CrunchBang Linux was a minimal Linux distribution that is based on Debian, focusing on being lightweight yet full of useful and nifty functionalities for users. Sadly the distribution got discontinued on 2015 by its main developer, but the community behind it didn’t let it go. They gathered their selves and created what is known as BunsenLabs Linux; A continuation of the lightweight Debian-based CrunchBang Linux.
Unlike many derivatives in the open source world, BunsenLabs kept the original distribution’s philosophy and goals. That is, being lightweight and resource-friendly, and using Openbox as a default window manager instead of a normal Linux desktop environment. One can also notice how the distribution usage is heavily keyboard-driven, just like the original CrunchBang.
The latest version of BunsenLabs was released just this this month, codenamed Lithium. We downloaded the latest version in order to try it and see how the distribution will perform. We’ll go in a complete review for BunsenLabs Lithium.
BunsenLabs Lithium Review
The default BunsenLabs installer is the same one as in Debian 10.
However, installing BunsenLabs was a tricky move; The distribution required an Internet connection to proceed, and it failed to connect to the desired wireless network during installation for an unknown reason (It detected the network, asked for password, and always failed to activate the connection), and even with multiple wireless adapters used (TP-Link and D-Link adapters). But the distribution kept asking multiple times to reconfigure the network during the installation, and it even stopped it to ask where to look for a mirror of the main Debian repositories.
A lot of clicking around and cancelling was needed before the installation was completed. So that’s a minus one over there for the hard installation that an average Tom wouldn’t have been able to fulfill.
What was more severe is that the resulting installation was left without preconfigured Debian 10 repositories (Out of 54000 packages, only 5000 of them were available after installation) because the repositories weren’t added during the installation due to the Internet connection issue.
So after installation, we had to manually add the following lines to
deb https://deb.debian.org/debian buster main non-free contrib
deb https://deb.debian.org/debian buster-updates main contrib non-free
Luckily, the installation part was the hardest part. After that, things become better.
There’s a post-installation script that will be automatically displayed for you after first boot. It will ask you if you would like to add additional software repositories or programs/drivers to your system:
The post-installation script is quite neat; It saves the user a lot of time in searching online on how to install certain software using his/her new Linux distribution, and makes the system almost ready to use immediately. Sadly, few distributions recognize the importance of such post-installation helper scripts.
The display manager is LightDM. Openbox is the default window manager in BunsenLabs, with a conky panel on the right side to display resources usage and keyboard shortcuts, and a tint2 panel on the bottom customized to look beautiful regardless of the theme you decide to use.
The menu is a quick-and-dirty access menu for not just the installed applications on the system, but also to all the configuration files of everything installed. Clicking on any of these files will instantly open it in the Geany text editor. Moreover, the menu has an embedded search functionality:
One of the nice possibilities of BunsenLabs is changing the overall system look in one click using the “BunsenLabs GUI Themes Manager”. And while this may sound like a silly task for many of you, you should realize that BunsenLabs is using many non-homogeneous components for its desktop: Openbox, conky, tint2, GTK2/GTK3, icon themes and dmenu. Changing the themes of all of these components in one click into a compatible theme for everything is an a hard task from a technical perspective.
The theme manager will first ask you to save your current settings before you proceed. After that, you can choose the theme you would like to apply:
You can possibly choose to apply the theme on some components only, if you want, instead of all of them (However you desire):
Everything will change once you apply the theme:
An interesting feature in this theme manager is that it detects if there’s a missing component in the theme you are trying to apply, and it will offer to install it automatically for you (Here it is installing the Paper icon theme by itself):
There are special window dialogs to change the themes of tint2/conky:
BunsenLabs depends heavily on editing text files to change system settings and preferences, which is the actual spirit of the old CrunchBang Linux; It had the same philosophy that text files are much easier and quicker to deal with rather than GUI programs. Almost every single configuration file is available for direct editing access in the dmenu, and this includes tint2, openbox, conky, compositing settings, dmenu settings… Much much more:
Keyboard Layouts Support
One of the minor hitches of BunsenLabs – if you are talking about the average Tom – is that there’s no way in it to set up a different keyboard layout. A new user will have to search online on how to use the command line to add new layouts to his/her system.
One of the recommended ways in the forums was to install
ibus and launch
ibus-setup in order to do that. However, ibus kept failing in switching the layouts using
Alt + Shift key combination. So we had no option but to use the good old command:
setxkbmap -layout 'us,ar' -option 'grp:alt_shift_toggle' &
us,ar with the languages you want (E.g
us, es for English and Spanish layouts, and you could add more if you want). The command also needs to be added to the startup commands after each boot.
Just like Debian,
apt is the default package manager from the command line. If you would like to use a graphical program, then Synaptic is available and shipped by default:
BunsenLabs uses the main Debian repositories to provide users with most software, and it also has its own repositories in which they ship other packages, mainly meta packages to ease the installations of a group of packages.
