FreeBSD vs Linux

Tim Greening-Jackson tim.greeningjackson at
Wed Jan 18 13:15:21 PST 2006

On Tue, 2006-01-17 at 18:15 +0100, poczta at wrote:
> What is the essential difference
> between FreeBSD and Linux (Fedora for instance)?

I have been following this thread (and similar ones over the past few
weeks) and would like to offer my perspective on the "FreeBSD versus
Linux" discussion. FWIW, this isn't a troll, so my apologies if it
upsets some of the more precious people on this list (and having read
the list for the past couple of months you are definitely out there).

To explain some background, I used/administered/programmed under Unix
throughout the 1980s and 1990s (SysVR3, BSD4.2, Ultrix...), and I have
been using Linux (RedHat/Fedora) for the past couple of years. I have
recently been using/evaluating FreeBSD. I have no particular axe to
grind in favour of either system.

It's reasonable to assume that the sorts of people asking a question
like "what's the difference..." or "which is better..." aren't
designing brand-new top-end data centres. They are a lot more likely
to be contemplating a move from MS Windows or perhaps have dabbled
with Linux and are curious. I would also suggest that a better
question than "what's better" is "what is more appropriate".

So, that preamble out of the way, my $0.02 is this. The distinction
"Linux is a kernel; FreeBSD is an O/S" is - frankly - the sort of
jesuitical sophistry that gets UseNet a bad name. The important things


Linux is a much, much easier system to install and configure. No
contest. Stick the disks in, it'll pretty much recognise any
sound-card and video interface and will work out of the box without
pissing about configuring X-windows or recompiling the kernel. I'm
sure if you persevere for long enough with FreeBSD it's possible to
get a quite usable desktop, with most of the applications that come
bundled with a release of Linux. The FreeBSD installation process is
like some sort of time-warp back to the 1980s.

The argument that "most FreeBSD installations are server, so don't
require mice etc." is a circular/self-fulfilling one. People - frankly
- aren't going to be bothered messing around getting FreeBSD
working. Get used to it.


The Linux community is much larger than the FreeBSD one. I have noted
certain comments in this mailing list about wanting to stay "select",
like some sort of digital Albania. To be honest, it's highly likely
that your wish will come true.

Fortunately there is this mailing list. And a couple of books,
although when I went to my local bookstores (large ones, with big
sections on computing) each had an entire shelf of Linux books, but
none on FreeBSD. Thank goodness for Amazon, so I could get Lehey -
which is excellent.

The relative size of the communities means two things: there's much
more support for Linux and also more applications are ready for
Linux. Just like if I compare Linux with Windows. This list relies on
a small number of dedicated experts who are generous enough with their
time to answer a lot of questions over and over again. However, the
FreeBSD community resembles some sort of religious cult at times. If
FreeBSD wants to be anything other than a small footnote in the
history of computing then it needs to engage a bit more with the
99.99% of the world who neither know - nor care - what it is; and who
regard re-compiling a kernel as less of a God-given right and more of
a tedious chore.


I'd have to say that the hardware support in FreeBSD is probably
better than that in Linux. Certainly it is on the hardware I've
tested. But, for most people it's still a pain.


All the tests I have done, and all I have read suggests that FreeBSD
is superb for server applications. Once I have convinced myself of its
support for SMB and a couple of other things, then it is highly likely
I will be migrating my own servers over to FreeBSD: that's the best
recommendation you can get.


I love FreeBSD's pkg_add etc. and the ports collection is quite
cool. But, pretty much all the stuff I want to port or add is there in
most Linux distros. Lots of stuff also just doesn't work out of the
box like it should. I have to force pkg_add to do strange stuff or
there are other strange dependencies.

If you're prepared to work on it, then you can get most applications
running on FreeBSD, but it's still easier on Linux.


IF you are prepared to work on it, FreeBSD looks like a great server
operating system. If you're just an ordinary joe who wants a
Unix-style OS then Linux is much easier to install, configure etc.,
has more desktop type applications which work first time etc.

If you are building a data-centre which requires highly available
servers then FreeBSD is better than Linux. But if you are in that sort
of market you already know that, and are probably intending to wait a
couple of months until Solaris goes open-source.

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