Getting to Know FreeBSD 5.0

I have read many OS/distribution reviews in the last couple of years, but it always seems like it is distros like Red Hat, SuSe and Mandrake (and the fairly new distro, Lindows) that get all the attention. The light has sometimes moved towards other less “user friendly” distros as Slackware, Debian and so forth, but the main concern of the authors has always been the distros meant to be used by Joe User.

This is all well and good, but lately there has been an overflow of reviews written by total beginners and their experiences with the main distributions. So then I decided to write a review of FreeBSD 5.0, “a victim of isolation and Linux’s hype,” as Eugenia Loli-Queru well put it. The way I see it, FreeBSD will gain ground faster each day without any hype, but why not contribute?

That said, I would like to tell you about myself. I am not a complete beginner in the Linux/Unix world, but I’m not a guru either. I’ve been sniffing on different Linux distros since I received a PC Format CD with SuSe on it. For several years I have used Windows as my main OS, but I’ve always had a partition free to be occupied by another OS (QNX, BeOS, BSD, Linux).

I’ve had no rush changing my main OS, Windows has always given me the possibility to do whatever I wanted, which is pretty much programming, listen to music, browse the Internet and checking my mail. Since I gave myself unlimited time to choose and experiment with several operative systems and distributions, I found it easy to change it when I first decided on doing it. Linux has never really been my favorite, I’ve always liked QNX and BeOS much better because of the clean GUI and the easy-to-configure set up. (I can’t wait until OpenBeOS is released.) It was not until fall 2001 I discovered the BSD tree. A friend and colleague told me about his good experiences he had with OpenBSD at his own company. I read more about it, and found FreeBSD to be a very good choice, with the biggest package system available and all. At this point I had used Linux distributions as Slackware, Trustix and JBLinux on my private home server, so FreeBSD seemed perfect on my server and on my workstation as well. And it was. Ports/Pkg is nothing but smooth. Problems rarely occurred, and the dependencies are always getting installed without any problems. Speed and stability are two keywords that describe FreeBSD with great accuracy.

After nothing but good experiences with FreeBSD over the past year and a half, I decided that I’ve found the main OS for me at the desktop as well. FreeBSD 5.0 got released and I had to try it out.

Processor: AMD Duron 650MHz
Motherboard: ASUS 133
Memory: 192 MB SDRAM
Graphics: nVIDIA GeForce 2MX
Sound: Creative SB Live! 1024
Disks: 80 GB WD, 13 GB WD and 4 GB Quantum
Network: 3Com 10/100Mbit TP
CD/DVD: Creative PC-DVD 6x/24x, Philips 4x/4x/24x


I downloaded a mini-install from, burned it on a CD, put it in my cup holder and rebooted. The installation was familiar, identical to older versions. FreeBSDs installation UI (Sysinstall) is one of the best out there. It has no graphical installation like Red Hat/Mandrake, and is more similar to Slackware/Debian. The installation is easy to follow by everyone, even for a first time OS installer. The only thing that can be tricky for beginners is fdisk. Although, if you only have one disk and you wish to use the entire disk for FBSD, press A to get an automatic set up of the partitions you need.

I deleted my BeOS 5 partition and split it up in two parts:
1. ufs at /

I chose the Express installation, because I prefer to set up everything myself. The only thing I added was ports. As installation media I chose an FTP server nearby. A couple of minutes later, the few needed packages were installed and I was told to reboot. As expected, everything worked well.

If it is one thing I need, it is a text editor for development. I need to be completely comfortable when I’m programming, or else shit hits the fan. In Windows, I used EditPlus with a great smile on my face. The closest thing I found was Glimmer. I also tried out jEdit, which is a full featured editor with a pleasant user interface, but it is extremely slow compared to other editors. What else to expect from a big project like jEdit using Swing as GUI? Anyway, I ended up with Glimmer. The user can change highlight colors, and now they are identical with EditPlus. I couldn’t be happier.


I forgot to include the CVS under the installation, so installing this was the first thing I did.
When installing a port, you have two options:
1.pkg_add -r ‘application’ /usr/ports/’category’/’application’/ && make install clean

I always try the pkg_add command, but not all ports are packaged, therefore sometimes the second option is used. They install the same thing, but option two compiles the application, first option does not.

Time for mounting. I created my directories in /mnt and added the disks in /etc/fstab. All the partitions that needed mounting were FAT32. Works perfectly.

I started with the GUI. KDE/Gnome/Explorer has never been a choice of mine, I’ve been using Litestep since my 386. Not surprisingly, I installed the WindowManager fluxbox. X got installed without problems as a dependency. Then I used xf86cfg to set up input devices and graphic card. Afterwards I opened XF86Config and changed some Hz details, and also enabled mouse scrolling by adding Option “ZAxisMapping” “4 5” in the input device section. TrueType fonts are mandatory, so xfstt got installed pretty fast. I copied my fonts from my font directory from my FAT32 partition into my new TrueType folder, and added FontPath “unix/:7101” in XF86Config.

All the packages/portsdescribed underneath got installed without any trouble. Ditto with dependencies.

– A graphical browser is a must-have, so I installed Opera 6.11 and Phoenix 0.5. I copied my Opera bookmarks from my Windows partition, edited the look and layout in Prefences, and I was set to go.
– I do not need a fancy mail client like Outlook or Evolution, so I installed Sylpheed. It supports unlimited mail accounts, and also majordomo mailinglists. And it’s fast.
– I’m on IRC at a daily basis, and KVirc is a full featured client that fits my needs.
– Friends use MSN, so I had to be on that network too. Gaim 0.60 was not yet ported when I installed FBSD 5.0, so I used aMSN until Gaim 0.60 got up and running.
– I also needed an FTP client, and gFTP did the trick.

– It should be no surprise that I installed XMMS as my audio player. I copied my favorite skin from my WinAmp 2.x folder and loaded up a playlist from my record collection.
As video player I installed MPlayer. It supports all of the formats I need, like mov, mpeg and avi.
– To get sound to work I needed to recompile the kernel after adding “device pcm” in the kernel configuration. No sweat.

– 1.0 got installed through pkg_add, it would have taken days to compile that one. It works fine.
– I needed an archive manager with a GUI. I browsed FreshMeat and stopped my quest on File Roller.


Everything is fast and stable, minus File Roller, which has a habit of crashing. I haven’t missed my old OS at all.

– Stability and speed
– A lot of applications to choose from the stable and fast growing package system.
– Very good documentation at (Handbook) Although I haven’t used it during this install and configuration of FreeBSD, it still remains one of the best documentation out there.
– There’s not a thousand distributions of FreeBSD, that way it’s much easier to solve problems by a little search on the WWW or in the handbook. You don’t have to search Google to find a solution compatible with your distro, as you would in Linux
– Thin /root folder 😉

– Winex is not yet ported. That one is a big drawback for many gamers.
– Nothing yet. Some might say that a dislike can be that FreeBSD doesn’t have a default full featured GUI set up like many Linux distributions. But FreeBSDs goal has never been to advance in the desktop war. I like it just the way it is.

Do you want to use FreeBSD, but you’re not sure about the applications to use?

Install some of the mainstream distros and write down which applications in the different categories you like. When you think you’ve got it all, check if they’ve been ported to FreeBSD. Most likely they’re all there.

What are you waiting for?

About the Author:
Carl G. Mathisen is 20 years old, lives in Norway, studies Information Systems and works as a system developer.


  1. 2003-04-12 5:36 pm
  2. 2003-04-18 12:25 am