Sunday, 20 February 2011

ArchBang 2010.09 vs 2011.02 - What's Changed?

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
Immediately obvious was that the boot menu now includes a Hardware Tool, providing detailed information for your piece of kit and loaded kernel modules which could prove invaluable. The first time trying to boot resulted in a kernel panic, so I tried the failsafe method which worked fine except that it gave me a distorted 1024x768 resolution. Strange enough, upon rebooting it all worked fine and up to now I have not experienced that kernel panic any more. 
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 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
Most codecs seem to be included from the start as they were before, and it's fun to play a movie you might just have downloaded in a live session that effortlessly connects to your router. Apart from the usual package updates a couple of applications have been swapped out since 2010.09. For example Gnome Mplayer has replaced VLC, Geequie has replaced GPicViewer, and Foxit Reader is included instead of Evince, or previously Xpdf. You can see that applications are subject to a fair amount of change here, but according to the release announcement the selection should be more stable from now on. This 2011.02 version now includes Transmission for all your torrenting needs, very welcome as I had to install it previously, and Chromium has replaced Firefox already since 2010.10. Well, Chromium... it certainly makes the desktop feel a bit lighter, its page loading is incredible and start up time is also faster. But page and font rendering is still suboptimal. To log into Blogspot I had to reload as page elements were all over the place, and I still think readability is a lot better in Firefox. Then Chromium actually crashed on while using the drop down menu of distributions, to look for ArchBang ironically. I also just don't trust the privacy issues and that everything in that department is really disabled.
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 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
It would already be worth it because I wouldn't have to mess with blacklisting or adding modules to /etc/rc.conf or with recompiling the AUR build of broadcom-wl. On a system where all that is already done though, not so much.
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
It does not even shepherd you from step to step. On the other hand this provides a flexibility that is valued by experienced users, who are able to switch between different steps or to avoid the prompt to install a boot loader completely if they just want to add an entry to an existing one. As stated in the beginning, ArchBang is still very much Arch Linux under the hood, but it's giving you a slightly easier start.

Also read my review of ArchBang 2010.09 if you haven't already.


  1. I gave it a spin when it came out its very good
    But you can do a arch net install in the time it takes to download and install. arch is that easy to install believe install core, xorg, nvidia/ati gives you a working desktop as a root user

  2. How Do I get out of the GRUB install menu I did everything right but could not get out of it by pressing ^X is there an easier solution?

  3. Very Good review, I share similar opinion being an intermediate Archer and a longtime #! and running archbang from first release. Arch + Openbox + LiveCd = Problem solve.
    Keep on doing Good review... I love it... :)

  4. @Demusta: I did not install it again to look at it to say for sure, but is there no Cancel button?

    @TuffRank: Thanks for the positive comment. Always nice to get feedback, particularly when it's so good ;)

  5. Good article on the recent comparative ArchBang's. ...the haze is slowly clearing in my head.
    I'm a newcomer to Arch (wow, I thought I saw all the Linux distro's ?). and if you don't really need Debian's 20-kazillion packages, then this is one of the best Linux distros. It's nice to see another "Bang!" alongside good 'ole Crunchie, thanks to OpenBox.

    However, I still found ArchBang's grub bootloader left little to be desired. I have multiple OS's/distro's on multiple disks but no matter what I try, that stupid arch-grub-bootloader ALWAYS wants to install in the MBR in /dev/sda ? -"wtf?!" -exactly.

    Anyway, ArchLinux/ArchBang is a distro close enough to the *BSD-style that I feel a little more at home again in Linux ;)

  6. "that stupid arch-grub-bootloader ALWAYS wants to install in the MBR in /dev/sda ? -"wtf?!" -exactly"

    This is not correct.
    I installed it myself recently and I was able to put the grub in the same partition as the AB install itself.

    Thanks for your review, btw. Experiences with Ab differ greatly depending on hardware, user skills and of course a bit of luck or hard luck. It definetely is worth a try for everyone who wants a rolling, cutting edge distro, that works very fast and like the Kiss Arch principle.
    You have to be a self-reliant user though and not be used to get everything spelled out for you.

    This -and you are still more likely to find answers and help on the Arch Linux site -is also incorrect; you won't get help on the Arch forum, if you are using archbang.
    See for the reasons why.

  7. >>This -and you are still more likely to find answers and help on the Arch Linux site -is also incorrect; you won't get help on the Arch forum, if you are using archbang.
    See for the reasons why.<<

    Hi pablo. It wasn't very clear there as I see now, but I was really referring to the Arch wiki and Beginners guide for configuration issues, wireless setup, the pacman command line syntax and such, not to the forum.

    Thanks for your comment, and keep up the good work.

  8. "...ArchBang seems to have reduced its reliance on Gnome and Xfce utilities in this new version in favor of lighter tools..."

    Arch don't need no stinkin' xfce, or Gnome nuthin'.
    Arch + OpenBox = HDM! (Heavenly Desktop Manager !)

    Keep up the great work, archbangers and mash.

  9. Hi,

    Once again, a great review about Archbang.

    I installed it and had some minor issues with it. I wanted to install firefox with packer and it did install firefox with out issues. However, firefox doesn't start whenever I try to launch it. Running the firefox from terminal gave me an error messsage "Couldn't load XPCOM." After much research, I could see that one of the component xpcspell doesn't have its dependencies installed. I had to some troubleshooting to fix the issues which took couple of hours.

    I am not sure whether the problem is with the packer utility or with the repo itself. Has anyone had similar problems?


  10. @Anonymous
    Hi Balaji,

    Jesse Smith over on Distrowatch Weekly also ran into a problem with dependencies when trying to install Firefox with Packer. Sounds like the same thing.

    I never tried replacing Chromium on 2011.02, and the main install that I use has been constantly updated since 2010.09 which came with Namoroka which somewhere along the line got replaced with FF proper, so I did not run into this problem.

    Thanks for the comment!

  11. @Barnaby


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