Ugly Huge BSD Monster

Brett Glass brett at
Mon Sep 1 13:56:13 PDT 2003

At 10:31 AM 9/1/2003, Joao Schim wrote:

>Hey Mario,
>Well its my experience that FreeBSD is not only the best option for
>firewall and Internet services but it is also very capable of running
>desktop apps with the greatest stability. So that makes me wonder why you
>seem to have that idea that FreeBSD isn't ment for Desktop.

This attitude, which was heavily pushed 5-7 years ago by the "leaders"
of the FreeBSD project, stemmed from several things. The first was an 
attempt to differentiate FreeBSD from Linux, which was outstripping the BSDs 
in the press and elsewhere. One way to compete successfully (in a Darwinian 
sense, especially) is to claim a niche. Your fitness is then determined by 
how well you fit into the niche, rather than your overall superiority. Since
Linux had all the press and all the money behind it, the developers thought
they'd do better competing for the server niche. A fine short term strategy,
but a bad long term one.

The second was a desire by these same developers to limit the scope of the 
project to make it more manageable and ensure that there was enough manpower
to keep it going. FreeBSD, unlike Linux, is a complete OS rather than a kernel.
The "userland" -- the programs users run every day -- is maintained along with
the OS. Being a desktop OS implies supporting the entire desktop environment. 
This was more than the people who were orchestrating the project (particularly 
Jordan Hubbard) wanted to take on at the time, or perhaps felt that they COULD
take on at the time. So adamant were they that they literally drove out of 
the project some folks who disagreed with this strategy and focus.

Alas, the results can be seen today. While there's absolutely nothing wrong
with FreeBSD as a desktop OS, the project's failure to encourage and participate 
in the creation of BSD-licensed desktops for UNIX-like OSes has essentially led 
to a situation where there are none to be had. The only desktops that run -- 
balkily and with only partial compatibility -- are GPLed. Not only do they bring 
with them the baggage of the license and the FSF's agenda, but for ideological 
reasons the developers have no desire to make them compatible with the BSDs. Yes, 
there are folks out there who are trying to make them run. But just try to 
install, say, KDE and get printing, power management, the built-in PPP utility 
(which is designed to mimic Windows' "Dial-up Networking"), or other similar 
features to work. You're in for a very frustrating experience. 

I was recently asked to set up a FreeBSD machine as a desktop for a school, and 
they had nothing but frustration. Every day or so, they found some part of KDE 
that didn't quite work right with FreeBSD or needed expert knowledge and special 
configuration to use with FreeBSD. They just put Windows back on that machine.

It doesn't seem as if this situation is likely to change, either. The 
incompatibilities between the BSDs (not just FreeBSD, but all of the BSD)
and the Linux desktops seem to grow daily. Both KDE and GNOME are pretty much 
becoming by, of, and for Linux exclusively. Even FVWM (which, I understand, 
was once BSD-licensed) is now GPLed.

So, the result of the desire of these developers (many of whom are no longer
involved with the project) to force BSD into the mold of a "server-only OS"
has, alas, been to make it so... at least until someone, somewhere starts
up a BSD desktop project. I'd love to run BSD on my desktop, but due to the
poor compatibility and portability of the GPLed Linux desktops, I'll have
to keep MacOS X or (ugh!) Windows on my desk for the moment.

--Brett Glass

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