Why ‘solutions’ like CrunchBang matter

Living just “over the hill” from the Silicon Valley, there’s a word bandied about in these parts that is about as nebulous as it is grating. This word — “solutions” — describes what works, in a digital way, for individuals on computer hardware.

I confess to being guilty of using the word myself. Redwood Digital Research started out as just a software testing outfit — you bring us your software, we’ll break it and when we can’t break it any further once you’ve fixed it, it’s ready — and now we also bring Free/Open Source Software, ahem, “solutions” to the small business and home office environment.

Again, “solutions,” as obtuse as it is, equals software that works.

If you’ll permit me a slight tangent for a moment, I know CrunchBang’s lead developer and fearless leader — and we’ll let Rebecca tell us if he’s really fearless — Philip Newborough has been known to make the point that, “It is a common mistake to think that every developer wants their project to be widely popular.”

Which brings me to a.) why I brought that quote up in the first place, and b.) why I’m hosting a table for CrunchBang and giving a presentation about it at Linux Fest Northwest in late April.

Philip is right about bringing up the direction that developers want to see their projects take. It’s their project, their vision. As I’ve written before, perhaps the main reason I’m here as a CrunchBang user is that I think Philip has done a remarkable job on this Debian-based distro that is as dependable as it is fast across the board on a wide range of hardware — old and new — and its dependability in most cases makes its name an inside joke that describes the complete opposite of what is bound to happen.

In other words, CrunchBang is a “solution” that I, and many of you reading here, have made a part of our daily digital lives. So the reason I am going to the extent that I am to promote CrunchBang in the United States is not because I want CrunchBang to be “widely popular,” but rather to share this outstanding distro with others, letting those who wish to try it decide for themselves whether it’s right for them.

CrunchBang is not for everyone. There is a learning curve for those brand new to Linux and FOSS, but for those who know their way around, CrunchBang is probably the best distro you can use. There’s little that can beat a quality distro backed by a dedicated cast of forum folks willing to help. That’s pretty much the gist of my talk at LFNW, with an outline of some of CrunchBang’s features, of course.

But meanwhile, back in Bellingham (if I can project forward to late April), CrunchBang already has a table and I’ve submitted both a “Intro to CrunchBang” talk and there will be a CrunchBang “Birds of a Feather” gathering during the course of the show. I also have a few folks who are willing to staff the booth and attend the expo, and once again if you’re within driving distance of any Linux show or expo, I would strongly urge that you attend.

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How we do things here

[NOTE: This is a reprint of today’s Larry the Free Software Guy blog. Because it deals with CrunchBang, I’m using it as a portmanteau to also be today’s Larry the CrunchBang Guy blog item. –LC]

This is how things are done in these parts: I don’t want to speak for him because I know my friend Don Parris has his own explanation for it (which he outlines on his blog here), but it appears that while building up his bash scripting skills, he noticed a certain finality to deleting filed in bash. So he wrote a script to keep the files around in case there’s an “oops-I-needed-that-file-after-all” moment.

So Don did what we do in these parts, this paradigm known as FOSS: He wrote his own script. Not only this, he put it under the GPL and put it out for the benefit of the wide world to use.

Is it something that will be widely adopted and catapult Don to a nomination for the Nobel? Probably not. But for those of us who would use it, it’s a pretty nifty tool, and my hat is off to Don and the Bash Trashman (which you can get at the link two paragraphs up, and note to Don: I sort of like Brash myself, but snicker uncontrollably at the thought of calling it Bashmaster, a la Bassmaster).

Because that’s how things are done here.

There’s a flip side to this coin, too: It’s when someone visits to a distro or a project and tells the community “Hey, you can do things better. Let me tell you how.”

I bring this up in the wake of a thread in the CrunchBang forums around what might — might — constitute improvements in that particular distribution. That’s reason number one. The second reason is that I’m guilty of this, too, and learned my lesson years ago.

While there is always room for improvement in anything, the changes the original poster suggests are things that are already found commonly in other distros and, arguably (as noted in the thread) CrunchBang’s strengths lie in what it “lacks” in the way of digital creature comforts as much as it lies in the great job Philip Newborough has done putting together an Openbox-based distro that’s fast on old hardware and lightning quick on the newer stuff.

You’ve heard me say this before, mantra-like, and I’m going to have this etched on my tombstone: Use whatever distro/FOSS program that works for you. This is one of those basic truths, like the inevitability of death and taxes and the inability to comprehend how gravity works, understanding the Wankel engine or the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey.” To go to one community set in their ways and say, “You know, you’d be a lot more popular if $LIST_OF_REASONS” doesn’t fly because, in the constellation of the 320-something distros in the Linux/BSD universe, there’s a distro out there that will do exactly what you want it to do. As it should be. And if this one doesn’t do it for you and you’re not using one that does work for you — opting to try to change it to your tastes instead of changing yours to fit the distro — you’re falling into the trap outlined in that popular Southern expression: “Never teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.”

To his credit (and I’m assuming the original poster is a he), the original poster has stuck with CrunchBang and he seems to be working out some of the bugs he’s finding. Also, one of the things I hope he’s finding is that there is a wealth of knowledge and education a question away in the CrunchBang forums, which is a huge and positive testament to that particular community.

As an aside, I use CrunchBang regularly as my primary distro because a.) I like it and b.) it does what I need it to do across a wide range of hardware which, say it with me, means it suits my needs. The fact that it’s a community with a wide range of smart people is a perk.

Which is as it should be.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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What’s that?

Among the plethora of things that have kept me busy the last week or so was preparing for and giving the SCALE Linux Beginners’ Class last Saturday at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport, the site for SCALE (and, if you’re prepared to mark your calendars, SCALE 11X will be the last weekend in February).

I had an interesting thing happen while giving the “History of Linux” presentation at the class. Well, two interesting things: The first is that I’ve never given a presentation using this new machine that I’m regularly using (the ZaReason Alto 3880), and when I plugged in and set up, I couldn’t see my screen on the laptop screen, but it projected fine on the projector. Navigating while doing this is sort of disconcerting, and I’ll look into why it did that (I have a feeling it’s something simple).

The second thing was that someone noticed that I was using something different — they were installing Fedora 16 — and after my presentation, which ended right at lunchtime, someone asked me, “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” I asked, and when he pointed at the projector, I realized he was talking about CrunchBang.

So I got to talk a little about CrunchBang and introduce this new user to the distro and the concept of window managers like Openbox and how they work, et cetera. I just did it for as long as his eyes didn’t glaze over, but I think I may have planted a proverbial seed.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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