ArchBang is a spin, or custom install media, based on Arch Linux and is inspired by CrunchBang, which is currently based on Debian stable. As such both are using the Openbox window manager, and ArchBang seems to follow closely looks wise and in choice of applications if you compare it with screenshots here. Even the Openbox menu is matched closely. Basically, it tries to be to Arch what CrunchBang is to Debian, but as it follows the Arch rolling release model it is a lot more up to date.For instance, the current kernel in Crunchbang is 2.6.32 due to being based on stable, whereas the latest ArchBang release features the 2.6.37 kernel, as would any updated installed version.
2010.09, released 23rd September 2010, was quickly followed by 2010.10 due to bug reports and a number of unresolved issues, mainly in the 64-bit version, but it also came with a change in a significant number of applications that are installed by default and, although only supposed to be an update (Rev. A) to the original release (entitled "Reloaded") introduced a completely different style in wallpaper and the Tint2 panel configuration.
Similarly, on 24th January 2011 version 2011.01 (code name "Symbiosis") was released and quickly followed by 2011.02 only a few days later on 4th February, which again changed the look with an easier on the eye wallpaper, changing the panel back from top to the bottom, included base-devel packages, and it also apparently resolved configuration issues with Thunar when compared to the previous version. The release announcement also stated that from now on there will be no more code names.
Why a new release when ArchBang is based on a rolling distribution and can easily be kept up to date with Pacman (sudo pacman -Syu), the Arch Linux package manager, also aliased here as packer (wtf?).For a start a new release will be good if you're just running from disc or USB so you get a fresh image if you do not have a hard drive install to remaster. You can copy the ISO to USB with ”sudo dd if=archbang-2011.02-i686.iso of=/dev/sdx bs=8M“ and then install from there to machines with no optical drive available.
Secondly, it allows to reflect changes in the default choice of applications and to remove deprecated or not longer maintained packages, although of course this can also be done manually on your install, and who ever stuck with only the default apps anyway?
Thirdly, it allows the developer to tweak and change settings, and the new versions are supposed to be some what lighter.
So let's see if that claim is true and if it would warrant a reinstall with all the post-configuration re. locales, keyboard layout, cpu frequency setting etc. that still requires, as it is still Arch under the hood and none of this is done for you during the install routine. At least it wasn't last year, and we'll see if that changed. ArchBang is available optimized for i686 or for x86_64. I downloaded the ArchBang-2011.02.04-x86_64.iso release which comes in at 579 MB because my older install is also 64. In fact I never tried the i686 version, but it is currently 530 MB in size and can be downloaded here.
|ArchBang 2011.02 - Thunar now showing all partitions|
The first thing I noticed in 2011.02 was that my Broadcom wireless chip worked right from the start. Imagine my surprise when hovering over Wicd in the system tray came up with several detected networks. The second thing was that opening Thunar now shows all partitions on my system as opposed to the older version. This is due to gvfs now being included and the exec line in xinitrc now including the dbus-launch command by default. This was previously an additional tweak suggested to be applied post install if this behavior is desired. A text file simply called DOC is now included in the users home directory which explains to the newcomer how to edit the autostart file, gives tips on how to install video drivers or packages from Arch repositories, how to use and install packages from AUR, and how to build your own ArchBang.iso. All very neat, this will be a boon to users new to Arch Linux who do not think of or may not know to check the Arch wiki for problems they encounter using ArchBang. The project's own website also holds tips and is hosting a forum and wiki, but it is not that active and you are still more likely to find answers and help on the Arch Linux site.
I have kept ArchBang 2010.09 on my hard drive since shortly after its release, added and removed a few applications and unneeded xorg drivers here and there, and kept it fully current as of 18/02/2011. It originally came with linux 2.6.35 but is now running the latest 2.6.37 kernel with broadcom-wl compiled to achieve wireless connectivity.
I have not changed my autostart.sh or done anything to impair startup time or load after startup, in particular not installed any server services that would start up on boot. The only additional kernel modules I load are for wifi, no proprietary graphics drivers and no virtualisation solution.
This showed 183 MB of memory is use immediately after boot from hard drive, 184 MB once the wireless connection was established in Wicd. Running in live mode from CD this older version used 204 MB of RAM.
