How long will FreeBSD 7.3-release be supported? Two years

This is one of the great things about FreeBSD: They make a release, and you know right then how long it will be supported by the security team.

Look at this post by Remko Lodder (linked to from Planet FreeBSD) on the March 23, 2010 release of FreeBSD 7.3-release (which I’m running right now):

The FreeBSD Security Team currently plans to support FreeBSD 7.3 until March 31st 2012. Users of FreeBSD 7.2 are strongly encouraged to upgrade to either FreeBSD 7.3 or FreeBSD 8.0 before the FreeBSD 7.2 End of Life on June 30th 2010.

A two-year support life with the option to upgrade to the FreeBSD 8.x branch at any time? That’s great. More than one -release branch going at the same time? More than one -stable branch, plus a -current branch if you want it? FreeBSD has a whole lot of flexibility depending on what you want out of the system and what your comfort level is with bleeding-edge software, frequency and quantity of updates, and of course what your hardware and tasks require.

I chose 7.3-release for a couple of reasons: I wanted to run a -release branch, and at present 8.0-release doesn’t have as many precompiled binary packages as 7.3-release, and since 7.3-release is newer, all of its packages are newer as well.

The next 8.x release will probably take care of that, and I’ll be more comfortable upgrading to it, but for now 7.3-release is working great for me.

Following Remko’s suggestion to look at the FreeBSD Security page, you can see that every other release in a given numerical series is an “extended” release, meaning it gets two years of support.

So 7.2-release, being a “Normal” release, has an “estimated EOL (end of life)” of about a year and a month.

FreeBSD 8.0-release is also a “Normal” release, supported until Nov. 30, 2010. And when 8.1-release is finally released (no date set), it will be an “extended” release and be supported for two years after its release date.

So right now you can run FreeBSD 6.x, 7.x and 8.x -release branches with support from the FreeBSD security team.

FreeBSD – I’m not just “testing,” but really using it

I’ve been running free, open-source operating systems on my main laptop for about two years now, and especially in the past six months I don’t just load on an OS, play around and then write a quickie review (although I have been known to do that on occasion).

No, I’m actually using these systems. I put in a full 6 months with OpenBSD 4.4, maybe 6 months with Ubuntus 8.04-9.10) then 3 to 4 months with Debian Lenny.

Now I’m running FreeBSD 7.3-release, and while like OpenBSD (but somewhat less so) it takes more work to set up than your average Linux distribution, I’m finding the system to be extremely stable. Even calling Flash “problematic” is something I do with qualifications: Video is a bit choppy, audio is perfect, and while the npviewer.bin processes can eat quite a bit of CPU, once you close the page that spawned them, they go away, which is very nice.

Java performance has been great, and the desktop (for me GNOME and Fvwm2) is extremely fast.

I’ve used packages and ports, and everything has built/run just fine.

The endless portupgrade in FreeBSD

I must have forgotten the -P switch to portupgrade when updating my FreeBSD 7.3-release packages and ports. That switch would have tried to use packages instead of ports when possible to do the upgrade. I’m really not sure if I typed -P as part of the command or not.

All I know is that ports are building, and I can’t hang around to answer the inevitable pre-build questions before many of them, meaning I’ll return to the computer in the morning as it’s waiting for user input and continue the process that started in the afternoon and threatens to continue well into tomorrow.

There’s something to be said for operating systems that rely solely on binary updates. I knew there was a reason for PC-BSD …

Dru Lavigne’s ‘The Definitive Guide to PC-BSD’ is helping me update my packages and ports

The FreeBSD Handbook appeared cryptic on how exactly to update packages and ports. I’m sure the answer is in there, but I just couldn’t find it.

However, I do have Dru Lavigne’s new book, “The Definitive Guide to PC-BSD,” and I’m following her instructions on pages 247-251 on how to use csup and portupgrade to update both packages and ports on my FreeBSD 7.3-release installation.

