Distro Review: Crunchbang 9.04.01

CrunchBang-logoAfter an enforced break (in more ways than one) I’m finally back to distro hopping and reviewing with my newly fixed Dell XPS m1330n. My first stop on this journey is Crunchbang 9.04.01; a distribution I’ve used only briefly in the past, but one that many of my friends use and like. It’s a British Ubuntu-based development and largely the work of one man, Phillip Newborough AKA Corenominal. What started life as his pet project has grown to become a very popular distro in it’s own right. I even have something of an interesting personal connection with it, I inadvertently named the eeePC variant Cruncheee on the Linux Outlaws podcast. So how would I find a week with #! (that’s the abbreviation they use btw) as my main desktop. Let’s find out…

Vital Stats:
Distro base – Ubuntu (Itself based on Debian)
Packaging – .deb (Managed by the mighty Apt)
Linux Kernel – 2.6.28-13-generic
Default Desktop – Openbox Window Manager 3.4 – Tint2 Panel/Taskbar


LiveCD Boot Screen
LiveCD Boot Screen

I went to the Crunchbang website and tried to download the LiveCD from my good friend and fellow LivLugger Nik_doof’s mirror, but sadly it was down at the time and I decided to go for the torrent option instead; that downloaded at lightning quick speed. Don’t believe what the RIAA tell you kids, Torrents are a good thing, especially for distributing Free Software. That’s real Free Software by the way, not cracked copies of Photoshop as some seem to think. I booted up the live CD and was greeted by a simple text menu. It offers you the chance to enter custom options but I just pressed return to boot the default live session. This took a few minutes to load which is normal for live CDs, accessing data from a CD and loading it into memory is no match for the speed of a hard disk installation. Eventually I reached the desktop, where I saw the very minimal and lightweight Openbox window manager. There’s also a Tint2 panel and task bar, which form the default desktop in Crunchbang. It’s very snappy and the lightweight nature of Openbox makes it perfect for older hardware I would say. There’s no menu button or anything of that nature as you may expect with Gnome or KDE; instead you summon the menu by right-clicking on any blank part of the desktop, or using the “super key + space” combo. I should probably point out before we go any further that Openbox is a window manager and not a full blown desktop environment in itself like KDE or Gnome for example. It can actually be used within other desktop environments as the default window manager, replacing Metacity in Gnome for example. When combined with other tools as Phillip has done here though Openbox makes a powerful lightweight desktop. Back to the installation, I found an install option on the main Openbox menu and duly clicked it. This brings up the very familiar Ubiquity installer from Ubuntu. Under the hood Crunchbang is Ubuntu with a different user interface and some other changes I’ll get into later. I proceeded through the installer entering the usual information: time zone, language, keyboard layout and so on. Then I set up the partitions in my usual fashion with a 12gb root (/), 4gb swap and the remaining 140gb(ish) as /home. I expected the install to take about 20mins as Ubuntu normally does, but I hadn’t factored in the amount of time saved by not having to install Gnome, and many other large sets of packages. The full install completed in about 10mins, which I was very impressed with. I could now get on with customizing things to suit my taste and really kicking the tires.


Getting To Know The System:

The Default Desktop
The Default Desktop

One of the first things that struck me about Crunchbang was the simple layout and elegant design. It’s not trying to be flashy or over the top, it’s understated but it works very well. I suppose that’s because when you know you’re cool you don’t have to try too hard. Minimalists will love theΒ  way Openbox works by default. It doesn’t show a folder on the desktop so there’s no clutter of icons filling the screen. You can change that to display a specific folder which is how I normally work, I’m a messy git, but in this instance I decided to stick with the default approach. For some reason I found the system was really slow to log in the first time after the new install, it took at least 2 mins to get from the login screen to the desktop. I’m not sure if this was something I’d done to my settings, but it logged in nice and quick on subsequent attempts which was a relief. Conky is shown on the right hand side of your desktop and this really is a cool little tool. If you haven’t heard of it before then it’s well worth trying. You can install it on any system normally, but it comes set up with Crunchbang. It sits on the desktop displays useful information about your system such as disk usage, networking data, CPU and memory usage, the weather, what song you’re listening to and all kinds of things really, it’s up to you. Configuration is done via a simple text file called .conkyrc and you’ll find many people swapping their funky custom Conky configs (try saying that after a brandy) on the Crunchbang forums. I did notice pretty quickly that the new eye candy notifications from Ubuntu Jaunty have been left out here. Instead you get the old popup bubbles from Gnome. I like Notify OSD but I didn’t really miss it, and I believe it may be in future Crunchbang releases. After an initial poke around in the system it was time to get customizing.

