In the past week, I’ve downloaded, burned and tried out a new version of DesktopBSD, and I also received a comment from Gerard van Essen, creator of the great FreeBSD — The Unknown Giant blog to tell me about its new URL. Sources of news for the BSD distros are few and far between, and I’m grateful to Gerard for all his work in this area.
For those who don’t know, DesktopBSD is an easier-to-use spin on FreeBSD — the latter being by far the most popular of the BSD offshoots (the other big ones being NetBSD and OpenBSD, the latter for which I also have a whole lot of admiration). All of the three main BSD distros are pretty much focused on servers. They install with minimal apps, and it’s up to you, the user, to add what you want. And they all use ports to add packages. My understanding of how ports work is rudimentary at best, but there’s a lot of software available that way, and I believe you compile everything for your specific CPU.
DesktopBSD and PC-BSD (the latter also based on FreeBSD) are two attempts — somewhat successful, I think — in bringing BSD to the desktop. I’ve installed both and used them minimally, but since I can’t for the life of me figure out how to get ACPI power management to control my noisy laptop CPU fan, I haven’t really stuck with them. The only BSD that will install to my desktop text box (based on a somewhat rare VIA C3 Samuel processor) is OpenBSD, and while I liked what I saw, I didn’t know enough to really take it where I needed it to be. I probably need that PDF book from O’Reilly to get me further down the road with OpenBSD (there’s one by the same author on FreeBSD, too).
I did see this new FreeBSD book from No Starch Press, and I highly recommend it. It didn’t really address desktop implementation, and I hope somebody else takes up that cause and writes a great book on the subject. The book’s author, Michael W. Lucas, is very good with the technology as well as an excellent writer. If I was more serious about FreeBSD on the server, I’d probably spring for the book. No Starch has another book on FreeBSD server implementation coming out soon, and that might also be worth a look.
Anyhow … what’s great about the new DesktopBSD is that it not only will install the OS, it also functions as a live CD so you can see how your hardware reacts to the system.
Mine doesn’t react so well. I did get the proper resolution in X, but just as in PC-BSD, there’s this funny little unintelligible graphic box hanging off my mouse pointer, and I also had trouble getting my static IP to work (I’ve done it before in DesktopBSD but just couldn’t get it done this time). If I can’t get networking to flow at my office (where I have the static IP), I can’t really get too far. When I did the full install of DesktopBSD a while back, networking did work, so it’s something in the live CD environment that’s keeping it from working.
Again, I’d consider running OpenBSD and building up my own desktop, but it just looks too damn hard. This great blog shows one man’s path to using OpenBSD on the desktop, and I’m just nowhere near that smart. This guy Denny White is an absolute genius. I am truly not worthy. This stuff makes Slackware look like child’s play.
A project I’m looking forward to is Damn Small BSD — taking the Damn Small Linux philosophy and applying it to BSD. It’s not ready to use yet, but I’m keeping an eye on it.
Overall, I’d love for BSD to be as good on the desktop as Linux. For servers, the general opinion is that a machine running BSD (usually specially compiled for the CPU) will be faster than most precompiled Linux installations. But it’s harder to build and maintain. But on the desktop, the BSDs — and the distros based on them — are way behind Linux. It makes you appreciate all the work that developers put into distros like Debian, Slackware, Knoppix, Ubuntu, Puppy, Damn Small Linux and the like.
I’d love for the people behind the BSDs to devote more attention to the desktop. DesktopBSD and PC-BSD are doing a lot, but I’d like to see something that compels users to try out and stick with a BSD distro.
Update: I was looking at the blogroll on Denny’s Blog, and I saw a link to OliveBSD — a live CD based on OpenBSD. I’m downloading it now, and as soon as I get some blanks (my stack of 100 CD-Rs being totally spent), I’ll boot it up and see how it works. Activity on the distro seems to have stopped in 2006 …
Quetzal is an OpenBSD-based live DVD (thanks again, Denny!). I don’t have DVD-burning capability right now, but I’d love to try it.
And yet another derivation of FreeBSD on Denny‘s page that I hadn’t heard about: MidnightBSD, derived from FreeBSD. It’s contained on two discs. And there’s supposedly a live CD image, but I couldn’t find it.