The geek in me wants to try new stuff, and learn how they work. The geek in me also strives to be different than the mainstream. That is why I use Linux Software and is one of the reasons I run LinuxMint instead of Ubuntu Linux – everybody knows about Ubuntu, and it has lost a bit of its street-cred modifier.

Now Linux is becoming mainstream – people see you running something different and they ask “Hey! Is that Linux?”

Time for something different.

This past week I have been toying with BSD.

I was drawn to BSD because of it’s reputation for security, similarity to Linux when diving to the command line and the presence of a thriving community online to help with issues.

I settled on PC-BSD. Being new to an OS I usually opt for the easiest one to install and work myself upwards from there.

Installation

Installing PC-BSD is certainly different than installing Linux. PC-BSD has a very nice installer which takes most of the guesswork out of setting up the system. One major difference between BSD and other operating systems is the filesystem structure. BSD makes “slices” of partitions, kinda like partitions within partitions and they are labled differently than you would expect from say, Ubuntu.

Where a Linux install that is spread over three partitions for root, home and swap would look something like this:

/dev/sda1 (for the root partition, described as /)

/dev/sda2 (for the home partition, described as /home)

/dev/sda3 (for the swap partition, not listed in the filestructure and simply called “swap”)

In BSD it is labelled differently, and resides inside what would be seen as a single partition when viewed from another operating system.

/dev/ad1s1a (root)

devfs (/dev)

/dev/ad1s1e (/tmp)

…and so on.

When viewing a dual booted system you might see the above example like this:

/dev/sda1 Linux (Root)

/dev/sda2 Linux (/home)

/dev/sda3 Linux Swap (/swap)

/dev/sda4 BSD (All the slices mentioned above in this one partition.)

Besides the hurdle of understanding slices the installation should go well if you follow the PC-BSD installer.

First Boot.

Booting PC-BSD presented a challenge on my dual-boot system. On first install I decided to install the BSD bootloader, and obviously it overwrote GRUB. The issue was that although it listed my Linux install, it would boot only BSD. I re-installed GRUB and then came the challenge to get BSD to load.

I fixed it by configuring Grub thusly:

(My Linux Install)

title        Linux Mint 6, kernel 2.6.27-7-generic
root        (hd0,2)
kernel        /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.27-7-generic root=/dev/sda3 ro quiet splash
initrd        /boot/initrd.img-2.6.27-7-generic
quiet

(My BSD Install)

title        PC-BSD
root        (hd0,3)
#kernel        /boot/loader
makeactive
chainloader +1

As you can see there is a slight difference to the two entries. Initially grub refused to load the BSD partition until I added the “makeactive” operator.

Upon first boot PC-BSD lets you load and configure some options like your screen resolution and graphics card. This is a step ahead from Ubuntu Intrepid which forces you to live with what you get from xorg.

And then you get to the desktop. KDE4.1. And the trouble begins. This, in my opinion, is PC-BSD’s big weakness. KDE4 is not desktop PC ready. I tried to like it, I want to try something new after all, but I just could not get to like it.

It was unstable, slow and hard to use. But let me digress. With plasma crashing randomly and doing mundane things like moving a window causing the system to slow down I shut-down and rebooted into Linux.

The choice of desktop environment is a chink in the BSD armor.

Nice Features

PBI’s. PC-BSD seems unique among unixy systems in that you can download a PBI file and install a new software package independant from the rest of the system. This largely negates so-called “dependancy hell”, and is a great feature for new users.

It makes of a large OS and large files to download, but I’d take it on any system.

PC-BSD seems rock solid, if you ignore the KDE4 mishaps and breakages, and looks like a very secure operating system – more so than Linux, with 0 viruses and few vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

PC-BSD is certainly very nice. I tried FREEBSD7.1 as well, and PC-BSD is streets ahead. Is it ready to take on Linux, or Windows? No. It is not desktop ready, and this is largely due to using KDE4 as it’s desktop environment. If gnome had been available as is the case with FREEBSD then I would have given it more of a chance than I have.

If a gnome version is available (I see nothing on the pcbsd.org site) then I would like to hear about it and definitely try it again.

As it is PC-BSD is staying on my hard-drive, until I get my hands on a gnome version, but my main work will be done in Linux for now.

It is a good start for someone who wants to have a peek into the world of BSD, and should definitely be considered seriously if you already use KDE4 and want a new challenge.

If you are a gnome user, or dislike KDE4, give it a wide berth – you are bound to be frustrated, as I have.

Related posts:

  1. Review: PC-BSD 8.0 ready to work?