Driver Notification
Driver Notification

I use a freedom hating Nvidia graphics card in this laptop, and I was pleased to see that the restricted driver manager is inherited from Ubuntu. It popped up in the system tray telling me that drivers were available if I wanted them. After a few clicks they were downloaded and installed. It’s so easy to install your graphics drivers these days on Linux compared to many other operating systems, I wonder if the traditional old cry of “Linux is too hard!” will finally die out. Time will tell. Crunchbang comes with all the multimedia codecs you would normally add with the Ubuntu Restricted Extras package, it also comes with Skype and Flash pre-installed and ready to go. This is very handy if you just want to start getting things done. I added a few programs with Apt-Get, which will be familiar to all the Debian fans out there. Apt is still my favourite package manager on any distro I have to say, Pacman is a very close second and of course there are other options available. Installing applications is pretty easy because you have access to all the Ubuntu repositories, as well as some custom Crunchbang ones. You can use the Synaptic GUI if you prefer, and considering a lot of applications have handy keyboard shortcuts in #! I think there could be a key combo for Synaptic as well. The main shortcuts are listed on the default Conky display, such as “super + t” to load Terminator.

My Desktop with AWN
My Desktop with AWN

I like to use a dock at the bottom of my desktop like Avant Window Navigator, so I decided to investigate setting this up. Installing the package from the repo is easy but because the Tint2 panel is located at the bottom of the screen I needed to move that out of the way. Bringing up the main menu with a right-click you’ll find “tint2 panel config” under the preferences menu. By editing line 31 of the config file you can set the panel position to “top center” rather than “bottom centre”. After logging out and back in again the panel should now at the top of the screen. I could now continue to set up AWN, which requires a compositing window manager in order to load. You can switch compositing on under the preferences menu but doing this every time you log in is a pain, luckily I found some help on the #! forums. It’s easy to fix, go to “Openbox Config” under the preferences menu and select “edit autostart.sh”. Uncommenting line 37 of the config file starts compositing automatically each time you log in, and AWN can also then start automatically. Job done.

Default Apps:


One of the really great things about #! in my opinion is the choice of default apps. Terminator is set as the default terminal emulator which saves me time, I would normally install and use this anyway. VLC is the default media player and you can’t really argue with that, VLC just works. Having said that there are a couple of things I would change to completely suit my tastes, but then I’m too lazy to start my own distro and do that. I much prefer Deluge to Transmission for managing torrents. Transmission seems to be the default in almost ever distro around, but I’ve never understood that; it pales in comparison to Deluge for me. Also the default file manager here is PCmanfm which I’m not a huge fan of, it works ok, but I think Thunar would be a much better default choice. You can swap this if you want apparently. One of the first things I installed was Firefox 3.5 because #! uses 3.0 by default. This behavior is inherited from Ubuntu I suspect, where they’ve kept 3.5 as a separate package rather than upgrading everyone automatically. Concerns over stability are the reason for this, but I’ve had no problems with Firefox 3.5 since it’s release. You can install it on Ubuntu systems by doing “sudo apt-get install firefox-3.5” and then you need to modify the shortcut commands in your apps to launch it. It’s not an ideal situation but as I said I really can’t blame #! for this, it’s an Ubuntu decision. I changed the default system wide browser to 3.5 by using the script provided under the “System” menu, just hit the “Edit Default Applications” option. This takes you through a shell script asking a number of questions about different defaults.