Yep, her PC-BSD book is helping me with FreeBSD — which isn’t so unusual since PC-BSD 8.0 is based on FreeBSD 8.0.

Yesterday I fixed my problem with pkg_add, which was pulling packages from 7-stable instead of 7.3-release. I’ll write that up soon.

My short review of Dru’s PC-BSD book is that it’s a must for the novice PC-BSD user and has more than enough tips for the advanced BSD user who wants to run PC-BSD or even FreeBSD. It’s a great companion for her “Best of FreeBSD Basics” book, which I also highly recommend.

I’m still in the middle of my csup, so I’ll report on how it turns out. And while I’m sure I have a GhostBSD (FreeBSD live with GNOME) disc somewhere, I’m about to burn a new one and see how its GNOME environment compares to my own. Hopefully I’ll glean a few tips that will help me in my GNOMEish FreeBSD 7.3-release install.

FreeBSD 7.3-release: I’m not done yet

I’ve had a little time to think about it, and I realized that it’s not yet time to give up on FreeBSD 7.3. I’m not in any way saying I’ll be sticking with it long-term. But I think I should spend some more time running it before I end the test.

Right now I’m rsyncing over a bunch of user files that I hadn’t yet moved from my backup drive. Then I can disconnect that drive, protecting it from any filesystem-harming crashes, and proceed to work on the FAT drive automounting problem.

The main reason I decided to stay with FreeBSD 7.3 longer is the incredible performance on the desktop. I don’t have any benchmarks to back this up — I’m not a benchmarkish kind of person, I’m just a regular user. And FreeBSD 8.0, in the time I ran it, seemed even faster than 7.3, but since the precompiled binary packages for 7.3-release are a whole lot more up to date than those with 8.0-release, I decided to reinstall with the earlier version to get GNOME 2.28 (instead of 2.26) as well as many packages that for one reason or another (most of which utterly escape me) are not available in 8.0-release, including OpenOffice and vlc, the latter of which has saved me from the always crashing Totem, which doesn’t like my X setup, or so I surmise.

Again, I’m no expert, but my time in OpenBSD (4.2 to 4.5) and FreeBSD (8.0 and 7.3), both with versions of the UFS filesystem, crashes or power interruptions hit a bit harder – the fsck procedure takes quite a long time. In Linux with a journaling filesystem such as ext3, recovery is much quicker.

Note: Whether or not it matters, I’m using soft updates in FreeBSD, which are invoked by default. I can’t remember whether or not I turned on soft updates in OpenBSD.

I’ve heard on BSD Talk, which I recommend highly, that some kind of journaling is coming to the FFS/UFS in FreeBSD. I don’t know what the real-geek opinion of journaling in BSD is, but it seems to me like a good idea.

So I’ll have a whole lot of user files (with my 3 GB+ of Thunderbird mail on an 8 GB ext3-formatted USB stick) on this FreeBSD installation, and I could very well see myself in this environment at least until Debian Squeeze’s release as a Stable distribution is imminent.

As I wrote previously, I did manage to get both Java and Flash working in my Web browsers, although Flash is more than a bit problematic performance-wise — I’ve already turned it off in Firefox and am more than happy to run it solely in GNOME’s Epiphany browser for the time being (and couldn’t run it all in Firefox 3.6.1 … but a replacement of 3.6.1 with Firefox 3.5.8 made it all come together).

I’ve always said that the GNOME desktop is faster than you’d think it would be, and that speed only seems to be maximized in FreeBSD on this hardware (1.2 GHz Celeron CPU, 1 GB RAM on this 2002-era Toshiba Satellite 1100-S101 laptop).

BSD update

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.

SCALE6x Linux conference finalizes schedule

Read all about it at LXer, and yes, I will be there.

I’m pretty excited about the variety. There will be a lot of commercial vendors, and BSD will be very well-represented:

The commercial booths have all been filled. Several non-profit groups have recently been added to the SCALE expo floor: Enlightenment, which will be showcasing the work going into E17. Enlightenment is rarely seen at conferences, so this is your opportunity to learn about the desktop that first defined the term “eye candy”. Also added were OpenMoko and Damn Small Linux. And for the first time all three of the major BSDs, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and FreeBSD will have booths at SCALE.

