FreeBSD or Debian Linux? FreeBSD or Linux?

This is an often asked question in newsgroups and forums. The reason for this, is that there is no easy answer. If a straight forward answer could be given, it could have been found on Wikipedia. The fact is, that it is not a yes-or-no-answer question.

Often you will see this ‘political’ answer “It depends”. It depends how you’re planning to use the operating system (desktop, server) and where (home, data center, server room, embedded etc).

Both Linux and FreeBSD have their strong and weak points, but overall, they can do almost anything you ask it to do, but when one wants an answer to the question “FreeBSD or (Debian) Linux?” one needs to find an answer to the following questions first to see which operating system suits one’s needs best:

1) Is your current hardware supported? If the purchase of new hardware is planned, is it supported by either/both?

2) Which operating system is supported by the third party commercial applications vendors that you use? If it is not supported, is there an acceptable equivalent available for the operating system your preference goes out to?

3) Are your current networking hardware (and appliances) supported by the O/S?

4) Are any new third party system management and monitoring tools required? If so, are they supported by the “new” OS?

5) Is  your storage hardware and servers supported by your preferred O/S? think of Network Attached Storage, SAN’s RAID, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

5) Is the IT department capable of maintaining (and further developing) the new system, or is there a need to hire new staff? Or, can you get consulting services and/or third party support for your operating system?

There are plenty more questions that can be asked before deciding whether it’s Linux or FreeBSD that fits your needs best.

Have you been in a (work / home) situation where you had to make the choice? It would be nice to find out about your experience. Please share via the comments.


  1. par5ek says

    Other than pointing the obvious, this article is absolutely stupid. Which are the main differences between both OS’s? If all the items you state above are covered by both OS, when should I choose one over the other? Where’s better linux? Where’s better BSD? etc. etc. etc.

  2. Lamegaptop says

    I have tried the BSDs over the years and found them to be a much slower desktop than Linux, on the same hardware. I will say hardware support has improved a lot. Most recently I gave the latest PC-BSD a go on my tester mini-itx machine – 8.2 RC2, I believe it was. Man it was slow.
    BSD can’t be beat for the home server though. Take a look at freenas, for example.

  3. Gerard says

    I’d agree here, Lamegaptop. On of the PC’s here runs Linux Mint. Especially with the extra “six lines of code” it’s more responsive than PC-BSD.

  4. Gerard says

    Choosing between Linux and FreeBSD has both a subjective and an objective side to it. If you prefer FreeBSD, you need to make sure your hardware is supported. Say, if you’d invested in an expensive RAID card only to find out it’s not supported by FreeBSD you just installed, you think by yourself “I should have done my homework first”. On the other hand if your preference goes out to Linux, use Linux. If one is open minded, (s)he may want to check if FreeBSD performs better than Linux for the tasks it’s going to be used for.
    If I had said why FreeBSD is better than Linux, then a massive flame war would have been going on right now.
    This post was only meant to be a kind of checklist, nothing else.
    One’s choice ultimately comes down to preference, hardware and support.

  5. Justin says

    I have an example were this checklist would have been relevant.

    About 4/5 Years ago I had to setup a Postfix Mail server on some new hardware that was given to me for the setup. The company that I worked for at the time had a Fedora only policy.

    After a lot of trial and error I found out that the on-board fake RAID was not supported by Linux yet and RAID was a requirement of the setup.

    At the same time I was personally playing with and learning FreeBSD. So I gave FreeBSD 5.x a try and it worked without any problems, RAID and all. I left that company shortly there after and I know that this FreeBSD box is still running without a days problems or reboots, but unfortunately without any security updates or software update at all and the people currently work in my place don’t have any knowledge of FreeBSD or even want to learn FreeBSD.

    Its not often that I hear of, or experience BSD supporting some hardware before Linux but this experience is what got me started with FreeBSD and I have been experimenting with it ever since. Unfortunately I have not been given the opportunity to put FreeBSD in production again.

    If it was up to me and if support is not a factor (see checklist) it would be FreeBSD every time. Jails Rock!

