PC-BSD may be the next Linux

This is een interesting article by Brian Proffitt after iXsystem’s acquisition of PC-BSD. Slightly dated, but still of worth a read.

With all of the BSD variants available for download, it’s easy to incorrectly assume all of them are pure, incompatible forks from each other. Actually, there are more shades of BSD out in the world than just separate forks. One in particular made the news a couple of weeks ago when it was commercially acquired.

The BSD in question is PC-BSD. The company that bought it (for the ubiquitous “undisclosed” terms) is iXsystems, a systems deployment and integrator firm out of San Jose that has pretty strong experience implementing *BSD, Unix and Linux systems for its customer base. So, why, pray tell, did the company up and buy PC-BSD?

The answer may lie in the type of operating system PC-BSD is. Unlike other, incompatible, BSD variants, PC-BSD is completely compatible with its antecedent FreeBSD. It is, for all intents and purposes, a FreeBSD distribution, in much the same way Red Hat or SUSE are Linux distributions. In fact, the similarity runs a bit deeper than that, since PC-BSD has long been designed with business users in mind. Its acquisition only solidifies that commonality.

Currently, PC-BSD is at release 1.2, and is based on FreeBSD 6. Unlike FreeBSD and other BSD variants, which rely on a packages and ports installation solution (similar in many ways to most Unix flavors, including Linux), PC-BSD uses something called PBI – an installation approach that contains everything an application needs to be run. Just click on it and off you go. The advantages for newer users are clear:

PBIs mean no more dependency hell while trying to install the latest and greatest on your server or workstation.

The other key difference between PC-BSD and its FreeBSD parent is the desktop extensions that enable users to run a KDE desktop interface.

In all other respects – and this is key – PC-BSD is compatible with FreeBSD, to the degree that you can go into power-user mode and use FreeBSD’s ports and packages management system on PC-BSD.

What iXsystems likes about the PC-BSD distribution is that it really is a pretty functional Unix environment with an integrated desktop and an installation system that will not confuse the heck out of Windows users coming over to the operating system for the first time. And with such an operating system in their repertoire, it’s pretty clear iXsystems will be able to get PC-BSD-and FreeBSD-deployed into more and more commercial environments.

The plan, according to iXsystems, is to start offering commercial-level support for PC-BSD for their customers, which as we all know removes a big potential hurdle for anyone thinking about migrating away from their current supported system, whether it be Windows, Solaris or Linux. And, remember that key point about compatibility: What’s good for PC-BSD support will no doubt be good for FreeBSD.

The obvious question is, will this plan work? Early indicators say yes, as long as iXsystems doesn’t try to overdo it and try to become the next Red Hat overnight. The PC-BSD development team claims about 100,000 known users, which is a decent-sized user base. FreeBSD’s base is likely significantly larger. If iXsystems develops a focused strategy for commercial markets, there’s no reason it can’t pick up more market share at a steady clip.

Which means Microsoft may just have one more competitor to worry about.

Source: ServerWatch.com – October 25, 2006

DesktopBSD vs PC-BSD review

Fareast has written a quick comparison of DesktopBSD and PC-BSD on Dailykos.com:

DesktopBSD logoAfter reading a very not-nice review of DesktopBSD a couple of weeks ago, and in light of the fact that I just adore PC-BSD, it’s a bit strange that I would be reviewing it here.

Still the hunger to try out some new and untried open source system got the better of me, and I downloaded the latest release 1.6, just to see what the deal really was. I installed the system under vmware-server, allotting 256M ram, and a bit over 2G hard drive space, just to make things more interesting.

The idea behind DesktopBSD is the same as that of PC-BSD; to make an easily installable version of the FreeBSD open source operating system through a graphical interface, coupled with a nice shiny front end to run it all on. This is significant because FreeBSD, while not that difficult to get up and running, is a considerable time hog when you want to get a modern day window manager running on it, i.e., downloading and compiling KDE from source (a huge package), with a conservative estimate being anywhere from fifteen to twenty hours just for that alone.

I have to admit that by setting up the specs so tough, that I kind of wanted DesktopBSD to choke; I’m really into the way that PC-BSD has their pbi directory set up with the install wizards, plus the ability to use the traditional ports method of FreeBSD to update your system, that I didn’t want to see anything endangering that crown.

Sadly, I was let down. If anything, DesktopBSD is easier and faster to setup than PC-BSD, and the speed that it showed with so little ram was nothing less than astonishing. I pulled up Firefox, surfed over to youtube and Flash was working out of the box; opened up a BBC news story and scrolled around, and it was very smooth.

