FreeBSD is building a graphical installer

FreeBSD is working on a graphical installer. Finally.

The first hurdle to overcome when testing a new Operating System is to get it installed. What is more, the first impression new users gather from an Operating System is its installation process. The state of the art for Operating System installers nowadays definitely involves a graphical process. This is the case for mainstream systems but also for other UNIX systems comparable to FreeBSD: RedHat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, Debian GNU/Linux, or even Devuan GNU+Linux Regardless of the technical level of the actual user, this is how the platform will be compared in the public eye.


Instead, with knowledge of the current bsdinstall(8) and bsdconfig(8) utilities, I envisioned a BSD-licensed replacement for Xdialog(1). Just like when invoking bsdconfig with the -X switch for graphical mode, it could be dropped in instead of bsddialog(1) and allow graphical installation – while sharing the infrastructure of the current installer. To avoid confusion with the current implementation of Xdialog from the x11/xdialog port, I have named its replacement gbsddialog(1). It also has to be said that Xdialog is quite obsolete (latest release in 2006) and this shows visually too.

↫ Pierre Pronchery in the FreeBSD status report

I can’t believe it’s taken FreeBSD this long to both consider and build a graphical installer. Currently being enveloped in the world of OpenBSD, there’s clearly so much the BSD world has to offer to desktop users such as myself, but at the same time, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that the various BSDs can address to make the experience just that little bit more pleasant. They obviously don’t have to – not every project is aiming at desktop use – but it just makes onboarding so much nicer.

The next step – perhaps in 2037 – would be to offer a desktop-oriented installation image, with a default desktop environment and settings optimised for desktop use. Right now, a lot of fiddling and optimisation for this use case is left to the user, and for newcomers such as myself this means a lot of reading, making sense of contradictory advice and suggestions, wading through endless, often outdated, online guides, and so on. Now, I don’t particularly mind doing this, but I’m sure it’s chasing people away who could end up making meaningful contributions.

Meanwhile, after trying out FreeBSD for a while a few weeks ago but it not being a good fit for me, I’m now exploring and using OpenBSD and it’s been a great experience. Although unlikely, I hope OpenBSD, too, can perhaps consider making some minor affordances to desktop users – because as I’ve learnt, OpenBSD feels right at home on a desktop, more so than I ever expected.


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