Gwibber Trouble:

Gwibber 1.2 working
Gwibber 1.2 working

One application I use heavily on a day to day basis is Gwibber, the microblogging client. It can be quirky at times but I still love it. Gwibber comes pre-installed with #! which is great, but it’s version 0.9.2. That’s the current version in the Ubuntu repos. I much prefer version 1.2 which is available from a PPA on Launchpad. This is classed as a development version so I can see why it’s not included by default, but in practice it turns out to be just as stable as 0.9.2, if not more so. I added the PPA details to my sources.list file as usual and then imported the key to authenticate the repository. After updating with Apt I expected the Gwibber package to just upgrade for me as it has on other Ubuntu-based systems. Absolutely nothing happened thought and I was confused. I double checked that the repository was set up properly and it all seemed fine. Jumping onto the Crunchbang forums I posted a query about the problem and was directed to this thread. It seems that Crunchbang has something called pins set up to favour it’s own custom repos over others for all packages. I was unfamiliar with the concept of Apt pins before discovering this, but you learn something new every day. I added a command to tell Apt to always get the newest version of Gwibber and related packages available, ignoring the main pin. I updated the system and still nothing happened, so after a brainwave I decided to purge the Gwibber package completely and reinstall it. This time it picked up version 1.2 from the PPA and installed as it should. It all works now but I thought I’d report my experiences in case anyone else has this problem.

After a couple of hours I had Crunchbang tuned up and working just as I like it. I’d also learned a bit more about Openbox, which I was unfamiliar with. That has to be a good thing.

Ease Of Installation & Use: 3/5
Stability: 4/5
Speed: 5/5
Community & Documentation: 4/5
Features: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

Firefox 3.5
Firefox 3.5

I’ve spent just over a week on Crunchbang now and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. It’s a very solid distro and I can see why so many people rave about it. They have some really good documentation on their website and I was also given a warm welcome in the forum community, support is never too far away. The lightweight desktop with Openbox, Tint2 and other tools is something of an aquired taste I would say. I make no secret of my love for the Gnome desktop and there were a few things I missed from the likes of Nautilus. A good example being the ability to mount network or remote SSH shares easily and quickly within the file manager. I couldn’t see a way of doing that with PCmanfm, but I believe it’s possible with Thunar. I’m used to being able to just browse my home network with Nautilus and transfer files around the various machines. The system is solid and fast though which can’t be underestimated. If I’m honest I’d probably always stick with Gnome as my desktop of choice, provided the machine could handle it. I actually installed #! 9.04.01 on a very old laptop recently and it performs brilliantly there. The machine only has an 800mhz AMD processor and 212mb of RAM, some of the 256mb on board is taken as shared video memory. On booting that system it only uses 68mb of memory and I can run other applications happily, that’s pretty damn lightweight you have to admit. I would recommend #! to anyone who’s got a little bit of Linux experience under their belt and want’s to try something different. It’s not particularly hard to use at all and it does benefit from the Ubuntu base, but there are a few things complete newcomers to the platform might struggle with. An example being that in Openbox there’s no automatic menu management. If you install a new program you have to add it to your menu manually, by editing a config file. There are some very handy GUI tools included for this in #! so it’s not a chore. I just think novices might find this a challenge at first. On the other hand though having multimedia codecs, Flash and so on set up by default is very handy. Anyone with a little basic Linux experience has nothing to fear.


Phillip has worked very hard on this distribution and it’s a great credit to him. It’s been nothing short of a phenomenon really how Crunchbang has transformed from one man’s part time project, into a very popular and well known Linux distribution. All in a very short space of time too. It just shows the opportunities that Free Software development can provide for those willing to look for them. Crunchbang and Cruncheee are both very good distributions and I would encourage anyone to take a look at them. They’ve filled a niche in the market that I don’t think most of us even knew existed a year ago, and done it with aplomb. It’s hard to imagine the Ubuntu ecosystem without them now, and that says it all for me. Try Crunchbang for yourself and let me know how you get on.


Up next…
I already have my next distro hop destination downloaded and burnt, which makes a change. It will be Pardus Linux 2009, something a lot of people have requested. I reviewed an older release of Pardus about 18 months ago for Linux Planet and found much to like in it. If you’d like to join me for that adventure, you’re more than welcome of course. Bring a flask and a good pair of shoes and let’s hit the road…


  1. good review!
    I tried crunchbang for a while–I liked it pretty good also. I just prefer a little more ‘meat’ to my OS

    Pardus 2009 would be great….if they also supported the gnome desktop. but they do KDE very well. I am looking forward to seeing your review of that one.