Look for an interview with SCALE publicity guru Orv Beach coming up on Click.

BSD — it’s better with books

After my less-than-successful forays into BSD, I’ve come to the conclusion that before installing, configuring and working with a BSD distro — whether it be FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD, and even DesktopBSD and PC-BSD — it pays to read up on in.

With Linux, you can fake it easier. Most Linux distros ship with everything you need, and even setting up a server can be as easy as clicking the right boxes during an install.

But BSD is a different animal. The hardware support is nowhere near as comprehensive as it is for Linux, but it is possible to get it working with the hardware you have (wireless notwithstanding — BSD and wireless is something I know very little about but want to know much more).

One thing people say about BSD — it can be faster than Linux for many tasks. I don’t know how that plays out on the desktop, but for servers and other processor-intensive tasks, BSD is an attractive alternative. And the security of OpenBSD especially is legendary. So for a server, I can totally understand it.

And the BSD that went into Apple’s OS X seems to be working very, very well — multimedia is probably better on the Mac than anywhere else, so for BSD and Linux, it can be done and can perform better than Windows by far.

But when rolling your own BSD system, I think a ton of reading is what’s required. And there really isn’t a book out there that focuses on BSD desktop systems, even though there are two distros that focus on just that.

FreeBSD is the most popular BSD, from what I gather, and that’s due in no small part to the excellent FreeBSD Handbook, a free 900+ page manual that is one of the best examples of FOSS documentation I’ve seen.

And new from NoStarch Press is “Absolute FreeBSD, 2nd Edition,” by Michael W. Lucas. Check out the PDF of the table of contents. At $59.95 retail, you better hope for a deep Amazon discount on that one. From No Starch parent company O’Reilly — and for $9.95 each — are two PDF-only books, “The FreeBSD 6.2 Crash Course” and “The OpenBSD 4.0 Crash Course,” both by Jem Matzen. Both of these PDFs promise some guidance on using BSD as a desktop OS.

As I’ve written previously, OpenBSD is the only BSD to install on my Maxspeed Maxterm converted thin client (VIA C3 Samuel processor), and while I was far from getting it set up for the desktop — there was just too much to do with ports and configuration — I now look favorably on OpenBSD as a great system on which to learn BSD. The OpenBSD FAQ is quite good, though not as extensive as FreeBSD’s Handbook . I was able to do the OpenBSD installation with no problems whatsoever by consulting it keystroke by keystroke. It’s also available in text form.

I’ve been warned away from BSD by people who know more than I do. And other way-smarter people swear by the use of BSD, even on the desktop.

From my point of view, having not just one OS alternative (Linux) but many — including the various BSDs — is vitally important to all of us, both on the server and the desktop — as we go forward. I hope the people behind the various BSD distributions keep the desktop user in mind more and more in the near and far future.

I conquer the fan

I finally did get my fan under control in Puppy Linux. It involved modprobe commands for both the fan and thermal modules (I configured them to start on boot) and getting a cron job running to check CPU temperature at 5-minute intervals and turn the fan on or off depending on temperature.

I’m working on writing the whole thing up. But first I want to thank the Gateway Solo 1450 owners and Puppy Linux users whose expertise I drew on to get it done.

Even with the cron job running, I think the fan runs less under Debian and Ubuntu. There must be a different set of parameters for determining fan status. Perhaps cron’s check every 5 minutes of the CPU temperature is a much longer interval than those other systems use. I’ll have to look into it.

Another thing I’ll be looking into is what my “trigger” points for the fan are. I currently have it set to start at 50 C and stop at 40 C. Maybe I can shift those numbers a bit to have the fan run less but still keep the CPU at an acceptable temperature.

