Previously I wrote about PC-BSD. I have tried and used the Fibonacci and Galileo versions before, and now I am giving the latest version, Hubble, a spin.

At this moment I am writing this review from my phone. You see, I booted BSD, ran a bath for the kids, undressed my son (which included cleaning up a nappy of epic proportions), called my daughter to come bath, took the nappy outside, tied back my daughter’s hair AND typed all of this on my cell before the bootloader even showed. From the bootloader onward bootup is very quick, but something is seriously wrong… ooh, desktop…

First Impressions.

PC-BSD is supposed to be the flagship of the BSD stable. I downloaded the latest version 8 dvd, which gives you the option of installing either PC-BSD or FeeBSD. I installed PC-BSD, and noticed that, different from previous versions, the very pretty installer dialog was gone. It has been replaced by what I can only describe as a backwards step in installation presentation. Ubuntu has moved forward with the installer, and PC-BSD has moved backwards. Not a big deal, but something I took note off.

First boot after installation (and editing Grub to allow me to boot PC-BSD) and every boot after that has produced the same result – a VERY slow loading of various functions before the BSD bootloader appears. After that everything seems to run normally. I am talking more than ten minutes here. Something is amiss. I am not arrogant enough to rule out a mistake made on my part, so if any of you have any suggestions let me know.

Once done booting, you are presented with one of the prettiest desktop environments around. KDE 4 is pretty, and the PC-BSD guys really make it look awesome with some of the best wallpapers, and a finely crafted theme to round things of. Wow.

The Desktop, KDE4 is certainly pretty, if bug prone.

I opted to install all the extras available on the DVD, which included among other things; Firefox, Pidgin, OpenOffice and Thunderbird. To begin with I decided to use the KDE default programs where possible, with the exception of Pidgin, which I am using now to see if someone on IRC has an idea what is wrong with my bootloader. So far no hits there…

Lock Up City

During the first day of use, I have been forced to hard reset my Laptop at least three or four times. The first time I was busy tooling around the KDE interface to get my wifi (which was detected natively – nice) to associate when my screen went black and the laptop powered off. I still have no idea what went wrong there.

THEN I decided to fiddle around with some plasmoids, specifically the Twitter plasmoid (I am afraid to check the name right now while blogging) and my screen went black, with a little hand instead of my mouse cursor. I had to hard reset.

And of course I needed to reboot once before my WIFI finally associated.

Right now those are the main showstoppers.

Those Default Applications…

Right, lets start of with Konqueror. I hate it. Give me Firefox or Opera any day. It is slow and awkward to use as a browser. One nice feature is the mousless navigation option. Press CTRL and you can navigate by pressing a button. Press alt to go back to normal mode. Meh. I still prefer FireFox. Konqueror doesn’t even support searching directly from the adress bar for crying out loud.

KMAIL is the default mail client. It is an improvement over Konqueror in the quality stakes. I quite like it, I haven’t used it since ditching KDE as my desktop environment a few years ago. Evolution is my default mail manager at the moment, and it will be interesting to see if Kmail measures up.

There is no default office software in PC-BSD, so you have to use OpenOffice for your everyday work. PC-BSD ships with version 3.1.1, but periodic updates are available.

KDE 4.3.5

Again, as happened during the previous review of PC-BSD, KDE 4 lets it down. The plasmoid crash is an example of this. I suspect that the other two reboots were also KDE related. That said, KDE 4 has improved vastly release on release, and the PC-BSD people have done a lot to get the most out of it. (I just decided to try out the Microblogging – (not Twitter) app and true to form my desktop has reverted to a black screen, my applications are still running but no KDE desktop… time to reboot.)

Okay, so I figured out through trial and error (read crashing KDE repeatedly) that the only way to recover from this is to CTRL+ALT+F2 and login, su to root and then to do ‘killall -HUP Xorg.’ It seems that this crash is limited to the Microblogging plasmoid and some or other python problem.

The General Environment

While any KDE distro might seem similar to PC-BSD, the similarties are superficial. Under the hood there are many differences. Although BSD seems Linux-y at first, it is a different beast.

Like I noted in my previous review, the harddrive partition structure is quite different. It is divided into slices, partitions within partitions, if you will.

Also the file system structure is slightly different. The command line interface, while the same in most ways has some differences.

Any Linux user should feel right at home once he has taken some time to get used to these differences and to learn that there is not /etc/init.d where you reload processes, for instance.

There are some very nice touches though. The new KDE menu is a beaut, and intuitive to navigate. If you need a program you will find it easily.

The KDE 4 Menu

The menu makes finding programs easy.

Installing new programs are easy as well. There is a software browser that has a shortcut on the desktop. From there you can install software, update your system and view installed software. One feature I like is the ability to “ignore” certain updates. No more pesky Nvidia driver downloads even though I do not have an Nvidia installed. Other distributions should take note.

Software Manager

Software and Updates Centre – Very Nice

The much maligned Dolphin file manager has made strides as well. It supports FTP built into the file manager, negating the need to install FileZilla, which also is available in the Software and Updates center by the way.

Dolphin Supports FTP

Dolphin working with my FTP site. Note the running jobs dialog on the right.

Summary

Spending time with a different OS was a lot of fun. In the end I could not find solutions for some of the more serious problems that I came across, like the very long time it took to load the bootloader. I could be generous and attribute that particular problem to me not running a default setup, but this is the first OS where I came across this problem, Win7 and various Linux distro’s have installed in partitions without problems.

The KDE factor is a minus for me, but if I avoided areas where I could crash it, it is certainly a pleasant and good looking environment to spend time in.

There are many reviews online that laud PC-BSD as the ideal beginners OS, but I disagree. It’s flaws put it outside beginner territory. A seasoned Linux user might feel at home after some fiddling, but if a beginner runs into a ten minute bootup they will immediately reach for the Windows DVD.

I am really saddened that KDE faults BSD so, I am looking for a fourth player in the desktop game to make things interesting, and PC-BSD should have been it. Windows is still king of the PC environment if you go by numbers, but there are pretenders to the throne. Linux Distributions have already dethroned Windows in the quality department, and now it is time for the numbers to follow.

Unfortunately BSD does not feature in this company. MacOS is BSD based, and if it is anything to go by, PC-BSD has a real opportunity to shine. If the kinks can be polished out the future might not be heralded by Linux, but by BSD.

Windows7 vs MacOS vs Linux vs BSD. This is a matchup worth keeping an eye on, but going by this release, PC-BSD is playing catchup.

Related posts:

  1. PC-BSD – an alternative to Linux?