  2. @jamba – Thanks for reading, glad you liked it. Stay tuned for Pardus Linux 2009. Hoping to have that out next week. Installing it in the next day or so

  3. Dan,

    Is there a link missing here: Jumping onto the Crunchbang forums I posted a query about the problem and was directed to this thread.

    But there is no link to the thread.

    I liked this article… and might try this version next πŸ™‚

  4. Hey Dan,

    In case you are interested, I was reading some Pardus reviews the other day and saw mention in the comments by kobzeci2 about installing alternative Pardus desktop environments. In case you enjoy it, but want to try it with Gnome.

    Here’s the review link (you may want to wait till you form your own opinion):

    And here’s the comment:
    “There are 2 more desktop environments ?n Pardus 2009

    *Xfce: You can install it from Package Manager (at contrib repo, Xfce Desktop)

    *Gnome: From Pardus gnome project : http://code.google.com/p/pardus-gnome-project/

    To install latest Gnome

    First you should add two repos with these commands:
    sudo pisi ar contrib-2009 http://packages.pardus.org.tr/contrib-2009/pisi-index.xml.bz2 -y

    sudo pisi ar gnome http://pardus-gnome.prj.be/pisi-index.xml.bz2 -y
    and then you need to update with:
    sudo pisi up -y

    to install gnome packages you should use:
    sudo pisi it -c gnomeproject -y

    installation completed. to be able to use it, you need to do some configuration:

    first, open β€˜/etc/conf.d/xdm’ in an text editor with admin privilages (i prefer to use mc as admin). you should change β€˜#DISPLAY_MANAGER=”xdmβ€β€˜ to β€˜DISPLAY_MANAGER=”gdmβ€β€˜, and save of course πŸ™‚
    and then, open β€˜/etc/env.d/45kde4paths’ file like we did before(as admin) and change β€˜XDG_DATA_DIRS=/usr/kde/4/share:/usr/share’ line to β€˜#XDG_DATA_DIRS=/usr/kde/4/share:/usr/share’.
    finally you are ready to go, just restart you system and gdm will start. with this, you can select which graphical environment to use.”

    • @Rob – That’s really useful information, thank you! I’m not too worried abut using KDE to get a feel for the distro but installing Gnome would be very nice. I may give it a try πŸ™‚

  5. hey Dan

    great review πŸ˜€ I used #! and I really like it. The one thing that I felt a little bit annoying was the font rendering. I don’t know but to me Gnome does the best job of rendering the fonts on the screen.

    and here’s a little treat for you:

    This is one of the first things I always do after a fresh installation of ubuntu. I tested this on 8.10 & 9.04 and it works beautifully.

    Cheerz m8

    • @Nasser – Thanks for the tip. I’m not much of a font junkie myself but many of my friends are and love things like the Android fonts. I’ll give this a go and see how it works now while I’m still on #! πŸ™‚

  6. Yeah, I just installed this on a “ghetto PC” I threw together for a roommate’s kid: early P4 1.6gHz, half a gig of RAM, old AGP NVidia card, 60gig hard disk.

    Worked great right off the bat, but since he was new to Linux and not even that experienced on anything else, I decided to “sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop” and basically turn it into Xubuntu, which worked great yet retained the multimedia additions already in Crunchbang.

    Upshot: starting with this over Xubuntu gives you multimedia stuff right off the bat and lets you switch between desktops. I’m sure adding Gnome or KDE would be just as easy. So if you try Crunchbang and decide OpenBox isn’t for you, you’re not screwed and don’t need to do a total reinstall…

    • @Jim – That’s a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that. Good to know Xubuntu desktop works well over Crunchbang. I’ll keep it in mind

  7. Dan thanks again for a superb review,just a quick question though did you have any issues installing avant window navigator as far as dependencies are concerned??

  8. Thank you for a great review and for your kind words. I have to admit that when I read that you were going to give CrunchBang a try, I was slightly worried; being an avid Linux Outlaws listener, I know you like your GNOME systems and I was concerned that you might find CrunchBang a little too alien. I am really glad this did not appear to be the case and that you have given it a fair review. Thank you, Dan. πŸ™‚

    The cheque is in the post. πŸ˜‰

    • @Phillip – No problem, the cheque is for the amount we agreed right? πŸ˜‰ I have used Openbox before so it wasn’t completely new to me, I always try to be fair and honest in any review. It’s the only way to do it I think. I meant what I said, you’ve done great work with Crunchbang and it has massive support in the community. You should feel proud πŸ™‚

  9. Great to see a well-done review, there are too many Linux blogs with crap reviews and lousy articles. Keep up the good work

  10. @Kevan – Damn you’re right, I forgot the link. Doh! Will add it now, thanks for the nudge.