One thing sorely lacking in the install were any office suite apps of note–no open office, no abiword or gnumeric or really anything; considering that DesktopBSD is just FreeBSD with the nice desktop, and no pbi directory like PC-BSD, means that if you want open office you need to compile it from source, just like in a normal,vanilla FreeBSD.

Does the system have the ability to do what I want it to do without a huge amount of effort, those things being: playing music, surfing the web (Flash included), using email, watching vids, and a bit of eye-candy thrown in, or at least some of the shiny on a slower machine? If the answer is yes to those simple requirements, then we have a winner, and a system that I want to install to my machine. Joe Sixpack/Average User can use Windows Vista if that is what is best for him, and I’m none the worse for wear.

PC-BSD LogoAnd PC-BSD, with the ability to do both the traditional compile from source, as well as offering the packages through their nifty pbi directory has DesktopBSD beat in this category. Make no mistake, DesktopBSD is an excellent system that offers all the strength and flexibility of a vanilla FreeBSD setup with a huge time savings, it’s just that PC-BSD is that brilliant, and in comparison, there simply is none.

Read the full review here. Bold by me.

There’s more detailed information on the differences and similarities between PC-BSD and DesktopBSD on the FBSD Projects Page.

PC-BSD 1.4 LiveCD

If you are interested in BSD live CDs, here is another interesting option: PC-BSD LiveCD. This CD is probably one of the best live desktop BSD products built to-date. Based on FreeBSD 6.2, it includes KDE 3.5.6, X.Org 7.2, Kaffeine media player with support for MP3, OGG, DIVX and MPEG formats, Konversation IRC cleint, Smb4k samba client, Fusefs file system, Midnight Commander, and a total of 503 pre-compiled FreeBSD ports. The PC-BSD live CD is not fully automatic though; it boots into a terminal and it requires running “X -configure” before launching the KDE desktop with “startx”. Download it from here: pcbsdlive240607.iso. LiveCD ISOs will soon be available on the snapshots page at devs.pcbsd.org

PC-BSD LiveCD

PC-BSD, a 24 hour test drive

About a week ago, Ars Technica wrote a 2 page review of PC-BSD.

PC-BSD is not a Linux distribution, but rather it could be considered among the first major FreeBSD-based distributions to live outside of the official FreeBSD. Like most distributions, it has implemented certain features in a way that attempts to distinguish it from the competition, and I will focus mostly on these differences. This test drive is intended to give an overview of what PC-BSD is and why one would consider using it.

First and foremost, PC-BSD is an attempt to make a user-friendly Unix. Many Linux distributions have a similar focus and attempt to achieve it in different ways, and PC-BSD should be considered alongside these distributions. Additionally, PC-BSD’s developers went to great efforts to make users who are transitioning from Windows more comfortable—more on that later.

The article concludes with:

In the end, I would suggest this distribution to new users provided they had someone to call in case of a driver malfunction during installation. I would also recommend PC-BSD to seasoned Unix users that have never tried using FreeBSD before and would prefer a shallower learning curve before getting down to business.

Read the whole article or the dicsussion of it on the PC-BSD forums.

Setting up a FreeBSD Multimedia Desktop

Of all the many and free operating systems out there, few can begin to meet or surpass the quality, stability, and structured operation of FreeBSD. But out of the box, FreeBSD is and always will be a server OS. That’s the reason why some groups have created desktop versions of FreeBSD (such as PC-BSD and DesktopBSD) to provide users with a viable FreeBSD desktop.

Despite both of these really good alternatives to the stock FreeBSD install, some people believe that nothing beats setting up their own FreeBSD desktop right from scratch, and in this tutorial you’re shown how to do just that. What you’ll end up with is a desktop environment that is top notch and tailored right to your liking that is pure and uncustomized by anyone else, except you. So it’s a system you can have exactly your way to your liking.

For those who are new or unfamiliar with FreeBSD, this will also be a great way for you to learn how to use and troubleshoot the OS, because by going this way, while it is not the easiest and you’ll likely run into at least one snag or problem not listed in this tutorial that you’ll have to troubleshoot and solve, you’ll learn so much about the OS that you’ll either come to love it or hate it.

Remember, this tutorial is not for the faint-hearted. There are easier ways to set up a FreeBSD (based) multimedia system than shown in this tutorial; mostly via the previously two named desktop oriented FreeBSD distributions.

