of course, it also lets you know the computer hostname, memory, disk, and CPU use, but I found the addition of the keyboard shortcut list to be a thoughtful addition.

Keyboard shortcuts, as well as startup scripts and the right click menu, are configured through editing text files. The downside is that the text files are XML, and can be intimidating to new users, but the upside is that the entire environment is very customizable. I found nothing about how the default environment worked that I was not able to modify to suit my needs. For example, one of the first things I did was install Exaile as my default music player. To modify the menu item to launch Exaile instead of VLC for the "Media Player", I just changed the command name in the text file. To get the change to take effect, Openbox needs to be "reconfigured", which means selecting the reconfigure menu item under the Openbox settings. Likewise, I modified the keyboard hotkeys to launch Exaile when I hit "Super+M".

On a fresh reboot and login, Conky reports memory use to be 150MB of the 6GB I have available. After launching Exaile and Firefox Ice Weasel and opening a dozen or so tabs, memory use went up to 400-460MB. Launching VirtualBox with a Windows XP VM brought the memory use up just past 1.2GB. The CPU never broke a sweat. The default install size on the hard drive looked to be about 2.4Gb

So far the only complaint I have about Crunchbang is the odd choice of default text editor. I'm sure the developers are aware that Vim is the perfect editor for Crunchbang. Other than that, everything I've tried has worked well. Bluetooth support installed easily with apt-get, and I was able to pair both my Apple keyboard and Magic Mouse with no problems, which was always a pain point with Ubuntu. All in all I give Crunchbang a solid thumbs-up. While some parts are obviously not geared towards new Linux users, experienced users should be able to dive in and get productive right away.