May 2, 2012

First builds of new Crunchbang Waldorf are out

I don't usually do announcement-type posts on this blog, but this project is actually really cool. Philip Newboroug, a.k.a. Corenominal, has announced yesterday the first builds of Waldorf, the next version of Crunchbang Linux. This build is the first of many release candidates (RC20120430), testing snapshots of what will become the stable release of the distribution. In this article, I want to give a small introduction to the distribution, the reasons why I have been using it as my primary OS, as well as a presentation of the upcoming novelties in the new version.

What is Crunchbang and why should you care?

Simply put, Crunchbang is a lightweight Debian install, using Openbox for a window manager. I have been seduced by the simplicity of the distribution, and its straight-to-the-point attitude. On top of its minimalist approach, it packs a few projects like conky or tint as well as various compositing options to add very appreciable eye-candy to your everyday computing.

I would recommend Crunchbang to the user already comfortable around a Debian system. While the distro does a pretty good job at presenting a working environment out of the box, it strips away certain bling-bling features the average desktop user has come to expect from a distribution. For instance, it won't present you with a micro-blogging client synchronized with your IM client and a notification system bundled in your taskbar. This is the kind of things you should expect from Ubuntu and the general mindset with Crunchbang (affectionately referred to as '#!') is that "if you want it, you should do it yourself". The very bare minimum of apps will be available by default, although the distro does a terrific job of presenting all kinds of install-scripts, one-click (or in case of the very relevant cb-welcome script, one key) commands for installing additional software like alternative web browsers, Java, printer support or even a Dropbox client.

The distro also suffers from indecisiveness. In the year and a half I've been using it, I have witnessed corenominal hesitate between Openbox and Xfce, go back and forth between Iceweasel and Chromium, move from gdm to SLiM (he's now considering LightDM for next releases) and present three different alternatives for compositing managers (cairo, xcompmgr and now Compton). These modifications are vastly superfluous, as in it shouldn't hinder the user's ability to enjoy new releases. However there is a kind of desktop users who take comfort in old habits and won't enjoy discovering that the new release doesn't include their favorite app by default. These users probably shouldn't use #! just yet.

On the other hand, Crunchbang's minimalism is a bliss. It works really well out of the box (I personally only had an issue with activating my wireless card, something that I could solve in a matter of minutes), and won't tamper much with your system. Everything works the way you'd expect it to and you will encounter very few (if any) surprises along the way. If like me you aren't afraid of getting your hands dirty and enjoy tuning your linux box to customize it to your needs, then you'll find #! to be a hacker's paradise (in the limits of what Debian permits). In short, Crunchbang does a good job of presenting a working and good looking system out of the box, while still getting out of your way for your everyday use.

Is #! for you? Here's my rule of thumb: Would you know how to manage your sources.list file to suit your own needs? If you do, you probably know enough.

The new Waldorf release

The new release is the first one to be ported to Wheezy, the current testing version of Debian. If #! was originally based on Ubuntu (something we can still detect by its preference for apt-get over aptitude, or the fact that sudo is present by default), it has moved its base to Debian for over a year. Logically, the current stable version of #! (Statler) is based on the current stable version of Debian (Squeeze). However Wheezy has been in testing mode for some time now, and rumors are already announcing it for early 2013 (although, as usual, "it will be released when it's ready"). It is worth noting though that despite its name, Wheezy is far from being a completely experimental base. 'Stable' is a conservative name to say the least, and, for what it's worth, Ubuntu has already based its last 3 versions on Wheezy.

In any case, it is a good thing that corenominal has already moved on with the porting. I have installed the new build on a Virtualbox machine and have used it all night. I'm actually writing this article from it. My first impressions: it works great. Visually not much has changed since the last build, except for two things: a good looking new font seems to be the default and compositing (basically shadows and transparency) is activated by default, using the new, supposedly improved, Compton manager. I strongly salute the initiative; it doesn't seem very resource-greedy (3MB of RAM and virtually no CPU) and will definitely please my friends when I tell them to try a Live CD. Pulse Audio is also present, great, saves me the trouble of installing it.

It looks perfectly working so far. I don't know if you should use it in a critical environment yet, but as far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with the new version. If you're new to #! and are looking to give it a spin, maybe you should download the latest build of Statler and not risk being disappointed by any potential problem you may find with this one. If you already know Crunchbang, give the new build a try; any bug we may find now will help Philp get rid of it sooner.

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