CrunchBang, an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that sports a snappy, low-drag interface and is perfect for thumb drives, live CDs, or speed-obsessed Linux fans. Check out how it looks and runs in our screenshot tour.
Getting started is pretty simple. Head to CrunchBang's main site, find the Download section, and grab the main ISO file (from BitTorrent or directly). You can burn it to CD/DVD, load it as a virtual system in VirtualBox/VMWare, or install it on a flash drive with UNetbootin. Put your CD or USB drive into your system, or boot your virtualisation tool, and hit Enter at the boot prompt to load the live session of CrunchBang.
The first thing you'll notice is that the default CrunchBang desktop is fairly sparse and almost entirely themed around dark grays and black. There is, however, a pre-loaded Conky on-screen display in the upper-right corner. A full desktop shot is below; click to get the non-thumbnailed full view:
Conky is one of those Linux tools that gets better every time you open it up and poke around. The basic setup in CrunchBang is pretty functional, giving you a list of the (really helpful) Windows key shortcuts (it's called the "Super" key in Linux land) and basic system stats. You can, of course, modify a single text file to customise Conky for ambient productivity, or try out a pre-configured setup out there, like this beautiful, minimalist setup well-liked by readers.
You might boot up with a lower resolution than you'd like, or (more likely) notice that your keyboard is set up for UK fingers. Everything, and we mean everything, in CrunchBang is accessed through a desktop right-click menu, and the organisation is pretty helpful. I was fretting about how to take a time-delayed screenshot of the menu, for instance, until I saw that it could be done from the "Graphics" menu:
Peek around, and you'll see that CrunchBang has many of the same default apps as Ubuntu and its lower-scale cousin Xubuntu. I do appreciate their default of VLC Media Player for multimedia files, because it's one of the first things I end up changing on any new Linux install. Here's what a CrunchBang desktop looks like with some of its default apps open (click for bigger image):
Package management is handled through the Synaptic tool familiar to any Ubuntu user. For the most part, any app that works on Ubuntu and doesn't require some specific, graphically-tied tool will work in CrunchBang. Even the tools that requires 3D compositing—like the OS X-like AWN Dock—can be used by a right-click menu switch that enable compositing (seen above).
Finally, if you're not down with the strain-reducing black motif, or you want to change any other aspect of CrunchBang, the Openbox platform has its own configuration tool, obconf, that supports themes and tweaks lots of other stuff:
CrunchBang seems to Just Work on the two systems I tested it on, and it looks like a great fit for an on-the-go desktop for your thumb drive, or replacement for a slow-moving Linux boot. Have you tried CrunchBang and like something in particular? Refuse to give up Puppy or Damn Small Linux? Give us your reviews in the comments.