Updated: December 28, 2012
Time for my annual abuse. As you all know, the Crunchbang community loves me, and they dedicated five pages of their forum space for my Statler review, which they loved so. Now, it's time for another test, the 64-bit version of their latest release, known as Waldorf, still officially labeled beta.
While there's a very high likelihood of the community giving me a proverbial goatse, I am undaunted in my mission. So it's time to see how the second Debian-based version of Crunchbang, a fairly non-newbie distro, behaved on my SSD-powered test box, alongside three other operating systems. Do follow me.
I copied the image to USB, but I was unable to proceed to live session in the boot menu, so I chose installation instead. Hence, you do not get any images, only a prosy verbal impression. Still, this is a little better than the last time, where the live session worked, but the installer was all borked. Anyhow, it went fairly well and fast.
You do have to handle various aspects of your system using the ncurses text wizard, but if you've done it once or twice, the procedure should not be too painful. There were no ugly surprises, although Crunchbang 11 thought it was the only distro on the disk and wanted to place its own bootloader into MBR. It settled for residing peacefully in /dev/sda2 and allowing Ubuntu to control the startup sequence.
After configuring GRUB in Pangolin to be able to see the newly installed Crunchbang, I was ready. Now, the interesting bit is, Ubuntu sees Waldorf as Wheezy/sid, however in the boot menu, the right entry labels are used. Not that important, but still.
Anyhow, here comes Johnny, I mean the part you've been waiting for. How does Crunchbang behave once installed? Since the last time I could not enjoy this experience, this is a fairly important step. It's also my first time using an installed version of the distro since their move away from Ubuntu to Debian base.
The default desktop is fairly spartan, black and empty, with a handful of system icons that belong on a Gnome 3 desktop rather than here, a Conky prompt and little else besides. Not the most inviting environment for work.
However, that's not all. Crunchbang 11 Waldorf also offers a twelve-step post-install configuration script that should let you easily setup your desktop. This is somewhat like Kapudan in Chakra or Kaptan in Pardus, except that it is less visual and runs in a terminal window.
The script is very useful, and it comes with a ton of good stuff. It offers to update your system, install Java, LibreOffice, printer support, build packages, version control packages, and other useful items. You can skip any one step you do not want.
This can help you easily beef up your system, although essentially, for most people, doing an equivalent set of commands would do the same thing. However, given the nerdy mission statement of Crunchbang, the extra help is rather nice.
I have always liked the fonts and simplistic beauty of Openbox and its gray-black decorations, and this release is no exception. Some small weird things still remain, like the funny names of themes. Simple-Green, yet it's blue. I wrote this last time, and I'm writing it again. Yeah. FTW.
However, making changing is easier than before. Navigating the right-click menu is that much breezier. Well, Xfce has made tremendous improvement in this space in the last two releases of Xubuntu, so perhaps Openbox can manage progress, as well.
Launch the menu, then under Settings, make your desired changes. Most of the options are still geeky, they require editing configuration files, but you can alter your themes and wallpapers very quickly.
You get two workspaces, shown in the top panel, and they always show icons of open applications for each of the two virtual desktops. This is quite elegant and gives you a good visual awereness of your open programs. I would like permanent shortcuts or icons, though.
On the far right side, the system area features icons for volume and network, as well as clipboard. The icons have a chunky Gnome look that does not align with the rest of the system, nor do they change with application icons choice. BTW, Waldorf comes with a lovely dark Faenza set.
After a few minutes, you can manage something like this:
Wireless worked without any hitches. So did Samba. In Thunar, I could easily find and map my Windows network shares, including accessing hosts by name. Dandy. The performance was good and steady throughout the testing. I did not find the Bluetooth thingie anywhere.
Worked great. Both Flash and MP3, including nice media art. You also get controls for the Gnome MPlayer in the system area. Again, this is a very nice touch overall.
Oh, given the funny names, Statler and Waldorf, I probably should have chosen the Muppet Show to demonstrate the Flash functionality, but it's too late now. Anyhow, I get and appreciate the joke, but Monty Python is always a great choice.
iTunes support is not installed by default, though.
Crunchbang 11 uses the good ole Synaptic, and underneath that apt-get on the command line, so the management is identical to virtually any other Debian and/or Ubuntu-based distro you may have dabbled in recently.
Waldorf offers an interesting repertoire. It is both frugal and rich at the same time. Excluding the initial setup of Java and LibreOffice, there's a lot on the plate. You have IceWeasel, which behaves almost like Firefox, only it's kind of lighter, plus it comes with its own hybrid search start page. You also get installer links for Chrome, Opera and some others.
Then, GIMP 2.8 is offered, with a few other lightweight graphics tools, including Screenshoter that is almost identical to Gnome Screenshot utility. It works well, except the lack of shortcuts makes you work harder. But it's the most sensible selection in the history of Crunchbang so far. There's also Evince, Abiword, Gnumeric, Transmission, and more. In a way, it leans toward the similar set of programs I outlined in my non-Gnome, non-KDE compilation. Overall, rather decent. Somewhat weird, but affordable and useful.
Crunchbang is quite frugal. On cold boot, it took only about 180MB of RAM, and it was blistering fast. But then again, CentOS with Gnome 2, SolusOS, Stella, or stock Debian, sometimes even Fedora, they can all manage these figures. However, it's impressive nonetheless, and the CPU was quiet. However, the argument of lightweight desktops needed for olden boxen might be overplayed somewhat.
For a test distro, Waldorf was blessedly calm. Not a single crash. That does not mean there were no problems or errors, but they did not stem from instability issues. The sleep and wake took maybe 2 seconds. However, the distro did not detect all my T61 laptop function buttons. for example, Fn + F4 which sleep the computer did not work, but the sound and brightness worked fine.
Even though I did install printer support, I was unable to connect to my network-shared devices. I tried both Windows printer over Samba and connecting directly to a host and searching for available printers, but Waldorf did not see my HP LaserJet. Shame.
So how do I sum my Crunchbang 11 Waldorf experience? Well, it's tricky. Let's take a look at the bad things first. The live session did not work, the installation had to be done using a text wizard, printing did not work, some of the options remain clunky and not really accessible. On the bright side, Crunchbang is quite pretty overall, you get a lot of good stuff out of the box, it's easier than its previous versions, very fast, fairly robust, and that much more usable in pretty much every aspect, with keen focus on being also presentable to people who have friends and enjoy sunlight.
Don't expect a revolution, because there's none, but if you scale Crunchbang against itself, then Waldorf is a major improvement over Statler. It is light, efficient, with a good array of programs and elegant looks. But normal people will hate the manual configurations, the empty desktop, and somewhat difficult way of finding your way around, to say nothing of printing. And other quirks and oddities that are often the bread and hummus of small distros.
This time around, I need not cut my session short and go watch Star Trek TNG, because Waldorf is an okay product, the friendly and loving feedback from its gentle and compassionate community of geeks notwithstanding. I'd grade it something like 7.5/10, maybe 8/10. It cannot possibly replace your typical Ubuntu or Mint, but for intermediate users looking for a unique angle at computing, with a solid dose of efficiency, difficulty, stability, and innate Debianness underneath it all, especially on older hardware, Crunchbang Waldorf makes sense. Just as BDSM in Amsterdam makes sense.
If you qualify for one of the above, do have a go. Anyhow, Waldorf is good, a huge improvement from its predecessor, and feels like it's on the right track of gaining relevance in the bigger scheme of things. Now, it's time for you readers to link this in the appropriate forums, and then the goatsefest against my good reputation can begin. All in good faith and humor, that is.