Running Openbox on Fedora 18

About Openbox

Openbox is a window manager.  It is the default window manager of several distributions the most prominent of which is probably Crunchbang. It is also the most common window manager used with LXDE and RazorQT.

There is a difference between running LXDE and Openbox though.  LXDE is a complete interface with a panel, session manager, desktop icons and wallpaper, a file manager, and several other utilities. Running Openbox implies that you do not use many or most of bits of LXDE.

Motivation for Running Openbox in Fedora

The obvious question to ask is, “Why run Openbox in Fedora?”, “Why not just use Crunchbang?”.  The answer has to do with personal preferences and the differences between the distributions.

I have been a long time user of the Crunchbang Linux distribution, which is a derivative of Debian Linux.  Debian Linux is a conservative (in terms of package inclusion) community distribution.  The Debian way is a good way of doing things.

Fedora is a progressive community distribution which serves as a testbed for Redhat Linux, a major corporation.  Fedora tends to include the latest software available in each new version.  As a result, Fedora users have historically run into the consequences of using less tested software: unreliability and bugs.

Init Systems
As of 2013, a new init system called “systemd” gained a foothold across the Linux distribution spectrum.  Systemd is developed by Lennart Poettering, a Redhat employee, and several others.  Systemd has been adopted by Fedora, Arch Linux, Mageia, and Opensuse.

Init systems are a contentious field in the Linux realm of late.  Ubuntu has been pushing its own new init system called upstart.  As a result most of the Ubuntu derivatives are using upstart.  The traditional system used by more conservative distributions like Slackware, Debian, and Gentoo is called sysvinit.

Any of these three init systems will do the job, and any talk of superiority is an invitation for flaming from the other sides.  It’s reminiscent of the Gnome vs KDE debates of years past.  For the time being, lets just say I’ve been swayed to believe that systemd is worth switching for, so I tried Arch, and now have moved on to Fedora.

The Experience

Openbox, once you are used to it, is pretty much the same wherever you use it.

The basics are: right click menu, middle click window management, no desktop icons, simple text based configuration.

In addition to that I tend to use Crunchbang-like supporting applications.  That means: tint2 for panel, nitrogen for desktop wallpaper, obconf for configuring the window decorations, obmenu for configuring the right-click menu, and lxappearance for configuring the gtk theme and other appearance settings.

It’s very smooth, quick, light on resources, and extremely minimalistic.  I love it, but your mileage may vary.

Packaging differences between Debian and Fedora

If you’re using the same interface settings in different distributions then the thing that really tends to matter after installation is the package management system.  Packages are applications or libraries necessary for running software or hardware.

Debian and Crunchbang, use the dpkg packaging system with the .deb format, and apt for package downloading and management.  An example use case of apt to download the vector graphics software inkscape follows:

apt-get install inkscape

Fedora on the other hand uses packagekit and uses .rpm format packages.  For package downloading and management it uses a program called yum. Using yum to download the same program we would do:

yum install inkscape

Having spent most of my time learning the apt system of Debian there was only a tiny learning curve to get used to yum.  I have installed one set of updates on Fedora with no major problems, nothing broke, that’s good.

mp3 playback and other restricted codecs and extras

Both Debian and Fedora have similar stances regarding distribution law.  They respect US copyright law and do not distribute these packages which they wouldn’t technically be allowed to anyway.  Many other distributions skirt these license restrictions by not being based in the US, or simply by being too small to be noticed.

Regardless of the lack of these packages in the official repositories, they’re only a google search away.  The packages themselves are almost always freely available from the vendor that owns their copyright or patent.  It took me a little while to get the flash player working on Fedora, but after some effort Youtube worked beautifully.  I don’t mark this against Fedora or Debian at all, they’re merely abiding by the law.

Final Remarks

Fedora has the latest Openbox, the latest applications, and systemd to boot (see what I did there?).  Debian has stability, well tested reliability, and really old packages.  They technically have systemd available in their testing repository, but it is not configured to be the default init system, and won’t be anytime soon.  Using Openbox is pretty much the same smooth, lightning quick experience on Fedora as it has always been in Crunchbang, so I’m a happy camper.



Filed under linux, technology

4 responses to “Running Openbox on Fedora 18

  1. I am interested in Fedora but NOT Gnome 3, so I have been searching for derivatives. I found out about “viperr” which is an openbox distro based on Fedora. Perhaps this will provide the mix of Fedora+Openbox without too much configuration work.

  2. Marceau

    I find myself in the same boat. I feel crunchbang hasn’t really had as much movement or direction as I’d like. On the other hand, Redhat employs some of the
    most interesting folks in the free/open software world, and is only hiring more of them.

    I’ve been with #! for a good while though, and there are some things (like my openbox config) that I’d hate to give up.

    Are you still with fedora, and if so, how exactly did you go about (re)creating an environment that you were comfortable with?

  3. I am one computer less than I was when I wrote that article. I think the computer that died was running Fedora. Now I’m using Crunchbang (or perhaps straight Debian… I don’t remember) on my work computer, and OSX at home.

    As for recreating the environment, its just about learning the configurations and getting dirty with YUM.

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