Bunsen Labs Lithium Short Review

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Bunsen Labs has just released a major new version of their light-weight Openbox based distribution. The new version called Lithium is now based on Debian 10 Buster. The previous version, Helium was still based on Debian 9 while the next version on the road map is Beryllium based on Debian 11 that should come out some time next year. I have to admit for someone not very intimate with the project, the release names are more difficult to appreciate than version numbers.

For those unfamiliar with this project. It started out as a continuation of the now defunct Crunchbang Linux which had a strong and loyal following. Bunsen Labs has gone through a lot of development over the years and is now a very unique disto of it’s own. The basics are still the same. Building an Openbox window manager based desktop on top of a stable Debian release with a Tint2 panel and a Conky system monitor.
While still a lightweight distribution, Lithium has gained a lot of weight. htop now shows 418 MG RAM used by default. This is roughly double of what Helium used to use. 57 tasks and 74 threads were also active just after login.  These are still very low numbers. The appearance has also undergone some change. The panel is now at the bottom and the color scheme changed from a tealish green/grey to a darker blue/grey theme. It looks sleek but some might find there is a of lack of contrast, making text harder to read.

No fat here: The additional weight has been put to good use. We now have a highly anticipated self updating menu for Openbox in the form of jgmenu as well as a type to search functionality. These two additions make a huge difference in my opinion and combined with the more modern Debian 10 base, we now have a fully polished system that is a joy to use. The system ran very nimble and smooth in my virtual box. It uses the Synaptic package manager to install software but they also give us a set of simple scripts to easily add some popular apps. Gdebi is also included. Oddly, some duplicate apps exist like the image viewer. There is a “BL” version and a regular one with no difference I could spot.

I used the torrent to download the 1.3 GB ISO. Thankfully, Bunsen Labs only bundles LibreOffice Writer and Calc with the distro and not the whole suite. I wish more distros would do that. The other main included apps are the Firefox web browser, the VLC media player, the image viewer Risoretto and Thunar, the file manager. There are also a bunch of smaller apps and scripts to configure this more hands-on system.
After using it for a while with several apps, including the browser open, RAM usage went to a very manageable 1.18 GB. After closing all apps, usage went down to 692 MB, releasing most of the RAM. My observation of CPU activity was also pleasant, the CPU load hovered at a mere 1% during idle periods.

Bunsen Lab’s Lithium is now a very mature system. It is not meant for absolute beginners as it still requires some knowledge in using the terminal and doing some tinkering with configuration files. It is also a bit more keyboard centric than most distros. That might just be the beauty of it for many users. It’s lightweight yet highly functional set-up will also appeal to many users. It also comes with it’s own active and very friendly community and forums.

For a bit more history and background info, check-out this previous article.

Let us know what you think about this unique distribution and share your thoughts in the comments section below.




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Chief geek (editor) and maintainer of distrocrunch.com
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2 years ago

(BunsenLabs dev here) Thanks for reviewing BL!

Just to point out one thing a lot of people miss: the four “bl-something” apps are not variations on the originals, they are aliases that the user can change to taste, similar to x-terminal-emulator and x-www-browser. eg bl-image-viewer by default brings up Ristretto, but a user can install GpicView for example, and use the Debian Alternatives system to set bl-image-viewer to point to that instead. All menus and scripts that call an image viewer will continue to work as before with no other editing needed.


Hervé Marest
Hervé Marest
1 year ago
Reply to  Johnraff

I just tried Bunsenlabs and it’s a great work! But I think aliases bl-something aren’t useful for me. How can I remove them please ?

Last edited 1 year ago by Hervé Marest