BSDStats numbers (May 2007)

BSDStats.org is a website that records the numbers of PCs/servers running a particular BSD system. This is broken down per country, releases, drivers/HW stats, CPU stats, and port stats.

Though these figures are interesting enough, they cannot be used for any benchmarking or market analysis or so, since the software that anonymously updates (pings) the bsdstats server is not (yet) installed on a lot of/most servers (e.g. FreeBSD) or it’s not mandatory to use when pre-installed (e.g. PC-BSD). The numbers are likely to be much higher. The counters reset at the first day of each month (servers that are on 24/7/365) or when the computer is first switched on.

The numbers, that we’re interested in as far as this blog is concerned, for May 2007 are:

  • FreeBSD – 5,131 systems – 53.0 %
  • PC-BSD – 4,265 systems – 44.1 %
  • DesktopBSD – 28 systems – 0.3 %

Please note, that the number for DesktopBSD (28) is not correct this month. There are likely to be many more users but the update script contacted the BSDStats server on 1 May at half 5 in the morning only. All PCs that were off at that time aren’t included in this number. This problem will be fixed in the upcoming RC3.

What is FreeBSD?

This website deals with the FreeBSD Operating System, but what is FreeBSD?

FreeBSD (FBSD) is an advanced Unix-like operating system developed by the FreeBSD Project. FBSD is one of the most reliable, robust and secure operating systems in the world. It is free, open source and powers some of the internet’s largest web servers, including Yahoo’s and Sony’s (more companies). Rock-solid stability and the ability to perform extremely well under heavy workloads makes this operating system a popular choice among Internet Service Providers and Web hosting companies. A cohesive userland and kernel, the ports system and regular OS upgrades are the strengths of this OS.

FreeBSD is derived from the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), the version of UNIX developed at the University of California at Berkeley between 1975 and 1993. FreeBSD is not a UNIX clone. Historically and technically, it has greater rights than UNIX System V to be called UNIX. Legally, it may not be called UNIX, since UNIX is now a registered trade mark of The Open Group.

FreeBSD runs on Intel processors as well as on DEC Alpha, Sun UltraSPARC processors, Itanium (IA-64) and AMD64 processors and soon on Suns Niagara servers (FreeBSD 7).

FreeBSD is an operating system that is very flexible and can therefore be used for various purposes:

  • FreeBSD – (web)servers
  • FreeNAS – Network Attached Storage servers
  • DragonFly BSD – Powering cluster computing
  • PC-BSD and DesktopBSD – Desktop
  • M0n0wall and pfSense – Firewall
  • Frenzy – portable system administrator toolkit
  • FreeSBIE and RoFreeSBIE- Live CDs

Stability, flexibility and security are what is needed for a good operating system, and FreeBSD has them all, whether you use it on your desktop or as server. There’s an interesting article on IBM’s website “Why FreeBSD” dealing with the strong points of FreeBSD.

Flash/Youtube videos on FreeBSD

To be able to watch Adobe Flash animations and videos on BSD systems, has been not too easy so far. This is caused by Adobe not releasing a (Free)BSD version of Flash, but only a (closed source) version for Windows and Linux. In order to watch Flash content on BSD one has to install the Linux Flash version along with the Linux Compatibility layer and tweak the system (sym-links).

However, there’s a Flash PBI available for PC-BSD users that installs Flash with a few mouse-clicks. Installing this manually is not necessary anymore as version 1.4 will come with Flash pre-installed, thanks to a redistribution agreement between iXsystems, the company behind the PC-BSD project, and Adobe.

There are a few open-source Flash players in development currently, of which Gnash and swfdec are the most promising projects, but they’re not perfect yet. Gnash for example is quite good at playing Flash animations (though a bit “grainy”), but it can’t play YouTube videos, whereas swfdec is better at playing YouTube videos, but it’s not very good with animations.

Matteo from the FreeSBIE project has now found a way to watch YouTube videos with Gnash on FreeBSD, but without using the Linux compatibility layer. Please note, that the steps he’s taken are the same for PC-BSD and DesktopBSD. Matteo installed the following ports:

  • graphics/gnash
  • www/firefox (uncheck “GSTREAMER” on the ncurses window)
  • multimedia/mplayer [MAKE WITH_GUI]
  • www/mplayer-plugin

He then installed the Greasemonkey plugin for Firefox and this Greasemonkey script. Note: select the “mini” GUI for mplayer because it is needed for the plugin.

If you have followed these steps and installed the port successfully, surf now to YouTube.com and give it a whirl.