Assuming We Want FreeBSD to Grow: Who Is It For?

Shawn Harrison harrison at
Tue Feb 15 12:38:52 PST 2005

So, we want lots of people to adopt FreeBSD. Who are they?

If the primary use of FreeBSD is for servers, then anyone who runs a 
server is our target.

I know most of the talk recently has been about big businesses and 
people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on hardware. Yes, it 
includes them.

It also includes Joe Family Man or Jane Small Business who wants to set 
up a website. Sure it does. Why should Joe and Jane pay $35 a month (or 
even $10) for dippy Windows web hosting when they can use the DSL or 
cable account they already have, and the "obsolete" computer from two 
years ago, to run a top-notch web server using FreeBSD? Just think, they 
get a local network file and print server out of the deal. I know it's 
probably too hard for them to do that currently, but that is just a 
detail that can be solved with writing documents and scripts. There is 
no reason such people should not be attracted to FreeBSD to do those 
things. In fact, there are lot's of reasons they _should_ be attracted:

- Stability
- Security
- Simplicity (easiest Unix install I've ever done, very well-designed 
filesystem, etc.)
- Speed (well, in 4.11 anyway....)
- inexpenSiveness (using hardware they probably already have or can get 
on the cheap from the dustbin at work).

It's easy to underestimate the numbers of such people. In every 
community, there is a significant percentage of technically "aware" 
people who would be interested in trying something like the above 
scenario, especially if they understood the results that they could get. 
I know a bunch of people who have tried setting up their own (Linux) 
boxen, with varying success or (more commonly) failure. How do we 
communicate with those people (1) what they can do and (2) how they can 
do it (3) and how it will be better in FreeBSD?

If servers are primary, perhaps a secondary use of FreeBSD is the 
desktop. Well, yes it is. We have X in the ports tree, and a couple of 
different canned installation options right in sysinstall that will give 
you an X desktop right off the bat. So it's part of the system, whether 
you agree that it should be emphasized or not. Perhaps Joe Family Man or 
Jane Small Business, or even Mr. I. M. InfoTech Manager ("That's IM^2 to 
you!") will install a FreeBSD server for some purpose, only to discover 
the desktop and try it out.

(I have my computer-illiterate wife and nine-year-old daughter using KDE 
on FreeBSD, and they're both very happy with it -- much more than with 
Windows 98. My wife can finally build her website simply by saving 
files, and my daughter can play Mr. Potato-head and draw pictures. So 
they're both happy. And I'm happy having that same box serving web 
pages, a database, and mail for my family.)

There is no inherent conflict between growth in the desktop and the 
quality of the server codebase. There are different kinds of programmers 
as well as different kinds of people in general, and different 
programming problems are interesting to different people. If FreeBSD 
doesn't welcome people who are interested in working on desktop issues 
or device drivers for consumer scanners, those people aren't going to 
take their efforts to working on the kernel. They really want a device 
driver for that scanner, or a GUI console for printing. They'll take 
their efforts to Debian* where they'll get some recognition and support.

(* I'm just pulling out the name of a Linux distro that has an open and 
well-developed community structure. I don't know much about the actual 
details of the Debian project, _except_ that they have a well-developed 
governance structure, and they seem to have divided up the 
responsibility / recognition / authority among various groups according 
to ability and interest. It seems that the most successful open-source 
projects are those that do something like this. Perhaps it's time for 
FreeBSD to go through those growing pains as well.)

Shawn Harrison

More information about the freebsd-advocacy mailing list