BunsenLabs Hydrogen – CrunchBang's lightweight successor

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Darya Petrenko, 123RF.com

Darya Petrenko, 123RF.com

Bunsen Burner

BunsenLabs Linux is a community continuation of CrunchBang. Like its predecessor, BunsenLabs is based on the stable version of Debian, in this case, Debian Jessie. It is also appealing thanks to its radically modified Openbox window manager.

The CrunchBang distribution [1] was originally based on Ubuntu and then subsequently on Debian. The minimalist nature of this distribution was evident even from the way its name became abbreviated to #!. This no-frills distribution attracted a lot of fans before its developer, Philip Newborough, dropped it in February 2015.

At that point, the community made it known that they did not want this distribution to disappear. Since then, BunsenLabs Linux has emerged as the legitimate successor to CrunchBang, having won out over many candidates such as CrunchBang++ and CrunchBang Monara. BunsenLabs has continued using the Openbox window manager for the distro, and the developers have preserved the modest design. Its gray-toned elegance does not distract from what is really important about the distribution, namely that it is well-functioning, stable, and popular among users who favor minimalism.

Debian 8.2 Jessie works in the background providing a rock-solid base for the distribution. In contrast to the Debian derivative MX, which was also tested for this issue, the start system for BunsenLabs consists of Systemd version 215. The BunsenLabs version on the DVD included with this magazine is a first release candidate codenamed "Hydrogen" from the end of October 2015. The image is approximately 850MB in size. The first complete version of BunsenLabs was due to appear in January 2016.

BunsenLabs (BL) is well suited for older hardware. The developers have specified a minimal size of 256MB of RAM. They recommend 1GB. The 2.1GB installation space on the hard disk makes this distribution economical. However, it is best to have a 10GB partition available to ensure things run smoothly. BunsenLabs is available for both 32- and 64-bit PCs [2]. A 3.16.7 kernel is used in both cases. This is also the standard kernel for Debian 8.2. The 32-bit image of BL contains a PAE version of the kernel so users can utilize more than 4GB of main memory.

Three Ways to Install

To install BL, you have three options. Typically, the user follows a classic installation routine – which for BL consists of using a modified Debian installer. This installer offers both a text-oriented and graphical interface, and it can simultaneously be started in the desired interface with the live medium. In addition to the standard installation in one or more partitions, the routine also offers setup and encryption if desired, by means of a logical volume manager (LVM).

The other two possibilities for installing BL require the presence of a preinstalled Debian system. Debian NetInstall suffices for the first alternative. BL is installed via a BL script [3] in the NetInstall terminal. The second alternative has the shortest completion time. All you need to do is enter the sources for BL into the source list of an installed version of Debian Stable. The list of scripts and packages available in the BL repository can be found on the project server [4].

Once installation is complete, a welcome screen greets the user after reboot (Figure 1). The program then offers the option of executing a script to update the system. The next set of options have to do with attaching the Debian multimedia repository, printer support, installing Java, and adding packages for developers. Each of these options may be selected individually.

Figure 1: Once installed, BunsenLabs uses a script to help update the system.

The Ingredients

The BunsenLabs desktop is sparse. There is a Tint2 [5] system/task bar at the top of the screen. On the left side, this bar contains four icons for starting the Iceweasel browser, the Thunar file manager, the Geany editor, and a terminal. On the right side, you will find indicators about network status, current time, speaker volume, and the clipboard. If desired, it is easy to modify the content of the Tint2 bar via your own graphical menu.

Conky [6] sits on the right side of the screen and displays various pieces of information about the system as well as shortcuts. Conky also has numerous built in display options to choose from. Openbox does not open until you right-click on the desktop. Then, the window manager displays all programs that have been installed on the system as well as options for one-click installation of a large variety of additional configuration options. (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Right-clicking on the desktop provides direct access to numerous configuration files.

Most of the preinstalled software programs are based on the GTK toolkit. The list of these programs includes among others, Iceweasel, Thunar, Geany, the Mirage image viewer, the VLC videoplayer, and Xfburn for burning digital media. In terms of network solutions, you will find the FTP client Filezilla, the BitTorrent client Transmission, and Hexchat as the IRC client. LibreOffice Writer is the only office software that comes preinstalled on BunsenLabs. However, the remainder of the suite is just a mouse click away. Synaptic serves as the graphical user interface for package management.

When compared to other distributions, BunsenLabs has few preinstalled applications. Nonetheless, users should keep in mind that tens of thousands of packages in the Debian archive are just an apt-get install away.

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