  6. Gerard says

    Thanks, Justin, for sharing this. Surprised you’ve come across a RAID card that was supported by FreeBSD and not by Fedora.
    It’s a good point you are bringing up: Company (IT) Policies. These can be very restrictive and one may have to go through a lot of trouble in order to convince higher management to set aside (some of) the restrictions. It’s very frustrating if you work in IT, have come across a situation or problem that can be easily solved if you could use Linux/FreeBSD and your company is a Windows only environment (lock-in contracts with Microsoft etc).

  7. Justin says

    Ok, I was a little nasty to Linux.
    Technically Linux did support the range but it was broken for that chipset version or something, it was a long time ago. Linux always only saw the physical drives and not the RAID drive. Or something like that, like I said it was a long time ago.

    But your point about IT policy should maybe be part or your checklist. Actually it should maybe the first point of your checklist.

  8. says

    I use booth.
    Only, no other operating system is here in the network, but wait, Android.
    I use Debian on Desktop/Server and FreeBSD in the same way.
    Where one of these do their job better than the other one, than there will be this.
    In some cases FreeBSD is faster, in other cases Debian fixes my needs better.
    Hope this will help someone.
    In every case you need to know the OS specific key benefits, so it’s time to learn booth ;)

  9. NC says

    I have a small server with 64mb of ram, 233mhz pentium mmx running openbsd, as fast as it runned Win95 when it was bought. Tried (i mean 4 weeks of trying) most “leaf-linux” couldn’t get past the installation(no enough memory to install) in most and the best one was fluxbuntu that was supposed to be “heavier”. OpenBSD installed as it would in a newer PC (albeit a little more slower of course), plus the hardware was supported “out of the box”.

  10. Gerard says

    Android is indeed a great upcoming contender. Interesting to find out if Google has anything new to announce tomorrow (2/2) with regards to Android 3.0 (Gingerbread).

  11. Gerard says

    A lot of hardware is discarded these days; stuff that could easily be used for things like your small server, NC. The Microsoft-Intel tandem endeavours to make many to buy a new PC every time a new Windows version comes out. With BSD, if it runs, it runs. No upgrades needed.

  12. Shild says

    I have used FreeBSD as my desktop/server for the last 12 years or so. I am thinking about trying Linux mint or xbuntu (I use xfce). I am just getting tired of having to run a linux flash (killing npviewer.bin processes all the time) and trying to get the next version of Oracle running in the linux emu (we use Oracle at work). Now the Java plugin issue, since openjdk seems to be the only java that will be supported although the Icetea plugin seems to work pretty well. And now this whole udev-gvs is going to cause headaches for the FreeBSD porters. I really admire and appreciate the work that goes into porting software to FreeBSD, I’m just getting tired of tinkering. I really wish more software was supported, i.e flash, Oracle, …etc. That being said, I doubt I will stop using FreeBSD as my desktop anyways.

  13. JT says

    I use both. I use FreeBSD where I can, especially if I want a server to run securely for a long time, or if specific versions of major software pieces are required (e.g. Python or apache).

    Ports just kick ass compared to the Linux distribution/package method. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had successful upgrades – or downgrades – on FreeBSD via ports that would have left me in package hell, perhaps forever, with typical Linux distro. Especially when the base OS is getting long in the tooth and you can’t afford a complete replacement.

    Also, I had a cron job updating a DB that recently started behaving badly. There were tons of backed up processes (maybe 150+) and the server load was in the hundreds. I logged in, got a snappy console, and took out the offenders. This is another area where, over 10+ years, FreeBSD has consistently outperformed Linux in my experience.

  14. says

    FreeBSD might out perform a stock Debian system. The .deb package manager is very nice and it’s a very useful o/s for sure. Ubuntu built on top of Debian because it was a winning formula and both Ubuntu and Debian are excellent as both desktop and server platforms.

    Unix is not Linux. They are related but they are also quite different and it is my experience that FreeBSD has a faster response time and better security features out of the box. Debian can be configured to being as powerful, responsive and secure as FreeBSD with some work, not much even.. I just prefer the fact that FreeBSD is designed for chrooted web service environments and the way it works with Nginx – over the way Debina works with Apache 2 for example… there is no contest – FreeBSD is the winner hands down.

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