Installing Debian with Openbox

Over recent weeks I’ve been fiddling to install Debian running Openbox on a few computers. The reason is that I have three notebooks including a 32-bit machine that is probably 10+ years old, a 64-bit machine that would be around the same and even my everyday machine is closing in on 7 years.

I had been running Manjaro on these machines but Manjaro dropped official support for 32 bit machines a number of months ago. I wanted to opt for a new distro for all machines that offers 32 bit support, a solid pedigree and some stability. I opted for Debian.

In terms of Desktop Environments (DE)/Windows Managers (WM), I have used a range of them over the years - Gnome 2, Gnome 3, Mate, Cinnamon, LXDE, i3 and Xfce. I liked the simplicity of i3 but wasn’t a fan of the tiling so was after a resource-lean stacking WM.

I checked out a few alternatives and decided on Openbox. It is mature, reasonably easy to configure, low on resources and has plenty of support available.

For posterity the steps I followed to install and configure Debian with Openbox were:

  1. Download the Debian net install.
  2. Copy it to a bootable USB drive.
  3. Run the installer and choose the basic options.
  4. In terms of partitioning my main machine runs 8GB RAM, a 32GB SSD and 500GB HDD. I partitioned the 32GB SSD as root (/). The 500GB contains 4 partitions being a 4GB swap, 4GB /tmp, 8GB /tmp and the balance for /home.
  5. When the Debian installer asks what DE to install, choose none. I think Debian defaults to Gnome for 64 bit machines and Xfce for 32 bit.
  6. Once the system has installed, restart and log on to the command prompt as the standard user.
  7. Once logged on undertake the following:
  • apt install openbox obmenu obconf tint2 feh lxterminal lightdm conky pcmanfm firefox-esr leafpad gnome-backgrounds wicd
  • apt install xinput (to facilitate natural scrolling for both mouse and touchpad)
  • apt install x11-xserver-utils (for the xset command to turn that really annoying system beep off!)
  • apt install menu (for the Debian apps menu)
  • apt install suckless-tools (for dmenu, which I found useful in i3)
  • apt install pnmixer alsa-utils (for volume mixer controls)
  • add items to autostart such as the tint2 panel, xinput commands, feh for wallpapers and conky (incl xset b off to turn beep off)
  • run obmenu to create the menu.xml file
  • run obconfig to create/edit rc.xml for adding various keyboard shortcuts (web, file manager, text editor and terminal)
  • add edit autostart and edit obmenu to menu in obmenu
  • edit rc.xml for keybindings for brightness and volume adjustments

That provides a fast and fairly functional system. I’m yet to fiddle around with pipe (dynamic) menus, but in essence the system does what it is supposed to at a good speed!