Linked by Drumhellar on Wed 25th Sep 2013 22:02 UTC
FreeBSD

I've been a big fan of FreeBSD since I first acquired 4.4 on 4 CDs. By that point, I had already spent a lot of time in Linux, but I was always put off by its instability and inconsistency. Once I had FreeBSD installed, it felt like a dream. Everything worked the way it was supposed to, and the consistency of its design meant even older documentation would be mostly applicable without having to figure out how my system was different. There is a reason why in the early days of the Internet, a huge portion of servers ran FreeBSD.

But, that was a while ago. Since then, Linux has matured greatly and has garnered a lot of momentum, becoming the dominant Unix platform. FreeBSD certainly hasn't stood still, however. The FreeBSD team has kept current with hardware support, new features, and a modern, performant design.

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A few comments and additions
by Doc Pain on Thu 26th Sep 2013 21:57 UTC
Doc Pain
Member since:
2006-10-08

I really did enjoy reading the article. Being a FreeBSD user myself since v4.0, I think you did a great job describing what FreeBSD is and how you've eyperienced the current release.

I noticed a few inaccuracies which I'd like to comment on; also allow me to add some words regarding statements I find notable.

"As far as hardware support, it is extremely well supported on i386 and amd64 architectures, which are considered Tier-1 platforms."

There are new restrictions, especially regarding peripherials that violate existing standards. Especially in case of mobile hardware (laptops for example) this can be significant. Intending to use FreeBSD on such a device usually involves research prior to the act of purchasing, and maybe getting hands dirty after purchasing. It still can be worth investing the work.

"First, at least on my laptop, FreeBSD may not properly throttle back the CPU when it gets too hot, so tasks that really hits my laptop hard cause an overheat alarm and the FreeBSD will shut itself off."

This can be the case of improper ACPI implementation. You could add "device coretemp" and "device cpufreq" to the kernel config and make sure you have loaded the appropriate ACPI module. There's also powerd in the base OS.

"The install process is currently simpler, but bsdinstall offers greater levels of scriptability and customization, if your environment requires it."

If you need to do something "non-standard" (like dedicated disk layout), you can still easily drop to a command line shell. In case you really want to do "something strange", you know how to do that with CLI tools. :-)

"The install process itself is fairly straight forward, but there are definite benefits to being familiar with FreeBSD."

A good idea is to have a printed copy of the relevant handbook sections, or make them available via WWW on a second machine. Someone entirely new to the FreeBSD operating system will definitely benefit from the excellent documentation. Things not mentioned by the installer (e. g. usage of "su root" requires "wheel" group membership, or how to install bootcode for a boot manager) is covered there.

"After configuring the base system, the next thing you'll want to do is update the system and install the ports tree."

A working ports tree can be obtained during installation from the media. Of course that tree is dated exactly like the OS, so if you want more recent entries, updating the ports tree is needed via Internet.

"The system can be updated with the FreeBSD-update command."

The command is "freebsd-update" (all lower case).

"FreeBSD differs from most Linux distributions, in that updating the system provides only security updates, and not feature-updates."

The main difference is that FreeBSD does provide a consistent operating system "as a unit", maintained by the FreeBSD team, whereas Linux "base systems" are a composition from packages just as the creators of the distribution decide. The FreeBSD OS consists of a kernel, userland tools and libraries (called "world"), and the source code. All those parts can be subject to freebsd-update. Every other software (coming from the ports collection) does technically not belong to FreeBSD (as "the operating system FreeBSD").

"New feature are rolled into new releases, which happen on a roughly annual basis. If you need to customize your system, you can download the latest source and rebuild the the kernel or the whole system, depending on your needs."

It's worth mentioning that world and kernel should always be in sync version-wise. Still it is possible to change kernel configurations without requring a rebuild of the world.

"The source tree and the FreeBSD Handbook have much documentation on this process. On my laptop, with 8GB of RAM and a 2.2GHz quad-core Sandy Bridge processor, make -j10 buildworld (which builds the entire system) takes about 45 minutes to complete."

"A simple make install will build and install an application and all of it's dependencies."

And its dependencies. :-)

"It will prompt you to set configuration options if needed, and will even create package files if instructed."

The ports collection offers even more functionality. It's a whole consistent framework to fetch, install, update, remove, search and patch software. There are management tools, for example portmaster, that can optimize those processes.

"For regular package management, FreeBSD falls flat initially. It's package tools are rather antiquated, and lack many features. For example, there is no built-in way to upgrade a package automatically - it has to be uninstalled and reinstalled manually."

In combination with an updated ports tree, portmaster can do this (using -P and -PP options to use precompiled packages instead of compiling stuff from source). The new pkg tool (pkgng) intend to solve the problems of binary updating. It can already be used (with few limitations).

"Using pkgng to install a group of packages performs significantly faster, as well. Again, I strongly recommend you use this setup."

Compiling from source is only needed in few specific cases, for example when no package is available for a specific combination of options you want to enable or disable (packages are built with the default options), or if you need to apply specific optimization to gain performance. A good example is mplayer if you want it to be as complete as it can be.

"If you want to virtualize FreeBSD on your desktop, FreeBSD's support of both VMware and Virtualbox guest additions is complete, with accelerated graphics, automatic cursor grabbing and ungrabbing, and shared folders."

In this case, check out VirtuelBSD - this is a preinstalled and preconfigured VM image that does not require any installation and can be used for "trying out" the system.

"It doesn't happen automatically, but FreeBSD can be made into a fine desktop."

I can confirm this, as I'm using FreeBSD exclusively on the desktop since version 4.0. :-)

"Gnome is a different story. Gnome 2 is available in the Ports tree, but Gnome 3 is not. Most of the Gnome developers don't seem to interesting in supporting anything other than Linux."

Similar opinions have been around regarding Xfce which also seems to rely on OS-specific things that are provided in Linux, but not in FreeBSD, so it could be less functional here.

"Some things are important to know about running Xorg on FreeBSD. First, the packaged Xorg (as well as the default configuration when building from ports) includes hald and dbus, but those services are not enabled by default, so when you launch X, your mouse and keyboard won't work."

I always thought at least HAL would already be considered obsoleted in Linux...?

"To enable them, hald_enable="yes" and dbus_enable="yes" need to be added to the /etc/rc.conf file."

Or disable them when building X if you don't require those things for your desktop.

"Pre-KMS drivers do work, with 3D acceleration when available, and NVidia graphics are fully supported by NVidia's proprietary driver. This driver actually works very well and is well supported. It has been available for 10 years, and provides the necessary libraries for running OpenGL applications under Linux emulation."

The built-in "ati" driver of X.org (and even of XFree86) did provide very good 3D performance for the older Radeon GPU series. With current ATI cards, it doesn't seem to be that easy. However, I'm currently using a nVidia card and the binary driver was easy to install, and it has good 3D boom. :-)

"There are some other issues with FreeBSD as a desktop to be aware of. A weird quirk of FreeBSD package management is that the default package repository doesn't get updated; all the packages are the same version as what is found in the ports tree included with that particular release."

There is an environmental variable $PACKAGESITE that you can set to either

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