This is a review I wrote and posted to Linuxquestions.org a few weeks ago upon putting Crunchbang on my new laptop. I should note that I’m as happy with it now as I was a few weeks ago when I wrote this.
I decided to try crunchbang on a new laptop I just got because it looked fast and sleek, with no wasted screen or packages. I have to say I am pleased with how the distribution runs, looks, and is supported by the community.
Since it doesn’t use any of the mainstream graphical environments, it might be a little unfamiliar to inexperienced users. Working with Openbox and the other tools packaged with crunchbang (like conky, tint2, dmenu, and gmrun) feels very much like Linux about 8 years ago. There are some graphical configuration utilities, but usually, it’s simpler, easier, and preferred to just edit the config files manually. This definitely requires a more experienced and knowledgeable user, but that is the audience crunchbang is intended for. There is even a disclaimer on the distro’s website explaining the the distro isn’t intended for people looking for a simple, easy to use *buntu type distro, so a user shouldn’t be surprised by this.
Crunchbang is built on Debian stable and is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions, preloaded either with Openbox or XFCE; I opted for Openbox since it was an environment I didn’t have any exposure to. Installation followed the standard Debian graphical or text based installation. My only issue arose from the fact that the kernel packaged with Debian stable is getting a little long in the tooth and didn’t recognize either my wired or wireless network card on my new Sandy Bridge laptop. I was able to skip over the network setup step during installation, though, and the rest caused me no issues. After installation, I had to download a newer kernel image from the Debian testing repository on a different machine and then manually install it in order to get networking working so I could properly install an up to date kernel.
Although the installation doesn’t offer any chance to customize package installation during the install process, the “cb-welcome” script that runs automatically on the first log in offers you the option to add packages and customize the installation.
From this point, you’re pretty much on your own. The biggest point to make is this: crunchbang requires work to get it set up and customized the way you like it. In fact, you’ll probably never be through customizing and modifying the system. I particularly like the inclusion of the “conky” system monitor, which allows you to display a wide range of system health and status parameters. It’s a great addition and is set up with a simple baseline configuration that you can use easily to expand to further display information important to you.
My biggest personal complaint is that the distro is built on Debian stable. This is great for people using older hardware, or running important production systems, but crunchbang even says that it’s not intended for that, so building the distro on Debian testing would seem to make more sense. For the target audience of experienced Linux users and hobbyists looking to tinker with a system, rolling Testing would seem to make sense. The solution to this problem is quite simple, however, just adding a few lines to the /etc/apt/preferences file adds the testing repo. Just do a sudo apt-get update and sudo apt-get dist-upgrade and the system will update itself to the full Debian Testing rolling release model. I think this should be available as an option in the cb-welcome script, which would be on par with crunchbang’s philosophy of allowing the user the maximum amount of customizability from a well built baseline.
Overall, for an experienced user looking for a well designed, sleek, fast, and light distribution, crunchbang is a perfect option. The community, both on the forums and IRC channel is helpful and available to assist with configuration. Also, since it leverages the Debian base, much of the information that pertains to the big name Debian distros applies to crunchbang as well.