While I’m giddy as shit at being able to run Puppy without the fan blasting the whole session, I’m still not as satisfied as I would be if it were managed as well as Debian does in EVERY Linux distro I use. But at least I can take what I learned in Puppy and try it in other distros that don’t control the fan on this laptop. I’d love for this to work in BSD, too, but who am I kidding? I’ll have to try my shell scripts and modprobe commands in BSD and see what happens. Probably nothing.

One thing bothers me, though. If I were running a fanless PC, this wouldn’t be a problem. It makes me want to build a fanless mini-ITX VIA box with parts from the Damn Small Linux Store or Logic Supply. And why can’t their be a fanless laptop? If only I had enough skill, time and crazy-in-the-headness to build my own laptop. (I know this one has a fan, but I’d do it sans fan.

Still, I’ve got the fan saga, more on the Debian Live CDs, my problems with image editing and IPTC info and more in the near future.

FreeSBIE — the FreeBSD-based live CD

I returned to FreeSBIE today. I haven’t reviewed it so well in the past because it’s a bit kludgy. But now that I have many more months of Linux (and X Window System) experience I can approach FreeSBIE and at least get it running.

I forgot that by default, FreeSBIE boots to a shell, not the gui.

To start X, just type this at he prompt:

startx

Or … you can use the following cheat codes BEFORE booting into FreeSBIE:

freesbie.xfce4
freesbie.flux

… and you will boot into one of those two window managers. Ideally, FreeSBIE should automatically boot into a GUI, with a shell being an option, and at the very least there should be a message on the screen telling the user to type “startx” to get the window manager going. I say this because the “documentation” with FreeSBIE consists of an HTML document that comes up automatically … only after you are in X.

Since I don’t use a dynamic IP at this location, I had to set up my own static IP. Usually there’s a GUI or script to help you out. Even Slackware has such a script.

Not FreeSBIE. I had to do it at the command line. It was just that little bit different from Linux, given the difference between BSD and Linux. But it wasn’t above my skill level:

My Ethernet interface, usually eth0 in Linux, is called fxp0 in FreeSBIE/FreeBSD.
(My comments are in italic and parenthesis — do NOT type them in. Bold is for emphasis.)

I opened a terminal:

$ su
(No root password necessary in FreeSBIE; I get the # prompt immediately.)

# ifconfig fxp0 10.10.10.8 netmask 255.255.255.0 broadcast 10.10.10.255
(Use your own static IP info on the numbers above in bold.)

# route add default 10.10.10.1
(Note: don’t use route add default gw, like in Linux — gw is not needed. As above, enter your own router/gateway address)

I also set up my name servers in /etc/resolv.conf (I used vi because I knew it would be there. You can also use nano in FreeSBIE. Use any text editor you wish in its place:

# vi /etc/resolv.conf

once in the file, I added these lines:

nameserver 192.9.200.4
nameserver 192.9.200.2

(as always, add your own search domain and name server IPs, then save and close the file; you should now be ready to start Firefox and begin browsing the Web.)

Anyway, now I was able to use FreeSBIE. It’s pretty fast. Not as fast as Puppy Linux or Damn Small Linux, but good enough.

FreeSBIE doesn’t benefit from the same kind of compression as most Linux live CDs, and as such, there are far fewer applications available. But between Firefox, Thunderbird, Vim, nano and AbiWord, there was enough for me to get around.

I had no idea how to do a cron job to get the noisy fan in my Gateway Solo 1450 laptop to turn off, and since running FreeSBIE I’ve struck out in a bunch of Linux distros as well when it comes to managing this fan. I’ve discovered that Debian Etch, Ubuntu (not the latest kernel but the older one in the current 7.10 version) and CentOS 5 (aka Red Hat) all are able to manage this fan automatically.

Thus, if I had a desktop computer that could run FreeBSD, I’d be racing to install it right now and see how it runs.

I’d probably be better off figuring out how to get Puppy’s ACPI fan control working. All the solutions thus far look a little daunting.

Did I mention that the fan is loud? Really loud.