    @Adrian – No dependency issues installing AWN. I got it from the Ubuntu repos and it all worked. I did have to enable compositing to get it to start up though. I won’t work without that.

    • @Jon – Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but looking at the link it seems it’s (note: it is) another reference to the grammar Nazis. I am not an elitist and I don’t have time for those who are. We should all do our best and give 100% but everyone makes mistakes at times.

  11. I agree with an above user; I really didn’t like the fonts in #!. But if that’s all I had to complain about, then it’s all rather smooth, wouldn’t you think?

    Good review; you covered all of the things that makes Crunchbang a good choice.

  12. @Nobody Important – Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. You’re right if the only complaint is a few fonts then it must be a pretty solid distro

  13. Dan, I am working on a similar review, but focused specifically on acer aspire one hardware. Any objections to me sending people over here for a review of the distro from a less hardware specific point of view?

    Outlaw, RR listener, OpenSource nut

  14. With that attitude I doubt you actually know what the mistake was. For your information, it was a fundamental one, repeated, and would disturb the flow of the article for most readers. Most writers would take the tip with good grace. A lot of readers might assume that someone so slap-dash with standards might take short cuts in other areas – it’s more than an image problem. Errors of this kind are like Goatse – fine for your own consumption but please don’t put on the Internet.

  15. @Jon – I do take the criticism with good grace and I suspect you don’t get the context here. I have had a lot of idiots trying to have a go at me by using grammar, spelling or other such things as an excuse. I thought you were joining in with that with your cryptic comment. As I said I don’t get everything right, who does?

    As for the “slap dash” comment. Frankly I’m offended. You have no idea how long I spend over these reviews. I spent over a week working on this. I spent hours and hours double checking everything. I proof read and have others proof read everything at least 5 times. I was up till 2am just the other night after spending 6 hours working on the screen shots alone. I can’t count the amount of hours I’ve spent working on this and I resent your implication. I found your comment glib and maybe I misread your tone. If I jumped to conclusions I apologise but anyone who knows me knows very well I have never done anything “slap dash” in my life. I am Dyslexic and I had many many hours of extra schooling as a kid, so I’m sick of abuse about minor errors. I do my level best to make everything I do as good as it can be, of that you can be sure. Mainly because I know I have to work harder than ordinary people just to get things right. So before you jump to conclusions about me and my work ethic please think a little bit. That’s all I ask.

    If what I do offends or upsets you please don’t read it. I’m not forcing it on everyone and I’m not arrogant enough to think it’s perfect. Far from it. I may be over sensitive on this issue but I’ve had 20 years of abuse from teachers, being called thick. So I apologise if this seems over the top. I will do my best (as I always do) to make the grammar better next time πŸ™‚

  16. Okay. I definitely absolutely didn’t get the context. I’m not one of the idiots (and I’m not one of the teachers). This is the first time I’m visited this site. No hard feelings I hope. If your proofreaders are busy anytime you know my email address. πŸ™‚

  17. @Jon – Not a problem at all, thanks for the kind offer on the proof reading. I guess I need some who won’t miss the “it’s / its” things it’s true πŸ™‚ As I said my original reply was probably a bit short, so I’m sorry for that. I was probably mad busy at the time which is no excuse, but perhaps an explanation for my jumping the gun. I hope you’ll stick around in future. Thanks for reading

  18. Nothing to get upset about given that anyone can post a comment on a forum Dan. Take these things with a grain of salt, imo.

    Anyway, your reviews always do tend to be among the best and that’s why I always end up back here reading them. They are fair and obviously unbiased and you maintain a certain standard of objectivity throughout. I also appreciate that you do not tend to uphold one Distro above any others and instead look for both good and bad points in them all. Keep up the great work and I look forward to your Pardus review.

