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The perfect light Debian with Fluxbox [Updated]

Date: 2010-12-30 00:00:00 -0400

[Update]I've decided to update this old post, as a warming post before the imminent release of Debian 6.0 Squeeze

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I use to work on Desktops PCs, one in my office and one in my Home, I use my Laptop (an old IBM T30) only when I travel, and as I like to travel light, this also goes for my Laptop, so here I will show how do I configured my Laptop with Debian Lenny, and just the necessary software for my job while abroad.

[Update]Well I now have an old T60, but still like to travel light, so I still use Fluxbox and Openbox in my Laptop

First, I made a list of the necessary software:

  • Firefox
  • Thunderbird
  • Word Processor
  • Spread Sheet
  • Skype
  • MSN chat client
  • MP3 player
  • Vmware

This is for work and fun, now lets install first the system

The base system

I started with The base system of Debian Etch, but be sure to install only the base system not the Desktop environment.

[Update] Now a days, we better install Lenny, so go and pick the the latest stable Debian

Once this is done, we start making the real work, first, I prefer to have Lenny instead of Etch so upgrade to Lenny

[Update] How fast times go, we will now have upgrade to Squeeze

, you of course may stay with the stable version, but I always prefer Testing on my Desktop or Laptop, and only use Stable for my servers.

Adding me to sudoers

I do not like to switch to root, each time I need to perform administrative tasks, so I like to use sudo instead, to do this install sudo first:

aptitude install sudo

then add the following line to your /etc/sudoers file using the command visudo

ggarron ALL=(ALL) ALL

change ggarron for your user, if you want to read more about sudoers click here

Installing X

I decided to use fluxbox, because it is light, and has all I need to work on my laptop, it the window manager that DSL uses, and I like DSL :).

sudo aptitude install fluxbox

Now install the X-server

sudo aptitude install xserver-xorg

OK now we should have Fluxbox up and running, lets go for the basing menus, copy the default menu example to be your first menu

sudo cp /etc/X11/fluxbox/system.fluxbox-menu /etc/X11/fluxbox/fluxbox-menu

And copy the default user menu to your own Home directory to be your first fluxbox menu

cp /etc/X11/fluxbox/fluxbox.menu-user $HOME/.fluxbox/menu

Add X-term

I know you want to start fluxbox, but we need two more things to be able to start working in a GUI environment, the first thing is to install Xterm

sudo aptitude install xterm

Then add it to the Fluxbox menu, read how to add programs to Fluxbox menu to know how to do it.

Note that we have not installed KDM, GDM or XDM so we will have to start GUI in the old way


If you do not want this, you can install gdm, or xdm, or kdm as you prefer, I want to keep this installation really light.

Beautifying the Desktop

Before installing the applications, lets make our Desktop a little bit more "eyecandy" if this word can be used, we will install conky which is one of my favorite applications in DSL, be sure to have own_window option to "no", for it to appear directly on your Desktop, as it do on DSL

To make Conky start each time you log into Fluxbox, add this line to $HOME/.fluxbox/startup

conky &

be sure it to appear before this other line

exec /usr/bin/fluxbox

which needs to be the last one

Configuring the necessary Laptop software

If yours is not a Laptop jump to the next section


sudo aptitude install wifi-radar

Read manage your Wifi networks with wifi-radar to learn more.

[Update] I must say that now a days I prefer wicd instead of wifi-radar, but now you have the two options, I also like the possibility to use wicd-curses to manage wifi connections from the command line.

Your own DNS server

As some WiFi routers do now work as they should when they act as DNS server, I prefer to have my own on my laptop, so lets install pdnsd

sudo aptitude install pdnsd

And configure it to work with root server, when it asks you about that, after that, edit your /etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf and be sure this line is un-commented

prepend domain-name-servers;

[Update] If you are using wicd, you can configure the DNS directly on each connection wicd will manage.

CPU frequency

You may want to install this, to save battery power, and avoid overheating, for both your laptop and battery.

sudo aptitude install cpufreqd

Now start it:

sudo /etc/init.d/cpufreqd start

If it can not start (as in my case) you may need to load the right module, read here to know how to do it, according to your processor, but basically you need to choose between these lines

for AMD Sempron/Athlon/MP ( K7 )

sudo modprobe powernow-k7

for AMD Duron/Sempron/Athlon/Opteron 64 ( K8 )

sudo modprobe powernow-k8

for Intel Core Duo and Intel Pentium M

sudo modprobe speedstep-centrino

for Others (Unknown) - This one worked for me with a Pentium IV -

sudo modprobe acpi-cpufreq

The applications software

Now we are ready to install the application software

sudo aptitude install firefox thunderbird centericq htop vim gftp

CenterICQ is a text based MSN, Yahoo, ICQ client.

After installing all these stuff, remember to create the necessary menus to access the software from FluxBox, or you will have to start them using the command line.

Installing the rest of the software

Office applications

You should now decide between OpenOffice or other alternatives, like gnumeric and abiword, I do not consider Koffice as it will install a kdebase, and kdelibs, which is like having KDE in your system.

If you want to install openoffice run:

sudo aptitude install openoffice.org

and if abiword and gnumeric

sudo aptitude install abiword gnumeric

MP3 player

You can try installing mpg123


To install skype, you can download the .deb from its page, or install skype from repositories


Here you will find a How to install vwmare on Debian

You should now have a very light, fast and optimized computer with Debian, Fluxbox, and all the necessary software.

Note: If you want to have this but with Fedora or CentOS or Ubuntu, install their server versions (With no servers at all) and then proceed like here.

update: Following the advice of one of our readers, I am adding here the link to the guide to add sound control to these configuration Adding sound to Fluxbox

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