2011.02 in comparison used 170 MB after booting into the hard drive install, and 179 MB once wirelessly connected. Logging into the live session used 177 MB straight after and 190 MB with Wicd connected, all as per Conky readout and with no applications opened as yet on the desktop.
|Multimedia codecs - playing a movie in the live session|
ArchBang now also uses the xdg-menu. I'm not quite sure why as we already had the Openbox menu with a graphical menu editor, but aparently xdg-menu updates automatically to add newly installed packages. One glaring oversight is that there appears to be no pager. Are we not supposed to have multiple desktops?
Looks are even more like Crunchbang now, which isn´t a bad thing. I´ve always liked the hackerish dark sci-fi theming in 2010.09 and the recent fantasy styling in 2011.01. Dark is ok unless it impairs legibility, so I generally don´t use it as an overall theming option, but for the background it´s fine.
More minor changes include the Conky styling and the panel. Conky now uses the monospace font which makes it even more closely resemble the CrunchBang configuration, and it has lost the options for displaying host name and battery status. It also does not show the ArchBang logo any more. This appears more streamlined, giving more weight to the Shortcut keys. Is this better or worse? Most people adapt or already have their own conkyrc files anyway. If you want this look you could just use an older configuration file and change the font.
The Tint2 panel is now a lot slimmer than previously but in doing so strangely seems to have deviated from the CrunchBang look which the panel comes closer to as it was in 2010.09. Anyway, many people will already have their own configuration to drop in should this one not be to taste. There is now a volume icon shown by default, but the Parcellite clipboard manager, Xcompmgr and the battery information tool are commented out in autostart.sh. This is particularly annoying on a laptop because the standard Conky configuration does not show this information either. Left-clicking on the time and date now brings up the Orage calendar.
On the whole, ArchBang seems to have reduced its reliance on Gnome and Xfce utilities in this new version in favor of lighter tools. Where we had Xfce tools for managing input preferences and a volume mixer before, as well as the Xfce power manager applet and network tools from the Gnome environment to provide functionality, there is now only the Gnome disk utility due to gvfs depending on it. All this change has resulted in a smaller size, down from 608 MB for the previous x86_64 version.
|Updated install with Tilda and the new wallpaper|
|It's all black and white now|
ArchBang 2010.09 was not perfect and had some problems, none of them a show stopper. For example it first came with the wrong set of kernel headers, easily changed. The 'Open Terminal Here' dialogue in Thunar did not work because the command entry in custom actions was wrong. There was no trash icon in the side pane or the menu of the file manager either and the trash could only be emptied manually. Again this was remedied by setting up a custom action in Thunar. Still no trash icon, but it worked. Logging into root you got an empty Openbox environment, with no wallpaper and a factory menu. Easily changed by copying over settings from your user account, but Archbang is using sudo and you should never have to log into the root account anyway, and on the rare occasion where you do a blank one should be fine. It's possible there were a few more minor annoyances I haven't come across.
All these issues are not present any longer in the latest release. Most of the changes in 2011.02 are welcome, and the few that are not can quickly be cured by removing an app like Chromium for example, and by dropping in your own config files. The distribution is using around 10MB less RAM now from the get go and even feels slightly faster and more responsive in daily interaction if that is at all possible. It also seems to both boot up and shut down a bit faster, which is actually incredibly fast.
Is it worth replacing a perfectly good and stable install though that has been kept fully up to date and has the advantage of a few customizations, my own wallpaper collection in /usr/share/wallpapers, my preferred set of applications added and a few other customizations in /etc ? All this would be trivial to move but I just don't feel the need on a triple core machine, and reinstalling applications will take some time. On an old Pentium III though, most likely, the added speed and saved RAM may actually make a difference there. Similarly, for a new install I would definitely use the latest version instead of upgrading from a September 2010 base, and move over the wallpaper, the Slim login theme and configuration files.
|The ArchBang 2010.09 original look|
ArchBang has been a stable, fast and mature OS for me ever since I tried it, and it continues to get better with this latest release, mainly due to better wireless support and desktop responsiveness. I would still only recommend it for the advanced user though who is firm with his partitioning skills, mainly due the installation which is still text based and does not assist with anything beyond prompting to specify a root password, setting up a user account and allowing you to edit important system files, without guidance, before installing the boot loader.
|A chance to edit the configuration|
Also read my review of ArchBang 2010.09 if you haven't already.