    PS. I would appreciate it if you could do a new Sabayon review. It appears that organization has undergone some significant revisions recently and I would like to see what you think about that and how the distro has changed for bad or good. Also, give ArchLinux a go (not sure if you did a review on that one yet or not) and let us know what your thoughts are there too.

  19. @Davemc – Thanks for the feedback, I try to keep things objective πŸ™‚ I’ll try and have another look at Sabayon when I get a chance. I reviewed Arch quite recently if you want to see what I had to say about it.

  20. If you ever make your way back to #! you can use nautilus from it, there are just two or three gconf keys you have to add to your autostart so it doesn’t take over the desktop. One of the nice things about #! and linux in general, you can use whatever tools suit you. Also for the fonts it’s pretty easily fixed by adding a font config file in your home directory, maybe I’ll bring it up in the forums since it was mentioned by a few people to have this configured by default. Thanks for the well balanced review.

    • @Iggykoopa – Thanks for the advice. I’m still on #! as I’m doing a bit of editing work before installing Pardus, and I used Nautilus on it last night. I needed to browse the network and also mount some remote shares. I decided to try and install Nautilus but Apt told me I already had it. So I just typed “nautilus” into a terminal and sure enough it came up. It seems to work perfectly. I don’t know if I installed it or if this has been set up by the developers. Either way it’s very cool.

  21. CrunchBang’s minimalist approach is refreshing. Despite its speed and simplicity, however, I have installed it only as a secondary platform. My main OS remains Ubuntu Netbook Remix, which is fast and gives y

    • @Windmonger – I think your comment got cut short there somehow. I don’t know why but if you want to post it again feel free πŸ™‚

  22. Wow, I must say I am quite astonished to see people accuse Dan of being easily offended or jumping to conclusions. If you honestly think that, you don’t know Dan at all. And you better not read my blog… LOL.

    @Dan: If people give you a hard time with grammar or spelling, get their blog address and send them to me. I can play linguistic hardball with the best of ’em. πŸ˜‰

  23. good job man, im using #! at the min, nice review will drop back in the future to read more, as for ppl giving you a hard time theres always gonna be those type of people in life , just rise above it,


  24. Hey, I really enjoyed this article!

    I’ve been using #!8.10 for a while now and love it (except that I can’t watch Netflix)! I’m a total Linux novice, so I stuck with #! because it works right away without me having to figure out how to get onto the interweb.

    By right clicking on the menu bar and editing the preferences you can put on a menu button.

    I learned a lot from your article, thanks Dan!


  25. Hello,

    Just a quick thank you for the review, I was browsing through the website overcome with sheer boredom at work and discovered this little gem.

    To cut the long story short I’m downloading #! as we speak and going to slap it on my laptop as main OS. I always enjoyed the way Ubuntu handled most of the things from the install but was never happy with gnome, nor be bothered with completely removing all it’s dependencies.

    So once again thank you and keep up the good work.

  26. Nice review!

    recently discovered your blog – I like your style, and you look exactly for the things I look when hoping distros.

    I will download Crunchbang tomorrow to play a little with it since there’s one (f*****g!!) day more until Karmic Koala release, lol

    What you say about a review of Gentoo/Sabayon, may be both at same time?

    I’m currently using Linux Mint 7 -superb Ubuntu 9.04 derivative- and allways wanted to try Gentoo but I’m not experienced like you in Linux.

    I know Apt is king among packet managers and personally like Debian a lot, but I’m really interested in your thoughs and opinions about Gentoo, it’s day to day usability and how hard it can be to learn about it for a bit-more-than-a-n00b in linux.

    To me, Ubuntu and specially Mint are best option if you want to emulate (and exceed) Windows or Mac usability, but I wonder if Gentoo can be the same or just a system to ΓΌbergeeks and linux hobbyst alike.


    • @acidtoy – Thanks, I’m really glad you enjoyed the article. I’m writing about Ubuntu Karmic as we speak. That should be out very soon, both the review and the actual distro release. I’ve reviewed Sabayon a couple of times in the past, have a look through the archives. The last version I looked at was 4.0 I think, it was a few months ago. I’ve never quite made it onto Gentoo yet, but I keep telling myself I will one day. I like Mint a lot and recommend it to new users all the time. Glad you’re enjoying Linux and best of luck in the future πŸ™‚

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