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A eulogy to CrunchBang, the Linux distro that time passed by

Chris Hoffman | Feb. 12, 2015
One of Linux's strengths is the ease with which you can roll your own distro to scratch a niche itch. But sometimes those distributions fade away, as highlighted by CrunchBang's recent death.

linux penguin skeleton

The world of Linux distributions is far wider than you realize.

DistroWatch.com is currently tracking 287 active Linux distributions. That's a lot, but not every Linux distribution is a massive project. For every Ubuntu or Fedora, there are many more hobbyist distributions created and run by one or two people. Sometimes they grow into their own large projects, like Linux Mint did. And sometimes a developer decides to pull the plug, as CrunchBang's developer recently did.

Hobbyist Linux distribution developers face some of the same challenges hobbyist operating system developers face. But it's easier to limp along when you have all that existing software to work with rather than having to write a complete operating system from scratch.

You--yes, you--can make your own Linux distro
Linux distributions are largely open-source, which is a boon to hobbyists. It's (comparatively) simple to get your own Linux variant up and running if you know what you're doing.

Unlike with Windows, you can take your favorite Linux distribution, make some changes, and release that as your own Linux distribution. Maybe you like Ubuntu, but you wish it had a different desktop environment by default, came with different software, and had a different theme. Make those changes, slap on a new name, and BAM! You now have your own Linux distribution.

You may even want to run your own package repositories, which you can. Heck, Ubuntu gets lots of its packages by importing them straight from Debian. You could do the same. Linux Mint uses Ubuntu's package repositories too, but it adds some of its own software and sets up the system to update in a different way.

Throw together a website--or just put up a BitTorrent file with your Linux distribution's ISO image--and you're in business.

Now, I don't mean to say this is completely easy, as it's certainly a lot of work. But it's possible and is within reach for a hobbyist to take all that existing stuff and make their own Linux distribution. That's just not possible with Windows.

But with so many offshoot distributions out there, many maintained by small hobbyist teams and devoted to very specialized use cases, some are destined to die. Even beloved small distros can become less needed as years pass. Recent events drove that home.

The CrunchBang story
CrunchBang's developer recently called it quits.

CrunchBang was a long-lived Debian-based Linux distribution--originally based on Ubuntu--designed to provide a lightweight desktop operating system with the OpenBox desktop environment installed and configured by default.

Essentially, CrunchBang is a special installer disc that primarily uses Debian's packages. CrunchBang also offers its own software repository, which includes customized versions of certain packages that are "pinned" so new versions from Debian can't overwrite them. As a derivative of Debian, CrunchBang made more sense when it was harder to install lightweight desktop environments like LXDE on Debian, and when distros like the official Lubuntu derivative of Ubuntu--which also uses the lightweight LXDE desktop--weren't available.

 

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