why BSDs got no love

Heidi Wyss heidi.wyss at nordultra.com
Wed Dec 23 14:45:24 UTC 2009

> I can practically install FreeBSD blindfolded on the current one, but only
> because I've done it so many times.  The first few attempts were extremely
> frustrating; the menu flow in the current installer makes little sense --
> especially if something goes wrong.  Please keep that in mind, everyone on
> this list knows the installer like the back of their hand, but do you
> remember the first time(s) you used it?  Know a fairly seasoned linux user
> that has never used FreeBSD?  Sit them down at a machine and watch them try
> to install it.
> First impressions are important!  I won't go into the gui vs non-gui
> installer debate, but making the install process as slick as possible is
> definitely a good thing.

My first install of FreebSD, 5x, years ago, went smoothly, even with 
that not-so-smooth default install script, because I had first carefully 
read the handbook section on installing and hence had enough 
understanding about what I was trying to do that I was able to happily 
muddle through. I do recall that getting X up and running was not easy 
and may have taken an hour or so, but likewise, the FreeBSD handbook and 
a man page or two got me by. I was also very motivated, since my own 
migration to FreeBSD was not a happenstance whim, but researched and 

Last week I did a fresh install of FreeBSD 8. It was more or less a snap 
(aside from some wee glitches, stuff like two WM dockapps I'd brought 
forward from an earlier desktop setup working, but literally throwing 
off millions of IO errors), either way, I found it rather easy only 
because I'd done it a few times before and knew how to deal with what 
might come up (and again, read the documentation when I didn't).

 From what I've seen, almost all users (even "advanced" ones coming from 
Linux) who try and fail to install FreeBSD indeed haven't read the 
handbook and aren't very willing to do so. The installation dialog does 
have some odd steps which, while no big thing for someone who's heeding 
the docs, will likely be seen as utter failures for someone who's not. 
Hence I see a FreeBSD installation as a "cultural" shift which doesn't 
work for most users, who (understandably, I guess) want an easy 
point-and-click installation. Likewise, most of the so very helpful and 
slick things about running a FreeBSD desktop, along with all those 
wonderful ports, come through at least some willingness to keep reading 
man pages, beginning with running the wholly automated compile scripts 
from a command line as root, never mind little tricks like typing 
"rehash" when the installation's done.

A smooth graphical install program would very likely draw many new users 
to FreeBSD and may be the only way to do so. Moreover, with what looks 
to me like the almost wholly automated hardware detection now in Xorg 
7.4, even X could be configured by scripts on the fly most of the time, 
with the installation optionally offering to end with a wide choice of 
windowed GUIs such as Gnome, KDE, FluxBox, WindowMaker and so on. Hey, 
with a few hundred thousand more desktop users, browser-embedded, native 
Flash might even show up!

I did have to configure my Swiss keyboard manually though, which was 
slightly daunting (which is to say, took me about 15 minutes rather than 
1 or 2) because the config terms for this kind of KB weren't 
straightforwardly defined.

I'll end with this little tale, only to stir up thoughts: When I got the 
new versions of mplayer and vlc installed on FBSD8, I couldn't play most 
of my store-bought DVDs. Since I knew there had to be an easy fix, five 
minutes of searching on the Internet brought the easy fix (FreeBSD is so 
stable and reliable, once configured, I'd wholly forgotten about the 
CD/DVD device permissions), but how many so-called "mainstream" desktop 
users would get through that kind of glitch? Not many, however much 
someone like me, who's already quite delighted with FreeBSD, might wish 


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