As you should have seen from the previous video in this review, there are some ready installation scripts for installing various important software in the applications menu (dmenu), such as Chromium, LibreOffice, Gimp, Inkscape… etc. One can just click them to install the software he/she needs:
BunsenLabs uses around 500MB of RAM after a fresh boot:
mhsabbagh@bunsenlabs:~$ free -m total used free shared buff/cache available Mem: 16033 497 15176 9 359 15253 Swap: 0 0 0
And reaches the login screen in 7 seconds:
Startup finished in 3.740s (kernel) + 7.186s (userspace) = 10.926s
graphical.target reached after 7.172s in userspace
This review was done on the following hardware:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen 1600, 6 cores and 12 threads.
- GPU: Asrock AMD RX 580, 4GB of VRAM dual-channel.
- RAM: 16GB OF DDR4 RAM, 3000MhZ.
- Motherboard: ASUS Dragon B450M.
- SSD: Apacer Panther AS340 240GB SSD.
These were the most interesting BunsenLabs features. It is truly a great continuation of the original CrunchBang Linux, and anyone who used both distributions can feel how identical they are in most aspects.
Still, the installation bug and some other extra graphical windows for managing localization and other aspects in the system would be great to fix.
You can go ahead and download BunsenLabs from its official website.
Your thoughts about BunsenLabs and how it relates to CrunchBang are welcomed int he comments.
Hanny is a computer science & engineering graduate with a master degree, and an open source software developer. He has created a lot of open source programs over the years, and maintains separate online platforms for promoting open source in his local communities.
Hanny is the founder of FOSS Post.
Thanks for the review it is useful as I\’ve recently installed BL on a old Dell (1.7 GHz CPU, 512MB RAM ) – it is using 164MB of RAM with Dillo, a file manager (SpaceFM) and a terminal session open and connected to Wifi . I\’m really impressed with this and the fact that the ISO fits on a CD which is a rare find these days (this machine only has a CD drive and does not boot off USB, I could setup a PXE server but the CD option is easier for me).
I am now running BunsenLABS LITHIUM operating system. I really like it a lot but the installation has come curious problems.
When I install an operating system, I prefer an easy install, with few if any problems. I realize that this distro is in early stages of release
so they are finding problems. The forum wants you to search out the bugs and make mods but I find this redundant at best.
The original download of BL Lithium would NOT install, or shall I say find, the NETWORK. It would get to one point, put up a blanks screen then just STOP.
This was fixed by a addition to the install script found on BunsenLABS forum.
GoTo the BL Lithium install screen - STOP - do not press enter
-the installer grub appears at the bottom.
-- at the end of the installer script, locate '--QUIET'
-- you will add 'ipv6.disable=1' with a space before and after
-- now press ENTER to begin the install
( this fix worked for me on my Lenovo M91p machines )
Once the install script is modified, the install will go with no problems.
when you restart, you will get a “bl-welcome” screen that asks if you want to add additional apps through its script. I found this “welcome” screen to be a bigger problem than it was worth and I suggest you just NOT USE THE SCRIPT. press “Q” to quit. Everything you need to run this Op System can be easily added through the software app.
If you plan to play movies you need to add the Video Codes
sudo apt-get install libdvdcss2
sudo dpkg-reconfigure libdvd-pkg
you may have to shut down and restart the computer at this point to play movies
I also recommend running upgrades, I used the following, I think they are still effective
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade
sudo apt dist-upgrade
One interesting thing that drove me crazy till I was told by a nice user at BunsenLABs forum was
about the FILE MANAGER
The filemanage as installed is NOT ready for normal use.
You have to change a setting to stabilize its operation. I find it very strange that this distribution would be sent out with this needed modification.
bring up FILE MANAGER
click on EDIT
click on PREFERENCES
click on BEHAVIOR
select DOUBLE CLICK TO SELECT ITEMS
Then you are done.
If you do not select this behavior the file manager will act crazy, or in a manor that I could not handle.
Selecting the double click behavior makes the File Manager much better to work with.
at this point you are ready to go to the software area and select software you want to use.
At this point, if you look for a GAME tab, there isn’t one. At least on my install it was missing.
but I found as I installed games, the GAME tab was installed.
Just to keep with the forum, I was told that the LITHIUM distro was not created to make those tabs, that they are
added manually by the user, so if you don’t see a tab created, you have to look on the forum to learn how to
Very nice program. I was using VOYAGER for years but as they have evolved, I was starting to have problems
with the Voyager distros. I was having problems running things. This made me start to look for an alternative.
BunsenLABS LITHIUM was a very good replacement. As I explained, getting BL LITHIUM up and running took
some work and research but once it is running it is quick, a light program and has the security of a Deb distro.
It comes with stable apps and I have had very few problems running LITHIUM.
I really liked VOYAGER and would have preferred it had not evolved as it had, but I really like BL LITHIUM.
I reread my instruction on the install grub mod, I was not clear — so
GoTo the BL Lithium install screen – STOP – do not press enter
-the installer grub appears at the bottom.
— at the end of the installer script, locate ‘–QUIET’
Before the first dash ‘-‘ of the –QUIET
— you will add ‘ipv6.disable=1’ with a space before and after
— now press ENTER to begin the install