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

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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RE: A few comments and additions
by Doc Pain on Thu 26th Sep 2013 22:30 UTC in reply to "A few comments and additions"
Doc Pain
Member since:

-- cont. --

"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 use the RELEASE packages (those that work with the system as-is from the installation media) or the current packages (which get updated regularly). See "man pkg_add" for details.

"Besides the RELEASE branch, there is also STABLE and CURRENT. The STABLE branch is updated along with the standard ports tree, and there is typically about a week or so of lag time between the port being updated and the corresponding package being available. If you want the cutting-edge branch, you can switch to CURRENT, which provides the absolute latest, untested packages. Currently, CURRENT and STABLE are identical, but this isn't always the case."

That's not fully correct. Allow me to explain:

The tags RELEASE, STABLE and CURRENT (HEAD) have nothing to do with the ports tree pre se. They refer to the operating system (which is, as I explained, maintained independently). The RELEASE branch contains the OS as it is delivered on the installation media, and you can follow the security updates (indicated as patchlevels, e. g. 9.1-RELEASE-p2 as the 2nd patchlevel of 9.1). The CURRENT branch is where the active development takes place. Understand it like this: It is a development branch. Experimental features can appear and disappear, and it may not even compile today, but will do so tomorrow. From this branch, STABLE is created with the "confirmed" and tested features that will go in the next release (e. g. 9-STABLE or 9.2-STABLE to say "this is the STABLE branch after 9.2-RELEASE). Security-critical development will be backported to the RELEASE security branch (and maybe older branches that are to receive security updates).

You should not expect CURRENT to always work. If you want the most current "fully usable" version, use STABLE instead. Continuously update the sources and the ports tree. Following STABLE (or CURRENT) cannot be done using freebsd-upadte (as it only follows the RELEASE security branches), but an update is only a "make update" command away.

The ports tree, on the other side, is "continuously moving", it's "always STABLE" and contains the most current ports. It can be binarily updated with the portsnap command.

Using tools like SVN (previously CVS) you can, of course, obtain ports trees for specific dates, just as you can for the OS.

"Adobe's Flash player is available via the Ports tree (It uses Linux emulation and a shim to provide it to native browsers)."

There is no Linux emulation in the meaning of "Linux emulation", instead it's an ABI, an alternative binary interface that "routes" Linux calls to the respective FreeBSD calls.

"The consistency of the system is why I prefer it over Linux - significant changes can rarely, if ever, be described as disruptive. But, changes still are made."

It's not really fair to compare FreeBSD to Linux in that way. When we say Linux, we usually mean "the many different distributions of Linux", while FreeBSD means "the FreeBSD". That's why FreeBSD has the opportunity to provide a centralized means of documentation (instead of leaving that task to the users, scattered across the web in forums, wikis and user pages), plus there is a friendly, professional and helpful participating on the mailing lists. As there is "only one OS", things don't have to be discussed for any imaginable implementation and variation.

Among developers, FreeBSD is impressive regarding the quality of its documentation. Nearly everything in the system (binaries, configuration files, kernel interfaces, library calls, maintenance procedures, protocols and device drivers) have a manual page with carefully crafted information. Even some quality ports follow this approach and provide excellent off-line documentation (which can be significant under certain circumstances). The FreeBSD Handbook and the FAQ are also locally available and can be output in text, HTML, or various printable formats. The source code is also very tidy and of high quality, it answers the questions that the manpages cannot answers - this is a feature especially appealing to programmers. The system's directory hierarchy, even though containing many "historical idioms" and therefore maybe looking "outdated" from a "modern" point of view, is easily usable; file locations can be "predicted" and the logic behind the patterns is of course described in "man hier". Details matter, and as soon as you know why something is there, it becomes obvious why it is a good idea that it is there.

Of course, many of those advantages are way too "low level" to make any significant point in how FreeBSD is a good desktop OS or not. I can only speak from my individual experiences that I would not want to trade FreeBSD as my primary (because exclusive) desktop OS for anything else. Sure, there are things that don't work as I'd like to (or stopped working), but for a professional, secure, easy, powerful and versatile OS that I'm granted the honor to use it for free I won't complain too much. :-)

Reply Parent Score: 4

phoenix Member since:

The naming for the FreeBSD branches is a bit confusing right now as there are 3 separate naming conventions in use: -CURRENT/-STABLE/-RELEASE, RELENG_X/RELENG_X_Y both from the CVS days; base/head, base/stable, base/releng from the SVN switchover.

-CURRENT (aka base/head in svn terms) is where the most development occurs. This will become the next major (x.0) release of FreeBSD, at which point a new -STABLE branch is created.

-STABLE (aka base/stable/X in svn terms, where X is one of 8, 9, or soon 10) is the development tree for a specific major version of FreeBSD. Currently, there are 2 stable trees under development (for FreeBSD 8.x and 9.x) and a third will be created shortly (for FreeBSD 10.x). Most development that occurs here is merging features from -CURRENT/head, although some new features are developed directly in here. All minor releases (8.1 through 8.4; 9.1 through 9.2) are created from the -STABLE branch for that major version.

-RELEASE (aka base/releng/X.Y in svn terms) is really two separate things: a specific release as distributed on CDs which never changes (this is more commonly known as -RELEASE); a security branch that gets security updates as needed (this is more commonly known as -RELENG).

For an outsider, or someone who used FreeBSD a few years ago and just coming back to it, it's confusing as hell. ;) In another year or so, when 8.x is no longer supported and all CVS-related terms are gone, it will be much easier to understand. Do you want head (devel), stable (devel), or releng (user release)? ;)

It's also extremely confusing right now as there are two separate packaging systems in use (pkg_* and pkgNG) with different releases supporting different package tools. Thankfully, there will be proper pkgNG repos for 9.2 and 10.0 and all releases going forward, so one can easily ignore the old pkg_* tools starting now. Again, in another year or two, when 9.x is no longer support, it will be much simpler as pkg_* will be gone.

Edited 2013-09-26 23:06 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 3

J-freebsd_98 Member since:

#/# find /var/db/pkg -type d -name "p5*" | xargs -J % find -type f -name "+CONTENTS" -exec grep -H "5.12" {} \; | grep pm | gtr -s \/ "\n" | grep p5 | sort | uniq | xargs -J % portmaster -d -B -P -i -g % && yell || yell
I sort of dread the disappearance of +CONTENTS (etc) with the new packaging system (if I understand pkg(ng) fully enough); the seperate directory-as-its-database is much more forgiving to workarounds (pkg won't install conflicts? with v9, one can temporarily mv the old /var/db/pkg directory maybe, move it back...) not to mention the CLI above. It took all of a couple minutes to almost fully upgrade perl 5.12.x to 5.14.4 ... One could say "can't do that in... [other operating system] " and maybe not, if the new pkg(ng) does not have equivalent easily-crafted (pipes, etc) tools.
Otherwise, reading the first few posts in this thread (when there were just a few yesterday), I re-read them to discern that they were, in fact, generally positive.

Reply Parent Score: 2