As I mentioned yesterday, one of the things that took some time to reconfigure on my new Macbook were my virtual machines. I’m a little ADHD, so when it comes to running multiple operating systems on a Mac, Bootcamp just isn’t going to cut it. Also, I’m not running alternatives on a Macbook just to get away from OS X; I really like OS X, but some software just won’t run on it. Virtualization is a great way to integrate features and software from other operating systems into just another window or desktop on OS X. I’ve been using Parallels for a number of years now and the only hiccups I’ve ever run into were with some of the less popular or brand new Linux distros.

Which One to Pick?

So while I’ve enjoyed using Parallels to play with a bunch fo different distros and been impressed with many of them, I’ve also noticed how I eventually get around to using them: as terminal manager with an occasional flip over to a browser. As many do, I started with Ubuntu, and I liked it well enough with Gnome, but Unity failed to impress me. Sometimes I just want to launch an application and not shop for Fergie’s latest album.

Seriously, stop. I just want to open a file.Seriously, stop. I just want to open a file.

Then, as I started to explore alternatives, I looked at Mint, which offered the Debian experience I was used to but stuck with Gnome, but I realized it still had all of the additional stuff that Ubuntu had that I didn’t really need. I mean, it’s great that it’s got all sorts of GUI software, but I usually prefer the more robust commercial support that sort of software benefits from on the OS X side of things. How many office suites does one need, anyway? I played with elementaryOS for awhile, and it has become my go-to recommend for folks that are operating exclusively on a Linux desktop. Still, I needed something… slimmer.

So pretty and simple. It’s like OS X and Ubuntu had a baby.So pretty and simple. It’s like OS X and Ubuntu had a baby.

Here Comes the Bang!

After a bit of sniffing, I discovered crunchbang or #! for short. Debian? Check. Lightweight? Only about 700MB for a full desktop environment. Attractive but customizable? Definitely; it looks great out of the box. Eschewing most distros’ heavyweight Gnome or KDE front ends, it uses Openbox. One of the nicest features is that the application launcher can be accessed from virtually anywhere over the desktop or task bar that your mouse happens to be; a strangely liberating feeling. Speaking of the task bar, that runs using tint2 which has exactly what you need and nothing more. Conky is amusingly already installed and spitting out all kinds of gee-whiz information on the desktop, and everything else is just a right click away.

I’ve gotten comfortable over the years manually editing configuration files, but it’s sometimes a pain trying to find them deep within the bowels of your /etc/ directory – or wherever else the developer decided to hide them. Crunchbang makes it easy with its default programs: if it’s got a configuration GUI, that’s right next the application link in Openbox. If it has configuration files, they’re right there too. Take your pick! There are even often links to the man file and a wiki page. Between that and a few powerful interface editors with a lot of options, you can customize the OS to your heart’s content very quickly.

Spartan and slightly devious; just how I like it.Spartan and slightly devious; just how I like it.

One notable file that was both highly accessible and quite useful in the list of Openbox configuration files was rc.xml. One of the issues in working with a virtual machine is that many of your keyboard shortcuts work on the host rather than your working OS. Editing the rc.xml file and shifting everything to non-conflicting shortcuts was a breeze. OS X tying up all your function keys and you can’t Alt + F4? Alt + Q works just fine now. Command + Tab keeps treats the virtual machine as a single window? Alt + Tab makes it easy to switch between windows inside of the guest OS. Impressively enough, view of the pre-configured shortcuts actually conflicted; a sharp contrast to many other Linux GUIs which just directly copy Windows and OS X shortcuts for their own ends.

All things said, it has been a fantastic opportunity to play with a bare-bones Linux GUI that all of the configurability and terminal windows I love, and almost none of the bloat of many of the more popular distros.